The Great Depression of the 1930s saw the rise of many shanty towns across Australia, where unemployed men and their families eked out a makeshift existence. Lambton had such a camp at the boundary with Wallsend near Jesmond Park. Called “Hollywood”, a sarcastic reference to its far from glamorous state, it was also known by the unflattering name of “Doggyville”.
The family occupying this two.roomed structure at Hollywood, near Jesmond, has been at the camp for almost nine years, and three of the four children were born there. After some years of unemployment the breadwinner is working in Sydney on the basic wage, and the family are saving to build their own home. The youngest boy in this group celebrates his seventh birthday in the camp. A baby completes the family. (Newcastle Sun, 24th January 1941, retrieved from Trove, National Library of Australia.)
Up to 40 families lived there in huts of varying quality. For example, a family of six lived in the home pictured above. The Newcastle Sun reported in 1941
“They had moved into their home of two rooms, of bags and galvanised iron, when the eldest boy, now nine years old, was a tiny baby.”
A combination of idleness and poverty meant that there was an unsavoury side to the settlement. A regular at the illegal two-up ring in the bush nearby was former boxing champion turned loan shark, John “Slack” Maher, who in July 1951 was shot dead and his body thrown down a disused mine shaft. His brother Michael was soon arrested and tried for the murder, but acquitted by the jury in the face of conflicting and uncertain evidence from witnesses.
Despite these dark moments, many children were raised in “Hollywood” and considered their upbringing as normal, and have fond memories of the fun they had there. The camp persisted long after the Great Depression had ended and was variously tolerated, ignored, or despised. Eventually concern over the living conditions, and the arrival of new social housing alternatives resulted in the eviction of residents in 1958 and demolition of the settlement in 1959.
Rusting fragments of corrugated iron on the site of “Hollywood” in 2016.
A few rusted and broken fragments of dwellings remain in the bush today, but when the final stage of the Inner City Bypass is constructed (starting in 2017) the site of “Hollywood” will be erased. It will remain only in a few photographs, newspaper stories, and the memories of those who once named “Hollywood” as their home.
The article above was first published in the March 2016 edition of the Lambton Local.
Two pensioners, in indifferent health, have occupied this two-roomed home for two years and a half at Hollywood. They grow their own vegetables, and are very proud of the potato yield from their small plot. They store their vegetables in the ‘pantry’ improvised from half sections of an old tank and some iron. (Newcastle Sun, 24th January 1941, retrieved from Trove, National Library of Australia.)
Portion of an aerial photograph from 1944 that shows the “Hollywood” settlement. Newcastle Library, Local Studies. [Run 5, Image 01465]
The former site of “Hollywood” as shown in Google Earth. Image date April 2014
Photos from the site of “Hollywood”. 2016
The shiny side of “Hollywood”
Although “Hollywood” was born out of poverty, and undoubtedly had dark and miserable aspects to it, I mention in the article that some who grew up there have fond memories of it. This observation comes from a 2008 article in the Newcastle Herald on Hollywood, where it is said of Norm Surman (who lived in Hollywood up to the age of 15):
“And of the many places Norm has lived in his eventful 68 years, the one he remembers with the greatest happiness is Hollywood.”
Trove only stores newspapers for the Newcastle Herald up to 1954. The Newcastle Library however has an online index of headlines from the the Newcastle Herald for the years 1944 to 1984. The headlines listed below give some sense of the the progress and eventual closure of Hollywood over the years 1956 to 1960.
||Action stayed on ‘Hollywood’
||Inspection plan on Hollywood
||Action aim on Hollywood
||Enquiry wanted on Hollywood children
||‘Eye on’ settlement sought – Hollywood Estate
||Hollywood offer referred
||No Hollywood evictions by Department
||Poser on Hollywood occupancy
||Notices to quit for Hollywood
||Clearing of Hollywood
||Eviction action at Hollywood
||Demolition move at Hollywood
||New action sought on Hollywood
||Prosecutions on Hollywood
||Closures sought – (Hollywood – Jesmond)
In which suburb was “Hollywood” located?
Many of the newspaper articles refer to “Hollywood” as being in or near Jesmond. The site is adjacent to the conjunction of Wallsend, Jesmond, and Lambton, but is actually wholly contained within the Lambton suburban boundary. The image below shows the modern suburb boundaries in purple, and the site of “Hollywood” shaded in yellow.
“Hollywood” in relation to modern suburban boundaries.
The map portion below has the area of Lambton Municipal Council as it was in the 1920s shaded in a dark pink colour, and shows that even then the area where Hollywood would develop was in the suburb of Lambton.
Portion of Craigie’s general map of the Newcastle-Maitland-Cessnock District, NSW [c. 1920s]. University of Newcastle, Cultural Collections.
On the map below (obtained from the NSW Historical Lands Record Viewer
) someone has marked in pencil on the Lambton/Wallsend boundary “Hollywood Illegal Occupancies Road”.
How many people lived in “Hollywood” at any one time?
In the article I say that “up to 40 families” lived in “Hollywood”. But this is just an educated guess. The only numbers that I have seen recorded are in a newspaper article from 19 April 1945 that states that there were “27 dwellings in the area”, and a report from 7 December 1949 where an alderman said that “between 70 and 80 families lived in the area.”
