Disco Dynamo

that guy has nothing on Newtown’s Dancing
Dynamo! Terry Dickson looks like John Travolta and he dances better.

John Travolta Saturday Night Fever

Another little gem discovered trawling through the Guardian, learning about life in Newtown. Like Cathy’s Child, it was tucked on an inside page, next to articles about home renovation and caring for pets. I carefully copied it into my notebook, & tried (unsuccessfully) to copy the photo, too. Basically, it was the same pose as John Travolta, here, cutting his moves in Saturday Night Fever.

I rewrote the article to turn it into a prose poem, while still keeping the flavour of the journo’s breathless enthusiasm (real or hyped).

Disco Dynamo

The Dancing Machine from Las Vegas, currently at

Le Club in The Cross, has been the talk of Sydney.

But that guy has nothing on Newtown’s Dancing

Dynamo! Terry Dickson is just eighteen. He looks

like John Travolta and he dances better. He’s

laying them in the aisles at local discos. Besides

his good looks and his personality, he is without

doubt one of the finest dancers seen in Sydney

for many a long year and looks like becoming

the absolute heart-throb of every teeny-bopper

on the disco scene. Terry will be appearing again

at Newtown RSL Club every Thursday night, and

this week everyone who attends will receive an

autographed photo of this sensational new star.

Our very own Disco Dynamo will be judging the

Club’s Monster Disco this Thursday night. Great

prizes for the best dancers and the most original

moves. Don’t miss the One Man Dancing Machine!

This promo article gave me great material for picturing Harry and Tom having fun together at the disco, before Tom spoils everything. Harry was wearing Buzz’s white flares, a little stripy crop top, and her old high-heeled boots. She doesn’t say what Tom was wearing.

At the Disco

…We had a beaut time.

Tom’s a great dancer with a real feel

For the music, and I was really getting off

on the beats. It was huge fun. We came

second in one of the comps. In the break,

while the Dynamo was strutting his stuff,

Tom brought me a beer and some salted

peanuts. We make good team, you an me,

Then he puts his foot in it, being nasty about Jaro, and Harry runs out into the night crying.

This incident leads Harry to wonder why she hasn’t seen Jaro since their meal together in Harry’s flat some time ago(Spag Bol and Cheesecake). She fears she has offended him somehow and doesn’t know where to find him to apologise.

In a later post you will learn more about Harry and Jaro and their dark secrets.

You can read more about Newtown Voices, about me, and where to buy the book at newtownvoices

 

Those Bolshie Tin Shed Girls

It wasn’t only the girls who were bolshie!

Sexy photographer in jeans shirt with old camera

Another story that has no connection with the Guardian, but has a strong connection to Newtown and the social changes happening throughout the 1970s. The Tin Sheds were the workshops and art rooms of Sydney University’s Art Department, and were literally tin sheds, rough and ready structures.

[For those unfamiliar with the word, bolshie (also spelt bolshy) may refer to a Bolshevik, but is more commonly used colloquially for obstinate, difficult, strong-willed.  (https://www.macquariedictionary.com.au/features/word/search/?word=bolshie&search_word_type=Dictionary.)

It’s similar to feisty, which Macquarie defines as showing courage and independence; high-spirited. (https://www.macquariedictionary.com.au/features/word/search/?word=feisty&search_word_type=Dictionary.) ]

Buzz introduces Harry to these arty young women in her poem, ‘Tin Shed Girls’ with the line “There’s some bolshie girls at the Tin Sheds, Harry, the kind I like.”

She starts telling us about the innovative approaches these young women were taking in their art, but digresses into a lesbian daydream, the girls being not just bolshie but hot.

“I was walking behind one yesterday. She wore tight

jeans I couldn’t take my eyes off. Sweet round

cheeks like warm peaches. I followed her

for three blocks before she turned

down a side-street. Anyhow,

as well as bein hot chicks an anarchists

an feminists, these girls—an the guys

they hang out with—all artists—run

fabulous gigs, well, they do ripper posters

for discos an fundraisers for battered women*

an shelters an anti-war demos.”

