Minggu, 19 Juli 2009

The Adventures of the SCSSHBCDAC: in Opium's Thrall!

Previously, the intrepid investigators from the Sydney City and Suburban Sewerage and Health Board's Crowded Dwellings and Areas Committee encountered some of the children of late-nineteenth century Sydney's slums, including two who were removed to the relatively salubrious accommodations of the police sheds. Now their investigations take them where all innocence is truly fled (and the casual racism of the day has free licence)...

Seventh day - Tuesday 25 November 1875.
Burke Ward - along Pitt-street, commencing at Queen's Place.

Met at the Volunteer Club at 3 pm on Thursday 25 instant and commenced our round of visits by calling upon Ah Loon, a Chinaman, known in the neighbourhood as 'Lousy Charley', who occupies a three-roomed stone cottage off Queen's-place, for which he pays 10 s a week - the agent for the property to which this tenement belongs is M'Kenzie. It is 37 feet long and 11 ft high, and divided into three rooms, in each of which is an opium bench, with all the appliances necessary and ready for use at once. Charley is a seller of opium and an inveterate smoker as well, or his appearance greatly belies him. J. E., a white woman, aged twenty-two, who lives with him, also indulges in this demoralizing habit, and their place is an accommodation house of the worst order, for it is impossible to say what diabolical offences are not committed through the agency of this pernicious drug. Of this more hereafter. The woman told us that sometimes their customers were so numerous that they had to wait their turns to enter the room. The unfortunate creature appeared to be completely under the bondage of opium, and the woman assured us, and she herself admitted, though her paramour stoutly denied it, that other white women frequent the place, and that the most revolting and immoral scenes are of frequent occurence. In corroboration of this statement, she mentioned among the names of her visitors some of the most disreputable prostitutes in Sydney. If half the stories we heard were true, it is more than time that this and similar other foul dens of Chinese depravity should be cleared of their occupants and thoroughly purged, for their existence is a blot upon the character of a city like Sydney.

We next visited Ah Toy's workshop in Queen's-place, where there is a large loft over the workshop, about 60 ft x 30 ft, in which nineteen persons sleep - at least so we were told - but the numbers given us were probably incorrect in most cases, for we never found the beds to correspond. The bedroom of a Chinaman is a square compartment with room for two occupants, in which he keeps all his belongings, and which serves him as a smoking-room, sitting-room and bedroom. The rooms are generally boxed off in this way into compartments which represent so many separate dwellings under one roof. No attempt seemed to have been made to clean the place, nor could we see any lavatories or appliances used in other houses: if these people ever wash themselves they do it by stealth. The attic room in Ah Toy's house, fronting George-street, the owner of which is Mr Redman, is 7 ft high, and as near as we could guess about 14ft x 10 ft; it is divided into elevent compartments, is without ventilation, and very dirty. The closet attached to the house was in a frightful state. The attention of Insurance Societies and Fire Brigaes should be called to this place, for if a fire were to take place in this part of Sydney the result would be disastrous, and the loss of life and property great. The closets in all these houses were in a horrible state; they discharge into an opening over the same drain probably a tributary of the Tank Stream - as in almost every case the tenants complain that the landlord will do nothing.

This day's inspection was not performed without serious fatigue and risk to health to Dr Read and myself. For the next forty-eight hours, and that of the previous night, the horrible sickly smell of opium smoking which pervades all the Chinese quarters seemed to adhere to us, to say nothing of the fear of infection, which is not a pleasant sensation. We have witnessed in the several visits we have made a great many disgusting scenes, the existence of which in such close contiguity to our main thoroughfares we could not have otherwise credited - and we may fairly state that since we undertook the duty entrusted to this sub-committee we have not been able to enjoy a single meal. We concluded the day's work at 6 pm.