In the 1944 aerial photograph I can count about 25 dwellings and this corroborates the count reported in 1945. (It is somewhat difficult to distinguish whether some of the smaller structures are separate family dwellings, or just an additional shed or outhouse.)
I am somewhat skeptical of the 1949 report of 70 to 80 families. If true, this implies that the number of dwellings more than doubled in the space of just four years, and this in a time when the depression was long gone, and the post world war recovery was in swing. I suspect that it was more likely to be 70 to 80 people, rather than families.
It seems probable that the population of “Hollywood” in the pre-war, depression era would have been greater than the 27 dwellings of 1945, and given the size of the area that seems to have been used I have made a guess of “up to 40 families” – but it’s only a guess.
The murder of John “Slack” Maher
Dan Proudman and Stephen Ryan wrote an excellent article on the murder, that appeared in the Newcastle Herald on 17 October 2014, so I won’t add anything here except to ask: Where was the shaft that “Slack” Maher’s body was thrown down?
We know from the newspaper reports at the time that:
The distance of “three-quarters of a mile” is probably by foot, rather than as the crow flies, so allowing for some meandering of the track I estimate that the direct distance to the shaft would probably be closer to half a mile. The image below from Google Earth shows radius rings at three-quarters of a mile, and at half a mile.
Three quarters of a mile from Hollywood (in red) and half a mile from Hollywood (in yellow).
The only map I have seen that has a ventilation shaft marked in this area, is one that has a “furnace shaft” of the Lambton Colliery, furnaces of course being the principal method of mine ventilation in the era before electric fans. This shaft is quite close to a waterway, where trapped water could be described as a ‘lagoon’.
Overlaying this map onto Google Earth shows that the “furnace shaft” is just over half a mile (direct) from Hollywood, which again matches the data.
Checking this location in the 1944 aerial photo indeed shows a shaft at this position!
Google Earth tells me that the altitude at this point is 48m. The coal seam that the Lambton Colliery worked outcropped at the surface at an altitude of about 30m, so the ventilation shaft would have been originally 18m deep, which is 60 feet. In 1951 the colliery had been closed for 15 years, so it is possible that erosion had filled in half the shaft, making it only 30 feet deep. Indeed the crater-like appearance of the shaft in the 1944 photo suggests that a significant amount of cave in of material had already occurred.
So was this the shaft that the body of “Slack” Maher was thrown down? I don’t know, and there’s no way of knowing for certain. All I know is that this shaft is consistent with the evidence I have seen.
While wandering through the bush in August 2016,near the shaft location identified above, and looking for something completely unrelated, I came across the remains of another mining shaft that I previously had no knowledge of.
Sunken remains of a mining shaft, Jesmond bushland, August 2016.
This shaft is actually a much better candidate than the “furnace shaft” identified in the previous section. The furnace shaft is about 60 metres from the creek, which didn’t quite tally with the description that the shaft was near “a lagoon 20 yards away“. This new shaft I discovered was quite near a flat area of the creek which could be described as a lagoon. Also being lower down near the creek, tallies better with the reported depth of the shaft. I captured the GPS co-ordinates of the shaft, and when I got home loaded them into Google Earth. Much to my surprise I found that the location matched up almost exactly with an X on the old map that I previously had paid no attention to!
Location of former mine shaft, Jesmond bushland.
I suspect that this shaft was a downcast (inlet) ventilation shaft, whereas the the furnace shaft which is about 100 metres distant was the upcast (outlet) ventilation. So was this the shaft that the body of “Slack” Maher was thrown down? I don’t know, but it’s a good candidate.
Anecdotes of “Hollywood”
“My old Dad (who was a doctor) used to make calls there to visit patients. On one visit he was apparently beaten up by a drunk – after this he always took a “minder” with him to Hollywood. ”
- Robert Watson, in an e-mail said:
“Even in the 1960s, kids in my class would relate tales that if you went into the bush there, the guys playing two–up would catch up and hang you up by your thumbs! Obviously a tale spun by their parents to keep them out of the bush!”
- There was a couple of posts of “Hollywood” on the “Lost Newcastle” Facebook page in February 2015. Here’s a few comments from there:
- “We lived across the road from Jesmond park in Charlton street. As a child I enjoyed many hours of fun walking around Hollywood and going up to the two up ring. We would watch the cars and taxi”s drive up to the old road that ran up the side of the old skyline to drop the men of for their game of two-up on Friday Nights. Next morning we would go up and try and find any pennies .Those were the days.“ – Margaret Russell
- “You could see the tin houses from the tram. My mother said people that were homeless during the depression went there to live but it was there many years after that. It was there all of the war years and after.” – Dorothy Scammell
- “My father helped pull several of the old houses down there . I remember quite well as I assisted as a young boy and remember standing on my first rusty nail. Boy did that hurt.” – Greg Wakeman
- “I remember “Hollywood” and its makeshift housing very well…..used to pass it on my way to work during the 50’s. Both it and Platt’s Estate at Waratah were the only places that were considered to be socially inferior to my hometown of Minmi. I later went to Newcastle University with a person whose childhood had been spent in “Hollywood”……..Not bad for a pair of scrubbers from the other side of the tracks.” – Shirley Hetherington
Some of the comments below were originally posted to the “Paddy Lewis” article. I have moved them here, as this page is now a more relevant context for the comments.