Grace Schwebel

Grace Schwebel was born in Newtown in 1916. In her long interview she discusses a very broad range of subjects including: middle class life, multiculturalism, religion, sectarianism, orphanages, factory work, home births and abortion, illnesses and death, racism, marriage breakdown, the Depression, political movements, and her fleeting contact with (one-time suffragette) Adela Pankhurst Walsh. In the excerpt below she talks about the widespread early twentieth century practice of letting out rooms to boarders.

Most people, if there was space to put a bed there was always a bed, they always rented that out or gave space to people. Accommodation for people was at a premium. So if you had a two-storey house and the family only used two rooms, the spare room was always rented out and that was very common practice. So we had a three bedroom, four bedroom house in Fitzroy Street [Newtown]. The front room was sort of partitioned off so that was rented to a man, a boarder, the middle room was like the parlour, then we had a kitchen, breakfast room, then we had a laundry and then upstairs there was another three bedrooms and a bathroom. One of the men that was a boarder was Mr O’Connor. He was a watchmaker and a jeweller, but he was a bachelor; and then his relative, a Mr Norris, he boarded, so the two men shared the front bedroom. They had two single beds

What was it like having boarders in the house? Did they become part of the family?

Yes, they did; but it was always respectful. The kids, we were always “Mr O’Connor” and “Mr Norris” – I couldn’t tell you their first name. They went into their room; they sat out on the verandah. The front bedroom had French doors opened out onto the front verandah, so they stepped out of their bedroom onto the front verandah and there was always a cane chair or something there. As a matter of fact a lot of larger families, their front verandahs were usually turned into another bedroom. There was always a canvas blind or the balconies were always turned into a bedroom.

Sue Rosen
City of Sydney Council