Vegetables were a very large part of our diet. As well as the main farm crops of potatoes, carrots, pumpkin and sweetcorn, we had a garden closer to the house with many other vegetables in season. At various stages, we had broccoli, cabbages, cauliflower, brussels sprouts, okra, peas, beans, broad beans, lettuce, tomatoes, tomatillos, beetroot, silver beet, endive, mizuna, tatsoi, turnips, parsnips, swedes, capsicum, onions, leeks, eggplant, and zucchini. Over the years, there were probably a few more types of vegetables grown than I can remember tonight.
One year we even tried growing peanuts!
Mum had lots of vases and regularly arranged flowers from the garden in them. Large vases with fairly formal arrangements of flowers and foliage were placed on the plant stand near the window. Cottage-style posies of colourful flowers were in the smaller vases on the table.
I remember many ups and downs in my childhood. The walk to school started with a quick trip down the back hill and around the dam, followed by the much slower and longer uphill journey into the town. Shopping was “up the street”. We climbed “up” trees. Visits to our great uncle Harold meant a long steep walk “up” John’s Hill. At night, the chooks had to be “locked up” and younger members of the family were “tucked up”.
One year we even saw an echidna crossing the carrot paddock, up the side of one raised bed, across the top, then down into the wheel track, then up, across and down again and again and again. It took a very long while, but the echidna was obviously determined to head back to the cover of the bush in that particular direction!
The photo below is of another visiting echidna climbing “up” a heap of mulch on my nature strip just a few years ago.
Our garden contained many mature trees, some of which were definitely climbable. There was a lovely copper beech, many tall camellias, a spreading pin oak, maples, lilly pillies and a horse chestnut. Fruiting trees included a patch of plums, lots of apple trees, a lemon, orange, mandarin, several grapefruit and a large chestnut. The two date palms unfortunately never produced viable fruit in our too cold climate! Lots of conifers, including spruce, oregon and pine trees, pencil pines and a range of other cypresses were growing in many sections of the garden.
We enjoyed walks amongst the tree ferns on the Tourist Track which meandered beside the Menzies creek at the bottom of the hill. The postcard image below shows an earlier view near the track. By the time we began walking along it, the mountain ash trees were much taller and the area was much shadier.
It was important to “keep to the track” as quite a number of deep mine shafts from the gold mining days were (and probably still are) hidden amongst the undergrowth.
We heard about a near miss one day. A tree that had fallen across the track was to be removed by the shire ranger. He had cut it with a chainsaw on one side of the track then stepped over the log before cutting the other side. The log then fell down a mineshaft which was right where he would have been standing if he hadn’t changed sides!
Mum made often wonderful sponge cakes for morning and afternoon tea. The sponges were made in pairs which were joined with a thick layer of whipped cream then iced and decorated. They were absolutely scrumptious and definitely took much longer to make than to eat!
Walking to school in new leather shoes at the start of the school year often resulted in pain and blisters where the shoes rubbed the back of my heels.
A Sheep called Stamper
We had a small flock of about 30 sheep. Most were very placid and easy to round up for shearing, except for the one we called Stamper. If she looked at you and stamped her foot, watch out! Many times we had to round up the sheep again after she had led a breakaway group past whoever she had intimidated that day. Later on, as the local population increased and more dogs were roaming at night, Stamper was the only one able to protect her lambs!
Picking up rocks in winter was not fun! It was hard work but had to be done. One of the consequences of changing from horse to tractor-drawn implements was a greater depth of ploughing. In the top section of the paddock behind the cow shed, this resulted in pieces of mudstone being brought to the surface for a few years. Dad did most of the picking up, but my sister and I were roped in to do a lot of it too. After we placed the rocks into banana boxes, they were loaded onto the “carryall” and transported to any section of driveway that needed extra crushed rock. The process had to happen in winter because that was after the previous year’s potatoes had been harvested and before the soil needed to be worked up for the next crop.
I didn’t realise that rhubarb leaves were poisonous when I fed them to the chooks one day. Luckily Mum and Grandma found out and removed them before any damage was done!
Towards the end of a Church fete, one day, my sister and I had a few pennies to spend – just enough to combine in a guess how many – something – was in a jar. We each made a guess and chose the mean for our entry. Miraculously we won a Royal Albert cup, saucer and plate set. It was carefully carried home and given to Mum. She kept it on display for many years, but never used it. The set is in my possession now. I really should try it out next time I make a “cuppa”!
