John Hawthorne

John Hawthorn was born in 1945 and lived for a couple of decades in Millers Point with his family in both boarding houses and flats. His father managed a local hotel and his mother worked as a cleaner and barmaid. In his interview he talks about life around hotels; bonfires and industrial fires; violent crimes; childhood entertainment; waterfront working conditions; and employment as a tally clerk. In the excerpt below he talks about his work in childhood [pre-decimal currency] with an SP bookie [illegal betting].

I used to work for an SP bookie, Cec Moore, when I was eleven and they used to give me ten bob [slang for shillings in Imperial currency] a week. I would run sheets between the two premises, one in Windmill Street and one next to the Harbourview Hotel. I would go and get cigars and matches and run sheets for him down to the other betting place, or vice versa. I done that for a couple of years with him.

I was only a kid but that’s when I started punting. Two bob each way, fifty cents, or five bob. In fact since I have been eleven I haven’t been to work or school on Melbourne Cup day [popular Australian horse race]. The first one I wagged and my mother found out, and I said, ‘Well I’m not going to go any more on Melbourne Cup day,’ so she allowed me to have it off [school]. When I started working I have never gone [to work] on Melbourne Cup Day. I’m sixty now so I have seen forty-nine straight. I don’t know if that is a good record or not, but it is my record anyway.

I could do no wrong when I was kid punting until I was about sixteen and then I’ve never been able to do any right since. Always had between thirty and ninety pounds [Imperial currency] in a little pink pirate’s chest. I had papers inside it and the money underneath and I used to give my mother money at times. My father was getting five pounds a week [wages] and I had somewhere between thirty and ninety pounds in there. I had a fortune in there at that time. As I said, once I turned sixteen the luck ran out and I could count on one hand the amount of winners I’ve backed since.

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.

Frank Heimans