The Colo­nials

The Sunday Telegraph (Sydney) - - NEWS - KRIS­TEN TSIAMIS

A new book cap­tures what child­hood looked like in colo­nial Syd­ney

THE pho­tos of chil­dren in colo­nial Aus­tralia can look idyl­lic but there was a darker re­al­ity be­hind most of the scenes frozen in mono­chrome.

Pho­tos were — with the ex­cep­tion of some por­traits of the gritty streets of Syd­ney and spar­tan bush life — the in­dul­gence of the mid­dle and up­per classes cap­tur­ing their kids at play. But work­ing-class kids in colo­nial times knew the mean­ing of tough. They were barely schooled, un­der­fed and used as fac­tory slave labour from age eight.

Au­thor Ed­win Barnard has writ­ten Spin­ning Tops And Gum­drops: A Por­trait Of Colo­nial Child­hood, which ex­am­ines the lives of largely for­got­ten work­ing- class chil­dren be­tween 1788 and 1900.

Barnard said find­ing in­for­ma­tion was dif­fi­cult, as work­ing-class peo­ple rarely had time to doc­u­ment their own lives, let alone those of their chil­dren.

“Life was too dif­fi­cult and short for kids to write a di­ary — the rec­ol­lec­tions are mostly peo­ple look­ing back at their lives,” he said.

“The voice of work­ing-class peo­ple were gen­er­ally not heard, ei­ther in text or pho­to­graphs.

“They didn’t get asked their opinions as it wasn’t con­sid­ered worth record­ing.”

Trawl­ing through the Na­tional Li­brary col­lec­tion for just over a year paid off for Barnard as an un­ex­pected picture of peo­ple’s lives emerged.

Boys wore dresses un­til the age of six for ease of toi­let train­ing and “chil­dren were dressed like small adults”.

Many of the of­fi­cial records of the time don’t fully re­flect what liv­ing in Syd­ney dur­ing that pe­riod was truly like.

“Liv­ing in Syd­ney at that time was a des­per­ate place that must have been a terrible time, but it’s just not writ­ten down and recorded,” Barnard said.

“Any of­fi­cial records gloss over any of the is­sues.”

Spin­ning Tops And Gum­drops: A Por­trait of Colo­nial Child­hood is now avail­able.

Chil­dren on horse­back off to school in the 1880s.

Chil­dren play up for the pho­tog­ra­pher in their toy cart, circa 1900.

Women and chil­dren take a tea break by the wa­ter.

A ru­ral fam­ily put their har­vester into stor­age, circa 1895.

Boys play­ing sol­diers, com­plete with toy can­non, circa 1900.

A Sun­day school group pose in their best clothes, circa 1897.

En­joy­ing a pic­nic on a river bank, circa 1890.

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