Council spreads Christmas Cheer
The collapse of the US stock market on 29th October 1929 was the pivotal event in a long chain of circumstances leading to the worldwide depression of the 1930s.
The Great Depression's impact on Australian society was devastating. Without work and income many people lost their homes, and were forced to live in makeshift dwellings without running water, heating and sanitation.
In response to the high unemployment rates, the Australian Government focused on providing work relief as well as food relief for the unemployed. It also provided extra funding prior to the Christmas period to enable "Christmas Relief" to the unemployed and their families.
Money was distributed from the federal government to the state governments in the form of grants, and was divided between states on a population basis. The state governments then used some of the funds for state-wide projects, such as the Sydney Harbour Bridge (which opened in 1932), and other major road projects. It then redistributed the remainder to councils for allocation at a local level.
Lake Macquarie Council undertook several projects using money provided by these schemes, including major roadworks on the Toronto-Newcastle road as well as other roads throughout the shire, land clearing, rail and tram line repairs and fixing flood damage to local cemeteries and civic buildings.
It also coordinated food relief around Christmas time. Families had to register to obtain the care packages, and they were distributed by charitable and religious groups. The newspapers reported:
"Lake Macquarie Shire Council. Government distribution of eggs, fruit and vegetables to families at Christmas time. Meetings of charitable, religious and progress bodies. In accordance with the request of the Hon HM Hawkins, Honorary Minister, I hereby convene meetings of representatives of the above-mentioned bodies at the following centres in the Shire - Cardiff, West Wallsend, Teralba, Catherine Hill Bay, Swansea, Belmont, Dudley, Charlestown, Boolaroo-Speers Point, Toronto, Morisset. Business: To form a representative Committee to undertake the issuing of orders to families residing in the relative centres, and the subsequent distribution of the produce." Newcastle Herald 14th December 1933
"...each parcel for distribution to needy families would contain the following goods, though some slight variation might be necessary:
|1 dozen eggs||2 lb rice||1 lb prunes||1 lb cheese||1x2lb tin of honey||1 dozen oranges||1 cabbage|
...the parcels will be delivered free to addresses indicated by the committees or to railway station." Newcastle Sun 4th December 1934
These kinds of food parcels to the unemployed and needy were not a new idea. The newspapers record charities and councils providing Christmas care packages to wives and children of soldiers during WWI, and to families during the mine lockouts and strikes of the 1890s. This was however, the first time efforts had been coordinated on a national scale and to such a large extent.
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