[*The term “battered women” referred to women suffering under domestic violence. It was dropped after a politician suggested “battered women” sounded like “battered fish”–ie- fish in batter, ready for frying.]

WAM: the Women Activist Artists

Buzz describes some of the in-your-face approaches these young women artists took:

“They’re challengin the system with their WAM—that’s

Women’s Art Movement . . . They’re not doin arty-farty

stuffy elitist art, they’re reclaimin traditional women’s stuff—crochet an

embroidery, doilies—sounds poncy but it isn’t

cos it’s political, stuff about women’s place

in the social fabric; how women’s work is undervalued,

devalued. How the personal is political. Good stuff, eh!

Gone but not forgotten

Living in Newtown, I’d heard about the Tin Sheds art workshops, but nothing definite. I understood some contemporary artists of the 80s and 90s in Sydney—male and female—were products of the Tin Sheds. Not all the women students reworked traditional female handicrafts. Some were printmakers, others were photographers, potters, metalworkers, and painters.

I knew roughly where the Sheds were in City Road, opposite Victoria Park, but never got around to looking for them. Then I spent a year in Katoomba, up in the Blue Mountains. When I came back, the Sheds were gone, demolished, replaced with a modern functional building for the university’s Faculty of Architecture, Design and Planning. The only remnant, ghost, the new gallery’s name:

Tin Sheds ghost

Working on Newtown Voices, I knew I needed to include the Tin Shed Girls, not only for their creative approach to art and politics, but because they were also active in early pro-gay and lesbian protests and consciousness raising activities. As a lesbian anarchist, Buzz would naturally know some of them. I needed to know them too, so Buzz could speak through my voice, using her own words.

Under a Hot Tin Roof

I did what research I could online about the Tin Sheds, and discovered a book had been published about studying and working there: Under a Hot Tin Roof. It was out of print, and only available in the State Library of NSW’s reference collection. I bothered the friendly and helpful curator at the Tin Sheds Gallery, and he chased up the very last unsold copy of the book, which I promptly bought. It’s a fabulous work of social history, with interviews and photos from original students, and many photos of their works.

Under a Hot Tin Roof covers nearly 40 years from the late 1960s when the old World War 2 sheds (used by CSIRO during the 1940s and 50s) were hastily converted into art workshops, with uncovered spaces between the spartan buildings.

Sadly, I don’t have any photos of the Sheds, but there are evocative B&W pics from the 1970s & early 80s in the book as well as vivid descriptions from former students.

The Sheds were “ . . . a group of old tin sheds with nothing whatsoever to offer in the way of comfort to the occupants. Hot in summer and icy in winter, they are referred to by various users as a sweatbox, a safe haven, a hidey-hole, a vital off-beat meeting place, a factory space for producing work, and a home.”

[Kenyon, Therese: Under a Hot Tin Roof

Art, Passion and Politics at the Tin Sheds Art Workshop, p 25

State Library of New South Wales Press 1995

ISBN 0 7305 8933 1]

In the photos they look like old garden sheds. The antithesis of classrooms and lecture halls. It’s easy to see why the progressive art and music teachers adapted them as workshops for teaching the philosophies and practicalities of their arts.

Squatting’s the Go

It’s also easy to understand why some male students created temporary homes from the underground spaces between the sheds. It wasn’t only the girls who were bolshie! Squatting was a risky but economical way for people to make a home. Buzz lived with five or six others in an anarchist squat—an abandoned two-storey warehouse-workshop on the edge of Hollis Park in Wilson St (close to the toilets visited by Jaro).

Coincidentally, the Sheds were in the old industrial and residential suburb of Darlington, which the university was expanding into during the 60s and 70s. Buzz tells us more about squatting and homelessness in her angry rant against the university’s expansion into her home suburb. We’ll hear from her later, in a post on ‘The Yowie’.

You can read more about Newtown Voices, about me, and where to buy the book at newtownvoices

Root Out the Crims (AKA the Ed’s rant)

If the dogs are barking right, these people won’t stop at bombings and even murder.

