My earliest memory of Glebe is coming around to collect money for victims of the floods in Maitland, in the 1950s, the year before I went to school. Then after that, the biggest memory is starting school in 1955 in Glebe, at St James Catholic Primary School. The classes were big, often in excess of 30, as they were in those days. I am still mates with five of those, boys and girls.
The street we lived in was Colbourne Ave, which, before the war was called Brougham St. We lived there until 1977. I remained home even when I was in the Air Force. I was in the RAAF from 1968-1977, and served in Vietnam with No. 2 squadron. The RAAF years were wonderful, and I still have friends with whom I served in Vietnam. That street has changed in that most of the houses have been renovated. It was working class then, and the street went straight through to Bridge Rd, which is now blocked off.
And transport in Glebe? I remember the trams running from Glebe into the city. Even before you started school you knew which tram to come home on, because there were so many trams coming from the city. And the Glebe Point tram not only had its name on the front but its symbol which was two red dots. Other trams had symbols as well, in different colours.
At Central Railway Station, Marcus Clarke’s shop had a tower with a coloured revolving ball on top. Magic for a kid.
The changes I notice are greater traffic and the suburb becoming revitalised, renovated. There is a good mix of people but it is not as friendly as previously.
There were more people on Glebe Point Rd that I can remember. There were five butchers’ shops just on Glebe Point Rd (and then it was referred to as Glebe Rd, not Glebe Point Rd even if that was its name).
Another change I recall was that when there was a wedding at St John’s Church of England, as it was called then, not ‘Anglican’, the bells were rung. I haven’t heard them for years.
The socio-economic mix has changed from nearly all working class to a real mixture. Most of the social housing was owned and run by the Church of England. Then Whitlam bought the estate and renovated the houses.
Many pubs have closed. I can remember at least four: The Kentish Hotel, The University Hotel, The Currency Lass and The Excelsior. And the restaurants have changed. There were only two Chinese takeaways, a grill or two, and fish and chip shops – and that was it. I also remember the Astor Theatre, which became the Valhalla and is now converted to units and offices.
Colourful characters I recall include Monsignor Callaghan, then Parish Priest and Bea Miles who used to recite Shakespeare, charge you a penny to hear it, and never pay her fare. My mother used to be in fear that she would get on the tram we were on as she would immediately start interrogating you. For example ‘What’s his name?’ pointing to a child; and ‘Why did you call him or her that?’ She was harmless but embarrassing.
Things I miss: I don’t think Glebe is as safe as it used to be, to walk around at night. I would not walk through the laneways at night now, whereas previously it was a given. That probably applies to other suburbs as well.
Alcohol is more available. Most people used to drink beer or whisky, whereas they drink everything today and there are more places where you can purchase alcohol. On a Sunday you had to travel a long way if you wanted a drink.
The pubs were rougher too. My mother bought a good fridge at The Friend in Hand pub, with suspect origins! There were occasionally shootings and stabbings up there also.
Things I welcome include more choices in dining and all the cafés, and the renovated, classy hotels. The pubs are no longer swill houses.
I also welcome returning to be part of the City of Sydney. Since then the work they have accomplished in Glebe is remarkable.