The Hawkers

One of the most exciting happenings for we children during those 1930 years was the arri­val of the Hawkers, Rag Merchants, Rag Men travelling Salesmen; they answered to the lot. They were part of our Australian history as they pedaled their wares throughout the back blocks, bringing a bit of the outside world into far off homesteads, rail and road camps, tim­ber townships and isolated fishing hamlets like ours, How many hundreds of times must they have opened and shut gates leading to lonely farm houses, how often they must have bogged on unmade roads, when they would have found it necessary to cut down saplings, laying them traversely across swamps and creek beds, thus corduroying the track. They had to contend with dust and flies and summer heat whilst their visits to the Monaro meant winter rains, icy winds, frosts and snow. Look­ing lack I can still see those old vehicles, sometimes covered inside and out with thick dust, other times caked with mud from travel­ling the inland and coastal roads, some not much better than wheel ruts. Those Hawkers earned every ‘penny’ they made!

Their twice yearly visits usually preceded summer and winter. We would have a rough idea when they were due and spent days wait­ing in happy anticipation for their arrival. Mrs Bruce, who lived on the next door property would send one of her sons through the paling fence adjoining the orchards to tell our Mother whenever a Hawker arrived at her home. The womenfolk always reckoned on getting a better deal when there were more than one buying. The salesmen knew this too, and were never happy to see several women together as num­bers gave them ‘Dutch Courage’ and that meant he would have to contend with haggling and quibbling over prices.

The suitcases would be placed on the ground. They were mostly battered from con­stant use and leather straps helped to keep closed those with broken latches. In summer the cases would be covered with thick dust some of it infiltrating inside through the ill-fitting lids. The women were always on the watch for the resulting ‘shop soiled’ articles and bargain for a discount. The Hawkers naturally knew the contents of each case before opening it, but for we children standing around on the grass, it was great fun speculating. For Mione and I the inspection of the cases containing men’s clothing seemed to last for an eternity and our attention would be diverted, as with sticks we would draw pictures on the dusty ground. The women would examine each item assessing it’s quality. Work trousers were called dungarees and I guess were the forerunner of today’s jeans. and there were better quality gabardine and serge slacks. There were fine wool/cotton short sleeved vests, grey flannels’, ‘long Johns’ and striped flannel­ette Pyjamas with wide white webbed cord threaded through the waist-bands. There were long tailed fleecey-lined work shirts (which were shortened to the side seam level during the war years for austerity reasons to help the war effort) and for ‘best’ classier bomberg silk ones and al­ways the inevitable white ‘good’ shirts with stiff detachable collars which, like the cuffs, meant endless starching. The cuffs always had button­hole slits for fastening with cuff links. The collars were attached to the shirt with studs, which were well concealed by the ties. (What a nightmare washing and ironing was for the poor women). Many fishermen’s wives knitted long off-white warm socks for the men to wear with gum boots and waders but the Hawker always carried a supply of salmon-pink fishermen’s’ socks along with black cashmere socks, tweed caps, felt and straw hats, leather work boots and sometimes a suit or two.

Next week we get to the items that all the ladies were waiting for.

Amongst the ladies’ wear were cotton frocks and woollen or serge skirts depending on the season. Crepe de chene nightgowns, satin and tussore s:ilk blouses and lawn petticoats, Long fleecy-lined bloomers were worn in those days during the winter months the same style in summer was manufactured from pink or white milanese.

Leone Pheeney

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