Root out the crims

The week following the Guardian’s exposé on August 16 of the extent of illegal gambling in the Newtown–Marrickville area and mobsters’ stand-over tactics and violence, the Editor wrote a courageous comment piece (which Tom refers to as “the Ed’s rant”).

Subtitled ‘Root out the crims’, he wrote that the paper’s stories about illegal gambling ‘have caused some rumblings among the gambling fraternity. We have even heard of threats being issued.

‘There are some big operators operating around Newtown-Marrickville. They don’t like their activities being brought to light.

‘If the dogs are barking right, these people won’t stop at bombings and even murder.’

An Undercurrent of Corruption

Back in June, the Ed had started to discuss rumours flying around of stand-over tactics, bashings, threats of bombings and murder, and suggestions that hard drugs were part of the toxic mix. Because of quite poetic rhythms in his comment piece ‘An Undercurrent of Corruption’, I rewrote it slightly to create a prose poem.

An undercurrent of corruption runs through Newtown and occasionally surfaces.

‘Allegations have been made about stand-over tactics, bashings, hard drugs, gambling, bomb threats even.

But nobody has come forward with hard evidence.

There are believed to be two statutory declarations in existence from people claiming to have been threatened and abused.

The Voice has not seen either declaration.

When approached to vouch for the story, several people said

‘they wouldn’t touch it with a forty-foot pole’.

Allegations have been made that people are afraid of intimidation.

We’ve been told if we pursue the story we’ll likely get a bomb through the window. 

It’s hard to penetrate Newtown’s wall of silence.

Slummin it down South King Street

It’s after this article that Tom takes Harry “slummin it” down South King Street to show her “the seamier side of big city life”, checking on a milkbar-café that he suspects is a gambling den. It’s a “little Greek café in a ratty two-storey building, yiros an chiko rolls an milkshakes downstairs, an upstairs? That’s what we were gonna check out.”

They are reluctantly allowed upstairs with their coffee and baklava, and witness a card game that turns violent, a knife drawn and blood spilt. You can read the story in Tom’s words in the poem The Greeks North and South (2), and Harry’s view in Upstairs at Number 543.

Root out the crims

Getting back to ‘Root out the crims’: after indicating the extent of illegal gambling in the district and the easy access to it, the Ed makes the common-sense suggestion that brothels and gambling should be legalised.

Noting that the ‘big operators’ seem to have some kind of protection – a blind eye turned to them, even the ones ‘right opposite a police station’, while the small fry — coffee lounges and social clubs — get jumped on by quickly by police and licensing authorities, (often ‘dobbed in by businessmen who are known to own brothels or gambling premises, and talk about “wanting to clean up Newtown”), he suggested legalising both activities as the way to stop criminal activity.

‘Let’s get one thing clear. The Guardian isn’t opposed to gambling, as such, or even brothels.

As far as we’re concerned, it would be a hell of a lot better if both activities were legalised and properly regulated.

‘In fact, that’s the only way to get rid of the corruption that currently pervades the scene.

‘Why should these things be illegal in themselves?

As Tom says in Big boys an small fry,

…he made a good point about the people we saw at that milkbar.

‘For many Greeks and Yugoslavs gambling is as natural

as two-up and beer is to an Aussie.

‘Because of the insane nature of Australian gambling laws,

decent people are being turned into criminals.’

He reckons we should make gamblin an brothels legal,

so there’s no room for the big boys an their bombs.

[Brothels were legalised in NSW in 1988, but gambling legislation to deal with different forms of gambling in the State took 30 years and 14 separate Government Acts from the Registered Clubs Act in 1976 to the Unlawful Gambling Act in 1998, and Gaming and Liquor Administration Act in 2007. Source]

 

You can read more about Newtown Voices, about me, and where to buy the book at newtownvoices

 

 

Gambling Terror

Gambling mobsters have cowed aldermen into silence

Gambling Terror

Just like prostitution and brothels were in the late 70s, gambling anywhere but at a TAB was illegal and incurred a jail sentence. Yet illegal gambling was widespread, and a source of corruption and heavy standover tactics from the gambling club operators, including threats of violence, and actual incidents of fire bombings and vicious murders.

