The end of Winter fires usually determined the commencement of ‘Spring’ cleaning, a very important event on the household calendar. If the season had been long and wet, it could be as late as November, and became. ‘Christmas’ cleaning. It lasted for weeks with all the family members enthusiastically participating …well, in the early stages anyway!! The chimney brooms and the yard ones (remember, we only had dirt patches then) were made from wattle or ti-tree branches. Grandfather Brady would never see one without relating to we children of the time Henry Lawson made one from Grandmother! It has been told many times in prose, but we literally got it ‘from the horse’s mouth’!! When the great Australian poet was visiting the Writer’s Camp, he thought it was most remiss of Grandfather not having a bush broom and thought, in those surroundings, the straw one was very out of place. “Call yourself a bushman, Ted!!?”, he admonished, and volunteered to make one. He cajoled the other visitor, Tom Much (later Minister for Education, NSW), to part with his good schnapper line, and proceeded to cut enough ti -tree to roof a fernery. He spent an afternoon manufacturing that bush broom. The aftermath was, that Grandfather found it too heavy to lift, let alone use!! When Henry left Mallacoota, the broom was place in the fork of a tree, supposedly to scare away evil spirits. I can still see Grandfather’s shoulders shaking as he laughingly recalled the event. ….. Back to the cleaning…
After the men had swept the chimneys, the womenfolk would white-wash the fireplace in readiness for Santa’s descent!! Walls were kalsomined, blankets and curtains washed, doilies and pillow shams starched. Every piece of crockery, glassware and vases would be washed until they were sparkling clean. There were no half measures in Spring cleaning!! Mum even rinsed the two latter items in blue water for the final effect. The contents of the feather and kapok pillows were emptied into
mosquito netting to air on the line and the cases laundered. Mattresses were dragged out on to the verandah to air in the sun. Cleaning the accumulation of kapok and fluff from the wire bed springs was always difficult. Straws from the broom would break, but an old toothbrush, painstakingly did the job. With no vacuum cleaners in those days, one of the most hateful tasks was beating the mats with a stick or a broom as they draped over the line.
Mione and I, bored with it all, devised a much better idea. We would each grab an end of a piece of carpet and race each other up and down the orchard, collapsing with laughter. Mum wasn’t awake-up to our capers. Although she was in praise of our efficiency in cleaning the mats, she never could understand how all the grass seeds got on them. Windows were cleaned with BonAmi, a wonder product in those days, but slow to get off the panes. Easier though than ‘Brasso-ing’ all the brass and copper items in the house. One of the chores we didn’t mind was raking the wood heap. Country children had a great affinity with wood heaps. They were our playgrounds. We climbed the stacks of wood, pretending they were mountains, made cubby houses in them and constructed roads in the woody dirt. We played a game that you were ‘OUT’ if you walked on anything but wood. Country kids had great imaginations!! Best of all, it was our retreat. A place to discuss our problems and a place we ‘took off’ to when our parent’s with big ears.” On rare occasions, seldom seen lollies were given to us.
The wood heap would be raked clean, old chips burnt and the brown dirt swept aside for pot plants. There was no commercial potting mix in those days, but Mum’s pot plants using this loam, were always a profusion of blooms.
New colourful baise was purchased to cover the shelves and wooden kitchen table, but somehow it was never as much fun as cutting strips of newspaper and vieing with other families to produce the best frieze patterns. Mum would shine the furniture with a mixture of vinegar and olive oil and the lino shone from much ‘elbow grease’ and Fisher’s Wax. When I think of all the household cleaning products we deem necessary these days, it makes me wonder how the homes of that era shone to perfection when the cleaning aids were so limited in comparison. Camphor was always kept in the linen drawers and sprigs of lavender perfumed the cupboards.
Room fresheners were a long way off, but to sweeten the rooms, especially after winter colds, coffee grains and sugar were put on hot coals on a metal dust pan or shovel. It was most effective and the delightful aroma is one I shall always remember. Before we acquired fly wire window screens, it was always nice tb see curtains fluttering out the window in the breeze.
We had smaller scale cleaning before Easter, too. Following the tradition of European countries of draping sprays of leaves and flowers over the pictures, photos and picture rails. We too would decorate in this way. With spring the season in those Northern countries, it must look beautiful. Being Australia, we had to use Autumn leaves, and we cut lengths from Dad’s red-leafed Virginia Creeper, as a substitute.
Everything looked and smelt wonderful after the cleansing frenzy, and we could relax until next time!!