More Of Grandmother's Days On Yorke Peninsula.
DEAR ELEANOR BARBOUR— , Having 'shelved' other things for the time, I shall afford myself the pleasure of enjoying the really good company of your pageites. Although invisible to one another, we find so much good fellowship and have so much in common.
It is indeed 'good company' now that the colder days are here, and once again the fireside invites a cosy circle of good friends. What a thrill many of us would get if we could really gather our distant friends at will, and enjoy a hearty talk; not just passing chatter, as is usually the case these busy days. It is very pleasing to note so many newcomers to our pages. The larger the family, the keener the interest, I say, and I love the many little letters from different parts and the varied topics. Alligators and river currents, underground lakes and blowholes, gold, dust, or the beauties of nature — all make good reading for those who, unable to enjoy the privilege of travel, follow a monotonous daily routine. Perhaps there are others, many of us, who are especially cheered by the homely little incidents of real life, of the way our own folk strove to clear the land, build and furnish the homes. We are cheered to read of such times not so many decades ago when 'on Saturday night, to have a good scrub, Tom and Teddy were put in the tub — an outsize wash-tub usually — put near the fire in the large fireplace in washhouse or kitchen. A boiler was on the brandis heating the water which the older children would bring in along with the wood for the week-end. How busy and happy they were — older boys on the land, and girls in the kitchen learning the arts of home-making, of camp-oven or brick-oven baking.
What a joy for mothers of large, hungry families to own a brickoven, wherein a large supply of bread, meat, pies and cakes could all be done at once — before the advent of stoves, or 'American ovens.' and enamel or aluminiumware. Enamel piedish fruit pies were a Sunday treat and when by a stroke of ill-luck one slid off the long handled oven shovel, somersaulting into the ashes, one longlooked for gooseberry pie, done to perfection, was a big loss, truly mourned. Lifting the pie or custard from a camp-oven is not as easily done as turning out the loaf. How lucky we are to own the newer ways and means to have ready to eat foods in tins and packets, which would have cheered those early overlanders to Western Australia.
It took three weeks in the seventies to do the trip round St. Vincent's Gulf with horses and cattle. Water for stock being scarce, the cattle tried to get down to the sea to drink. The mothers and children and luggage came by sailing boat across the — to them— 'big sea,' because roads were only bush tracks. They had very little hope of going back to friends they had left, but the fine community spirit prevailed, neighbors helping each other when in need. The experienced women went to the needy neighbor in bullock dray, any time when required, over ruts and stones, where instinctively the animals took the right track and the anxious humans heaved many a thankful sigh of relief to reach home and shelter. No cosy motors, telephones, or possible hope of getting the doctor out over those roads at night. There was the winding muddy track through dense timber where later I remember the horses scurrying at nightfall, their ears pricked anxiously eager to reach home.
Many a time had my grandmother gone, at a slower pace, thankful to 'get there' and find a warm room, and boiling water, and brave hearts. Then the home truly became less desolate, although so isolated by the darkness and new track, and the fear of being left alone departed and the good neighbor was a tower of strength, more welcome than the doctor at times, for she stayed, overseeing the home, patient, new babe, and other toddlers' needs, taking her batch of dough along and baking it in the 'early hours.' What joy among the little people, to have another tiny pioneer in the home. Then, in case of accident or sickness, the 'good neighbor' was equally welcome. Miraculous escapes there were! And some strange remedies, too; but experience taught the value of simple home remedies.
There were very few sick folk, and one tiny hospital then in all our southern Yorke Peninsula, although there were many families of ten, twelve, or a few more. Many of the first homes were three roomed stone buildings. A boys' room was usually added and perhaps a dairy and a large tank as soon as time and funds would allow, and timber, iron, lime and sand could be got together. One octogenarian tells me how very cold it was sleeping in an iron tank with his big brothers on their selection for the first nights. Usually a hut was quickly erected of split sheaoak — slabs pugged with red earth and straw thatched with rushes found in the many swamps even today, whitewashed inside and outside. Calico window? Yes, some, but no fly screen or door: The cow ate more than one potplant treasured by the homemakers, and took the cloth off the breakfast table and clothes off the toes, even in my day. Imagine the bog made by bullock teams carting the wheat in German waggons when some farms yielded 1,000 bags of four bushels each, and the crack of whips and shouting! Yes, and the thirsty men, tired men whose bullocks or horses knew the way home in the dark.
There were many land girls, too, in those days in these parts, whose work took them to hay fields, wheat cleaning with the winnower (turning the handle or putting up the grain, ramming and sewing four-bushel bags are hard work) ; harrowing, stone-picking, drawing and pumping water; milking cows, tending gardens, poultry, calves harnessing them, too, in some cases where a family was not blessed with sons, or men were not to be procured when such work waited. I have been told how tired they were, and how good was the appetite; and how they put cabbage leaves inside the sun bonnets to keep the faces cool (and fair) on those hot cleaning floors when the breeze changing, meant a big 'shift around.' Many of them had the longing for a different life, but eventually married and found that woman's sphere is 'home-making' and lessons learned on a farm help considerably.
The beautiful dresses those girls made were works of art; and often several friends would help a 'bride to be' make the loveliest things, as also did they for the tiny tots. As for parties, they are a newer innovation. At Christmastime, and for weddings and christening dinners, special white sugar cakes and many slides of the good coffee cake were made, also dainty cakes (biscuits) were ordered and sent in the butter box returned from the coffee cafes across the gulf. In the eighties jam was procured in kerosene tins (privately made by gardeners). Can anyone tell when first a factory started? Honey brought over in a cask began to ooze out, so it was a case of finding bowls or dishes to store it. In those days milk was set and skimmed until grandmother's bench of three-tier, one to three gallon dishes gave way to the marvellous buzzy separator we children loved to watch while we ate her good coffee cake with plenty of 'top' on it.
Having reread 'Wistful Willie's' letter among others, I agree that there are many worse places to live in than this 'best leg' of our State. 'Johnny' possibly has not been right around the 'foot.' I really must add to her good account that thousands of tons of wheat, wool, barley and salt have gone from our 'limestone end' in large boats. The salt lakes are quite a feature too, the largest 15 miles round, was measured into blocks, and let to many surrounding farmers to be scraped but that was 30 to 40 years ago: The factories had to close, except one which still sends away crude salt. Did anyone ever see sunbeams 'sparkle' on those blue lakes? Or the glory of sunset reflected in them? I have never seen better. I would be pleased to know how 'Sue Lawson' liked the tomato pulp, for we found it the best way to preserve and have done many gallons, also cases of fruit filled when cooked as 'Meat Pie' does it. Thanks to the many busy writers for hints and the always enjoyable letters. I am always keen to learn anything of our people in this good land from north, souths east or west. Now a big cheerio to all, thanking you especially for the letters about the Royal visit and the many other topics. 'EVER PERKY KOMRADE.' (Thank you for pioneering memories, which all readers enjoy, 'Ever Perky Komrade.'— E.B.)
Queen Elizabeth, with the King and Princess Margaret Rose, recently paid a visit to the station where Princess Elizabeth is training as a transport officer of the ATS. Here the Princess explains to her mother what she has been doing to the car engine.