This story from June 21, 1978, and a similar one, LATCHKEY KIDS OUT ON STREET, are clear evidence of the levels of poverty in Newtown and Marrickville in the 1970s. I combined them into one prose poem, ‘Latchkey Kids’, basically a reworking of both newspaper articles, attributing it to the Newtown Voice.
Unlike stories of bombings, break-ins, brothels, and gambling dens, these examples of families’ hardship and the schools and welfare organisations struggling to assist them did not rouse the Editor to thunder. No “editor’s rant” for these, nor the ones about discrimination against Aboriginal people in the community.
Talks on a feeding program
“The inner-city school of St. Peter’s is talking about setting up a feeding program. It is worried about the level of nutrition children are receiving.”
The article makes it clear that staff were reluctant to talk much about the proposed feeding program, fearing parents would be upset about the implied criticism. However, the idea had already been enthusiastically discussed at Marrickville Council, which is how the Voice got wind of it.
“Under the Schools Commission’s assisted schools scheme, St. Peter’s has already taken steps to improve student nutrition. It has installed a milkshake machine and supplies health-giving milkshakes.”
Staff admitted the children needed extra sustenance, and that giving them breakfast first made it easier to teach them.
The proposed scheme would require the canteen to be opened early so that children could have breakfast at school.
Sadly, St. Peter’s did not receive the grant funding needed to set up the feeding program. Darlington School had previously applied for a grant for the same purpose, but also did not receive funding. Teachers at Darlington were paying for children’s breakfasts out of their own pockets.
Three months later, almost to the day, this story on September 20, 1978 also involves children going to school hungry. This time, it’s church-run activities programs for so-called ‘latchkey kids’ after school and in the holidays.
The Petersham Baptist Church, (renamed Marrickville Baptist for poetic purposes), had been waiting since the end of May for the next tranche of funding from the Federal Minister for Social Security (Senator Guilfoyle).
The church was paying for the after-school programs itself, while waiting for a reply from the Minister, and was rapidly running into debt.
“ ‘Latchkey kids’ are children whose parents are at work all day; many come from one-parent families. Often they have house keys on a string round their necks so they can let themselves into their empty homes after school.
“Some children were also coming to school just after 7am. They had been given money to buy a packet of chips for breakfast.”
Three years earlier the church had seen the need for after-school and holiday programs for these children. [It’s possible some of them would have been in the graveyard sniffing petrol.] Nearly all of its funding was through various federal government schemes, including the recently scrapped Australian Assistance Plan.
Now, with no sign of the funding, the church was considering cancelling or at least severely slashing all its programs.
On September 13, the church’s minister wrote to Minister Guilfoyle, threatening to appeal to the Federal Ombudsman. That same day, he received a letter from the Minister, informing him that the $50,000 grant had been cancelled.
The Voice reported “the church’s small congregation has made massive efforts”—including stalls, afternoon teas, and jumble sales— “to keep the service going and keep it cheap.
“However, the church says there is no way it can continue to operate without funding, as demand for these services has mushroomed because of the area’s pressing social needs.”