Growing up in Sydney

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Moments in the lives of thousands of Sydney's children are documented in the State Library's photographic collections.


These photos remind us that although every child's life is unique, some childhood experiences in Sydney are typical. Exploring with friends, a trip to the beach, soft drinks in the backyard, school lessons and Christmas visits to Santa are just some of the things that thousands of Sydneysiders remember from their own childhoods.

The photographs capture some of the joy and innocence of a Sydney childhood, whether lived in the inner suburbs or in the rural bushland suburbs surrounding the city.

Images of childhood in Sydney

This selection of photographs from the State Library's extensive collection documents childhood experiences in Sydney, from the back streets of inner city slums to the backyards of the bushland suburbs.

About this item: 
The children outside this house (probably in Stanmore) wear clothing typical of the Victorian era – restrictive and almost identical to the clothes worn by adults at the time. The photograph is part of the Holtermann collection, which is famous for its unique photographs of goldfield towns across New South Wales and Victoria.
Boy and girl in front of large two-storey Victorian house with gables and dormer windows, Stanmore (?)
1870-1875
American & Australasian Photographic Company
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Digital ID: 
a2822003
About this item: 
The Church of England School was located on Crystal Street, Petersham. A church school had been part of the parish since 1860, and between 1870 and 1880 the current church building, All Saints, Petersham, was completed. At around this time, the education system began to change. Free, secular primary education began to replace parish schools as the main form of education for Sydney's children and education became a government, rather than a church responsibility.
Woman teacher with class of boys and girls at the Church of England school, Petersham
1870-1875
American & Australasian Photographic Company
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Digital ID: 
a2824459
About this item: 
Sydney was struck with an epidemic of bubonic plague. George McCredie, a building engineer, was put in charge of quarantine and cleansing operations to get rid of 'slum' buildings in the Rocks and Paddington areas which were thought to harbour plague-carrying rats. These children lived in Millers Point. Clyde Street no longer exists. The street and all the houses were demolished in 1901 as part of the plague cleansing operations.
Views taken during Cleansing Operations, Quarantine Area, Sydney, 1900, Vol. VI / under the supervision of Mr George McCredie, F.I.A., N.S.W.
1900
John Degotardi Jnr
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Digital ID: 
a147349
About this item: 
These primary students are neatly lined up along Parramatta Road outside Camperdown Public School, boys at the front and girls behind. The photograph was taken by the Broadhurst post card company in the early 20th century. The main school building was opened in 1882. Over the next half century complaints appeared in the press about the overcrowded conditions at the school. Ironically, Camperdown Public was closed in 1996 due to insufficient numbers of pupils.
[Scenes of Camperdown, N.S.W.]
ca. 1900-1927
Broadhurst Post Card Publishers
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Digital ID: 
a105115
About this item: 
Paddling at the beach is one of the enduring memories of many people who grew up in the coastal city of Sydney. This delightful image of childhood joy and innocence was taken at Bondi Beach by iconic Sydney press photographer, Sam Hood. It was published in 'The Labor Daily' and titled "The Beach's the Thing! Who wouldn't be a happy child again?"
Four young children paddling, fully clothed
11 Oct 1932
Sam Hood
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Digital ID: 
hood_05214
About this item: 
This image by Sydney photographer Sam Hood perfectly recalls the long hot days of a Sydney summer. Cold soft drinks have been the summer drink of choice for generations of Australian children and these young boys were no exception.
Hood Collection part II : [Children in groups and with adults, social functions, etc.]
ca. 1925-ca. 1955
Sam Hood
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Digital ID: 
a213010
About this item: 
As the suburbs of Sydney expanded in the early 20th century, many young families found themselves living further from the coast, making a trip to the beach a rare treat. Despite this, swimming remained a popular summer pastime and this half water tank made an excellent makeshift swimming pool for these excited young cousins.
Cousins at their grandparents enjoying a dip in the "swimming pool" - Mount Kuring-gai, NSW
c. 1930s
Mrs M Kefford
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Digital ID: 
bcp_01702
About this item: 
These young children from the 1930s probably enjoyed freedom unknown to Sydney children of the same age today. Roaming the back streets with your mates in bare feet was a popular way to spend the summer holidays for many children in the inner city and suburbs.
Five small boys and two girls walking along a brick wall
Jan 1935
Sam Hood
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Digital ID: 
hood_01502
About this item: 
Block boys, or 'sparrow starvers', was the name originally given to young boys employed as street sweepers to keep Sydney's streets clear of dust and manure. These young block boys from 1935 are a different kind of block boy. They are helping to build roads using a method called woodblocking, where tar soaked woodblocks were tightly packed together to form the road surface.
Block boys at St Peters
22/4/1935
Sam Hood
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Digital ID: 
hood_12141
About this item: 
