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Monday, 25 June 2012

24. Sylvia's Childhood in Australia in 1930s

Sylvia (right) and friend at Banksia St. c. 1935
Grade 1 Banksmeadow Primary.
Sylvia fifth from left in 2nd row.
Sylvia's schooling began in the Depression and ended at the outbreak of war. She made friends at school and quickly learned about Australia. The school curriculum covered a lot of history, not just of Sydney, but of the local area. She read and learned to recite Australian poetry - mostly Henry Lawson and Banjo Paterson. She knew the sites where Cook landed and the plants that Joseph Banks identified. She joined the Gould League.

Sylvia as flowergirl c. 1934

Sylvia (right) in Botanic Gardens Sydney
Sylvia made friends easily. She had a friend with whom she sometimes stayed, who lived on a farm at Fairfield.

When she was about 11, Sylvia had an accident on a swing at school and fractured her skull. She spent several months in Rachel Foster's Hospital, where she learned to make a bed with hospital corners - something she did for the rest of her life.

with friend and friend's mother, Botanic Gardens Sydney
Sylvia didn't follow Albert and Grace to the Methodist Church Youth Group. Perhaps because of its location, close to Banksmeadow Primary School, Sylvia went to the Salvation Army hall. She loved the Salvation Army meetings, people and music. She learned to play a guitar and a timbrel.

A lot of her time was spent with Bert.She spent most of the school holidays working in the nursery and, on Fridays, accompanying Bert to Paddy's market. He taught her the mechanics of a sewing machine, how to oil one and do basic maintenance and repair.

He would not, however, agree to her continuing at school beyond the mandatory age of 14. Bert saw no point in educating a girl 'for another man to benefit'. It was an attitude that Sylvia rejected and which she spent much of her life trying to overcome.

Sylvia went to work at 14, first at Tasma Radio, Thom and Smith's factory at 919 Botany Rd., Mascot, set up in 1929, the year Bert's family arrived in Australia. Tasma Radio rode out the Depression and employed 300 people in 1938. Their radios are still collectable.

J&J workers Botany c. 1943
Sylvia then, along with her sister Grace, went to work at Johnson and Johnson's Botany factory, which was on a war footing, supplying medical equipment for the forces.

Bert  refused his permission for her to enlist in the Salvation Army when at about 17 she wanted to join. Bert prevented her ever wearing a Salvation Army uniform.

Sylvia and her friend Doris at Mark Foy's steps.

To occupy her time, and do her bit for the war effort, she also took an evening job as a waitress in the city. Sydney was full of troops and waitresses were in demand. There were English servicemen in Sydney - bringing first-hand accounts of life in England since Bert and Nell left. Bert had a car and was more than happy to show servicemen the sights of Sydney when they had weekend leave.

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