Ernie Green and Ivy De Groen

Ernie Green grew up in South Sydney, spending his early years in Campsie, Petersham and Rockdale. He began work at Wunderlich in 1920, when he was 14 years old, and describes it as a ‘very fine company to work for… just like a big family really.’ The company produced pressed metal ceilings, domes for buildings such as Grace Bros and the Presbyterian Church in Macquarie Street, and roof tiles. Starting as an office boy, Ernie then made his way up through the cost department, studying accountancy, and then becoming Assistant Works Manager. He describes production processes at the factory, including the making of a stamped steel ceiling.

Ivy De Groen also participated in the interview, revealing that while she worked for the company for 26 years, she experienced different working conditions to the male employees, including not getting superannuation. Additionally the women did not have access to company sporting teams and recreational activities that were available to, and subsidised, for men.

Ernie describes feeling unhappy the day that he found out that Wunderlich was being taken over by CSR, and recalls the day the Redfern factory closed months later, which he deems ‘the end of Wunderlich’s.’

Ernie and Ivy recall proudly walking through Sydney streets, noticing where Wunderlich’s windows and pressed metal can be seen on buildings.

EG:      Do you know I worked 52 years at Wunderlichs and I never got paid one dollar or one pound overtime and I worked overtime, a lot of overtime.  I’d bring work home with me at night sometimes when I was in the city.  I would do. But they didn’t pay overtime, but they looked after you.  They gave you a free superannuation fund.

ID:        The men, not the girls.  Not the girls, not the females didn’t get superannuation.

            GW:      And why didn’t the women get any?

ID:        I don’t – you’d have to ask the Wunderlichs that.  I don’t know but we didn’t.

            GW:      You can guess.

ID:        Yes, because we were females.  We were the underdogs really but we were treated very well just the same.

EG:      Yes, they treated them well.

            GW:      Did you sense that when you were working there?

ID:        Oh no, you didn’t expect it, because you knew you weren’t going to get it and I think probably half of them wouldn’t know that the men even got it.

EG:      No, no.

ID:        You know because they didn’t contribute.

EG:      I don’t know whether they thought the men was the breadwinner…

ID:        Well I think that was the idea and also…

EG:      I think that might have been their thinking.

ID:        They didn’t think that girls would stay there too long.

EG:      Well that’s true.  They’d get married.

ID:        Most of them would be there for three or four years and they’d leave to get married or  something like that.

EG:      They didn’t stay there too long either.

ID:        Only me.

            GW:      Why did you stay there so long?

ID:        Well I liked working there and I left when I got married and after 12 years and brought up my two boys I went back.  I was a bit like Madam Melba.  I went back three times altogether because when I’d been there about two years my mother got very sick and I left for about six months, but they took me back then.  So they must have liked me all right.

EG:      Yes and then you worked then for another 30 years or so.

ID:        Well I went back in 1948 and left in 1974.

EG:      26 years.

GW:      When did you first start working?

ID:        1925 in May.

EG:      She was the best typist and stenographer they ever had.

Geoff Weary
Geoff Weary