Living In A Cave

My Grandparents, Christina and Joseph Di Salvia, lived through the depression in Australia from 1929 to 1933 and I cannot imagine how hard life became for them as they tried to make ends meet.  Yet again my cousins and I are left to wonder how our parents remembered the depression, and of course, our parents are no longer with us for us to ask questions.  How sad.

My cousin Lynette Gleeson and I have tried to piece together what we do know about the events that took place during this time and I have put together a timeline to try and pinpoint when the family had to move from the family home to live in a cave at Maroota!

Joseph and Christina had 9 living children at the time of the depression and they were purchasing a house in Celia street, Granville (NSW).  In 1930 the Australian Electoral Rolls – 1903 – 1980 states that Joseph was working as an engine fitter. My best estimation is that Joseph lost his job at some point in 1932 when unemployment in Australia due to the depression was at an all time high of 32%.

Our family doesn’t know exactly when Joseph, Christina and the children moved into the cave at Maroota.  The decision to move out of the house in Celia street, and to rent it out, was made in order for the family to preserve the family home.  We do not know the exact location of the cave although Lynette has made numerous enquiries relating to this and our research efforts continue in this endeavour.  What we do have is a few snippets of information that have filtered down through our fathers, and a precious photograh.

The Cave That Became A Home

The above photo shows Joseph sitting at the front with Christina standing, broom in hand, directly behind him.  My Uncle Keith is standing at the back in the middle of the photo, with Aunty Thel standing in the shadows at the back and to the right of Christina.  My dad and my Aunty Esma are sitting at the makeshift table, but it is unclear who the gentleman on the left side of the photograph is – could it be the pastor from the local church?  My dad would have been around 16 years old.

My Uncle Walter, who would have been 22 or 23 yrs old, remembers that there were hessian bags hung up in the cave to make “rooms” for the family.  He remembered helping Joseph with planting a garden with some vegetables and fruit. Uncle Wal said that on more than one occasion he would strap a watermelon on his back and ride his bike 50 miles to the Clyde to work.  He would sell the fruit for a small sum of money and then ride home to the cave at night.  Finally, the family of his sweetheart took pity on him and let him board at their home, so that he didn’t have to make that long journey each day.

My dad, Ronald, remembered that a Pastor of the local church helped the family to fell some trees to build a small bridge across the creek, so that a horse and cart could get down to the cave.  The cave was very near the creek and dad remembered that his mother used to wash in the cool, flowing water, as well as use it for drinking and cooking which was done on an open fire.  One of dad’s fondest memories of this difficult time was of his father playing the violin, some of the children playing the spoons and comb, and everyone else joining in to sing.  Those moments must have seemed like a little light in the darkest of times. A table was set up at the front of the cave for family meals. 

We do know that the family managed to survive, although they did end up selling the house in Celia street.  By mid to late 1934 they were purchasing a home in Wentworthville and Christina had fallen gravely ill, passing away in April of 1935.


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