My family are mildly amused when they see me darning socks and mending clothing items so I patiently explain to them that it was a way of life during the Great Depression years.
I think what I remember most about my childhood in Mallacoota and I guess it was typical all over Australia during the 1930-40s era was the wonderful resourcefulness of the Women Folk.
They were adept at improvising: their unwritten Motto was, “If you can’t make it, make do and if you can’t do that, go without”.
Flour was mostly purchased in 25lb bags and these were utilized to the fullest.
Many an Australian story, albeit joke, tells of a young lass getting through a fence with the Brand Mark ‘Sydney Flour’ emblazoned on her undergarments, for all the world to see. There may have been such cases but the good housewife usually spent hours scrubbing with sand soap to remove the brand after it had been well soaked in kerosene.
Some women smothered the brand mark with lard, rolling up the bags; leaving them for days, then boiling them several times. Being sewn up in ‘chain stitch,’ the bags were easily undone and the cotton thread saved. Nothing was wasted! The material gradually whitened and softened and was ideal for lining boy’s serge trousers, for making bodices for girl’s skirts and for replacing pockets in men’s trousers. The bags which held Rolled Oats, I remember with more affection as some were patterned and were ideal for making pinnies.
Much coveted were the ones with the markings of soft toys branded on them. The fronts of golliwogs, dolls or animals were on one side of the bag, the backs of the toys on the other. These were cut out, sewn and filled with kapok or cottonwool tomake many a treasured toy.
Our mother would also save the small squares of fine cotton material which Reckitt’s Blue knobs were wrapped in for they were invaluable for patches.
Then there were the very versatile sugar bags which became pliable after washing. Cretonne trimmed aprons and oven cloths were Manufactured from them. Covered in wool embroidery, they became cushions and peg bags. They were also used for the backing of hooked rugs made from thin strips of scrap cotton material or old stockings. Outgrown woollen jumpers were unravelled and reknitted into other garments long before the word ‘recycled’ was ‘coined.’ Jumpers were also cut into squares which, when joined and backed with old blankets and crocheted edge, made colourful bedcovers.
When the centre of sheets were beginning to show signs of wear, they were cut down the middle and the outer selvedge edges joined, the ‘new’ outer edges were then hemmed. It is something I learnt in those years and still do today. Pillow cases were made from the unworn skirts of dresses. (I do not think today’s styles would have enough material).
Golden syrup and treacle tins made small billy-cans, whilst kerosene tins with either the top or side cut out became buckets for a hundred uses. Many a housewife’s bad back could be attributed to lugging kero buckets of water and washing on and off the stove.
No house proud woman would ever think of using her new millett broom without first cutting the top from a stocking and pulling it down over the handle till it covered half of the broom to protect the straws, thus ensuring it a longer life!
They were the days before the bulky, quick knit wools and the skeins came in two, three and four ply to be wound into balls. If you saw anyone with outstretched hands, it wasn’t an indication of the size of a fish they had caught, they were in readiness to hold the skeins to be wound. The knitting needles were made of tortoiseshell, bone or steel, the latter it was believed, when constantly used caused rheumatism. If we happened to break a bone needle, Dad would use the grinder to form a new point. I remember one quite useful appliance made from bakelite. It was in the shape of a large ball which unscrewed in the middle. The ball of wool was placed inside with a hole at the bottom allowing a strand to fall freely. A ribbon attached to the top was placed over the knitter’s wrist. This not only kept the wool clean but enabled the person to knit as they strolled along on Sundays.
Cotton reels were nailed to the floor for doorstoppers. Being made from wood, the four small nails required for making “knitting Nancy’s” Could be easily hammered into them. Bricks were covered with cretonne to make doorstops, as were bottles filled with sand and ‘dressed’ to resemble crinoline-frocked dolls. When flat irons had lost their smooth ironing surface, they were painted in bright colours to perform the same purpose. Pride of all for we children, were the white porcelain insulators from the telephone poles. We were fascinated with them and on our way to and from school, we would follow the lines through the bush, ever hopeful of finding one on the ground to use as a doorstop for our bedroom.
Bricks were heated and covered with flannel to warm our beds in winter, as were thick lid-topped bottles and I cannot recall them ever breaking.
We raided the pantry for flour to make paste for school projects. Starch was also, an ingredient. Toothpaste was a luxury so we used salt or bi-carbonate soda. Many of the older generation believed charcoal to be the most efficient teeth cleaner.
When our shoes became worn, Dad would place them on the last to repair them with leather soles which he had painstakingly fashioned. ‘Making Do’ was a joint effort for parents. Once I asked our Mother however she managed to save in those days and she replied, “If the recipe stated a cup of sultanas, I would use 3/4 of a cup …. and so on” The Secret” she said, “was to always use a little less.”
Australian wartime shortages did not make much difference to Mallacoota people we were basically a poor community which had survived the depression and hardships of the 1930s. We were used to recycling and wearing hand-me-downs, wartime rationing wasn’t such a shock to us and living in our isolated area, we were not used to luxuries, so ‘Making Do’ was embedded into us and probably a habit that people of my generation can never shake off!