Friday random memory 9 – Surry Hills 1955

I was prompted today by a story in The Sydney Morning Herald about an event coming up in Surry Hills; this had been reported earlier in the Sydney Irish Echo.

A NEW literary event, The Harp in the South Day, will celebrate the life, times and books of renowned author Ruth Park, centred on the Irish community of the inner Sydney area of Surry Hills in the first half of the 20th century.

Surry Hills, now a chic area of cafes and bars, was once a slum that many poor Irish Catholic immigrants called home.

This event, on Saturday, April 18, will give participants the opportunity to walk the literary trail laid out by Park in her novel while hearing actors read from the book.

The artistic director of the event is John Derum, who has strong Irish connections…

Deciding which parts of the book to use was difficult, Derum said.

“I’ve made that final decision after discussions with Paul and the committee that we formed. We came up with basic themes, so that in the first session we meet the family. The second session, which is down in Frog Hollow, now a lovely park but once a very bad slum, that’s where we’ll deal with some of the harder bits.

“The third session is about a significant character in the book, who is based on the legendary madame of Surry Hills, Kate Leigh. We’ll be doing that session literally within sight of two houses that she had, one in Devonshire St, one in Lansdowne St, and we’ll also be right outside the church that is written about quite a bit in the book. The fourth session, when we get back to the club in the evening, that will be the happy stuff, the celebrations like New Year’s Eve and the wedding of one of the daughters. We just decided that by the end of the day we would want to hear the really happy stuff.”

Kate Leigh’s last years were in virtual poverty in a small room above one of her old illegal hotels at 212 Devonshire Street, Surry Hills, just up the road from the Shakespeare Hotel. She was there from 1951 to early 1964 – so when in 1955 I used to run down Devonshire Street to Central Station I would perhaps have seen her without knowing.

In Surry Hills in 1954: see Oz Day Surry Hills nostalgia

Chalmers and Cleveland Sts Surry Hills c 1959 – see In Surry Hills last Monday — 1

See also Surry Hills, Surry Hills 24: just a walk around the block 2 and Thanks, Tilly and Kate!