Sometimes a few lambs were rejected by their mothers or needed special care. When this occurred, we kept them near the house and fed them by hand. They were often so eager to drink their milk mixture from the bottle, that we were in danger of being knocked over. I remember that, at one stage, an old cupboard with a centre shelf was placed on its back as a convenient way of restraining two feeding lambs.
An avid reader as a child, each Tuesday, I was eager to climb the stairs above the supper room in the local hall to borrow books from the tiny library there. Enid Blyton’s “Secret Seven” series was my favourite for a while. The “Famous Five” books scared me at first so I was told not to read them till I was a bit older. The two books per week that we were allowed were often read by the next day. It was a long wait till I could borrow some more. My high school was very new and didn’t have a big library, but it had more choices than I was used to! An early favourite was Rosemary Sutcliff’s historical fiction series – perhaps an indicator of a future interest in family history?
For a few years we had lots of ducks and hence, for part of the year, very many duck eggs.
Many of these eggs were fried, boiled, scrambled, and used to make wonderful fluffy double-layer sponge cakes.
I remember helping to preserve some of the remaining eggs by rubbing them all over with a waxy substance called Ke-Peg. They were then stored in a box in the pantry. I think it worked by sealing the eggshell to stop air getting in, and also to stop the egg drying out.
The Ke-Peg did seem to work, though the eggs were not exactly as fresh and lovely as the advertisement claimed.
In summer when the plums began to ripen, we eagerly climbed the trees in order to reach the first delicious fruits. These were eaten fresh! Later in the season, plums were stewed or made into the many pots of jam that would be needed later in the year to provide us with “bread and jam” after-school snacks and the makings of delicious jam tarts. Blackberry jam was also popular. The berries were supplemented with chopped apples to make the fruit “go further”.
We had a round cast iron jaffle iron with a long handle. It wasn’t used often, but I remember one occasion when Dad cooked jaffles for us in or on the wood stove when Mum was in the hospital with a new baby. I think the filling was either canned spaghetti or baked beans.
Homemade icecream was a regular part of our diet, by itself or as an accompaniment to stewed fruit, pies or fruit salad. Unfortunately, I don’t have the recipe but think it was similar to this one and involved dissolving gelatine in hot water then mixing it with powdered milk, sugar and vanilla extract. I suspect that Mum used less water than the linked recipe and added fresh cows milk instead (but I could be mistaken!). The mixture was poured into two flat metal “icecream trays” and placed in the freezer. Once the mixture had solidified, it was whipped till fluffed up then returned to the freezer until serving time. There was always a scramble for the privilege of licking the beaters clean!
Being left-handed, the transition from pencil to fountain pen was fraught with challenges. It was quite difficult to form the letters and words close enough to the way that “normal” ie right-handed people did whilst avoiding smearing the damp ink on both my hand and the page. I was very glad to be able to use biros in high school.
Hay making always happens in summer, but it is rarely a leisurely process. Several days are needed to ensure that the grass is dry enough to be cut, raked and baled. In our area, there is always the worry that it will rain before the hay is safely under cover. The whole family was often involved in the final part of this process. The younger members of the family rolled the hay into rows, whilst those strong enough to lift the bales helped Dad load them, first onto the trailer, then into the hay shed. It was a hot, sticky, prickly and exhausting process, especially near the top of the stacks under the corrugated iron roof! As it wasn’t uncommon to see a dead snake caught up in a hay bale, we could easily see the reason for wearing gumboots or work boots. Next day we were tired and stiff, with sore hands where the baling twine had rubbed through our gloves and scratches from the hay on our arms and legs. Some of the hay was used for our own animals, but most was sold. For quite a few years, Dad offered hay rides at the school fete. He attached sides to the farm trailer to make it safer.
Horse-drawn implements were still used when I was a very young child. Unfortunately, my only memory of our two draught horses is, I suspect, from the day they were loaded up on a truck after they were replaced with a tractor and sold! Horse riding may have been part of our ancestors lives, but it was not possible for us, except for the few times we undertook the very long steep walk up to the top of John’s Hill to visit our Great Uncle Harold Ferres. He had enlisted in the Light Horse in 1915 and still had a horse that he gave us rides on.
Ducks eating gold? Seems unlikely, but we saw the evidence one day when my grandmother cut open the gizzard of a duck she was cleaning for our next roast dinner. Amongst other bits of grit, there were a few tiny specks of gold in the bottom of the concrete wash trough. It was not possible to work out where the gold came from as the ducks roamed freely during the day. The existence of the gold was not surprising as lots had been found in more conventional ways a century before. During the 1850s gold rush, the miners diverted a long section of the Menzies Creek so they could dig in the original creek bed. We were familiar with the sections of this “race” that were still visible alongside the creek.
One of my brothers had two guinea pigs, who had two babies, then another larger litter and another, and another. Meanwhile, the younger females matured and had litters of their own – our first introduction to exponential growth! Other families were happy for their children to have guinea pigs as long as we could guarantee that they were male. Somehow it became my task to sex and mark them!
