Surry Hills

Yes folks, meet the environment:

 

chez_ninglun

Surry Hills lair of Floating Life

For some, the suburb is still famous for its association with Ruth Park and her novel The Harp in the South. As Marion Halligan writes:

…That’s what fiction does. It takes the events of the writer’s life – lived through, heard of, read about – and turns them into powerful stories. It’s a process that Ruth Park is aware of, has lived through many times, but never takes for granted, never pretends to understand:”No one can truly tell how novels are written, least of all myself. Structure, plot, storyline, creation of many characters who must, absolutely must, walk, talk, and think for themselves – all that can be explained. But the primordium cannot be defined.”
(Fishing in the Styx, p. 65)

Park is remembering how a child in a photograph of Sydney in 1899 stayed in her head for 30 years and emerged ‘as a member of a family of decent immigrants called Bow, trying to keep up their standards in a decrepit slummocky antipodean city’. She tells us that she gazed at the photograph for hours: ‘But why that child; how did I know her name was Beatie Bow? Some sorcery in the subconscious was operating in the trackless, wordless dark’ (Fishing in the Styx, p. 65). This sorcery of Ruth Park’s began its ensorcelling some 50 years ago when she decided to enter the inaugural Sydney Morning Herald novel competition. ‘There was nothing left but Surry Hills. My life there had been like a visit to some antique island where the nineteenth century still prevailed’ (Fishing in the Styx, p. 138). The result was The Harp in the South. When it won, Ruth Park probably wished that she lived in a place where even the nineteenth century held some sway, so bizarrely primitive was the reaction. I remember the furore, it’s one of those things I’ve always known about, known from adults in hushed shocked gleeful voices talking about the scandal of this novel of the slums. What shocked me when I came to look at it again was the realisation that I was six at the time; it was clearly some scandal. That was in 1946.

Ruth Park wonders what caused the outcry. Jon Cleary, the runner-up, wrote about the slums of Sydney without attracting any censure. Ruth Park suggests that it was because she was a foreigner. I think it might also have been because she was a woman, and young at that: not nice, not ladylike, to know about such things, let alone write them. And perhaps there was an assumption that slums might be seen but should not be heard…

ruth_park

Ruth Park talks to residents about the opening of the first Housing Commission flats in Devonshire Street, Surry Hills

 

moore_boy

Surry Hills boy 1948 (David Moore photographer)

 

surry_kids

Children from a variety of cultures in Sydney’s Surry Hills in the early 1970s

 

rileystreet

Surry Hills terraces

 

So there you are. Surry Hills blog.

See more!

First published in Lines from a Floating Life on Blogspot 12 June 2005.

These are the main photo sets in recent times:

shillsnight7a redfernvisions 030a darlingharbour 026b

 

8 Responses to “Surry Hills”
  1. Donna Says:
    June 23, 2007 at 10:41 pm

    I enjoyed Ruth Park’s Harp in the South. I don’t think slums should be hidden at all. I myself grew up in Surry Hills. I moved there with my family in the early sixties at a very young age. I was a toddler at the time, but I remember living in Riley St at first, and going to St Pete’rs primary school, and then in 1968 we moved to Marlborough St and lived there till i left home in 1985 to get married. I remember Devonshire St very well, and had school friends that lived in the housing commison flats that you feature in your picture with Ruth Park.

    In the 1970s there was no shopping centres in the area, then in 1980 Redfern Mall opened just across the road from where i lived, which i worked in for some time, in the Coles store to be exact. The area certainly needed a mall, even thought you could be in the city (especially Centre Point my favourite stop on way home from high school) in a few minutes. Then few years back they changed it to Surry Hills Mall. (Made more sense.) Now i found out its called Surry Hills Shopping Village…..

