Slum childhood. Ulitmo, Sydney, NSW, Australia 1973

When I first moved out of home in 1973, to live with my girlfriend, I was seventeen years old. The house I moved into was a shared student house on Harris Street in an inner city suburb of Sydney called Ultimo. Ultimo was a very squalid and ugly area back then and it still is. Much of inner Sydney has become gentrified as the slums have been renovated. Ultimo has been resistant to gentrification due to the very busy, four lane Harris Street that runs through the middle of Ultimo. The side streets are narrow and and dark.

The houses that line Harris Street are charmless worker’s terrace houses of the Dickensian kind built in the late 1800’s. The houses are completely bereft of any kind of grace as they sit directly on the street with their doorways opening straight onto the sidewalk without any intervening space. The windows of the living rooms are on the walls that meet the sidewalk and passer-bys can press their noses up against the glass if they wish.

Kids would sometimes just watch us through our living loom window

The only thing to recommend Ultimo is that it is very close to the centre of the city. There are no nearby playgrounds for the children and when I used to live there, the kids used to roam the streets.

Some of the little local boys who used to hang around the streets

There used to be a group of very young boys who lived nearby that used to peer through our mail-slot or our living room window they were so bored.

The kids would call to us through the mail slot

 It makes me shudder when I think back to how at risk these children were.

I wonder how he turned out

Every time I drive down Harris street I marvel at how little it has changed when there is so much rapid change in the rest of Sydney.

7 thoughts on “Slum childhood. Ulitmo, Sydney, NSW, Australia 1973”

  1. These photos and text kill me. Kill me, I tell ya’. That final one is as complicated a portrait as I’ve seen. Deceptively simple your hear said of this or that…of this image, I say, deceptively complex. I am going to think about these images all day, I can tell.

  2. It’s the first one I like the best. I love the expression of the kid trying to get a better look. It’s Truffautesque!

    Who cut these poor kids’hair? Talk about an unfair disadvantage to begin your life!

  3. Pat

    Thanks and high praise indeed. I’m glad that you’re able to “read” the images because there is so much in them.


    I love the expressions in the first shot as well, I just wish that the hair of the kid pushed up against the window, wasn’t such a black blob without detail right in the centre of interest.

    As for the hair I’d say if it wasn’t their mother who cut it, then perhaps it was each other. My sister once cut my hair like the kid in the last shot. Not having any fringe is just so weird and my so-called friends ripped on me for about a month until it grew out.

  4. My sister never cut my hair. However she cuts her very nicely. Close to the scalp. I just wish she’d stop sending them to me! Hee! Hee!

    You could photoshop the dark area a bit. It’s not pleasant esthetically but it really does not take away much from the photograph. It had not bothered me until you mentioned it.

  5. Cafe Selavy

    Coming from you, that’s high praise indeed


    I’ve seen that post about your crazy sister and I don’t blame you for not letting her cut your hair. I’m pretty sure she’d start at the throat!

    The trouble with the bark spot on the head there is no detail there to “bring out”. I’d have to do some major cloning and that would spoil the sense of reality.

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