by Ned Connor (aged 8)
My great grandma, Esma Christie, is 97 years old. My great grandma is not an aboriginal person but for this competition I asked her if she knew any stories about aboriginal people in Newcastle. She told me about Platt’s Estate and the time that the Council tried to stop a lot of aboriginal people from living there.
The background is the Great Depression, when many people were out of work and many were homeless. This was in the 1930s. An area that was once a rubbish dump and a marsh was opened and restored and given as a place for homeless people to live. This place was called Platt’s Estate – nowadays the University of Newcastle is there.
Many people took advantage of this – both white people and black people. Little ‘humpies’ became homes for many people. The children went to Schools in Waratah. After the Great Depression was over some people moved from Platts Estate, but quite a few people continued to live there. A lot of the white people who continued to live there had disabilities (such as intellectual disabilities or injuries from the war) which meant that they couldn’t work and so couldn’t afford to live in houses. A lot of aboriginal people who continued living there did have jobs but no-one would rent them a house because of discrimination against aboriginal people.
My great grandma is a christian and she used to visit Platt’s Estate regularly when she worked as a ‘mission sister’ for Newcastle City Mission, to take part in prayer meetings, church services, children’s meetings and soup kitchens. She particularly remembers two ‘outstanding’ aboriginal families. One family’s surname was Brown and my great grandma particularly remembers one of the women in that family and her wonderful care for others more needy than herself, especially young aboriginal kids. This woman frequently gave needy people shelter at her home as well as other support. My great grandma also remembers that the Brown’s home was always very clean and tidy. Another aboriginal family who my grandma found ‘outstanding’ was the Ridgeway family. Their home was always spotless, and they had a little fenced off area for vegetables.
Unfortunately in 1943, the Greater City Council of Newcastle’s Chief Health Inspector accused the six aboriginal families living on Platt’s Estate of being dirty and suggested that they be moved out of the area. When this was debated in Council, some of the Alderman supported the proposal to remove the aboriginal families and some of the Alderman objected to this proposal and insisted the aboriginal people be treated as equal human beings with everyone else. Two of the alderman who spoke up for the aboriginal people were Alderman Higgins and Alderman Stevenson. Alderman Stevenson is my great-great grandfather and my great-grandma’s father.
An inspection of Platt’s Estate by the Council’s Health Committee was ordered and it was found that the aboriginal people were as clean and, in some cases, a lot cleaner than the white folk, so the Health Committee decided that nobody would be forced to stop living on Platt’s Estate.
My great grandma said that many of the aboriginal people had lined the inside of their huts with paper and some had bible scripture texts on their walls. My great grandma has many happy memories of times spent with the aboriginal women at Platt’s Estate in prayer meetings and other events.