In 1952 Woolloomooloo in Sydney was a run down area and one of the more common places for merchant ships to dock, loading and unloading cargo. We were here to unload all our cargo over a few days. I made the most of my time in Sydney and as a young person came to love my time here. The city centre was less than a mile from our ship’s berth and buses and trams were frequent. Sydney in 1952 was an easy place to get around with streets running mainly north-south and east-west, trams seemed to run everywhere in the city centre and further afield. Today the Woolloomooloo area has been upgraded and many of the adjacent Victorian streets swept away and the wharves and warehouses upgraded to become expensive upmarket apartments and cafes.
Usually, if on my own I made my way through the Royal Botanical Gardens lying next to the Woolloomooloo quayside and come out at Circular Quay. Here the crowds swirl to and from the many ferries operating from here, for Sydney is a harbour city made up of a myriad small bays. In 1952 most of the population of 1,500,000 or thereabouts lived on or close to one of the many Sydney bays. As I write this in 2011 the population of Sydney has increased to well over 4,500,000 and the population is now more extensively spread.
It was Sydney that I bought my first camera, I was in Pitt St ( I think, it was so long ago) outside the main railway station, just inside the entrance was a small camera shop with a good selection of cameras in the window. My eye fell on a fold-up one and on impulse I decided to buy it. The man in the shop seemed well versed in cameras and queried what kind of photography I was interested in and, after I told him he pulled out the fold-up camera from the window and suggested that this might be the best one for me. I was pleased, for I had not indicated which one I was interested in. I bought it on the spot along with a few rolls of film and I went down to Circular Quay to try the camera out. I found I had to get up close, telescopic lenses were not common in those days. I used up one roll of film and returned to the camera shop and enquired how long it would take to develop it. He told me that he developed the film himself and it would be ready tomorrow. I returned the following day and he had the photo’s ready for me. He then proceeded to give me instructions how to use the camera to take better pictures; close up, or if unable to get close up, how to adjust to take a sharp picture so that it could be enlarged. He also gave me, a raw novice, a few more tips to help me on my way.
The first evening of our arrival in Sydney, 5 of us decided to have a night out at Luna Park across the harbour. Riders on the ‘Wall of Death’ was popular to watch. We missed the last ferry, 10.30 pm. A lone taxi driver said he was just going home to the top end of the harbour, he offered leave the meter off and switch it on only when he passed his home, taking us back to our ship. The cost was not very much when shared between us. Sydney harbour is 50 miles around by road, it would have been a long way to walk!
Over the years, sometimes in an idle mood, I have wondered why we could not have gone over the Harbour Bridge. There was a reason, I’m sure, 1952 was so long ago to remember the reason, but for a long time now, I have thought, I wonder if……?
Driving around the harbour road and looking out of the taxi window I well remember the front gardens of houses as we passed, oranges glistening on branches the trees in the street light glow. Strange how apparently, small inconsequential remembrances are remembered, so clearly.
This reminds me of another clear remembrance. Walking up from the ship at Woolloomooloo, was a row of tall 3 story narrow terraced houses. Narrow enough to fit only a door and a window in at the front ground floor. The upper 2 floors had a single wide window, with a wide narrow balcony, with woven ironwork railings. Each house, was similar. Sometime before the upgrade of the Woolloomooloo area these houses, when becoming vacant were purchased by the Yuppie set and upgraded by them and painted in various bright colours. From recent photos on Google I noticed this upgrade in turn was swept away by the later major upgrade of the Woolloomooloo area. No doubt any of the Yuppie set, if still there would have made a good profit on their purchase… at least I hope so.
I have some other clear remembrances’ of Sydney. The first was my introduction to crayfish (lobster in the UK), I was a hungry young man and usually had a meal at a small café up from Circular Quay in a side street. Special on the menu one day, was fresh caught crayfish with chips and salad. Just the ticket, I thought and shortly after ordering I was presented with a large plate with a half crayfish looking at me. It was really a medium sized Cray split down the middle long ways, but to my eyes, it was still large.
