Monday – Washdays

Nowadays there is no set time to launder our clothes, we do it when it is necessary or convenient but many people will remember when Monday, and Monday alone was the allotted day for the chore. It bordered on being a ritual. They were the days when grocery stores didn’t have shelves stocked with vari­eties of soap powders and other cleansing aids. It meant soaking the linen on Sunday evening in a cop­per with liberal amounts of finely chopped amounts of Velvet soap and with washing soda added to the water. It meant searching the surrounding bushland for dry kindling (bark) and wattle wood, which as­sured plenty of heat to boil the copper. It also meant, left-overs from Sunday’s roast and a steamed pud­ding for lunch. Many recipe books of that era includ­ed ‘washday puddings’ and other ideas for simple and quick meals for remember, Monday’s washing was an all day job.

Laundries within the home were not then part of our lives. We had wash houses built a considerable distance from the house for safety, in case of fire spreading from the wood fed copper. Those of us who were lucky, had two cement tubs, one for rinsing the clothes after they had been drained on a sloping board. The other was used for the final rinsing in wa­ter to which a dash of Reckitt’s Blue had been added. For those who have never seen the product, these knobs were wrapped in small squares of fine cotton material. Blue not only assured the ‘whitest of wash es’ it gave instant relief from insect stings.

As you worked your way through the ‘whites: the’ coloureds’ and not so soiled clothes, the washboard would come out for the men’s trousers which would be scrubbed with a brush until clean. There were no synthetic materials in those days and most items had to be starched with, not instant but hard pieces of Silver Star Brand. To prevent the old irons sticking, and also to produce a shiny surface, small portions of candle were grated into the hot mixture; some housewives used a wee daub of butter. Tuesdays were ironing days and the starched articles were dampened down before being ironed with flat. irons heated on the stove tops or by the open fire.

Wire clothes lines took up the length of the back yard, the clothes secured with ‘Dolly’ pegs and with the aid of a long prop “‘flew high’ catching the sun and wind and smelt wonderful. Proud housewives would never hang their washing in a h;;haphazard fash­ion, they hung the longest articles either side of the prop, ranging them down either side to the smallest item. They were backyard ‘works of art’ as they flut­tered high in the breeze. The invention of Hill’s Rota­ry Hoists banished forever that wonderful, domestic symmetrical scene. The bane of every housewife was a broken clothes line or prop and many shed tears when a line of wet clothes collapsed and had to be washed again. Then traipse up the bush to cut anoth­er sapling for a prop. Dad made a double line at Ra­heen, with a large pole and cross bar each end, ena­bling the line to be raised and lowered.

Another frustration was trying to get a stubborn fire to burn during the winter months, whilst smoke filled the shed as you kept a close eye on small children for fear they would venture close to the fire or scalding water. Mallacoota was in those days, dependent on rain water for every need and a familiar sound was the tapping of tanks to gauge if there was enough water to wash. It was a commodity that had to be used spar­ingly, particularly during the summer months. Every drop of washing water was saved, firstly to scrub the floors, then water the garden. We also used halved kerosene tins and Willow Brand boilers to boil the clothes somehow managing to avoid scalding our­selves as we lugged them off the stove and outside to rinse. Our mother often told us that when she was a youngster living at Nethercote in the early 1900’s dur­ing the hot, dry summers they would take the laundry down to Yankie Creek which ran through their proper­ty. Water cress grew in profusion and with home made bread and butter made delicious sandwiches for their lunch whilst the hot, granite rock banks afforded a wonderful place to dry the linen.

Some of us had wringers, stubborn back wrenching implements which were sometimes harder to use than wringing the clothes by hand. There was a knack in that, too. Good housewives had to have strong wrists! Aprons were a must for washdays and made from sugar bags, bound with bright coloured cretonne. Years later I remember my joy at having my first plas­tic one for the chore.

During the. 1950’s I was delighted when a manually operated washing machine, which had had several owners around the ‘township’ became my property. It was made from galvanised iron, with a lever which was pumped up and down for a reasonable amount of time, depending how soiled the clothes. With this so­phisticated piece of equipment, I ‘had it made!’? but found rinsing and drainage, or lack of it, created a problem. Our lives changed forever when Tom Davies brought electricity to Mallacoota and we purchased from him, Simpson washing machines with wringers attached. It meant we had time for hobbies and sport. I still have myoid pot-stick a reminder of those Mon­day Washdays!

Leone Pheeney

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