C.D. Rowley details the findings of a survey into conditions among Sydney’s Aboriginal community:
Mrs Pamela Beasley made at the beginning of 1964 an interim report on conditions in the Redfern–Chippendale area. She found over 500 persons willing to be interviewed as Aboriginal, in a small area including part of Redfern and part of Chippendale, both run-down inner city areas where factories have been rapidly replacing dwellings. Over 46 per cent of her population were children under fifteen years – a figure well above the census average for the Australian community but well below the proportion established by sample surveys of Aboriginal families in rural areas. There were very few old people, for obvious reasons. Of the adults, only three were in employment which could be classed as skilled. Of 103 dependent on employment, fourteen were unemployed at the time of interview. On the average two persons lived in each room, including kitchens as living rooms. One family owned a house and two more were in the process of purchasing theirs. High rents were common by the rent standards of that time:
In spite of the hospitality of most of the Aboriginal people in the area, there were some who had great difficulty in solving their accommodation problems, and were without places to sleep for periods ranging from one day to a week or two. Some of these solved their problem in ways which could not be accepted by white authorities. Some ‘squatted’ in temporarily untenanted homes, leaving by the back door and over the fence if a knock came at the front door. Some walked around the streets for a few nights before being ‘smuggled’ into a residential where there were already one or two ‘stowaways’. Some left luggage with friends and split up among different homes for the night, or nights, involved. Their difficulty would seem to be no reflection upon the willingness of their friends and relatives to help them, but rather upon the housing situation as it exists in the area.
Reasons for coming to Sydney were stated as:
A. To find work 99
B. To find accommodation 65
C. Illness of self or relative 81
D. Social 15
E. Other reasons 13
It was noted that fifty-one of the total of 208 children were ‘not living with parents or with one parent normally responsible for their care and up-bringing’. In forty-three cases, the reasons offered, in order of importance, were lack of accommodation, removal by the Child Welfare authority, and illness. Extended family arrangements accounted for only six such cases, where the child was stated to be residing with grandmother.
Just half the adults included in the survey had been living in this area for over three years. Other evidence indicates two directions of movement out from such areas – back to the country town or into the outer suburbs. This was a typical area for Aboriginal experiment in big city life.
Some later work by Mrs Pamela Beasley indicates that those families which do establish homes in the capital are likely, on the average, to be better off for living space than they were in the country area, for it is simply not possible to live in a fringe-dweller’s shack in the city. The only ‘self-built’ shacks seen were on the Aboriginal reserve (and just off it) at La Perouse, which is a fringe-dwellers’ settlement now surrounded by the expanding city, and illustrating many of the social problems of such dwelling areas. For the city as a whole, Mrs Beasley found an average sized of 5.5 rooms, somewhat below the urban average for New South Wales, but well above that for Aboriginal housing found in our rural survey. Yet there were 1.25 persons per room as compared with 0.67, the Australian average in 1961. (Our rural average was 1.63.) Even in the better conditions of Sydney there was a good deal of obvious overcrowding, with over 70 percent of Aborigines subject to accommodation pressure of two or more persons per room. Here again, the situation was favourable when compared with our country town sample.
C.D. Rowley, Australian, 1906-1985