Unlocking the Past: Tough times and kind acts at Christmas in the Great Depression

TREAT: The Kings Hall cinema at Kurri Kurri screened free movies for local children in December 1933, at a time the town was struggling economically.

TREAT: The Kings Hall cinema at Kurri Kurri screened free movies for local children in December 1933, at a time the town was struggling economically.

There's something particularly poignant about tough times at Christmas. The end of this year is seeing higher unemployment than usual, giving us a clearer appreciation for how people managed at other difficult economic times.

Ninety years ago, in late 1930, unemployment levels during the Great Depression were biting deep into local Hunter communities. In 1933 NSW Government figures highlighted that of the State's 31,000 unemployed men 10,000 were miners. A dependence on the mining industry had come back to haunt us.

These difficult times also bring out the best in communities and acts of kindness were everywhere. When the Miners' Federation set up a Relief Committee at Cessnock to assist unemployed miners, cinema owner Joseph Lowe got on board. In November 1930 he ran a fundraising event at the Star Theatre at Aberdare showing The Return of Sherlock Holmes, described as 'a first-rate talkie' film. All the money from this successful night went to the Relief Committee.

HIT: The Return of Sherlock Holmes was screened at a fundraising event at the Star Theatre, Aberdare.

HIT: The Return of Sherlock Holmes was screened at a fundraising event at the Star Theatre, Aberdare.

The Star was a leader in showing the new craze for 'talking films', with the cinema claiming it had the best sound system in Australia. Although this might be an exaggeration, the venue was certainly good enough to be used as a demonstration theatre for sound technicians.

Two years later things were no better economically. In December 1933 the Kings Hall cinema at Kurri Kurri decided to do something special for local children, by screening free movies for them. Their large venue in Lang Street was crowded with excited kiddies who crammed themselves into every available space.

For those in hospital over the holiday season nurses have always gone the extra mile to make their patients feel special. In 1931, with budgets tight during the Great Depression, nurses at Cessnock District Hospital had to use their creativity. They decorated the wards not just with the usual paper streamers, but with branches of flowering eucalyptus trees, which they had picked and arranged into uniquely Australian Christmas floral displays.

At Kurri Kurri District Hospital nurses created a unique event. On Christmas Eve the lights were turned off and a staff member dressed as Santa entered the hospital wards under a what was described as 'the rays of a brilliant spotlight' (actually a nurse holding a torch over Santa's head!), distributing small gifts to the patients. As an extra treat they were able to listen to the hospital's recently-installed wireless radio. A high-tech treat indeed!

CARING: Nurses at Kurri Kurri District Hospital in the 1930s. Pictures: Cessnock City Library Local Studies Collection

CARING: Nurses at Kurri Kurri District Hospital in the 1930s. Pictures: Cessnock City Library Local Studies Collection

  • Kimberly O'Sullivan is Cessnock City Library's Local Studies Librarian. Email her on kimberly.osullivan@cessnock.nsw.gov.au.
  • WANT MORE? Find the entire Unlocking the Past archive here.

Comments

Discuss "Unlocking the Past: Tough times and kind acts"

Please note: All comments made or shown here are bound by the Online Discussion Terms & Conditions.