Many Sydney children have fond memories of attending the Royal Easter Show at Moore Park (now relocated to Homebush). Rides, farm animals, agricultural displays and particularly showbags were all part of the fun. Getting lost at the Show was not such a happy experience. This photograph shows a worried Teresa Hughes and her grinning brother Clem being taken in by Mrs Hoffman at the lost children's tent. Also lost is Ray Thomas of Auburn who is clutching his sample bags (the visible one is Lifesavers– a popular Australian sweet).
Lost at the Royal Easter Show, Moore Park
18 April 1938
Digital ID: 
hood_17093
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About this item: 
As part of a long tradition of junk food at sports days, these schoolboys have their hands full of cake. They seem to be sitting in an empty sporting stand watching the arena, although which event is capturing their attention is unknown. Judging by their caps the boys are possibly part of a cricket team playing for Queensland.
Hood Collection part II : [Children in groups and with adults, social functions, etc.]
ca. 1925-ca. 1955
Sam Hood
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Digital ID: 
a213016
About this item: 
Thousands of Sydney children were and are part of the worldwide scouting and guiding movements, founded by Robert Baden-Powell in the early 20th century. Guiding began in Australia in 1910 and by the time this photograph was taken in 1939, the Australian guiding association was part of a worldwide movement. Here some of the girls are erecting an impressive globe as part of a display at the 1939 Girl Guide jamboree in Lindfield. Note the dark colours (probably red) on the map denoting the countries of the British Empire – particularly symbolic in 1939 on the eve of the Second World War.
Girl Guides display
7/1/1939
Sam Hood
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Digital ID: 
hood_18953
About this item: 
Water safety and the ability to swim have always been considered important for Sydney children. From about the 1930s, learn to swim lessons were undertaken by thousands of primary school children. The school swimming scheme became an official part of government education policy in the 1950s. These girls are concentrating hard on following the example of their (fully-clothed) teacher. The pool is probably one of the enclosed Sydney Harbour pools – the edge of the raised decking can just be seen on the right of the photograph.
Hood Collection part II : [Sports, Physical education and eurythmics; captain, net- and tunnel ball; vigoro; girls' school camp and sport; table tennis, billards, fencing, roller-skating, learning to swim, hiking and vigoro]
ca. 1925-ca. 1950
Hood, Sam, 1872-1953
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Digital ID: 
a407019
About this item: 
Climbing trees is one of the joys of childhood. These young boys were staying at the Dalwood Home in Balgowlah, a refuge for children who needed extra care after an illness or whose parents were temporarily unable to look after them. Girls over three and boys between three and seven were eligible to enter the Dalwood Home which opened in 1928. During the Second World War, when this photograph was taken, children of servicemen made up an increasing proportion of admissions.
Children at play, Dalwood Homes, Balgowlah
20/7/1941
Sam Hood
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Digital ID: 
hood_30556
About this item: 
Some of the most enduring memories of childhood revolve around Christmas and for many Sydney children, the big event of the year was a trip into the city to one of the large department stores to visit Santa Claus. This Christmas grotto was in the Grace Bros store on Broadway. The excitement and anticipation of both children is clear to see, particularly in the little girl's stance.
Father Christmas and children (taken for Mr Jack)
29/11/1941
Sam Hood
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Digital ID: 
hood_20599
About this item: 
Learning to dance has been a ritual enjoyed and endured by many generations of Sydney children. The double painted circles on the floor of the school hall help the children maintain their lines. When this photograph was taken, these children were posing ready to start their bows and curtseys – the formal beginning of almost every school dance. This photograph was taken for the Teachers' Federation and may have been used for publicity purposes.
Eight year old boys and girls in a circle, learning to dance, Maroubra Public School (taken for the Teachers' Federation)
20/9/1946
Sam Hood
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Digital ID: 
hood_11439
About this item: 
Some of the suburbs which now contain Sydney's most prestigious real estate were considered slums only 60 years ago. These children are playing in Frog Hollow (Hills Reserve) in Surry Hills. Several decades earlier, Frog Hollow had been notorious for the razor gangs which roamed Sydney's back streets. By 1949 when this photograph was taken, many of the slum terrace buildings had been demolished, but those which remained were in a terrible condition.
Ted Hood collection (portraits)
ca. 1913-1957
Ted Hood
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Digital ID: 
a3236009
About this item: 
These paperboys in Market Street earned pocket money after school, selling the Sydney afternoon newspapers Sun and Mirror to city workers on their way home. Remarkably, the law in New South Wales does not prescribe a minimum age for working. In fact, until the Industrial Relations (Child Employment) Act 2006, there were no laws in the State governing working hours or minimum pay for children.
Paperboys, Market Street [Sydney], 1969 / photographed by Raymond de Berquelle
1969
Raymond de Berquelle
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Digital ID: 
a1444026
About this item: 
Mirroring the earlier photographs of groups of children roaming the inner city backstreets of Sydney in the summer holidays, these Glebe girls seem to be enjoying each other's company and the liberty to wander beyond their own backyards. Patricia Baillie is a photographer who specialises in capturing life the vibrant streets of Sydney's inner suburbs. The faces of these laughing girls epitomise the joy and freedom of childhood.
Collection 01: Scenes of Glebe, 2002 / photographed by Patricia Baillie
2002
Patricia Baillie
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Digital ID: 
a402018

