Snippets of an Aussie childhood
As a young child, the laundry in our mid 50s State Housing Commission home was a fascinating mix of smells, and a place of hot, urgent activity at least once a week. I remember my Mum, red faced and damp, plunging everything from socks to overalls to bed sheets into the copper boiler, which seemed to take up most of the room. It would all disappear in clouds of suds and steam. Then she would stir it like soup in a massive cauldron, weilding a purpose made pole, clearly ravaged from a life of long use. I was too short to see inside unless I stood on a stool, but that was not allowed. Probably just as well. Everything from Dad’s work clothes and my brothers’ muddy school and scout clothes to the piles of sheets and towels would be agitated through the mix (not all at once) until my Mum decided she could do no more. These boilers, or the copper as it was called in our house, were heated by a fire underneath and sometimes the water was literally boiling.
When I was a little older, a not-quite-so-back-breaking, single tub electric washing machine materialised in the laundry, complete with rubber mangles which jumped apart at too much sheet, or threatened to squeeze weary fingers without a moment’s notice. Literally named.
The laundry itself must have been the last item on the list to be finished in this state of the art timber and asbestos rental. Except they forgot to finish it. This important work room was not lined, leaving the jarrah timber framework exposed. So too with the toilet. However the horizontal frames were perfect for storing the soap flakes, borax, water softener, and the oddly named Blue, which apparently was wonderful for making your whites white.
And when did we stop the sizzling Sunday roast? – potatoes, pumpkin, peas and lashings of gravy, followed by the best desserts. Somehow my Mum managed the temperature in the old combustion stove to produce perfect sponges; icing, jam, whipped cream and groans of a full belly.
That combustion stove was lit all year round, even in the stifling heat of summer until it was upgraded it to a new white gas cooker, which took up less room but failed to warm the kitchen in winter in quite the same way. Never the less it still produced the best roasts and sponges. No, that was my Mum.
I smile now to remember the ‘chip’ heater which sat at the end of our bath. It was shaped like a rocket, a fire was lit at the bottom to heat water in the small tank above, which then spat and sputtered into the bath through a skinny copper pipe. Ours was cream. The copper pipe was turning green. Safety? I don’t remember any of us being burned. We just knew to respect it I think. I can still smell the jarrah chips as they caught alight; there was skill in laying them just right and that was the difference between a hot or cold bath. When this was removed and replaced with a hot water system in the laundry – still solid fuel – my handy Dad made a decorative windmill out of it. It graced the back garden for many a year.
Along our fence tidy pyramids of long necked brown bottles waited for the bottle-o to stop by in his truck, load them up, drop in some change, before returning them to the factory to be cleaned, refilled with that most Aussie of amber fluid and sold once more.
Our milk too came in glass bottles capped in coloured foil. Oh how we fought over the cream on top. I remember banana flavoured milk which had a different coloured cap. Delivered by horse and cart ( fresh manure for the garden if you were quick enough), the empties were collected, cleaned, refilled and redelivered.
Was life simpler then? Maybe, the jury is still out. Easier? Well, I don’t know about that either. Perhaps less complicated is the way to describe the days of my early childhood. I think for us kids it was easier and simpler; free to roam between friends’ houses on foot or by bike, grabbing a snack here and there, home for dinner, dirty and full of tales of books read, trees climbed, marbles played, knees and elbows scraped. Less complicated.
Would I have that childhood over again? Definitely.