The fellow (owner) who brought it to me saw me staring at it and he said “not had Cray before? I answered, “no”. He said “eat the tail first, if you can’t eat the rest, it doesn’t look too bad when I collect the empty plate”, then he said “see that funny looking tool there, its for cracking the legs to suck out the meat… that’s if you manage to get that far” and he gave me a friendly chuckle, I smiled back.
I did my self proud with that Cray, I managed most of it, including the chips, some salad was left, I think. I sat back in the chair and stretched as the man brought me the drink I had ordered. He looked at the almost empty plate, smiled and said “you must have been hungry”. The café was empty by this time; he sat down and we talked for a while.
Another clear remembrance; on one of Sydney’s main streets just up from Circular Quay was a group of shops one floor up of what today we would call a mall. One shop was what was termed, in Australia, a “milk bar”. It had a long counter with swivel seats and booth type leather seats on the opposite side if you preferred, just like on the American movies. I used to call in here regularly for a milk shake. My favourite was banana flavoured malted milk. I used to usually sit on one of the swivel seats at the counter.
In this mall just up from the milk bar was a jewellers shop with an advert to buy gold. I was getting a bit short of money which I could draw on. I had a pair of cuff links I didn’t use, said to be gold, They came from Sharrow Bay, leftovers from when the house was sold and were marked with the gold stamp which I was sure was the gold mark. Next day I took the cuff links into the jewellers and proffered them to the goldsmith who took them over to his workbench. He weighed the cufflinks and said that they were close to the expected weight but to be sure he would have to melt a hole into one of the hinged links to be sure. This he did when I said that was ok. He looked up and said “sorry, gold plate only” and handed them back to me. I didn’t feel ratty about the incident, neither did I throw them away, I kept them for many years in one of my drawers.
One day I met by chance a young fellow, somewhat older than me and we got into conversation. Asking what I was doing in Australia, I told him. He gave a surprised laugh and told me that he too was a radio officer, but on an Australian ship. Exchanging reminisces for a while, he asked me, out of the blue, would I be interested in swapping positions on our respective ships. He wanted to go to the UK and get on the British ships. He caught me left footed with the question, I confessed what I had seen of Australia in the short time we had been here, I liked, very much. He continued the Marconi company with whom I was employed had lose connections with the company with whom he was employed. This was the Amalgamated Wireless of Australia (AWA). We talked a while longer before parting and I gave him our ships phone number. He said he would ring in 3 days, early morning.
I went back to the Tynebank and had lunch. A short time afterwards, when Captain Betts left the lunch-table I got up from the table too, then asked the steward if he knew which direction the captain had headed. He told me the he had gone up to his cabin. Heading up the stairs, I knocked on the door of his cabin, I got a cheery “come in”.
I told Captain Betts the story and he patiently listened me out. He replied that it was quite possible to exchange ships and it was sometimes done, but sometimes there could be problems. It was usually done through the shipping agents. He had been mixed up in a similar situation once before and had trouble with the ships owners on his return to the UK, he did not want to go through the process again.
He said he was sorry but the answer was “no”.
We talked for a while before I left the captain. I was disappointed.
Next morning I remember laying in my bunk thinking the problem over. Maybe what the captain had said was for the best. He did say AWA were very short of Radio Officers and if I put in an application from the UK, I was likely to have a 10 pound immigration clearance and possibly refunded by AWA. My friend rang 3 days later and I told him of my decision, he didn’t sound too disappointed. He said the chance at the time of our meeting was too good to miss.
During the 1950s and later, the Australia Govt. encouraged a big wave of immigration into Australia, mainly from the UK. They became known as “10 Pound POMs”.
Circular Quay and the CBD districts have changed much since my 1952 visit. I sometimes think I would like to visit Sydney again and see all the changes. I doubt the small camera shop, the café or the milk bar and goldsmith would now exist. The ferries are still there at Circular Quay but from photographs much has changed in that vicinity also.
After about 10 days we left our Woolloomooloo berth and anchored in a berthing area in the harbour waiting for our sailing instructions. Within a few days our sailing instructions arrived. We were to sail for Nauru Island.