Times were hard, but we survived, just as we will survive the current crisis.
By 1931 30% of NSW unionists were unemployed. By 1933 one in three Australian breadwinners was unemployed.
Most public works came to a standstill during the Depression, forcing many men onto the unemployment pile. Those who received the dole could be assigned by Government to relief work such as council maintenance. Relief workers dug ditches and built roads and pathways in many Sydney suburbs, including Concord. They were paid in cash but the hours of work and weeks on a job were rationed, so very few averaged the basic wage.
Those unfortunate enough to be assigned to work in distant areas were forced to live in camps isolated from their families, and the few who refused to work had their sustenance relief (or “susso”) cancelled.
Although most public works were postponed, there was one outstanding exception – the building of the Sydney Harbour Bridge. The bridge was referred to as the “iron lung” because it created job opportunities and breathed new life into the city.
For men who faced constant rejection by employers in the inner city, they had no choice but to pack a swag (or “matilda”) and travel to country areas in search of work. Swagmen were entitled to receive food-ration coupons at country police stations if they could produce a traveller’s ration card showing that they had travelled at least 50 miles (80 kilometres) during the week. If not, they went hungry or had to cadge for food.
During the Depression and the lean years that followed, the pool of unemployment relief workers was used wisely on projects that would benefit the community. Together with reclamation and drainage of low-lying areas and parks’ maintenance, the building of Concord-Cabarita saltwater swimming baths took almost seven years to complete, finally opening in November 1937.
Concord was regarded in Government circles as one of the progressive municipalities and received special allocations of finance for public works. Encouraged by what was described as a vast audience, the Premier, Hon. B.S. (Sir Bertram) Stevens, addressing the largest political gathering ever held in Concord (January 1935) promised aid for bigger projects.
He gave details of the loans saying that the projects for which they were allocated would not only give work to the unemployed but would increase the natural advantages of the district. For reclamation work in Hen and Chicken Bay £74,800 had been set aside. Then there were moneys allowed for Homebush Bay drainage and for the sewerage schemes; Concord sub-main £34,000, Sydney Street main £70,000, Yaralla district main £50,000, Haslam’s Creek main, £50,000. These were just some of the works from which the municipality was to benefit.
Two other factors were responsible for Concord’s rapid recovery from the depression. An improvement to transport services, roads, sewerage and drainage facilities encouraged more builders, industrial expansion on Hen and Chicken Bay and Homebush Bay-West Concord areas enhanced the prospects for local employment.
(This is just a small part of our display on “The Armistice and Beyond”.)