Thursday, May 23, 2013

Life of Riley? No.

Mother was a city girl even though she grew up on the outskirts of Melbourne in South Oakleigh. Along with being a single child (explains a lot) she did not really learn proper domestic skills until she was married and had to learn them. If anything Father's domestic skills were better than Mother's.

Father built the family home in Riley Street, South Oakleigh and also a rather nicer house in North Road for Mother's parents. Who knew North Road we go on to be a truck container route?  Then Prime Minister Menzies' credit squeeze hit the building industry and the construction of new houses slowed considerably so Father decided to buy a farm with money from Mother's father. Grandpop told Father not to worry about repaying the money, just make sure my daughter has what she needs. Of course, come their divorce and the farm was sold, Grandpop wanted the money repaid, and it was.

I was four years old when our family moved to Gippsland on a cold, grey and drizzling day in June. Mother went on a quick learning experience. She did not have a clue how to light a black wood fueled stove and on the second morning at 6.30am poured petrol over the wood and when she set a match to it, the hotplates all rose into the air and then fell down with a loud clatter. Mother, in tears, went back to bed and did not rise again until 10.00 and so set a sleeping pattern for a lifetime. Father lit the stove the next morning before departing to the dairy.

Hot water? You have to light this chip heater with paper and little bits of wood for bath water. You use an electric immersion heater to heat water in the laundry. Dishes are washed with water heated in the kettle on the stove.

No Mother, you cannot use the tank water for clothes washing. There is insufficient supply. You have to pump that water from the well by hand into a bucket and carry it to the laundry, along with water for the garden. 

The black wood stove was mastered in time, but the small electric Vulcan hotplates saw a lot of use.

The toilet? Down this steep muddy track and once a week a hole has to be dug to bury the contents.

Of course you can use the telephone, so long as no-one else on the party line is using it. Be careful what you say as people can listen in.

You need wood for the stove? You have to chop the wood.

Unlike other farmers' wives in the area, Mother had nothing to do with the farming side of things and found it enough to cook, clean and wash for three, often four adults, the extras being Father's brothers, and eventually four children. Although other women in the area did similar and milked cows morning and night.

Gradually things improved. An electric hot water service was installed. A briquette burning slow combustion stove that did not go out overnight and helped to heat the hot water was a good buy. A pump brought water up from a dam to fill the well and a water pressure system installed to supply the house, which led to a new automatic washing machine. When Sister was born, the monster never used lounge room was divided into a bedroom with hallways either right angled side and an indoor septic toilet was a marvellous addition, although the occasional vegetable garden seemed to lose some of its vigour.

While Mother has never had to worry about money, until recently and even now she knows her children won't see her go without, up to a point, she did do some really hard yards when we were kids.  But Mother's situation was not so different to general society then. Mother's now may not have to pump water from a well or chop wood, but by golly in modern society, Mother's work hard in other ways. What a pity both parents seem to have to work and one is not at home to bring up children but that subject is for another post.


  1. A very hard life. How our lives have changed in such a relatively short space of time. It would be unthinkable to live in a home without a bathroom or indoor toilet. To have to scrub the floors and wash the clothes by hand. No hot water unless it was heated. Ice on the inside of the windows. And this was only one generation away.

    1. Fun 60, just from what R, who is a similar age to yourself, tells me, things were quite hard in your country too in those times.

  2. Our parents lives were so much tougher than ours.

    We were an urban family, not a country family but I recall my parents struggles too.

    My mother would rise before dawn on cold and wet winter mornings to help push my father's money draining coal truck down the road until the engine fired up. Dad drove the truck during the day to earn money and then had to clean himself up to study accountancy at night at the local tech. This eventually became his career.

    Meanwhile my mother then spent the day cleaning toilets and the guest house rooms in the residential building a distant cousin allowed us to live at in exchange for Mum's domestic duties.

    Somehow Mum and Dad squirreled away enough money to send me to a very expensive private school whilst my mother dreamed of the day she would own and live in a house of her own.

    Eventually their dreams were realised.

    1. Nice Victor, and now no one will ever think of you as being silver spoon fed. Your parents did it tough enough.

  3. I remember our bathroom chip heater, we had to light the fire carefully and feed it slowly otherwise there was some sort of blow back into the flue. There'd be a roaring noise and flames would shoot out. My brother used to do that on purpose at least once a week. then we got piped hot water, dad was a gas fitter and plumber and did all the work on it himself. Later I moved to live with mum and the bath water there had to be heated in the laundry copper and carried to the bathroom by bucket, through the lobby, through the kitchen, through the pantry. There was no shower there either and this was 1970! Thankfully there was a flush toilet, but it was outside. The kitchen in both towns had a wood stove which we loved in the winter because of the warmth, dad's house also had a gas stove, mum's house had an electric stove.

    1. River, I can't really remember ours. I was quite young. They always sounded frightening to me as they could 'explode', which I guess is what you are talking about.

      A shower was something wonderful we only ever had at our grandparents. I suppose your father's gas stove ran on smelly coal gas?

  4. "While Mother has never had to worry about money,... she did do some really hard yards when we were kids. But Mother's situation was not so different to general society then."

    I suppose that is so true, it is almost impossible for us to grasp. People who lived through the Depression lived off bread and dripping; people who Made Do with ration cards and repairs during WW2 had to leave school on the day of their 14th birthday. Perhaps it was the same for all citizens, but that didn't make it a whole lot easier.

    My mother got married in 1945 and to have food at the wedding breakfast, guests had to donate a precious ration card. They did it happily... but still!

    I don't think I would cope. At least not with dignity.

    1. Hels, I reckon we would cope. Humans are so adaptable. Ration cards reminds me that my grandparents used to deal in blackmarket trading of vegetables. Interesting about donating ration cards for a wedding. Makes sense, but I had not heard of it.

  5. As you say Andrew, tough is relative. Chip heaters and coppers and dunny cans were still reasonably common right into the 1970s.

    I do believe humans are adaptable, but I suspect most of the people who improvised things like chip heaters after the Longford gas explosion thought to do so because they did not have to come up with the idea in the first place. Doing it "tough" might make being adaptable easier.

  6. Good point FC. I rather appreciate the luxuries of current life and have no wish to go back to the good old days.