b. Chapter 2 : The olden days

Written Tuesday 6th March, 2013 published Tuesday 13th March, 2013.

Today I went on an excursion to the “Farmer’s Arms” museum in downtown Euroa  with my young son Elliot (aged 9).   We observed many items which took us back to how it was in “the olden days” – to quote one of the children.  Our guide showed us a large hewn out log – for watering the horses, an ancient can opener, hand operated blender, potties,  oil lamps,  an icechest refrigerator (although I’m still not clear on where the ice came from), a grammophone and a mangle, amongst many wonderful pieces.  One of the things I want to write about here is what it was like.  How it was to live with no electricity, house insulation, hot running water, gas, telephone, car, – internet?   Of course they didn’t know any different and nor did they know what the future held, any more than we do.

Barbara (my Mum),  a child of the post world war two years in that very house could vividly remember the discomforts:

“There used to be a concrete bath in the old bath room and it was very harsh on my tender little bottom, not to mention freezing cold. I even remember a rat running around the unlined roof with a cake of soap in its mouth.

There was a “long drop” outside. I was terrified of going out there at night, so had a “pottie””

and Rainee, born in 1953 :

“Growing up in the old house, had it’s drawbacks. It wasn’t insulated of course. It was freezing in winter, due to pressed tin walls also. Summer, it was hot, but at least stayed cooler for longer with hot air rising, in the mornings.”

IMG_3297This is Margaret’s Chamber pot.  I now store jewellery in it.  These beads were Margarets,  I had them restrung.  Incidentally, the chamber spot sits atop Great Grandmother Mary’s cedar chest (Edith’s mother).

Edit added below – 14th May, 2013.

By some fluke of fate I have experienced some turn of the century Australian conditions of late.  My partner is renovating an old farmhouse in country Victoria which has not been lived in for 15 years (except for a family of possums).   The pipes have seized and rusted thus there is currently no running water to the house.  The house isn’t insulated and a fire is the main heat source.  There is electricity and electric light! Heavy curtains have been hung on the windows,  plans are afoot for many carpets and rugs,  insulation into the roof and hot and cold running water and an indoor toilet.   The only toilet now is some distance from the house, very ricketty and the cistern is broken so it is flushed via a bucket at present!

We do take for granted now what a wonderful thing is it to have hot water come from a tap and not have to hike to a toilet via the great outdoors at night. At the moment bathing at his house requires grit and determination.  Using water boiled on the electric stove,  standing in a drafty bathroom with gaps in the floorboards and a radiator on the wall, tipping this water over yourself in a very cold enamel bath.   The scene below is NOT what it is like!

Victorian Lady Preparing Her Bath

Good old Google images to the rescue!  A Victorian lady prepares for her bath, in the lap of luxury,  down to the indoor plant!

In my own rudimentary research I have discovered that galvanised rainwater tanks have been in existence in Australia since 1856 and I would assume that most country homesteads had them at the time of Margaret’s childhood for collection of rainwater off the roof.

Certainly I have read some delightful descriptions of the way people had to wash!

The daily ablutions were performed by heating water in a kettle, achieving the right temperature by adding dollops of cold, and then giving oneself a good wash all over from a larger enamel basin. Saturday night was bath night for the family, and I think that water must have been heated in the copper and toted in by bucket. Later we graduated to a gas bath-heater and shower, and finally — some time in the 1930s — a hot water service was installed (Lambert: 18–9).

From a delightful article I found on the internet : called “Bathing – Chapter 3.  Down the gurgler: Historical influences on Australian domestic water consumption” http://epress.anu.edu.au/troubled_waters/mobile_devices/ch03s03.html

I have Margaret’s chamber pot as shown above,  my mother, Barbara has the matching wash bowl,  I’m not sure what became of the jug. Rainee has an etiquette book of Margaret’s that I’m still to see (I am really looking forward to this!  I suspect I have committed many faux pas just on this page alone in mentioning toilets and bathing!)

old wood stove

This is not a Truro or Tyrone photo.  It is however very possible that the stove was similar in both homes.  Note the kettle on the left for heating and dispensing water.

This edit has been a little flight of fancy for me.   I felt transported as I shivered in that bathroom.  But I also felt the simple pleasure of how wonderful it was to be able to clean myself with hot water, and be warmed by a roaring open fire, read a book via lamplight and listen to some favourite music (albeit via a CD and not a grammophone) and discuss the labours of the day and the plans of tomorrow with no television or internet to distract whilst sipping on a lovely cup of tea.


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