Thursday, August 25, 2011

Things Were Tough, Times Were Hard!

Maybe some of you remember the ad for bread on television?  The old man says " ee, when I were a lad there were bread wi' nowt taken out".    Ever heard of people talking about the 'good old days'?   Do you think things were easier 'back then'?
Not so!  I just want to tell you a little about what life was like when I was young, and although I am an Aussie I would imagine things in the UK were just as hard.
Before my birth, my parents lived in a tent as my father was cutting timber for a living.  To get water my mother had to cut steps into the creek bank with a shovel.  To carry the water she used an old kerosene (paraffin) drum to which dad had attached a handle.  She cooked over a fire outside the tent.
Dad was an itinerant worker, so he had jobs in a sawmill, cutting cane, working in an abbatoir, driving a tractor and the like. 
 I remember when I was about 2 and we rented a little house in the middle of nowhere, while he was driving a tractor on a farm.  There was a wood fired stove with an oven - mum must have thought it such a luxury. The stove was kept going most of the day, all water was heated on it.  Ironing was a massive job. The iron itself was heavy, and made of iron!   You heated the iron on the stove, and did the ironing on the kitchen table.  You laid a doubled blanket with a sheet on top, and away you went.

 Everything white in the wash was rinsed in 'blue' which made fabrics seem whiter.  Most things were starched, then dampened down (dip hand into a bowl of water and flick the water across the clothes).  They were then rolled to keep them damp and then ironed.  Water came from a rainwater tank either separate from the house or situated under a spout from the gutter.
Washing was done in a copper, which was a big deep round tub which was heated by means of a fire being lit under it, and kept stoked until washing was done. Clothes were boiled, and stirred around with a 'pot stick'.   Soap was either rubbed onto the clothes prior to washing or shaved into the boiling water. My mother used to boil huge pans of water on the stove and carry them down four or five steps to the lean-to where the copper was to save wood.   Every article was wrung out by hand.  I used to feel very important because I was allowed to hold one end of a sheet whilst mum twisted and twisted it to wring out the water. The clothesline was just a rope tied to two posts, with a third post notched in the top of it, and this was used to prop up the line in the middle, to keep longer articles off the ground. Of course it was called a clothes prop!
There were no bathrooms.  We had a 'tin bath' which was round in shape.  Water was heated on the stove and poured into the bath.  It wasn't awfully big so was awkward for adults to bath!  We used old clothes cut up and hemmed as 'face washers' or as we called them, wash rags.  In a later house we had a 'chip heater' to heat the water.  Water ran into a cylinder through pipes, which went around the fire bed, heating the water.  It then came out of a spout, piping hot, into the bath.  Talk about modern! 


We had no electricity.  Pressure lamps provided light in the night.  These were filled with kerosene, and used a mantle.   They could be 'pressurised' by means of a tiny pump on the bowl of the lamp.  The mantle provided a surprisingly white bright light.   Every day the glass from the lamps had to be washed, wicks trimmed and lamps filled.
In place of a refrigerator there was a 'meat safe' which was just a metal box with holes punched into it for air.  It was hung up in a shady spot.  Milk came straight from the farm each day, in a billy can.  Butter came from the farm also.   Mum grew most vegetables and we bought meat from the farm.
Our toilet was outside, along a path in the back 'yard' which was really just bush and scrub.  A huge pit was dug and the dunny sat over this pit.  I remember going to the toilet one day, I believe I was about 3.  I sat down and started to do my wee when I looked up - there was a great black snake hanging above my head.  One little girl, minus knickers, ran out screaming for dad!
As we were many many miles from any town and hospital, any accident that wasn't life-threatening was dealth with using bush medicine!  Rough and ready first aid.  Around the time of the black snake episode I was riding my tricycle and fell, driving a fat splinter up under my thumbnail.  It broke off at a point where it couldn't be pulled out or dug out with a needle.  Dad promptly gave me a little glass of beer, and when i was a nicely drunken toddler he shaved my nail off carefully with a razor blade. He used tweezers to take out the splinter.  I cannot remember what antiseptic was used but suspect it would have just been salt water.
My brother was born when I was 3, and my father changed jobs again.   Two years later my sister was born, and he found a better job working in the abbatoir.  He moved us to town.  Mum must have thought this was luxury.  She had an ice box to keep milk and meat and butter cold.  Once a week the ice man used to come, carrying a huge block of ice between what looked like a strange pair of tongs.  This would go into the bottom of the ice box and it would gradually melt over the course of the following week.  The new house actually had electricity as well.  And the fancy iron plugged straight into the light fitting once you took the light bulb (globe) out.   Still no such thing as an ironing board, and still using a copper to wash the clothes.
There was never any form of heating for winter apart from the wood stove, and no cooling for the extremely humid and hot summers. 
Mum used to make most of our clothes, she had a Singer treadle sewing machine.  When sheets wore in the middle she would cut them in half and turn them 'sides to the middle' and resew them.   Worn collars were taken off and turned so that the underside now became the upper, and were sewn back on. Worn towels were cut up to make bathmats and face washers.  Everything was mended and patched.
Nothing was wasted, not even sawdust, which was put on the garden, as were vegetable peelings etc.
Mum grew our own vegetables, and also some fruit.
There was no television, only a radio if you were lucky, no telephone, vaccum cleaner, no supermarket even!   
I think it must have been a very lonely life for my mother, and a very hard one.  We don't know how fortunate we really are, there are so many things today that we take for granted.  I, for one, am glad things have changed so much over the past 60-odd years.

Parts of this article have appeared elsewhere as a Guest Blog.

1 comment:

xx Laura xx said...

That means no FACEBOOK arrrggghhh!
I suppose if that way of life is all that you know, all that is available, then you wouldn't feel like you where missing out. I couldn't ever imagine having to live back then, running a house and raising a family must have been so hard!
I think we do forget how easy we have it these days x