One such vicious murder was a gruesome find for fireys attending a house fire in the inner west suburb of Five Dock. Thinking the house had been empty when the fire raged through, completely destroying it, they were shocked to find a body under a bed that had somehow escaped the inferno.

The person’s throat had been cut, and they had been shot and stabbed multiple times. It was believed this was an underworld deal involving gambling interests. Someone did the wrong thing and paid for it. Or it was a clear warning to someone else that they risked the same payback.

[The TAB in NSW was set up by State Government Act in 1964, the Totalizator. (Off the Course) Betting Act, 1964, following the Kinsella Royal Commission into illegal off-course betting. It was estimated there were approximately 6,000 illegal bookmakers in NSW in 1963. Source]

Fourteen years after the TAB’s establishment, illegal bookmaking and gambling were still widespread. Gambling clubs ranged from ‘coffee lounges’ and ‘cultural centres’ — often run by Greek, Polish, or Italian migrant groups — equipped with a few pool tables or poker and bingo machines, to huge premises catering to large crowds with numerous machines, and continuous broadcasting of horse and greyhound racing odds over the PA.

The smaller clubs, such as Mr H Kospeta’s coffee lounge with three poker machines in Enmore Rd — which was shut down by Marrickville Council immediately after the Guardian reported it was still operating — and two others, operating as ‘refreshment rooms’ with similar small numbers of machines, were quickly jumped on by the licensing authorities, while the ‘big boys’ seemed to operate under police sanction, or at least an official blind eye.

“It is well known that particular premises are operating as gambling joints, and that some are run by big-time competing mobsters.

“Occasionally, the rivalry breaks out into open warfare.”

Gambling mobsters have cowed aldermen into silence

Following the Five Dock murder, the Guardian spoke to several aldermen and other well-known businessmen about the threat from gambling mobsters. However, most of those questioned seemed cowed, offering up excuses like “I have a wife and family”; “I don’t know anything”; “keep me out of this”; or cryptic comments, including “I’ve heard some funny stories”; “there’s some heavyweights around.”

The Guardian commented “It was perfectly clear they knew more than they were saying— but were afraid to talk.” One clearly frightened Marrickville alderman exclaimed “You want to get me circumcised?”

A week later, The Editor wrote one of his wonderful thundering rants about gambling: “Root out the crims!” I’ll talk about that in another post.

Big Boys vs Small Fry

Around this time, Tom learns from Inspector Daly, his police contact, that the big Newtown bombing earlier in the year was not down to Ananda Marga terrorists as he suspected (and rather hoped), but was just one bunch of mobsters paying out another. This is how he puts it in Big Boys and Small Fry:

…I’ve a hunch that the King St bombin was a distraction to confuse the security people tryin to solve the Hilton Explosion
. …Told him I know where there’s a coupla Ananda Marga operatives
livin in Queen St. He wasn’t impressed.
Said they were small fry, all piss an wind,
an wouldn’t know what to do with a bomb if they fell over it.
Said the King St one was a professional job…
an organised crime job—one scum mob payin’ out another.

Police corruption: collusion or coincidence?

In the following month, the President of the Newtown Chamber of Commerce, Dr J Messel, conducted his own survey of gambling clubs in King St, Enmore Rd, and Marrickville Rd., and reported his results in a long interview with the Guardian on September 13. He had spent a whole Saturday afternoon “peak SP betting time” and said he “was astounded at the brazen nature of their operations and the ease with which he had gained entry.”

He also clearly suggested police collusion, supported by the fact that the head of the Vice Squad had categorically refused to speak to him. “Obviously these clubs must have protection,” Dr Messel said, “if they are operating so openly and close to local police stations.”

You can read more about Newtown Voices, about me, and where to buy the book at newtownvoices

 

Mardi Gras Festival Part 2

the beginnings of Mardi Gras in Sydney on Saturday June 24, 1978

Blurred picture of a gay rainbow flag
Blurred picture of a gay rainbow flag at a pride parade

This is the second post looking at life for gays and lesbians in 1978, and the start of the Mardi Gras celebration.