    I certainly miss those days. I now live in the western suburbs not too far in though….. I miss high school days as well. I went to St Patricks Girls High….Shame both schools have been shut down , such great historical buildings!!!……Crown St was full of small shops , lots of small businesses, flemmings, next door was an old fruit shop that turned into a large hairdresser while I was still there, small deli that belonged to a Greek family that we befriended, local cake shop, Soul Pattison chemist across the road on the corner, the local friendly butcher that my mum shopped from for years (while we were still in Riley St)……The church on corner of Devonshire St, where i had my holy first holy communion, my confirmation, and where my mum sent my sister and brother and me every Sunday for mass. Also where my aunts, cousins and other family members got married., and my 2 children got baptised……..I remember the shops on Cleveland St as well, the pin ball and games shop on corner of Young St and Cleveland St, and Turkish takeaway, a tailor, they have all gone……..I met my husband in Surry Hills too. He lived in Baptist St, ……..SO MANY MEMORIES…………………..

  2. ninglun Says:
    June 23, 2007 at 11:18 pm

    Thanks for that wonderful comment, Donna. I first knew Surry Hills between 1955 and 1959 when I passed (ran!) through it every day on my way from Central to Sydney High. It certainly is a different place fifty years on!

  3. Denys Says:
    August 27, 2007 at 12:26 pm

    I know that building as I’m an old Surry Hills resident myself. Inner west now. Can you tell me whether the bottom photo was in Riley Street?

    I know I’m being pedantic but isn’t Baptist Street in Redfern.

    You have an interesting blog sir. Cheers.

  4. ninglun Says:
    August 27, 2007 at 12:31 pm

    Yes it is Riley Street, and Baptist Street is in Redfern, but so is the Surry Hills Shopping Village!

  5. Denys Says:
    August 27, 2007 at 12:39 pm

    Thank you Neil.

  6. Donna Says:
    August 27, 2007 at 1:11 pm

    Yes Denys Baptist St is in Redfern, but if you take note , Marlborough St was just across the road from Redfern. So you can look at it two different ways, I either lived at the end of Surry Hills just where Redfern starts, or I lived at the beginning of Surry Hills where Redfern ends. lol

  7. Denys Says:
    August 28, 2007 at 1:56 pm

    Donna, I’ve always loved this sign on a building in Regents Street, Redfern.

    “Welcome to Redfern. Gateway to Waterloo.”

  8. Donna Says:
    August 28, 2007 at 10:45 pm

    Denys, lol i can think of other names for a Gateway in Redfern,…..Welcome to Redfern Gateway to (#@%*!#)………

29 thoughts on “Surry Hills

  1. I didnt know Elsie Leonard had a dancing school way back when. Love hearing the stories. Looking forward to seeing that class photo with Elsie in it. I also remember tap routine Hello Dolly and the Dutch Clog routine.

    • Hi Gloria, I remember you well also the girls in your class. I remember two outstanding routeens “Honey Hush” and “raphsody in blue” which included male dancer Sony Hosey. If only it were recorded. I have a group photo which includes as Miss Leonard would say The Bay and City schools with the Espinosa Cup that was awarded to her, I guess for having the school with the most Honor passes in the Tap Exam. Unfortunately she is not in the photo.
      PS I was in the next class down from you.

  2. I started classes at Elsie Leonard’s school when I was 7, back in the 40’s. We wore white singlets with EL on them and red pants with a white stripe down the side. I lived in Redfern but walked to classes up Devonshire Street. We were allowed to look into the hall where Channel 9 first started when they had it set up to go. Miss Levato played the piano and when she died Miss Coutts took over. I remember her nephew Warren coming to watch her taking classes when he was quite young. I went to both Miss Levato’s and Miss Leonard’s funerals, although I hadn’t seen Miss Leonard for quite a few years. I can’t recall the dates. Also danced on some Sunday nights at Jack Keating’s studio at Newtown. Lots of happy memories during my years in Surry Hills and also in Double Bay at the Masonic Hall.

