Life around South Street didn’t change a great deal for over a hundred years. It was a close-knit community and many families were related. When times were tough, the community pulled together. Without the kindness of the local shopkeepers, many families would not have survived. There are many stories of extra groceries finding their way to families in need.
South Street is a wonderful example of a working class neighbourhood in the Georgian style. Little has changed since the cottages were built in the late 1840s and early 1850s. They provided cheap rental accommodation for wharf labourers and other workers connected with the port. The link through to Kelly Street, along what is now McGregor Street, allowed the residents quick access via Kelly’s Steps to the wharf below.
Like Kelly Street, most of these rental cottages housed large families. Even in the late 1950s, as many as 75% of the cottages were still tenanted. Today, that proportion has reversed and most are now in private ownership.
Today, Battery Point streets are full of cars. It’s hard to imagine that in the past, the streets were full of children: playing cricket, hurdle races and marbles. During the 1940s, John ‘Smoky’ Johnson, a South Street boatbuilder, used to show Charlie Chaplin and other old movies to the local kids in his large backyard.
Pigeon keeping was a common interest, so much so that in the early 1900s, a Battery Point Homing Society was formed. Most of its members lived in the streets between Salamanca Place and Hampden Road.
Every Monday morning, the Rabbito would come around – 9 pence a pair. All the ladies would come out in their white starched aprons:
‘Ya want kidneys, Love?’
And he’d rip the kidneys out and throw ’em – he was always followed by about 15 dogs – there’d be a brawl for the kidneys.
– John Dineley talking about his childhood in the 1930s