It’s that time of year again, the end of it.  It was supposed by some to be the actual end of it today with the Mayan calendar cycle finishing, but it turned out it was just the day they turned it over to a new one.

It is Christmas however, a time of family and good times for most.  Not for all though.

Sydney has, sadly, like all over major cities, a long history of the not so fortunate.  From the earliest decades of European settlement there have been the displaced, the poor and the destitute who have struggled.

Consequently, and thankfully, there has also been a long history of benevolence and charity to help.  Christmas lunches and dinners have been a traditional method of providing some relief in the city.

In 1844 a Sydney butcher, Charles Smith, laid on a European lunch of roast beef, mutton and plum pudding for the remnant members of the Sydney Aboriginal groups living at Woolloomooloo.  He even gave crisp white shirts to the men as gifts.  Who knows what they thought of this.

Another who took up the theme was theatre promoter Harry Rickards. Harry had toured Australia in the 1880s with his London based theatre company, before relocating here in 1892 and opening the Tivoli Theatre.  Rickards who operated theatres in Sydney and Melbourne bought international acts, including Houdini to perform on his theatre circuit.

From 1904 Rickards began an annual Christmas lunch for some of the poor of Sydney.  Hiring the lower Town Hall, Rickards provided food for 1000 people. This was continued after his death in 1911 by his family.

Another less salubrious Sydneysider who also laid it on for the poor was underworld Queen, Kate Leigh.  Better known for her criminal ways, Leigh was also a Christmas Queen for the poor families of Surry Hills.

From the early 1920s, Leigh would block of her street, Lansdowne Street, and throw a party.  Tables were set up, food provided and gift given to the children.  The fact that most of the gifts were the result of her shoplifting gang’s yearly work hardly dampened the mood.

Santa Claus was provided by her gunmen protectors.  Not a Santa you want finding out you were naughty!

1940 Salvation Army lunch at their old men's home, Sydney.
1940 Salvation Army lunch at their old men’s home, Sydney.

Sadly, despite Sydney being an international city with enormous wealth today, there is still a need to help the poor.  Large events by organisations such as the Wayside Chapel (that feeds about 3000 every Christmas at Kings Cross), St Vincent de Paul, Salvation Army, City Mission or the Wesley Mission are regular Christmas events.

For those of us who are fortunate enough not to have to rely on someone else’s charity it is hard to image.  But, if we want to help out, they are always looking for volunteers.

Merry Christmas and see you next year.

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