September 04, 2005


Expectations in the Woy Woy area when I was growing up there were fairly low: most kids' fathers worked for "the council" (a term that included any manual or semi-manual labour for any of the local councils) or somewhere in Sydney, often as semi-skilled clerks in the public service or for one of the outer-suburban councils like Paramatta or Bankstown (neither of which would be considered outer suburbs nowadays...). A lot of my school friends had fathers who drove garbage trucks, repaired roads, or worked for the Electricity Commission. Union membership was high; government pensions were universal (and pensioners were everywhere -- "pensioner" and "old person" were interchangeable terms); jobs were typically for life (so much so that in those times anyone with a lifetime history of more than a small handful of jobs was thought a bit suspect). Class was obvious, and obtrusive, but since we were mostly lower class and lower-middle class, there wasn’t a lot of obvious conflict (I stood out like a sore thumb). Outside -- at school, in the playground, out on the streets, at the footie -- the climate was strongly egalitarian and anti-intellectual. I was regularly beaten up in the early days for my residual UMC English accent; I also paid heavily for making the mistake of coming first in class once too often.

Most kids dropped out of high school either as soon as they reached the legal leaving age of 15, or when they got their School Certificate (usually 16, at the end of fourth year). Only about 10% of the local kids went on to the fifth and sixth years of high school to do the Higher School Certificate (leaving school at 18). Only about 10% of this 10% went on to University or to one of the Teacher's Colleges (and they never returned). Quite a large percentage of the 16 year old School Certificate holders went to various trade schools -- mostly to become machinists or mechanics or draftsmen. Quite a few more became apprentice carpenters, builders, etc., or just plain labourers. Some of the kids drifted north to the steelworks in Newcastle; the employers of last resort were the two local abattoirs, where the work was reputed to be sheer hell (and, in those days when dumping industrial waste into local creeks seemed like second nature, we all knew what the places smelled like, even from a distance...). The only people I knew with degrees were my father's colleagues (mostly doctors, dentists, or pharmacists) or some of my teachers (it was a big deal when Mr Smith got his B.A. after years of part-time evening study; this meant he could go on and become a high school teacher, or, better yet, work as a public servant in Sydney). University degrees were about as rare as the open ambition to get one....

Mothers usually didn’t work at all, or worked as shop assistants or similar, or, if they were skilled, as typists or secretaries in Sydney. Young pre-married women nearly all worked as shop assistants or for the Public Service in Sydney.


At 9/05/2005 1:27 pm, Blogger Phil said...

hey, sounds just like downtown Carlton (near Hurstville) where I grew up. except there was less of the 'working for the council' going on.

At 9/05/2005 9:50 pm, Blogger Jimmy Little said...

Woy Woy at that time must have been like thousands of other places in Australian suburbia and commuterdom -- utterly unremarkable (and we were so proud of our unremarkability). I have a lot of trouble explaining it all to people out here in Californialand, so out come the memoires :-).

Carlton, on the way to the infamous (unfamous) Basilisk Studios of Tactics fame in Hurstville? I must have passed through it a bunch of times...

At 9/05/2005 10:27 pm, Blogger Phil said...

you probably went right past my old home door


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