An Interview by Margaret Cody

Carmel Vanny (image: supplied by Carmel)


Your background
My paternal grandparents and two of their children (including my father) moved from Coolamon to Glebe in 1927. They moved to Boyce St in 1930 and my parents left there in 1974.

Your earliest memory of Glebe
Apart from sitting on my Dad’s knee on the front veranda of our house, my earliest memory of Glebe is playing in Boyce St and Boyce Lane with lots of other children – dinky rides, skipping and piggy-backs, for example: we were also free to wander a long way from home, provided we returned by dusk. I also remember the sound of the race-caller from Harold Park Paceway, going shopping for Mum at the age of four and the Clothes Props man in his horse and cart, announcing ‘Props for sale’.

The street where you lived then
In terms of aesthetics Boyce St was quite stark, with rundown and unpainted houses and very little in the way of gardens. The road surface was gravel and devoid of cars. In terms of community, Boyce St was full of life with a constant flow of adults and children walking along the street and others sitting on their front verandas well into the evening. Despite its shabbiness, Boyce St had a healthy social feel, with the constant experience of connection, care and friendliness.

The street where you lived now
I left Boyce St in 1970. However, I have been a regular visitor to Glebe since, through my connection with an ex-students committee and several friends. Now the street is aesthetically attractive, with the restoration and extension of many homes and also the development of front gardens and the planting of trees on the footpaths. I notice an increase in dog ownership and an almighty increase in car ownership. I also observe a decrease in resident numbers, in particular children. As a non-resident now I don’t really know how it feels socially to live in Boyce St.

Transport – how you got about?
As a baby I travelled by pram! Walking was a regular way to move around and walking long distances was commonplace and accepted. For significant distances the tram system was a reliable service and children were competent users by school age. The tram stopped at Central, so this enabled easy access to train travel. Occasionally we caught the 459 bus at Bridge Rd and travelled to York St in the city, which was close to the State Library: a great resource for school projects. Very few people owned cars.

Biggest Changes
I observe the following significant changes – gentrification of the suburb and the development of the streetscape in Glebe Rd with coffee shops and restaurants, and the general greening of the area. I observe the fast pace of life, along with the congestion caused by cars and buses. The demographic seems to include more people living alone, more professional workers, more University students and a more culturally diverse community.

Socio-economic mix – shifts
Economic disadvantage was very much part of life during my time in Glebe. Many fathers were low-paid workers and some were unemployed.

Single mothers suffered great hardship and with a lack of childcare couldn’t get work. Most houses were rented and some divided into flats, housing several families, with access to one bathroom and one toilet only. Problems with rising damp, fleas and poor heating were common. I recall many older people living in one room: a bed, a commode, a sink and one gas cooker. Fortunately many parents were creative when it came to survival and protected their children from the reality of hardship. I knew a few families only, where fathers had professions and owned homes.

Now – The cost of housing in Glebe is now very high, which means that only those with significant wealth can afford to buy in the area. Leasers struggle with high rents and long-term residents struggle with high land valuations and subsequent increased costs. I know that some social housing still exists in Glebe.

Colourful characters
My father was a tram conductor for a while, so I heard many stories about Bea Miles.

I recall the delightful Mrs Comerford, who lived in one room in Boyce St, but welcomed visitors, loved children and supplied them with boiled lollies. My own great-uncle Mr Terry O’Leary was a local barber, who serenaded his customers with Irish songs in his light tenor voice. I recall the politician Mr Dan Minogue, who was a well known local Irishman and the Labor member for West Sydney until 1969. He was also very dedicated to supporting social welfare charities.

What do you miss?
As a non-resident now, I can only comment on what appears to be a decrease in the strong sense of neighbourhood and community that existed in my time. From my early life perspective, Catholic families in the large parish of St James enjoyed the social scene of lots of children, dances, concerts and picnics. I do realise that there was a big difference between local Social Catholicism and the harshness of Catholic teaching. And of course I miss the civilised feel of the tram system.

What do you welcome?
The development of Glebe Point and the Bay into lovely community spaces for people of all ages and of course their canine companions. I welcome the wonderful variety of eateries and delicatessens, which provide National dishes and many healthy Vegetarian options. I welcome the sight of the Anzac Bridge and think it is a wonderful engineering masterpiece, which looks perfect from every angle. I welcome the modernisation of the schools I attended, in appearance and curriculum.

Any other observations?
My life observation, coloured by my years of living in Glebe, is that Social Capital is as crucial to a good life as Economic Capital. That is not to idealise poverty or to say that of itself it is a good thing.