Ted McDermott was born in Redfern in 1925 and spent most of his life there. In his interview he talks about many aspects of working class life including men’s and women’s employment, domestic work, family life, childhood haunts and games, and Cracker Night. In the excerpt below he recalls the culture of men fighting in and around hotels in the inner city.
On the corner of Kettle Street and Elizabeth Street Redfern there was a hotel called the Australian Eleven, used to open and close at six o’clock [6 am and 6 pm]. Now, the battles that I’ve experienced in Redfern are nothing like the battles and the things you read about today. In those days it was a fair go for everybody. Round about five o’clock, maybe they were getting a bit tiddly from ten o’clock in the morning; somebody’d get the bright idea. He’d down his drink and he’d tip his glass upside down and sit it on the counter and if you did that you were declaring that you were the best man in the pub and “I’ll take anyone on”. And never, ever did I ever see that happen that somebody didn’t say “Right, I’m going to show you you’re not the best man in the pub” and out they’d go.
Everybody’d take their grog and they’d walk out with their schooners or middies or whatever they had, and they’d form a circle ‘round them and they’d toe the line and into it, bareknuckle and go. And the difference between then and today is if I was having a fight with a guy, I was one of the participants, and he was too good for me and I’ve had enough, he’d walk over and grab you and help you up and shake your hand, into the pub and have a drink together. If two men were fighting and one was getting the better of the other and any one out of the crowd stepped in – in other words if it was two against one or three against one, or, like the cowards of today, six and seven against one – that would never be allowed. They’d get a terrible hiding off the crowd. It was one against one, a fair go.
On the corner of Redfern Street and Walker Street was the Albert View [hotel] and it was quite commonly called the Bloodhouse at times and there were terrific fights up there. There might be five or six fights going at the one time, you know, a couple in Redfern Street, and three or four down Walker Street, and one in the pub, and everyone’d go out to make sure it was a fair go.