Dictionary of Sydney

The Dictionary of Sydney was archived in 2021.

Poverty Point

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Poverty Point

The north-east corner of Pitt and Park streets in the city was for many years known as Poverty Point. This name was even once written on the awning at this corner.

Many cities once had a Poverty Point. Originally it was the place where actors met and swapped intelligence and where managers doled out meagre employment for those treading the boards. As the theatre became more organised and serious players were engaged in the privacy of entrepreneurs' offices, the pavement became more the domain of vaudevillians and also-rans who plied their trade in one-night stands in local halls and theatres, or joined the touring troupes who did the rural towns.

In 1950 retired actor Bert Bailey, who famously played Dad in On Our Selection, recalled that Poverty Point was originally in the 1880s in Castlereagh Street, near the Theatre Royal. By the early twentieth century, it had moved to the corner of Pitt and Park streets, where assorted actors, musicians, clowns, contortionists, jugglers and yodellers met regularly. [1]

With the Royal, the Palace, the National and the Criterion theatres all nearby, some of the work was indeed very local. Across Pitt Street, in the Sydney Mechanics' School of Arts building, (now the Arthouse Hotel) ex-magician Will Andrade and his wife ran a theatre booking agency from their popular theatrical supplies shop. It sold play scripts, poetry, make-up and carried a stock of new and second-hand 'show biz' books and ephemera. [2]

One of the larger-than-life characters who used the pavement as his office was Bert Howard: he managed a successful vaudeville circuit and was involved in the early distribution and showing of films, sometimes in a combined picture show/vaudeville performance. Howard, who had once been factotum for the great Harry Rickards, allegedly chalked out a virtual office on the pavement, and when he had business elsewhere, he would use the same medium to write that he had gone out. They called him the Mayor of Poverty Point.

By about 1940 his mantle had passed to Percy Lodge, the last remaining vaudeville booking agent in the vicinity. Very soon he took rooms, leaving the pavement to an aging and dwindling group of performers in retirement. By the time television was making inroads into the way people were entertained in the 1950s, the memory of Poverty Point was already fading.

Poverty Point, on account of its bohemian atmosphere, seemed to attract all the odd characters who, over the years, have passed over the kaleidoscope of Sydney's life. Such men as Chidley, Bradshaw the bushranger, Garden Honey, Dockem, Cockney (a retainer of Harry Rickards), Tivoli Mick, Stumpy Davis, the Tivoli packer, the seller of silk handkerchiefs and the boxers who fought at the old Gaiety . [3]


[1] People, 26 April 1950

[2] Charles Gilbert, 'Poverty Point: A Story of People and Places – Past and Present – In Sydney's Theatrical World', typescript, nd, in Will Andrade papers, Mitchell Library, State Library of New South Wales

[3] Tassi Tole, 'A clown Remembers Poverty Point', newspaper clipping, unsourced, in Will Andrade papers, Mitchell Library, State Library of New South Wales