Adele Moriarty (nee Maroon) arrived in Australia as an infant with her parents Aser and Nabeah (nee Kaleel) Maroon in 1926 from the village of Becharrie in Lebanon. They first settled in Elizabeth Street Redfern, opposite St Maroun’s Cathedral, a site now occupied by Department of Housing flats. Her three brothers were born in Redfern. She was educated at St Vincent’s School in Redfern by the Mercy nuns – although family needs often meant she couldn’t go to school.
This area of Redfern around Elizabeth Street was very poor, but full of colour and bustle, with the Lebanese going about their business, it was more like a little part of Beirut than Sydney.
Like a lot of the Lebanese homes of the time in Redfern, Arabic was always spoken in the home. English was Adele’s second language. However, once she went to school and mixed with others she, like all the children, picked up English very quickly. The adults found it much more difficult and many never grasped more than enough to get by with basic business needs.
Her paternal grandfather and grandmother were already in Australia. They were working as hawkers and had sent for their son and his family. Adele has since discovered that there were other relatives also already in Australia and that her father’s three sisters settled here at different times. Her father also had a brother who had settled in Boston, USA but then came to Australia and settled in 1938.
Her grandfather concentrated on the Palm Beach, Dee Why and Manly areas, while her grandmother went to the Lilyfield and Five Dock areas. She remembers on occasions accompanying her grandmother on hawking trips to Lilyfield. These suburbs were not closely settled and were more like country, than urban, areas then. Until the Harbour Bridge opened in 1932, grandfather had to catch a ferry to the North Shore and that made it seem even more like a rural trip. Her grandmother was still working as a hawker at 85. Her father died in 1965 aged 62. Her parents were also hawkers. Her mother retired in about 1969 but hawked six days a week till then.
They sold small things like elastics, buttons, needles, cotton, ladies bloomers, pyjamas and men’s underwear. The obtained their stock from some of the Lebanese wholesalers in Redfern like Melick’s, Coorey’s, Lahoods and Dan’s. Later they acquired stock from other non-Lebanese wholesalers like Robert Reid’s.
Until the post-War period, times were very tough for Redfern and especially for most of the Lebanese who by and large eked out livings as workers in the clothing trade, proprietors of tiny businesses or as hawkers. For instance, if her Grandfather bought home 4 shillings and her grandmother managed to acquire 2 shillings, it was considered a good day having walked all day. But this precious cash had to be marshalled to pay for absolute essentials. For her family, and for many others, borobul (cracked wheat) and tomatoes was a staple meal. Furniture was usually made out of scrubbed butter boxes.
Looking after her sibling children was a big responsibility for a young girl, but had to be done in order to allow the adults to go off on their hawing journeys to earn enough to live on. Although poor, the children did not feel hard done by because everyone else seemed to be in the same boat. They are remembered as happy days.
A found coin was a great boon and Adele became adept at finding lost coins in Redfern Park when she took her younger siblings out for a walk. She was once able to retrieve coins on the fringe of the circus tent, which had dropped from people’s pockets as they sat in the stalls watching the circus performance. The children would also collect bottles and claim the return deposit. Such finds provided the children with rare treats, such as a visit to the movies at the Empire Theatre in Cleveland Street.
The post-War period was more prosperous and offered people the opportunity of relatively well-paid employment. Adele’s father, for instance, found a job at the Ford Motor Works in Surry Hills. Others worked in the glass factory in Moore Park Road.
Working in a Man’s World
Just before the end of the Second World War, Adele was employed as a Telegram Girl at Redfern Post Office. Post Office (then called PMG) employment was until the 1960’s generally restricted to males but because of wartime shortages Adele was one of a number of women to gain such employment. However, the Post Office was not happy about employing women once the men had returned from the war and eventually eased most of the women out of these jobs. By the early 1950’s Adele needed to find a new job.
In about 1953, Adele heard of a bread carter who wanted to move onto a new job from the Gartrell & White Bakery in Great Buckingham Street, Redfern (later to become Tip Top Bakeries) but had had difficulty finding a replacement. She took up the job and received two weeks on the job training as a bread deliverer with a horse and cart. Her run was in the nearby, but much wealthier, suburb of Bellevue Hill.
Adele was in fact the first female bread carter in New South Wales, an opportunity she was able to take up because the bakery was not able to find a male bread carter at the time. The bakery placed no barriers in her way and expected her to do the same duties as her male counterparts, with the exception that someone else had to bridle the very tall horse – taller than Adele could reach. Her horse was called Roger, and Adele had great affection for him. He was a very large and attractive, fine featured stallion. He was not a draught horse, but he was such a big horse that he was likely a cross-bread. He was a good natured and intelligent horse who was able to follow the delivery route on his own while Adele made the deliveries on foot. Roger was a favourite with many customers who left treats for the horse to eat. Adele remembers the first time she opened a bread tin to find a carrot, which she thought was for her and ate it. The customer later upbraided her for eating the horse’s reward!
On her round she made many friends with the disadvantage that many waited for her to arrive so they could talk to her. This delayed her progress. Often she should open the breadbox to discover, say, an elderly customer laying in wait for her: I was waiting for you, come in and have a cup of tea.
It was hard to so no, especially to older people for whom delivery people were the only social contact. The male bread deliverers seem to be able to throw the bread into the breadbox and make a fast get-away.
One strategy for speeding up the deliveries was to hide some of the Lebanese kids from Redfern under the canvas of the wagon and when she got to Bellevue Hill, send them off in different directions with the bread deliveries to the various the bread boxes. This the kids did willingly for a 2/- fee! This was against company policy and later she realised she would have been in trouble if caught.
Adele Moriarty & Roger the Horse
Adele and Roger presented such an attractive sight together and a woman bread carter was thought to be such as novelty then, that Pix Magazine ran a story describing her job illustrated with pictures of herself with Roger the horse. Unfortunately she didn’t discuss remuneration before agreeing to do the story and instead of a payment she expected, she only received a portfolio of the photographs that illustrated the magazine article, although she treasures these today.
Adele had a very strict upbringing and was not allowed to go to social functions, even to the Lebanese balls that were held from time to time for occasions such as presentation of debutantes. She had not told her parents exactly what type of work she did, and preferred to let them think she was doing some type of indoor administrative work at the Post Office and later at the bakery. They only spoke minimal English and did not read, so there were little likelihood of them reading the Pix article.
It was while working at the bakery that she met her future husband, another bread deliverer. Her father was so strict that she would not tell her parents that she was courting someone! Even though she was in her mid 30’s! The first time her husband and father met was on the day he went to ask for her hand in marriage. He was not happy about her marrying a non-Lebanese, however, once the formalities were out of the way, her father gave his blessing. Adele’s bread delivery career ended and a new career, as a wife and mother began.