Gaylene Harkin

Gaylene Harkin was born in 1962 in Millers Point, one of nine children, and lived most of her life there. Her family boasts six generations of waterside workers. In her interview she talks about her childhood, waterfront work, women running boarding houses, the cat lady who lived in the Sydney Harbour Bridge pylon, tunnels, being moved from place to place by Housing NSW, Green Bans and other community actions, and her nostalgia for the area now that she lives elsewhere. In the excerpt below she talks about her grandmother’s treatment for her childhood ill-health and the array of pets available in the waterfront location.

This interview is part of Housing NSW’s 2005 Millers Point Oral History Project. The City of Sydney acknowledges the State Library of New South Wales as the archival custodian of the project and digital preserver of the masters.

Well in those days they didn’t call it asthma, I was just born with weak lungs, bad lungs. I was six months old when I came out of hospital and I was just a sick child. I mean if someone asks me what is the memory that sticks in my brain mostly about being a child, I’d say camphor and oil. I do remember most of my childhood wearing little brown jackets made of paper soaked in camphor and oil. It is just something I remember so much about being a child. She [Gaylene’s grandmother] used to think the camphor opened up the airways.

I had all these allergies and I was allergic to [cow’s] milk and goat’s milk is probably better than [cow’s] milk. It is not like you have the milkman coming around with milk everyday, so the only way to get goat’s milk is to have a goat. Behind the houses in Bettington Street there was this giant big paddock that went all the way down to the wharf and there was always grass. If you didn’t get grass there you had grass up the road at the end of Bettington Street where the park was, used to take
the goat out there to eat the grass.

I had geese in Millers Point. I used to get some weird pets off the boats. I mean I even had a lamb there for a while until he grew too big and we had to get rid of him. Animals came off the boats all the time. My dad would bring them home. I used to remember feeding them with a beer bottle with a teat on top. You wouldn’t think of that now when you think of the wharves.

Frank Heimans