Poor Man’s Orange: Slum clearance
Mumma Darcy (Anne Phelan) and her friend and neighbour Mrs Campion (Lois Ramsey), are discussing the latest drama in the relationship between Princess Margaret and her great love, the divorced Group Captain Townsend, when they are confronted with the sight of neighbours out on the footpath along with their meagre possessions. They’re being moved from the house they have lived in for as long as they can remember to a distant housing commission flat, as the process of slum clearance, soon to engulf everyone in Surry Hills, moves inexorably forward. Summary by Janet Bell.
The march of progress is a constant theme of this story, with eviction and removal to distant suburbs or high-rise apartments an ever present threat. Some of the community look forward to a cleaner environment without bed bugs and head lice, but what will be swept away with their removal is the close community in which they’ve lived for most of their lives.
Poor Man's Orange synopsis
The story begins just a few years after the end of Harp in the South and continues the story of the Darcys, an Irish-Australian family, and their local community in Surry Hills, after the Second World War. It is a time when the inner-city, for so long the domain of sly grog shops, bawdy houses and a refuge for country people down on their luck, is about to be transformed by gentrification.
Roie Darcy (Anna Hruby) is married to part-Aboriginal Charlie (Shane Connor), whose resentful mother-in-law fears his 'dark blood’ will be visited on her grandchildren. The couple are always looking for somewhere to live, nearby but separate from the family. However, rents are prohibitive and there is a housing shortage. There’s a second child on the way adding urgency to their quest.
Roie’s father, Hughie Darcy (Martyn Sanderland) has been seeing a local prostitute who is bleeding him of any spare cash. His wife Mumma (Anne Phelan) wonders what she can do to compete with this younger, more attractive woman. Then Roie’s pregnancy goes tragically wrong and the family are forced back upon themselves. The youngest in the family, Dola (Kaarin Fairfax), must give up school. She grows up quickly, finding a role at the centre of events, becoming the new linchpin of the family.
Poor Man's Orange curator's notes
The title Poor Man’s Orange refers to having to make do with second best. This is the choice facing Dola after her sister’s death. She is prepared to follow in the footsteps of her beloved sister and marry Charlie although she realises she can never replace Roie for Charlie. It’s a very different sort of love which will sustain her in her new life, a sort of poor man’s orange 'with its bitter rind, paler flesh and stinging, exultant bitter tang’ to quote Ruth Park’s words in the novel.
When the first of the two miniseries, Harp in the South was still in the cutting room, it was so admired by Network Ten’s then head of drama Valerie Hardy that she immediately commissioned this second series. This time George Whaley both adapted the book and directed the series.
Producer Tony Buckley says that this sort of miniseries could no longer be made. The Surry Hills streets are now gentrified and it’s unlikely a production could get permission for such long-term street closures that enabled the shooting of these series. Tony is proud that no CGI (computer generated images) were used in the production.
Notes by Janet Bell
This clip, from the television miniseries Poor Man’s Orange, shows Mrs Darcy (Anne Phelan) and her friend Mrs Campion (Lois Ramsey) pushing a pram through the streets of Surry Hills in inner-city Sydney, around the mid-1950s. They encounter a family out on the footpath who are distressed after receiving an eviction notice. As the two women walk away Mrs Campion wryly comments on how the parrots and black swans that once inhabited Surry Hills have been replaced by rats and bedbugs.
Educational value points
- This clip is set in Surry Hills, an inner Sydney suburb, probably around the mid-1950s, and reflects the serious shortage of real estate, in particular rental housing, that followed the Second World War. As a result many families moved into rental properties that, due to overcrowding and neglect by landlords, deteriorated into slums. By the mid-1950s gentrification had begun in Surry Hills, which also forced out low-income people.
- In the 1940s the newly created New South Wales Housing Commission identified inner-city suburbs in Sydney such as Surry Hills and Redfern as slums and began to demolish substandard housing and build high-density dwellings such as the Devonshire Street Flats in Surry Hills, which opened in 1949.
- In this clip a family are distraught at having received an eviction notice and being forced to move to a suburban housing estate. In 1950s Sydney, politicians promoted high-rise flats as a solution to the problem of the slums. Some residents in the new housing estates felt isolated and missed the sense of community apparent in this clip, although the new flats provided modern amenities that were lacking in the slum dwellings.
- A woman in the clip mentions that her family is being moved to Hargrave Park, a wartime establishment that had been taken over by the Housing Commission to provide emergency housing. Military huts were converted into temporary dwellings that became renowned for their inadequacy. They were later cleared and Hargrave Park was developed as a permanent Housing Commission estate.
- The television miniseries Poor Man’s Orange, adapted from the novel by Ruth Park, shifted the timeframe of the story to the 1950s and aspects of the social history of the time were faithfully represented. They can be seen in the street scene, the facades of the houses, the women’s clothes, the hairstyles and in items such as the pram and the Gladstone bag.
- Park’s 1949 novel described life in the Surry Hills slums. Poverty and substandard housing in Australian inner-city areas became major issues during the Great Depression (1929–32) and led to public campaigns for slum clearance and improved public housing. The Depression and the Second World War had halted construction of housing; estimates of the national housing shortage grew from 120,000 dwellings needed before the War to 300,000 by 1945.
- The move in the 1940s for the Australian Government to fund public housing, the commercial and industrial possibilities of the inner city and the push for suburban housing marked Surry Hills, as described by Ruth Park in Poor Man’s Orange, as being ripe for slum clearance. Although some of Surry Hills was cleared by property developers to make way for factories and light industry, most of it was left intact and the suburb has since been gentrified.
Education notes provided by The Learning Federation and Education Services Australia