Being a kid in the 1930’s

Allan Thompson

Christmas 1932 Santa Claus brought me a bright red Cyclops tabletop truck- a two pedal powered job- which I proudly drove up and down the footpath. (My poor parents must have hocked themselves to the hilt to pay for it!) Later, my father fixed a cut down cane chair to the back and my fairly new baby sister, Barbara, firmly strapped in, became my freight, and I took her on many excursions up and down the footpath.

At the beginning of 1932, a couple of months before I turned 5, I was enrolled in the Rozelle Primary school kindergarten and fell hopelessly in love for the very first time. She was a blue eyed blonde (naturally!) who lived in a side street not far from our shop. She was also 5. Alas, it was an unrequited love and finally doomed to failure when I overheard my mother telling her father that "my little boy is in love with your little girl". Some mothers have no tact!

I shared with my parents a residence that was part of a shop, a mixed business it was called in those days, in leafless Balmain, run by my father.

When I was about 8 years old, I became the "messenger boy” for the shop my parents had, being entrusted with great sums of money (for those days) to go and order goods for the shop. Cash with order was the order of the day. One memorable occasion was when I was given a whole two pounds – about four dollars in modern currency – and a lot of money in 1935). It was all in two shilling pieces (about the size of a twenty cent coin). I was despatched with this treasure to Allan’s Sweets wholesale store in Glebe to order confectionery for the shop. I hopped off the tram at Glebe and immediately a quantity of two shilling coins hopped out of my pocket….and some of them rolled down the drain! Talk about disaster and panic! But some kind men from the nearby Crane’s Plumbing Supplies came to my rescue. Using a long strip of hoop iron, suitably bent, they managed to scoop up the coins before they disappeared in a flood of water that came gushing down. I was extremely lucky.

At about this time I also took Barbara on Sunday outings. Our regular destination was Watson's Bay. Looking back, this was no doubt to give our parents a bit of a break. Procedure was: Parents saw us onto a tram at the front door of the shop. This tram took us down to the Darling Street wharf. There we caught a ferry to the Erskine Street wharf. (This was in Darling Harbour-round about where the Sydney Aquarium is now- and was demolished many many years ago).Then, from the Ferry, another tram to Watsons Bay. A look over the Gap, a stroll on the beach and/or jetty, sometimes a donkey ride for Barbara and return home, with parents watching for our return to the diagonally opposite tram stop. All pretty routine and quite safe in those days.

In those days, children made their own fun. At the end of Elliot Street there was a burnt out old mansion which was called Hoary’s Forest, although I never learnt where the name came from. It had had a waterfrontage complete with built in swimming pool. All that remained of the house were some patches of tiled floors and a tangled jungle of what must have been a beautiful garden. It was a great playground for kids. Opposite was the timber mill and the wharf for the ferry across to the Cockatoo Island naval dockyard.

"Billycarts" were all the go in those days for boys. I just had to have one, so I secured some lengths of timber from the mill, plus a Gartrell White (a company that mass produced cakes) cake tray (a wooden affair, perhaps a metre by half a metre by 10 cms deep). I don’t remember where the wheels came from, but for axles my father armed himself with a spanner and took me to Sans Souci (which he explained to me was French for "without Suzy"). It was a day's journey from Balmain right out there to the end of Botany Bay, but there, in all its glory, stood a forgotten, forlorn steam tram carriage!! From this museum piece we secured a couple of iron handrails. There was a blacksmith on Victoria Road, Rozelle, (I think there’s a pub on that site now) and the smithy reshaped those handrails into axles for me. I now had my billycart….a vehicle with a front axle that is pinned to a centreboard and swivels like the front wheels of a car; the body (the cakebox) firmly attached to the centreboard and the rear axle fixed underneath the rear of the box. Steering is achieved by using one’s feet on the front axle, although there was also a rope attached, much like the reins for a horse. They gave you something to hang onto.

In those days there was not much traffic on the roads. Trams, petrol tankers from the Texaco depot and our frenzied attempts at suicide were our main hazards. So we, the boys, took our billycarts up the slope of Darling Street (the main road) towards Rozelle and there we would coast down Darling Street, round the corner into Elliot Street and down to the Wharf! Try it today and you’d be killed at any one of the intersections. At the wharf we would wait for a truck from the timber yard, hop on the back, trailing our carts, to be transported back up the hill to repeat the performance. On one such occasion our carts became entangled and I was pulled onto the road with a thump to the back of my head that left a lumpy scar for many years.

So, without roller blades and skate boards, we managed to have some highly exciting times when we were kids in the early 1930s.

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