In the Family Home
Many people in 1950’s rural Australia were restricted in their activities and lifestyle by poverty and lack of opportunity. Men and women worked hard and despite sometimes very straitened circumstances, women were rarely ‘allowed’ to go out to work, the fear being that this would be seen as a source of shame, suggesting that the man of the house was not able to provide for his family. Rural women were instead confined to the home with few amenities, often isolated just by distance from any company that they might have found enriching. Wood stoves were usually the only option for cooking and heating water. If the family was lucky the man of the house would keep the wood pile well-stocked.
Most houses in rural areas had at least one ‘house cow’ that was milked twice a day, providing copious amounts of milk for custards and junkets.
Fresh milk was a major dietary component for dogs, cats and kids alike. Whether the healthy calcium levels were attributable to this or not … many elderly women told me they’d never broken a bone in their lives.
People were inventive and ‘made do’. For many families, it was a necessity of life. It was common for women to sew their own and their children’s clothes, to ‘turn’ shirt collars and take the hems of dresses up or down according to need. Garments were commonly passed down from one sibling to another and in most cases a new dress for a special occasion was a rare treat.
Quilting was a common pastime, a necessary way of using scraps of fabric from other garments and items that might have been wearing out. Even flour bags were used for the strong calico fabric they were made from. ‘Edith’ found it impossible to believe that nowadays people bought new fabric and cut it up to sew back together again in different formations.
Water supply in rural areas was usually limited by the number of tanks on the property and, of course, by rainfall. It was common for families to share bathwater. ‘Dowsing’ or water-divining, was common and unremarked upon. Children were sometimes bathed in the kitchen sink when they were very small or in smaller tin tubs.
A Timber Town
The area in which The year of the Lilyweeds is set was known for dairy farming, bananas, sugar cane and also, in earlier times, for the abundance of red cedar growing in the forests surrounding the town. Many of the men of these times spent hard times as ‘cedar-getters’, heading off into the bush and camping for days on end as they sawed through the mighty trunks of the cedar trees, using a springboard to stand on and axes or crosscut saws to bring the trees to the ground. Logs were hauled by bullocks to the river where they were rolled down the river to the sawmill. It was not uncommon for men to be drowned as they ran across the logs rolling on the river surface in an attempt to control their progress. A fall between the logs into the river was usually fatal as it was impossible to break through up to the water’s surface.
In The Time of the Lilyweeds, Jack Bowden’s ancestors were proud of their red cedar furniture and fittings, including bedroom suites and bookshelves.