Image Homeless man at Dutton Park, Brisbane, 1937

TLF ID R7998

This is a black-and-white newspaper photograph from 1937 showing a homeless middle-aged or elderly balding man lying in a makeshift bed on the floor of what appears to be a disused water tank lying on its side. He is fully dressed, despite being in a makeshift bed, using a hessian sack as a blanket and having an improvised pillow of rags. Some items of clothing hang from the inner wall of the tank and a tin mug and other personal items are partially visible on or near a temporary table.



Educational details

Educational value
  • This photograph illustrates the fate of some of Queensland's unemployed workers in the years following the Great Depression (1929-32). Marginalised and destitute, many unemployed workers became homeless. While Brisbane's unemployed married men with families were housed in official camps, hundreds of single men found shelter in makeshift accommodation in public spaces across the city, such as Dutton Park on the river bank in inner Brisbane.
  • Homelessness was only one aspect of the suffering that the Great Depression caused in Australia, which had been caught up in the worldwide economic disaster that followed the Wall Street stockmarket crash of 1929. Resulting bank failures caused loss of savings, while collapse of investment, falling commodity prices and slackening of trade led to business failures and mounting unemployment.
  • By the time this photograph appeared in the Truth newspaper in July 1937, there were almost 5,000 unemployed men in Brisbane out of a Qld total of 10,000. By mid-1932 almost one-third of the (mostly male) Australian paid workforce was unemployed. Australia's unemployment rate had already reached 10 per cent in 1929 and this rate had doubled by mid-1930.
  • Living conditions for the hundreds of unemployed men living in Dutton Park by 1937 were hard. The men had ingeniously constructed their 'homes' using discarded items often dragged from dumps or begged from home owners. Petrol tins, old boards, jam tins, scrap iron, broken bricks, leather and torn window blinds were all utilised. Hygiene standards were primitive and the men cooked their food in makeshift facilities in the open air.
  • People too poor to afford sufficient heating, clothing and food during the Depression sometimes spent long periods of time in bed to keep warm. The article accompanying the photograph indicated that the sleeper in the tank, with his bed of bags and rusty bedroom, thought he could be worse off as at least the winter wind could not get in.
  • Many Australians at the time had lost confidence in the capacity of government to restore the economy and some joined radical or extremist organisations such as the right-wing New Guard or the Communist Party. Amid growing public dissatisfaction, authorities began to fear civil disorder, and the men in Dutton Park were not treated sympathetically. Campers were under close police scrutiny and their camps were frequently raided at night by police squads.
  • At the time, public opinion about the unemployed was divided between those who saw them as being responsible for their own predicament and those who did not. People who became unemployed when a factory closed down, for example, were seen as more 'deserving' than others. Those with less obvious reasons for not working were treated with suspicion and thought by some to be 'slackers' who should be treated harshly.
  • The government provided relief payments, known as the 'susso', to some unemployed men but they had to perform heavy labour known as 'sustenance' work in return. In Qld this work included major projects such as the Story Bridge, the Hornibrook Highway, Somerset Dam and the University of Qld at St Lucia. Other projects included road and drain works, flood prevention, improvements to school grounds and cemeteries and mosquito eradication.
Year level

5; 6; 7; 8; 9; 10; 11; 12

Learning area
  • history;
  • studies of society and environment
Strand
  • History/Historical knowledge and understandings
  • Studies of society and environment/Time, continuity and change

Other details

Contributors
  • Publisher
  • Date of contribution: 06 Sep 2013
  • Organisation: Education Services Australia
  • Address: Melbourne VIC 3000 Australia
  • URL: http://www.esa.edu.au
  • Copyright holder
  • Organisation: State Library of Queensland
  • Address: Brisbane QLD 4000 Australia
  • Remarks: Reproduced courtesy of State Library of Queensland
  • Content provider
  • Author
  • Date of contribution: 1937
  • Organisation: Sunday Truth
  • Remarks: publisher
Access profile
  • Colour independence
  • Device independence
  • Hearing independence
Learning resource type
  • Image
Browsers
  • Microsoft Internet Explorer - minimum version: 8.0 (MS-Windows) - maximum version: 9.0 (MS-Windows)
  • Firefox - minimum version: (MS-Windows)
  • Safari - minimum version: 5.1 (MacOS)
Operating systems
  • MacOS - minimum version: 10.6
  • MS-Windows - minimum version: XP - maximum version: 7
Rights
  • © Education Services Australia Ltd and State Library of Queensland, 2013, except where indicated under Acknowledgements