Joyce Regowski recently turned 93 and still lives in the house in Riley Street where she was born in 1926. After her mother and husband passed away she lived alone until she adopted 9 year old rescue dog Rex about five years ago.
Joyce Regowski has had to stop her regular walks around Surry Hills for the time being, but it has nothing to do with her own health. It is because Rex has developed a sore leg and can’t go with her.
“I think walking is the best thing,” she says, explaining her health and longevity.
“I usually do four walks a day, but poor Rex can’t do it at the moment.”
At 93 and because she has never lived anywhere else, Joyce may well be Surry Hills’ most longstanding continuous resident.
Her father bought the house in Riley Street after a big windfall at the Randwick Racecourse in the early 1920s, and moved in with his four sons from another marriage.
Joyce was born in the front room of the house in 1926, and while her brothers all eventually moved away she stayed, and lived there with her parents.
“Back when everybody lived here you almost had to have a roster to go to the toilet, it was that busy,” she says.
“Of course we only had one toilet, and I used to have to share the bath with my mother.”
After a brief seven week marriage, which she broke off in mysterious circumstances, Joyce then met her second husband-to-be Harry in the days after World War 2.
Originally from Poland, he had served in the US Army and was on the verge of emigrating to America when someone told him about Australia.
They talked it up so much that he emigrated to Sydney, but then spent two years living in a tent at MacDonald Town.
“He was friends with my friend who ran the grocers on Riley Street,” she said.
“He was always asking me to go to the pictures or whatever but I always said no.”
That was until her friend the grocer invited her to dinner and she arrived to discover Harry was the other guest.
Although a non-drinker and non-smoker, she did however have several glasses of vodka that night which helped move things along.
“After dinner he walked me home, but we had to take the long way round so I would sober up a bit and my father wouldn’t know I’d been drinking,” says Joyce.
“So Harry walked me home, and I have to say that yes he did kiss me goodnight.”
Soon they were married and Harry moved in. He had a career on the Sydney railways while Joyce worked in a rag trade factory in Surry Hills and then in a chocolate factory in Zetland.
She and her co-workers used to take the imperfect chocolates and hide them in their bras to take home.
Harry passed away around 40 years ago and Joyce’s mother passed away at 95. Although she lives alone she says she has many friends who come and visit and “check up” on her.
So what does she think of Surry Hills now?
“I still love it, its so beautiful here, but I am a bit confused by the young people,” she says.
“Every time I see them they have a phone in one hand, and a coffee in another. It seems rather strange to me.”
Raised a Catholic, she still attends mass regularly at 10.30 on a Sunday.
“I go then because the choir is there,” she says. “They are absolutely wonderful, it really sends me.”
What is annoying her, however, is “all this talk about abortion” at the Church, and the pressure people are under to sign petitions against legislative change.
“I don’t go to Church for anything about that,” she says. “I go for God and to listen to the singing.”