Dad loved figs and regularly checked for ripe fruit in the trees near the house. These figs were a small variety, pale in colour, but very tasty – quite a contrast to the also tasty but much larger, darker figs that I first met in the backyard of the house we bought from a Greek family in Coburg, and that I am fighting a losing battle for with the hungry birds in my current garden!
The annual winter flower show started when I was quite young. My grandmother and I both had an entry in the first show. Soon it was a regular part of our year. At Brownies, we were shown how best to decorate saucers of sand so none of the sand was visible and instructed about the fundamentals of floral art.
Getting all the entries ready was quite a process, especially for Mum! During the day, she collected and scrubbed all of Dad’s vegetables for the Produce section, and also gathered most of the flowers, leaves, sand and vases we would need after school. It was a rush to get everything ready and in place at the local hall by the 7 pm deadline. Last minute repairs were often needed, even though the most delicate entries were cradled on our laps in the car!
I still have certificates showing that I won or came second in such sections as “Arrangement for a Dressing Table”, “As I Like It”, “Craft for Girls”, “Arrangement to Illustrate a Nursery Rhyme”, “Flat Arrangement in a Saucer of Damp Sand”, “Creature made of Horticultural Material” and even one for “Parsnips”. I think that I won “Best in Section” a couple of times but can only remember one of the prizes, a colourful book about native flowers! Dad won many prizes for “Collection of Vegetables” and lots of other certificates.
The dam at the bottom of the hill was conveniently located for my brothers to try out their fishing rods. As their big sister, I seemed to mostly spend my time attaching worms and untangling the lines. Not many fish were caught, mainly just eels. These were carried back up the hill for Mum to cook. The whole family had a share, sometimes just a tiny morsel. There were yabbies in the dam too, but these weren’t caught very often!
Imagine having to bandage your young child from head to toe, including a face mask. That’s what my mother had to do when I developed weeping sores due to eczema from the age of 6 months. Whether it was due to a food intolerance or an allergy was never established. I was fortunate in that I was only hospitalised for a couple of weeks and eventually recovered fully. Allergies to pollens and dust have caused me to have hay fever symptoms and itchy eyes from time to time, but I have never had eczema again. One of my brothers was far more severely affected for a much longer time than me. I vaguely remember Mum bathing him in Pinetarsol and then dabbing the sores with cotton wool soaked in Gentian Violet. My sister and I sometimes used the leftovers to anoint our dolls!
Our parents were determined to enable all their children to make the most of their educational opportunities. It must have been quite a challenge to pay for books and uniforms at times. A couple of us winning scholarships must have helped! Mum and Dad definitely succeeded in this aim, as all eight of us started some form of tertiary education and it has become an expectation for the next generation.
These unusual lilies were originally planted by my grandfather, Frederick Arthur Roberts. They grew near the old chestnut tree for many years and had nearly died out by the time Mum and I decided to rescue them. We knew them as Dead Horse Lilies though that name is usually given to a different species. They have beautifully marked green and white stems and deep purple flowers. A wonderful garden plant except for the smell of rotting meat on the one or two days a year that it needs to attract flies for pollination! The hotter the day, the worse the smell.
Australia changed from using pounds, shillings and pence to dollars and cents on 14th February 1966. My first view of the new currency occurred that morning on the school bus when one of our teachers showed us some shiny new coins with Australian animals on the reverse. There seemed to be quite a fuss being made of the “decimal currency babies” who were born that day. My youngest brother had arrived five days earlier and so missed out on the attention.
My sister and I once washed some chickens! We were very young at the time – preschoolers! I have no real memories of the washing process but have a very vague mental picture of a number of very wet, bedraggled dead chickens lined up on a potato or sugar bag in the sun. Needless to say, Mum wasn’t impressed with our helping the hen to keep her chickens clean!
Helping Dad at the carrot washer was a semi-frequent task after school on winter Mondays and Wednesdays. The rollers sorted the carrots into three size ranges: small, premium, and large. We checked the carrots as they rolled down the slope, discarded any deformed or broken ones and pushed the rest into the labelled plastic bags. Dad dealt with the larger numbers of the best size. I preferred the little ones as there was always a chance of nibbling a few of the very tasty broken tips. They were definitely the best carrots for eating raw. Nothing in the shops these days is in any way comparable to these freshly washed morsels. It was fun to use the big scales to weigh the bags and the gadget that twisted the wires holding the bags closed.
Dad started growing corn at about the time I started High School. Having an income at the same time as all the expenses of buying books and uniforms and the haircuts and dentist visits was very useful. Fresh corn was a regular part of our diet in summer from then on – cooked within a few minutes of picking. Fresh is definitely best! Lots of the excess corn was frozen for use for the rest of the year.
We alternately walked or rode bikes to primary school but caught the bus to high school. Standing for ages waiting for the bus on frosty mornings was not fun! Leather school shoes and thin grey stockings provided little insulation from the cold, so chilblains were a regular occurrence!