Dictionary of Sydney

The Dictionary of Sydney was archived in 2021.

Excerpt of oral history interview with Jane Lanyon about life as a child in the inner city during the Depression, by historian Sue Rosen at Redfern, 19 November 1994

Jane Lanyon was born in 1920 in Chippendale and moved to nearby Redfern when she was six. In her interview she recalls many facets of her childhood: local industry, poverty, midnight ‘flits’ to avoid the landlord, and many other survival strategies. In the excerpt below she recalls the ingenuity employed by local children to gather free food during the Depression.

Interviewer: As a kid were you expected to contribute to the family in any way? You mentioned before going around and scrounging a few things.

Jane: Yes.

Interviewer: Was that sort of an expected thing or was that just what you did?

Jane: No, I used to do that with the other kids from the school – you know how kids talk at school – but of a Saturday my father and my sister and I used to wheel a pram down to Paddy’s Markets and come four o'clock in the afternoon the markets are finished. The vegetable people used to wipe their stalls of the vegetables and there used to be big heaps of vegetables that would have went to the tip. So we used to go through there and put in the pram what was eatable and what was good and one time a chap took pity on us and gave us a watermelon and we got as far as the old Empire Theatre in Quay Street and my father dropped the watermelon and, of course, rather than waste it we all sat on the steps of the Empire picture show and with our hands we scooped the watermelon out and ate it. So we weren’t going to waste a darned good watermelon because my father was careless.

But that’s what we used to do of a Saturday, go down there, and we used to get, as I say, a pram, an old pram filled with groceries or speck [marked] fruit and we used to bring it home sit at the table, cut the specks out and make fruit salad out of it. Well, that was something for nothing and just something we used to do.

(This interview is part of the City of Sydney's oral history project: Life in c20th South Sydney)