Newcastle Depression Camp

Group of transient shacks on vacant land between abbatoirs and River in Waratah. (Man being barbered in open)

Group of transient shacks on vacant land between abbatoirs and River in Waratah. (Man being barbered in open)

The extraordinary photo above, dating from circa 1936, is one of many in the Past Present collection focussing on Newcastle in NSW. It provides a glimpse not only into the history of Newcastle, but the history of Australia during the Great Depression, showing one of the depression settlements which sprung up not only in Newcastle, but in other cities, including Sydney.

During the Great Depression, many Australians lost their only sources of income and were forced from their homes. Many took to the road looking for work, while others moved into camps like the one pictured. Whole families took up residence in these camps, often arriving only with the possessions they could carry, and starting from scratch. They would choose an empty area and erect a rough shack, using whatever materials they could access, including wood, corrugated iron and even hessian sacks.

In Newcastle, many sought jobs at the various factories, but work was hard to come by. Unemployment in Newcastle was high, estimated at 30% of the working population, and many moved into the shanty towns which sprung up at Nobby’s Beach, Stockton, Carrington, Adamstown, Lambton, Waratah and Hexham. Life in the camps was hard, but there is evidence in this photo which also shows the normality of life – a man is being shaved and children play between the shacks.

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