Jean Jurd grew up the Darlinghurst and Woolloomooloo area of Sydney and moved house and school regularly. The streets of her neighbourhood, the Domain and the wharves were her stomping ground. In the interview she talks about her ‘rough and tough’ childhood experiences growing up in a household that was regularly frequented by underworld characters. Jean talks about her mother’s various boyfriends, being sent off to purchase alcohol and the lack of money in the household, particularly during the Depression. As a child Jean collected wood, potatoes and onions from the wharves and sold them to local business to supplement the household finances. During the war years Jean thought life became more exciting as there were many visiting American soldiers in town looking for a good time.
Violence and instability were part of Jean’s life experiences as a child. She recalls many stories of the hardships, as well some of the people who watched out for her while she was with friends playing on the local streets on her favourite billy cart. Understanding and coming to terms with her childhood experiences was a way of healing her past.
This interview and transcript contain material that could be confronting and/or triggering. The oral history interview is an account of the interviewee’s childhood story of living in the Darlinghurst / Woolloomooloo area in a criminal underworld environment where the interviewee was exposed to experiences that most children were protected from.
JJ [Interviewee] … although when I had my billycart I always seemed to be a loner, I was a one-out kid. I can’t remember anybody else that had a billycart. Well, they had billycarts but they didn’t go and collect wood. So I was familiar with every wharf in Woolloomooloo and there weren’t any other kids that came with me. The only one that came with me was a little fox terrier dog called Spot and Spot would come with me when he heard me with the barrow; he was two or three doors up the street and he used to love to come with me.
So that brings me back to being pretty much of a loner because I was out with my little wheelbarrow but I loved it because I was free. I was scooting down the street and sometimes I’d run onto some of the ships and pinch anything I could find, although there wasn’t much. But I remember once going onto a ship after a Christmas party for what we used to call the “posh kids” – the posh kids had a Christmas party – and I found a little wooden horse, a little toy, hanging on the tree underneath that they’d missed so I pinched that and then ran off the ship. But they were used to me running onto the wharves so they never used to pay much attention. They knew times were tough and they knew you were probably just going to pick up whatever you could find around on the wharves which was a lot of wood. See, things came in crates, packing cases, so they’d be broken or they’d be accidentally broken or purposely broken. Where all the wood came from, I’ve got no idea but that’s what I used to pack up and sell.
SR [Interviewer] : Where? To what, other houses?
JJ: Any of the shops, because everybody had little fires, any of the shops and the little houses around, anybody with the houses in the area.
SR: And what did other kids do with their billycarts?
JJ: We used to scoot up and down the streets. I mean considering there was hardly any traffic so the streets were quite good for billycarts but I can’t remember another kid that actually worked with their billycart with me. I was a loner and went and got the wood and the potatoes and onions and went ‘round then and sold them and then I gave that money to my mother.