2018 marks 40 years since the first March, held on Saturday June 24, 1978. It’s also the first Mardi Gras since the passing of the Australian “gay marriage” legislation, allowing any two adults of any gender to marry. Mardi Gras is always special, but these 2 events make it doubly special this year.

In Part 1, I looked briefly at the life of a gay man 40 years ago, as exemplified by Harry’s friend Jaroslav.

In this post, we’ll hear from Buzz about the beginnings of Mardi Gras in Sydney on Saturday June 24, 1978. For those who haven’t met Buzz, she’s a feisty lesbian social justice warrior living in an anarchist squat. She tells it like it is:

Gough promised us free education but

Gough’s not in charge any more, so

it won’t be free for long. Not much is,

(‘cept love an that’s not free for all,

Only for straights like you).

The Guardian did not run any stories about the events of that Saturday — why should it, since they didn’t happen on the Guardian’s patch: Newtown, Enmore and Marrickville, and strangely, Balmain. My research was done through reports in the Sydney Morning Herald and the Sun newspapers, and memoirs of some of the originals, the much-loved and revered 78ers.

The way Buzz tells it, there was nothing gay — in the sense of bright and cheerful — in the way events turned out. This is an important part of Australian social history, not just for LGBTIQ+ people, but for all of us, to remember how our society has moved from bad to good, from oppression to grudging acceptance in some areas, and to hope for future shifts towards inclusion and acceptance for everyone.

In ‘I nearly got arrested’, she tells Harry about going to the International Gay Solidarity Day in Hyde Park:

Coulda

got myself arrested. Wouldn’t a done me any good,

what with squattin’ illegally (yeah, yeah, I know, all

squattin’s illegal, smartarse), bein picked as a lesbian

I’d lose my job at the garage an WEA wouldn’t

want me teachin car maintenance anymore

Buzz went to the consciousness-raising protest day in Hyde Park with some of the girls from the Tin Sheds (more about them in a later post),where they listened to talks about

what life’s like

for homosexuals—gays AN lesbians, after Stonewall

in the US, an in England, where they’ve got that Festival of Light shit run by Mrs Mary Whitehouse.

The old bat’s comin here in a coupla weeks to speak

at a national conference on homosexuality, an she wants to tell us how wrong an evil we are, an how

we wanta destroy society. It was a beaut day

The march was planned for the evening, but Buzz dipped out, saying she had to start work early at the bakery in the morning. Lucky for her. She missed all the excitement and the horror that ended Australia’s first gay and lesbian march.

Like me, Buzz read about it in the papers. (I assume the police worded up the media  beforehand, like they did with the Greek migrants, to make a good front page story.) A huge group of people marching and singing along Oxford St at 11 pm, past the pubs and clubs and bars, gathering more people as they went, some estimates being around 2000. Until

The cops

Corralled em all in Darlo Rd that they’d closed

off an got stuck into them with batons an boots

(readin between the lines). They arrested 53

people…I coulda got caught too, if I’d gone with

the girls. Life’s tough when you’re not straight.

This is why the Mardi Gras celebratory parade — which gets bigger, louder, more flamboyant, and with more community groups and organisations taking part each year — marches, sings and dances down Oxford St, with the 78ers in the place of honour.

Note: For the sake of ‘poetic licence’ I put the police bashings in Darlinghurst Road (‘Darlo Rd’), when in reality the brutality was inflicted back at the cells. The cops weren’t going to  kick and bash unarmed people in front of  journalists and photographers.

[Information and photos from the Australian Lesbian and Gay Archives can be found on The Guardian Australia (TGA) website here. Note: The Guardian Australia has no connection with the 1970s Newtown and Balmain Guardian.]

 

You can read more about Newtown Voices, about me, and where to buy the book at newtownvoices

 

Mardi Gras Festival, Part 1

look at the life of a gay man 40 years ago

Blurred picture of a gay rainbow flag

The last two weeks of February are celebrated in Sydney as Mardi Gras Festival, culminating on the first Saturday in March with the fantastical celebratory Grand Parade down Oxford Street. 2018 marks 40 years since the first March, held on Saturday June 24, 1978. We’ll hear about the Day of Solidarity and that March from Buzz in Part 2.

