Link to Film Clip of Eileen Pittman and Tibby Whalan describing life during the Great Depression (1929-39) in Australia. Eileen Pittman talks about building a makeshift shelter at Happy Valley, an unemployment camp in Sydney, and having to make do with handouts and visits to soup kitchens. She explains that life was even harder for Indigenous Australians in this period. Tibby Whalan sings a well-known ditty from the era, ‘Hallelujah, I’m a bum’. The clip also includes black-and-white footage and photographs that show Happy Valley, a woman trying on donated clothing, soup kitchens and Indigenous women and children during the Great Depression.
Happy Valley was the largest and best known unemployment camp, situated in the sandhills of La Perouse in Sydney’s south. At its height, Happy Valley, which operated from 1930 to 1939, included 130 encampments and 330 people. It was established on the banks of a gully that provided shelter from the gusty winds of Botany Bay.
The shacks and tents, built by the unemployed at Happy Valley, were constructed from scavenged scraps of corrugated iron, hessian, wood and even cardboard. Walls were often made of cloth flourbags that were cut open and resewn into squares to fit the timber frames. The ‘bag’ walls were painted with a mixture of lime and fat boiled up in salt water to make them weatherproof. The roofs consisted of corrugated-iron sheets and the sand floors were smoothed out and covered with more flourbags.
The clip refers to the ‘trading post’ where donations for the camp were collected and distributed. Happy Valley was one of the most well-organised and close-knit unemployment camps, with residents forming a committee to assist one another in constructing shelters and distributing donated food and clothing equitably. The local fishers and Chinese market gardeners regularly donated leftover produce, while the Dairy Farmers Co-operative gave 16 gallons (about 72 L) of milk a day to the camp.