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My December-January South Sydney Herald story

01 Dec

Shuffling the years with Bev Hunter

Like old Dan in Judith Wright’s “South of My Days” John and Bev Hunter have seventy years of Darlington memories hived up in them like old honey. “It was a great place. We had the best of it,” Bev recalls. “It was a really safe area. You could leave your key in the door, or leave it open, or the key under the mat. You never got shut out.”

“It was terrible, what happened. ‘Progress’ they call it, but the Town Hall where everyone had their birthday parties, engagement parties, wedding parties – that went. But we did save the old school, which is a music room now, and the gates with the war memorials. How many were affected? You’d have to look at the James Colman Report on the expansion of Sydney University into the Darlington area.” Bev has a copy in front of her; it came out in 1976 and is in Waterloo Library.

There were some, apparently, who helped themselves to people’s property even before they had fully moved out. Some of the local hard men soon dealt with that. “It was pretty tough in those days,” Bev says. “But we did get enough support to stop them crossing Shepherd Street” – referring to the University of Sydney which began encroaching on Darlington in the 1960s and has now swallowed up almost half the suburb.

Not the first time the area was devoured of course. In 1788-9 the “Kangaroo Ground” (as it was then known) was set aside for educational and other purposes, though it would be the 1850s before the University actually appeared just above the swamp and lake that formed one of two sources of Blackwattle Creek. By 1791 most of the Cadigal had succumbed to smallpox and other hazards. In 1835 the botanist Thomas Shepherd had a nursery there named in honour of Governor Ralph Darling; the street names – Ivy, Rose and so on – reflect that origin. By the late 19th century Darlington was well established as the working class suburb John and Bev Hunter were later born into.

One of the attractions for young people in the 40s and 50s of last century was the Surryville. Johnny Devlin & the Devils, from New Zealand, started a permanent Tuesday night dance at the Surryville, but the place had been jumping long before that. St Vincent de Paul’s had an event there: “In the winter of 1903, the Society organized at ‘SurreyVille’ for the’ distressed poor of the parish’ a Bread and Butter Dance which was hailed as ‘a perfect success’. Thirty-three lady parishioners, ranging from Madame Huenerbein to Madame McSweeney furnished a generous table free …Rickett’s string band discoursed the music and Miss May Stanley played the extras’ . G.Smythe provided Arnott biscuits, E. and G.Humphreys the cordials, the chemist Mr. M.H.Limon the programmes, and four local butchers the meat.” Bev remembers the alcohol-free dance nights. “We used to walk up to the Surryville, where the Wentworth Building now is, and walk home again around 11pm – that’s how safe it was then”

But the University did provide work too for local people in the 60s and 70s. Bev herself worked as a cleaner in the Wentworth Building from 5-9am, then worked at a shop on the corner of Calder Road and Shepherd Street, which she eventually owned. Later she was in the hamburger bar upstairs in Wentworth. The Calder Road shop did much business with students from the new Engineering School; among Bev’s customers was Frank Sartor with whom Bev would in time be on Sydney Council. Bev’s activism in that role is local legend now. Her community work was acknowledged by the Council in 1988 with an Australia Day Award for voluntary work. She had also become a JP during those activist days so she could save people having to walk up to Newtown Court to get their documents witnessed. She is still an active JP.

Bev and John raised three children in Darlington. Retired to Long Jetty, she still feels part of the Darlington community. Some of their old neighbours now live not far from their new home, including one who was John’s next-door neighbour in 1939. Bev still has relatives and friends in Darlington and visits quite often. A sister-in-law and her family still live in Calder Road.

Acknowledgement: St. James’ Forest Lodge parish history (online) for the account of the St Vincent de Paul event of 1903

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