In Part 1 I want to look at the life of a gay man 40 years ago, as exemplified by Harry’s friend Jaroslav.

In 1970s Sydney, Jaroslav has two black marks against him: he is a Croatian migrant, AKA “a wog”. [It didn’t matter what nationality a migrant or “New Australian” was, they were termed “wogs” or “dagos”, often interchangeably.]

Even worse, he is a homosexual, AKA “a fag” or “poofta”.

We understand Jaro is gay through his reminisces of his poet/political activist lover, Damir in Zagreb.

He was so beautiful: those wide bright eyes

and curling light brown hair, his footballer’s legs

his wandering hands, his kisses.

 In outback Australia after fleeing civil war in Croatia, Jaro has brief encounters with men like him, mining at Kalgoorlie and Broken Hill. In Sydney, he finds his way to the fringes of homosexual society, beats in Hyde Park (the toilet block, and certain large trees), and in Newtown,

the toilets in Hollis Park.

It is in Hollis Park, as he is leaving the toilets —I’d hoped someone would come back to me— that he is retraumatised by the bombing.

However, when Harry and Jaro become friends, she has no inkling of his carefully hidden homosexuality, appreciating instead his courteousness: he’s such a gentleman and European sophistication. It’s not until Tom yells at her in the disco that Jaro’s a sad old poofta … he’s a fag, that she realises.

Unlike many gay men then —and up to quite recently— Jaro was never beaten up, bashed, stomped on, punched, kicked or stabbed just for being gay. Often these attacks were by gangs of men on streets leading to parks, or in the parks, regardless of whether they were actual beats.

Jaro’s friendship with Harry: meeting often at the Art Gallery, cafes and the ‘underground bar’, combined with his naturally discreet demeanour, may have protected him, acting as cover for his sexuality. Not that he was using her — he genuinely enjoyed her company — but it didn’t hurt that Harry believed Jaro was courting her.

Lock the toilets

Not one of the Guardian’s front page screamers, this was a small item, reporting a discussion at Marrickville Council on a motion “that public toilets should be closed at night to avoid any public nuisance”. I rewrote it as a prose poem.

Problems were caused by homosexuals, he said, who

frequented public toilet blocks after dark. “I don’t have 

anything against homosexuals,” Cr Broad told the Voice,

“but problems develop from their activities.” Asked what

were the problems, he declined to answer, but stressed

“We’ve got to stop these people loitering in the toilets

in the late hours of the night.” Homosexuals regularly

gathered in groups at Petersham Park, he said, and could

appear threatening to other people wishing to use the park

or its toilets. “Toilet blocks in Marrickville, Erskineville,

Enmore and Newtown are well known magnets for homosexuals.”

If this motion is passed all the public toilets ill be locked after dark.

When I moved to Newtown in 1997, all public toilets in Newtown and Victoria Park were permanently locked, day and night. The nearest available one was at Broadway shopping centre, 20 minutes walk away. I suspect the City of Sydney’s ordinance that cafes and restaurants must provide toilets for their customers was to get around the problem of permanently locked public toilets.

In 2001, I rented an apartment in Alpha House, (just round the corner from the infamous 2 Fitzroy St) and Hollis Park became my daily walk. Its toilet block was an ugly brick building fronting onto Wilson St with rusty bars and wire netting over the windows.

I didn’t take any photos of the park then, but after South Sydney Council demolished the toilets and magnificently refurbished Hollis Park, I took quite a few.

Hollis Pk corner 2006

Mardi Gras Festival, Part 1Hollis ParkThis is a corner of Hollis Park in Warren Ball Avenue, looking across Fitzroy St to the ‘60s public housing towers over in Waterloo.
You can read more about Newtown Voices, about me, and where to buy the book at newtownvoices

 

KIDS GO TO SCHOOL HUNGRY

Kids hungry0002 cropped

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.

Latchkey kids copy

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.”

You can read more about Newtown Voices, about me, and where to buy the book at newtownvoices