Tags: 1950s Australia, 1960s
Our childhood days were often anything but fun and games. Both Mum and Dad believed that children should learn early to help around the house. There were no free rides – at least not for the girls. Throughout our childhood and teens, we had our jobs to do and we couldn’t get out of them without good reason.
My sisters and I were expected to help Mum clean the house. We did a lot of the big weekly clean under Mum’s supervision. We didn’t have a vacuum cleaner. Instead, we used a stiff bristled hand (banister) brush to sweep the lounge room carpet on hands and knees. After that it was dusting the furniture, as well as sweeping and dusting the rest of the house.
One of the things I didn’t mind doing was polishing the brassware with Brasso. Among these were three or four round wall plaques pressed with scenes of sailing ships or old villages. Mum had worked in a large munitions factory in Accrington during WWII and, among other things, had filled the shells that the British fired at the Germans. Dad was a fighter pilot in the RAF, one of those who fired those 22mm shells.
On one of his leaves, Dad brought home an empty .22 shell casing; one that had been fired. That casing became one of the brass ornaments that lived in Mum’s china cabinet. I loved polishing that one. Many years later, after Mum had died, I noticed that the shell casing was missing. Despite enquiries, we have never discovered where it went to.
My sisters and I did all the washing up after dinner (we called it tea). We took turns clearing the table, washing up, and drying and putting away the dishes. With no hot water, an electric jug had to be boiled to start washing up the crockery, and another to heat the water up again for the pots and pans. We all hated washing up. There were occasional arguments when one of us ‘forgot’ which task we were supposed to do that night, or was late getting on the job – especially the washing up.
We had to make our beds of course – even my brother did that – and polish our shoes in the evenings for school or work the next day. When we were about nine or ten, we learned how to do our own ironing. The iron, although it was electric, had no heat regulator or steam. We had to turn it on or off at the power point to attain and maintain the correct heat – not easy to do, and easy to forget when distracted. Woe betide us if it got too hot and scorched the item of clothing we were ironing – especially if it was a white school shirt!
We also had to help clean the windows once we were a bit older. I remember the louvered windows and cleaning each one – each window had 10-12 long narrow panes. We had to wash each pane, on both sides, with wet newspaper then dry it with dry newspaper. You couldn’t press too hard on the glass or the pane could break in two. By the end of the job, our hands were black with newsprint. Sometimes we used Bon Ami, an abrasive paste that had to be spread evenly and thinly onto the glass. When dry we rubbed it off with a dry cloth. Every window in the house, apart from three, had louvres. So we soon got to hate the day that Mum decided it was window-cleaning day!
My older brother didn’t have many jobs to do – I only remember him doing one apart from making his bed and cleaning his shoes. Once we got a mower, he mowed the lawn and the bulrushes down the back. However, he left school to start work in 1960 when he was fifteen and had done his Intermediate Certificate, and he didn’t have to do it then. Other things happened that year too. When Dad contracted polio in October 1961 [that story to come] he could not do physical work for some time. I took over the mowing and loved it.
So, until we left home to marry, pretty well all the chores that Mum didn’t do fell to the three of us girls. My elder sister learned how to cook and I think my younger sister learned a bit of cooking too. They both did Home Economics at school, but I didn’t. I never did learn while I was living at home I wasn’t at all interested in cooking or sewing – I’d much rather do the mowing and other outdoor work.
(c) Linda Visman