Based on the autobiography of a woman (otherwise unidentified in the text) who worked as a housekeeper for the writers Dymphna Cusack and Florence James, Caddie is set in Sydney between the mid-1920s and the early 1930s. The narrative concerns a respectable woman from the suburbs who walks out on her unfaithful husband. With no money and two children to feed, she takes a job as a barmaid. Having never been in a pub in her life, Caddie is confronted with the horrors of the 'six o'clock swill', as desperate men cling to the bar, vomiting and urinating where they stand, rather than lose their place. She eventually learns the trade with help from fellow barmaid Josie (Jacki Weaver), while learning also about the people and lifestyles of those who inhabit the inner-city districts. Following a brief and disastrous affair with Ted, an SP bookmaker, she falls in love with Peter, a charming and sophisticated Greek immigrant, who is also still married. When Peter is called back to Greece as the effects of the Depression increase, he promises to return as soon as he can. Caddie, in the meantime, finds herself alone, without a job or the money to feed her children.