Andy McKenzie: Business owner

I have been in Surry Hills for 40 years. It used to be mainly families but it’s not
anymore. It’s more single people or younger couples. There used to be older
people with kids. There where two or three generations living together.
People back then used to do a lot of work themselves but now they don’t, instead
they get handy men in to do the work. I used to do a lot of plumbing, but now
they have changed the style of plumbing. The water board has its regulations. It’s
more complicated, so people can’t do their own work. It’s a lot rougher than it
used to be now in Surry Hills. You didn’t used to see people off their face in the
street and you weren’t too afraid walking out at night after the shops had closed.
There were only three restaurants in the whole of Surry Hills. There was Harry’s
Chinese takeaway, there was a milk bar café and there was the Five Doors up at
Albion Street I think.

A lot of businesses have shut down. There used to be five hardware shops, now
there is only me. There was more of a village feel back then. There was a cake
shop, a jeweller, all sorts of small businesses. There was a deli that did South
American sausages. There was a haberdasher. I’ve only just been able to keep the
business going. You’ve got to do something and this is the only thing I know how
to do I guess. You get to know people who are locals. I had a fellow in the other
day who I remember used to catch the bus out the front of my shop as a school
kid. Now he has three kids and grey hair. He was in with his wife. Hadn’t seen
him for ages.

I’m from the bush originally. Then I moved to Albion Street. That was 50 years
ago. So I have lived in the area since those days. It was the place where I grew up.
Both my brothers were in Sydney. There wasn’t much happening up there in the
bush. I miss the country life. I still go up there every Sunday because I have to
look after the garden and prune the fruit trees.

There used to be a neighbourhood centre just next door to us here at the Kirk
about 30 years ago. It used to be a church, then a neighbourhood centre that ran
all of these movie nights. I think you could watch a movie for 20 cents. Madame
Lash bought it after that. She was in my shop the other day. We did a lot of work
with her when they remodelled it. We did the letterbox and there is a massive
fireplace in there. She lived there for a while. But then it was empty.

When I came here there was no Surry Hills Shopping Village, it was a tile place
then there was a bank next door, a menswear shop, a butcher. The butcher told
me one day that he was in his shop early in the morning and he saw two guys.
who had broken in and they were taking stock out and loading it into the car. So
the butcher got a broom and he held it out the door. He said, “Get out or I’ll shoot
you” and they went and cleaned out! That was a funny story.

I feel sad when I think about those days. They were good days. Everyone knew
one another. Now you don’t get that anymore.

What’s important in life for me? Meeting pleasant people.

20 th April 2018

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