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.
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!