Alternative Lifestyles

There are many people throughout the coun­try who have gone back to the simpler way of living. It was done from necessity in the 1930s. There was no Alternative! Having no regular transport into Mallacoota we depend­ed on our orchards and gardens for our sup­ply of fruit and vegetables. It was very difficult to make a vegetable garden as we relied on tank water; a town water supply was many years away. There was no menacing fruit fly in those days but we did battle with flying fox­es which came at night from the gullies in the mountains across the lake. Those great bats seemed to fill the sky with black shadows giv­ing you an awful eerie feeling as they swooped down. We would arm ourselves with long sticks to knock them out of the fruit­laden trees. They were particularly fond of figs! Knowing the bats were full of vermin we would scratch ourselves for hours after their onslaught.

The Rainbow lorikeets (we called them Mountain Parrots), so enthused over by visi­tors, drove us mad with their continual rau­cous screeching during their indiscriminate pillage of our precious fruit. We hung cow bells in the trees with long pieces of twine attached, so we could ring the from the house. We had scarecrows too, and Dad would cover the whole tree with old cotton fishing net. Sometimes the birds would be­come sightly injured in it so Dad, a kindly man who lived close to Nature, would make large wire cages so we kept them and fed them as pets til they recovered. So the par­rots were on the winning side, all the way! Currawongs only frequented Mallacoota in the winter months, there we very few spar­rows. or starlings and seagulls never ven­tured to our back yards as they do today. There had been at least eight varieties of plums, early pears through to late varieties, loquats, cher­ries, quinces, apricots mulberries (which we were warned not to eat until they were ripe, but those stains gave us away every time) and citrus fruits of every kind. At Christmas the apples commenced and there were trees bearing fruit right through til late Autumn. One variety which we called ‘Nelsons were as large as dinner plates and Dad told us the trees had originated from cuttings off a tree at Nungatta Station. Perhaps they had been grafted! The township people came with sug­ar-bags and kerosene tins taking them home. Dad was always happy to share the fruit around. Our back veranda would have rows of string threaded with apple rings drying for winter pies. The only fruit we never had was a pomegranate which Mrs Bruce grew next door. They were delicious. Around Christmas time the apricots and plums were ripe just when everyone was busy with festivities and the weather was hot, but the womenfolk knew that if they didn’t make a ‘turn of jam’ as they called it, the fruit would be over ripe. The wood stove would be stoked to the full­est ensure enough heat to boil the con­serves, jellies and sauces. Those little kitch­ens would be like furnaces and we children weren’t happy when we had to take our turn at stirring. Woe betide if we let the jam sick to the bottom of the pan. Dad would make the jars from bottles, A long bar with a ring on the end would be heated, then placed other the end of the bottles which would be then plunged into cold water. When the tops dropped off he would file away any loose pieces. After bottling, paraffin wax was put on top of the jam to help the keeping qualities; then came the painstaking job of pasting lay­ers of brown paper over the top. We made the paste from starch. A far cry from he cello­phane covers of today.

A variety of utensils were used to make jam, ours was a large black jam pan lined with enamel. Two coins were placed on the bottom, a shilling (1 Dc) and a two shilling piece (2Dc) to prevent the conserve sticking. We later ac­quired a Fowlers Bottling outfit but they weren’t electric like today’s. Despite the lack of water most people grew vegetables and we saved the washing-up and bath water for them. Snails, slugs and earwigs were about but never in the proportion they are now. We certainly never heard of insecticides but sawdust was sprinkled liberally around the plants to keep the insects from them. Vegetables were soaked in bowls of salty water not to remove insecticides, but remove any ‘bugs.’ Home grown toma­toes, shallots beetroot (sometimes jellied) and cucumber (the latter always peeled and scraped with a fork before slicing, to supposed­ly ‘let the poison’ out)! Finely shredded lettuce with hard boiled eggs (from our chooks.) with homemade mayonnaise was the ultimate in salads, Can you imagine the hilarity it would have caused if anyone suggested making sal­ads from rice or pasta in those days! In the summer we drank barley water (ugh!) ginger beer (homemade, oatmeal water and just plain water. We made lemon drinks from the orchard citrus, egg flips and butter milk (Ugh. Ugh).

Tea was the household drink also coffee es­sence…. Coffee didn’t become popular til WWII when the American servicemen intro­duced us to it. There was always great excite­ment when the Bushells tea catalogues came and we perused the pages looking at the gifts to exchange for our tea labels from the pack­ets. Having cows and fowls made cooking cheaper. The crispiest biscuits were made from dripping. Golden Syrup and treacle were spread on toast along with the most delicious honey when the menfolk ‘robbed’ a hive in the bush. Hundreds and thousand were great when spread on bread and homemade butter. They call it fairy bread now and it is still popular at birthday parties. We were living at Mallacoota House when I had my 5th Birthday and Mrs Casement brought up a bowl of coconut ice for me. Mum placed it on the dining room dresser and I can still recall looking at it long­ing but that pink and white delicacy was not allowed to be touched til my birthday next day. It was a long, long wait! Bread and butter custards, jam tarts and puddings were the main desserts. ·One of the popular sweets of that era was Blancmange made from milk and cornflour. A couple of lemon leaves add­ed whilst cooking gave it a nice tangy flavour, whilst peach leaves, would you believe, gave it an almond flavour. A few drops of cochineal turned it into a pale pink mixture, set in a glass bowl with a sprinkling of coconut on top, it became party fare. Remember we had no electricity so no refrigerators or icecream. When I was quite young, Copha first came on the market and a new wonder in culinary de­lights using Ricer Bubbles came into our lives… , with the name of Chocolate Crackles.

Although we never had it as children our Mother often told us of how Honey Mead was a popular drink in their family. They stored it in huge bottles washed up on the Boydtown beach. I remember her recounting how as a small child she was in the dairy at their Neth­ercote farm and was sent to check the open fire. A log had fallen out and set alight to the wall, which like many farm houses in the early 1900s was made of hessian and paper. Luck must have been on their side that day. for the heat of the fire burst the huge bottles of hon­ey mead on a rack above the fireplace and the ‘brew’ extinguished the fire. Unbleached calico was used for making sheets and pillow slips. When left out at night in the frosty air they soon whitened and retained that white­ness.

Leone Pheeney

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