If you ever have the honour of meeting Jack, he’s one of the most cheeriest and active 95 year olds you will probably ever meet. He continues to play golf, regularly exercises and even wrote a Book ‘Jack’s Story’ to document his life in Balmain. His parents married in Campbell Street and he spent most of his childhood on Grove Street. As you can imagine, Jack has seen it all; The growth and change of the Balmain area which was originally a Blue collar working class suburb, a premier industrial centre of Sydney where stacks of children played on the street till the sun went down and very often did not have shoes to wear to school.
It was a tough life for many living in Balmain back then, and for Jack this was no different. Growing up his father became sick and went to Callan Park where Jack was being treated for Schizophrenia and when he was nine years old his mother unfortunately passed away. Jack was then taken in by the Phillips, a family friend who had five other children and also lived in Grove Street; this is where many of his fondest memories lie.
“I was actually quite the rebel growing up,” Jack said laughingly. “The kids and I would go to the shops and nick fruit and a potato or two and sprint down the street before we got caught. Whilst I very much missed my mother, I really did love the Phillips family. They helped me turn my life around, from a boy who always wagged school to one who then regularly attended Sunday school,” he said.
Whilst it’s hard for many of us to imagine, Jack reminisced about the air raids that soared across Balmain during the War. Throughout, students at school were actually tasked to help build and dig out the trenches!
“At school during the war we would put paper up on the windows in case of any shrapnel and the teachers would take us out to help dig the trenches in Gladstone Park. One day after digging, it rained tremendously and the trench was completely filled with water and all the kids jumped in the trenches for air raid training and we came out a complete mess full of mud”, he said.
It’s hard to believe that such a time even existed. With all his memories, for Jack, one of the greatest things about Balmain was the small town village life it provided.
“Everyone knew everyone. In fact, going to the shops would take ages, not because it was far away but because you would stop and have a chat with each of the people that passed you by. Things are very different today,” he said.
After finishing school at 14 years and 8 months, Jack got his first job at the local sugar refinery in Pyrmont where he was a message boy and office cleaner. Later, he then became a tram driver and when the trams went, he was Balmain’s local bus driver.
After getting married, Jack brought up his four children on Cove Street and still lives there to this day with his youngest daughter Heather, her husband and their three children.
In 2016 Jack wrote his book ‘Jack’s Story’ ‘a warm retelling of how life was lived in the old Balmain, when people did have much money but they had their neighbours and community’. Grab your copy today to read about Jack’s amazing life.