    • Hi Gloria, I believe I was there the same time you were. Is your maiden name Bisset? Your mother I remember made a lot of the dance clothes! Do you recall the names of the other girls.
      Maria

  3. Hi Ursula

    I was wondering where the studio was in Double Bay – didnt realise it was the Masons Hall. ! thanks for infos. yes its been bugging me for years too. I do remember the pink tutu and satin ballet shoes in the window of the Cleveland St studio. The stage at the back and the dressing room behind. Our satin pleated tap dance skirt and white ruffled top under for exams…memories! Trying to remember the tap teacher who used to come in – she was blonde probably late 30’s at the time …Miss Greer ?

  4. I also had ballet lessons from Elsie Leonard, but in Double Bay. This was in the late 60’s. She was fairly elderly & I seem to recall had dyed red hair. I wonder if it was the same lady?

    • Hi Jan, yes I believe it was the same lady, a wonderful teacher. I would love to know more about her dancing career. Regards Maria.

    • I had ballet and tap lessons from Ms Leonard in the old Masonic Hall at Double Bay in the late `60’s and early `70’s. I have been trying to find more information about her or even a photo, as I remember little about her except that I thought she was fabulous and was a strict but wonderful teacher. So far only found out that she was the aunt of Warren De Maria, a solo ballet dancer with the Australian Ballet in the 1960’s – see http://trove.nla.gov.au/ndp/del/article/51186390?searchTerm=shows&searchLimits=

      If anyone finds out more about her I would love to know – it’s been bugging me for years……

  5. My first dance class Dane was at Miss Hananberys Studio in Oxford Street and Later at Elsie Leonard’s Studio St David’s Hall Surry Hills 1947-1955. We would take the bus out to Double Bay to combine the two studios in preparation for the end of year concert which was held at the Conservatorium.
    Ms Levato was the pianist. Ms Leonard put us through our Tap and Vallet exams which was held at Broadway. There were photos of her on the wall and she held the Espinosa Cup for many years.
    Ms Leonard gave concerts for many charities. We Los danced at Jack Keatings dance studio in Newtown when the ballroom dancers took their break. I attended Crown Street School. Made my Holy Communion at St Francis Albion Street, Vonfirmation Sacred Heart in Darlinghurst.
    As a teenage I went to Paddington Town Hall social Dance and the Trocodero, where I met my husband.
    We grow up in Taylor Square Woolloomooloo and Surry Hills.
    PS. Ms Leonard had the use of two halls in Arthur Street, at times we could only use one as the other was one of two sites used by channel 9. First tele broadcast took place on Sunday September 16 1956.

    • Hi Maria
      I didnt know Elsie Leonard had a studio in Arthur St – but then that must have beenbefore she had the studio in Cleveland St near baptist st. Where exactly was the Double Bay studio?. I do remember every 2nd year was the concert at the Con. So many memories!
      I later went to Rudas School of Stage dancing near Railway Square. (1974-75). and Saill Academy at the Quay 1978.
      thanks for your infos.

  6. Hi Kerry – sorry hadnt checked this in a while – yes Elsie had a dance studio in Double Bay. I forgot the older lady who played the piano think she died back then. Elsie would be over 100 now! doubt she is still around 😉 We went to Bourke St school from 1964-1972 (between my sisters and I ). I had friends that went to St Peters. and Crown St Primary…

  7. In response to Robyn…I too went to Elsie Leonards dance studio…what year’s were your there????? I used to have a dance program but somwhere over the years it was lost…I do have my awards and medals…..do you also remember that Miss Leonard had a school at Double Bay as well????
    I was born at St Margarets…went to school firstly at St Francis in Albion st and then to St Peters from 2nd class in 1963 to 6th class in 1966..we were the 2nd generation to go to St Peter’s school..I would love to hear from anyone about these times…we lived in Riley St..behind crown st hospital…..

    • Hi Kerry
      Yes I remember Elsie had a ballet school in Double Bay. I remember that at the end of every second year Elsies school was one of the ballet schools that would to perform at the Conservatorium of Music in the city. She would not be around now as she would have been in her 60’s back in the 60’s.

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