Rex Hazlewood: suburban panoramas

David ‘Rex’ Hazlewood (1886 – 1968) was born in Dulwich Hill in Sydney’s Inner West and grew up in the suburban areas around Homebush, Chatswood and Epping. He first trained as a tailor in a city clothing warehouse, but in 1909 when he was 23, he began training for the Baptist ministry. 

Rex Hazlewood’s father, David, was a keen amateur photographer and fostered the same passion in his son. Rex spent two years in country New South Wales as student pastor and took numerous photographs of the areas around Yeoval, Manildra and Molong, where he was based. On his return to Sydney in 1911, he took many photographs of the areas around his family home in Epping – including several series of the new developments in the north western suburbs, government works and the newly-built Central Markets (now Paddy’s Markets) in the city. His photographs recall the farming days of Sydney’s outer suburbs, including fruit-growing in Epping and timber-hauling in Carlingford.

Some time between 1911 and 1916, Rex Hazlewood began to identify himself as a professional photographer and he appears to have gained several contracts to record the progress of large government building projects. He enlisted in the Australian Imperial Force in 1916 and left for England in 1917. He served at the Western Front, and at the end of 1918 he was appointed an official war photographer until his return to Australia in November 1919.

After his marriage to Robin Kendall in 1920 and the birth of his son, Rex Hazlewood continued to take photographs, probably on a contract basis and for commercial postcards. Some of these postcards were taken with his rotating panoramic camera – 75 examples of panoramic negatives are held in the Mitchell Library’s collection.

By the late 1920s, Rex was finding it impossible to make photography profitable as a freelance photographer. His brothers owned a nursery in Epping, and Rex worked for them, taking photographs of gardens, plants and animals to illustrate their catalogues and writing articles on plants and garden design. He developed a passion for landscape design and delivered illustrated talks on the topic to interested groups. Rex Hazlewood left his brothers’ nursery in around 1935 and undertook various jobs until the end of the Second World War, when he began a business selling wholesale roses to nurseries. His last series of photographs recorded a European trip he took with his wife in 1956-57.

The panoramas held by the Library are nitrate negatives. Nitrate negatives are highly flammable and, with age, the negatives can produce a flammable gas which has been known to spontaneously combust. These Hazlewood negatives have been scanned and digital preservation copies have been made by the Library to replace the original unstable negatives. The photograph above is a glass plate negative - a medium also used by Hazlewood. In contrast to nitrate negatives, glass plates are very stable and safe to store. 

Made possible through a partnership with Moran Health Care Group