The aroma of ripe quinces is wonderful. The fruits are yellow, generally lumpy looking and have flesh that is hard to cut. The effort of cutting into quinces is, however, worth it in the long run as the cooked fruit is very tasty. We often had stewed quinces, either by themselves or mixed with apples, with ice cream for “pudding”. Very occasionally some of the quinces were stewed, mashed, strained, then boiled with sugar and made into beautiful rosy-red jelly. We loved eating quince jelly on bread or toast. I have two quince trees in my current garden but rarely get much fruit as the white cockatoos eat and knock down most of them before they are anywhere near ripe!
That winters in the hills can be very cold is very much an understatement. When I was small the only heating we had was a “Warmray” and the wood stove in the kitchen and living area. The bedrooms were bitterly cold. Hot water bottles helped a bit but layered quilts on top of our blankets were the best protection. Some of these looked rather motley, being made up of a range of recycled fabrics sewn together. These days such quilts are called “Waggas” and are very much sought after by collectors. Very few survive as these utilitarian covers were generally disposed of when worn out or no longer useful.
Shifting the pipes was a regular task on hot summer days as all the vegetable crops needed copious amounts of water to grow well. Dad used his tractor and carryall to move the many long aluminium pipes and sprinklers from paddock to paddock. We kids were all drafted in to help carry them into the crop and connect them together securely. Sometimes the connections were not brilliant, and after the pump was started there was a rush to fix the line before a blowout destroyed a section of the crop. Once this first section was watered thoroughly, the row of pipes needed to be moved further down the hill. As much as possible this was accomplished in large sections. At a signal from Dad, we each picked up a sprinkler, making sure that the pipe latches remained in place, then walked in a line to where they needed to go. As the potato crops grew, it became more and more of a challenge to walk along and step over the rows whilst moving the pipes and sprinklers in unison, especially for the younger members of the family! Carrots were a bit easier as their tops were much smaller. In hot weather, this entire process was repeated several times each day.
For many years, potatoes were dug by machine then “picked up” by hand. They were then stored in large heavy hessian bags in the shed until sold to greengrocers and fish and chips shops from all over Melbourne. The bags were stenciled with Dad’s name and address. The stencil was a large sheet of metal with the letters cut out. To mark the bags, we dampened a block of purple dye/ink with water and then rubbed it over the stencil. It was fun at first but like all repetitive tasks became very tiring after a while. One of my brothers still has the stencil.
Outside toilets were the only ones we were familiar with when I was a young child. Our original pit toilet was a short walk away from the house, just past the plum trees. It was probably the same one my grandparents used when they owned the farm. I remember a purring cat regularly accompanying me there – the heights were just right for it to walk under my feet and so be stroked by them! A much more scary visitor was a goanna that was hanging round the back of the toilet one day.
Later on, Dad dug and built a new outside toilet a bit further over. This new one was converted to house my sister’s pigeons once the septic tank had been installed and we finally had an inside toilet. My grandparents, living in the town, also had a pit toilet in their backyard when I was a child, as did their neighbours.
Our primary school had outside toilets (cans not pits) down the back, just past the laurel trees that we liked to climb during play times. A big difference was that toilet paper was supplied instead of the squares of newspaper or phone books that most of us had been used to!
Solving number puzzles has been an interest of mine for many years. It all started with a flat square plastic toy with 15 numbered inserts which had to be rearranged till the numbers were in order. I spent many happy hours as a young child sliding the pieces and gradually working out more and more efficient ways to get them in order. These days I get my puzzle “fix’ from books of Suguro, Kakuro, and Killer Sudoku puzzles.
Finding bird nests in the more accessible branches of trees during Spring and sneaking a look at the eggs or chicks when the mother bird had flown off was always a thrill. We were careful not to touch them for fear that the mother would not return. Once the nests were abandoned, they were often collected and examined to see how they were made and all the bits and pieces the birds had recycled in making them.
One of our more memorable school holidays treats was being allowed to accompany Dad to market on a Tuesday morning during the September school holidays. This involved the lucky two being woken up in the middle of the night, having a quick breakfast and rugging up before heading out into the very cold morning air. The drive into the wholesale section of the Queen Victoria market in Melbourne took over an hour. The truck, loaded with carrots in “banana boxes”, was backed into Dad’s assigned stall. Once sales were allowed, the noise level increased dramatically as the area between the trucks was full of greengrocers with large trolleys. They rushed round, counting out money for the vegetables they were buying and ordering more for the next market. Dad kept his order book and a pencil in the top pocket of the leather market apron he wore. Money went into the main pocket. When trucks were allowed to be moved, we returned home so Dad could begin washing the carrots for the larger Thursday market.