Jim McLean begins talking about his father, who started at the glass works when he was 13 years old in 1910, and continued to work there for 53 years. The family lived in surrounding areas, first in Redfern and then St Peters. As a child, Jim visited the glassworks with his father, and as an adult he went on to work there himself, only leaving for a few years in 1942 to join the Air Force.
Jim casts back and tells a history of glass manufacturing in Australia and goes into detail about the glass blowing process. He talks about men often having with swollen and blistered lips from the work. The Waterloo Bottle Works in Sydney was established in 1900, which is where his father started working. Around 1920, several companies, including Waterloo Bottle Works merged to become AGM (Australian Glass Manufacturers).
In the early 1930s, they began manufacturing plastics, making screw caps for bottles, toilet seats, combs and other plastic goods. During the war years, they manufactured ammunitions and life rafts. He then describes how the increase in consumer goods in the post-war era entirely changed how and what they manufactured.
JM: We used to catch the train at St Peters where we were living and we’d go to Redfern and then we’d walk from Redfern Station across Redfern Park, and I can remember vividly there were a lot of Assyrians that lived on the opposite side of the park and that would be in Elizabeth Street where there were a lot of flats. Now, they were old buildings and as you walked across the park you could see beds upstairs and you could see about four or five sets of feet hanging out. I don’t know whether you’re interested in this.
GW: [Laughs] That’s very interesting, yes.
JM: But you could see about four or five sets of feet sort of hanging over the edge of the bed, you know, where they must have been packed like sardines. Of course all those places are pulled down now and then we’d turn into Phillip Street and there were old houses there. There were a couple of little factories. I can remember one there that used to make tyre black and his name just escapes me. And then we’d make our way to the glassworks.
I used to like the idea of going because in those days the blowers that worked there found it rather hot. Conditions were not like they are today where they had air tunnels and that blowing on them to keep them cool. If the wind was blowing the wrong way and blowing the glass, the heat from the tank towards their face, they would knock off for the day and come back the next day. But the reason I used to like going is because you used to meet all the men and they made a bit of a fuss and you could earn yourself threepence and sixpence here by going and getting them cold water. They consumed a lot of water because it was hot and also the job was hot and their mouth was pretty sore looking with the blowing and one thing or another.