Tin Town

Tin Town Middle Harbour Sydney Front
The above postcard, dating to circa 1910, is a stunning, highly evocative glimpse into the life of poorer Sydney residents in the early 20th century. Located on the shores of Middle Harbour, the exact location of this particular camp is something of a mystery, though Mosman Library suggest it is overlooking Quakers Hat Bay near Cremorne.
Depression settlements and so called ‘Tin Towns’ like the one pictured above are most often associated with The Great Depression. However, such camps and settlements, clearly including the one above, predate the Great Depression by decades. Sometimes the settlements were home to the poor, but often they were places which people came to periodically, and as such they were only actually occupied on and off by people such as fishermen. The beginning of depression settlements and tin towns in Australia was arguably the Depression of the 1890s. However, it was the Great Depression which saw their size and number increase. Many Sydney residents had lost their jobs and without an income to support them and pay rent, homes were soon lost too. Often these people took only what they could carry from their lost lives, and set out for one of the many depression settlements around Sydney. People who had lost their homes and their jobs arrived, chose an empty space and erected a ramshackle hut, using whatever materials they could find – often corrugated iron or tin sheeting. Life in these camps was hard, but often a strong and very supportive community evolved.

Bark Selectors Hut

A Selectors Bark Humpy Front.jpg

The image above is a wonderful glimpse into the lives, and the living conditions, of so many Australians in days gone by. The simple bark hut, a humpy as the postcard describes it, may appear rough and uninviting by our modern standards, but for many Australians living in the 1800s, and even into the 1900s, such structures were home.

When we think of old Australian houses, we tend to often think of historic homes which have been preserved for posterity, many of them grand houses or country estates. It is true that even in the earliest years of the colony, some people, like the Governor, lived in prefabricated houses brought from England. Yet for most Australians, home was somewhere much rougher and more simplistic. The early colony was tent settlement and even the first more substantial buildings were often made of wattle and daub. Other early buildings were built of timber, with many of the local trees providing long lasting, good wood which could be used not just for roofing, but for the whole building. Particularly popular was ironbark, which could last for 30 years or more, even when exposed to harsh weather conditions. Local timber continued to be a popular building material right up until the Second World War, with many people continuing to use what was to hand in building their homes.

Even when the colony began to become more prosperous, many continued to build using wattle and daub, timber and bark. Such techniques were popular with squatters, who did not have formal rights to their land, and may be moved on as a result. These techniques were also popular with selectors, who used materials at hand to build a simple home, which they sometimes added to, or abandoned for a more formal structure if they prospered. Often the hut was a single room, which may eventually become a kitchen or living room if the family prospered and the house was extended. This is the type of home pictured in the postcard above.