One of the guide lines for survival during those pre World War 11 years was that adage, ‘Prevention is better than Cure,’ and it was drummed into us from an early age. We, bush children knew what plants and berries were edible and in those days prior to blackberry spraying these berries were always a favourite. We knew too, that when the dogwood growing along the track to school was covered with white flower heads we had to avoid touching it, for it caused a severe allergy. (Years later I remember my husband, Rod was cutting survey pegs when working with the CRB, he used some branches of dogwood and the sap proved just as poisonous, for he suffered the same reaction, an itchy rash and severely swollen, itchy eyes which wept continuously).
The bush produced cures too, like the wild hops which Dave Allan, Snr used to gather to brew a ‘tea’ to relieve the pain of rheumatism. Many people believed the bark of the black wattle, when chewed well ‘cured’ diarrhoea. Something that was learnt from the aboriginal people.
I’m quite convinced that the Victorian Education Department’s curriculum, during the 1930s was compiled with only city children in mind; particularly the combined subject, Nature Study! Health. There was never a warning of ticks or bee stings but we knew to remove the ‘sting’ of the latter and if we were near home to resort to the application of vinegar, ammonia or better still, a knob of blue. We put kerosene on ticks before pulling them out with the back of a knife blade, some used tweezers and I have known people to apply a lighted match to the offender, making it ‘back out.’ Others used the method of tying a piece of cotton around the tick’s body and yanking it out.
Eucalyptus oil was always in the home medicine chest along with Iodine, Condy’s Crystals, milk of magnesia and Hydrogen Peroxide. The last mentioned was often borrowed to ‘blonde’ many a young fashion conscious female’s hair. Mostly it was used for the treatment of sores particularly impetigo, only in those days it was called that revolting name, ‘Barcoo-rot.’ Condy’s crystals was always a must as the fishermen not only used it on their feet but also for washing out the bilges of their boats to remove the odour of fish. It was a great disinfectant.
Chest colds meant Mustard Plasters made from mixing one tablespoon of flour, one tablespoon mustard and a little olive oil into a paste with water and spreading it well on to a cloth. This was placed over the lungs’ area for ten minutes. If left on too long it would burn the skin; when removed, the skin was lightly rubbed with olive oil. To stop a hacking cough, a mixture of five drops of vinegar to one teaspoon of honey was sipped. Some folks even mixed a few drops of kerosene with sugar to ‘cure’ colds. Remember this was the days before antibiotics. Mum often used a piece of sheeting to make a tent for inhalations. I’m sure the claustrophobic feeling i experienced when in a confined space originated from that ‘tent.’ A visit from the Rawleigh’s man introduced us to a wonderful product, “Ready Relief’ which was so much nicer to dab on your handkerchief than eucalyptus. Our lemon trees produced plenty of lemons for drinks, too.
Like all kids we had our ‘cure’ for warts and applied the milky sap from thistle or fig stems. Gold wedding rings rubbed on warts and also styes worked for those who believed that was the answer. We never resorted to burying a piece of steak to ‘charm’ away warts as the Gypsies advised. It wasn’t the age of wasting food. I’m quite sure though, that Albert Greer would have made a fortune from ‘buying’ our warts, had his rates been higher. It proves that a little bit of psychology always, helps.
Mothers of that era seemed to be obsessed with the idea that their offspring should have regular doses of medicine, to purify the blood enabling their bodies to function well. So we were subjected to this treatment every Saturday morning. On Friday afternoons when we should have been looking forward to the weekend, you’d remember what was ahead, then work on the principle that if YOU forgot about it, with a bit of luck, your Mum might too! Come Saturday morning and you knew there was no escaping although you’d think up a thousand excuses to delay the procedure. Sometimes it was Senna Powder mixed with a little plum jam to camouflage the taste, on other occasions it would be Schumman’s Salts, mixed in hot water and ‘served’ in a white ‘poley’ (one without a handle) cup. After all these years, I can never drink from a white cup without recalling that smell and taste. Perhaps. worst of all was Castor Oil. The blue bottle was warmed on the hobs of the fireplace, so making it easier for the oil to pour off the spoon. If Mione and I were quick enough, the bottle would mysteriously disappear. When I read of collectors paying large amounts for those blue bottles, I feel a bit guilty, thinking of the ‘fortune’ we must have demolished. Taking the medicine was bad enough -but the aftermath was worse, feeling ‘seedy’ all day, you’d have a beaten track ‘up the back.’
Despite all the ‘purifying’ I still managed to get boils and carbuncles and have painful memories of bathing them in hot, salty water and having the surrounding area burnt with hot poultices. With no penicillin to fight infections, all remedies were made with items from the kitchen cupboard or garden. So poultices were made from bread, mustard or grated potato or “just salty water and applied as hot as you could stand, then covered with a square of green oil silk (which looked a bit like today’s plastic) to retain the heat. Bates of Salve was used for drawing out splinters as was the mixture of starch and Boracic Acid boiled with water, also a paste of sulphur and lard. The cruellest treatment I remember was when a family friend, no doubt with good intentions, put the neck of a bottle over a stubborn boil on my arm. Even grown men have been known to faint with this ‘quick result’ cure!
Living so far from dentists many bush people had to contend with continuing toothache and probably still have memories of rubbing their gums with Essence of Lemon or brandy, some in desperation even using Methylated Spirits. Later Oil of cloves was added to the home medicine chest. Many a time, as a child I would lie on the bed with a hot water bottle on my face, as I cuddled into our old Possum Rug for comfort. We were reared on that rug as were many bush children with similar ones. Grandfather Brady had shot the possums years before when they had repeatedly ‘cleaned up’ his vegetable and flower gardens. He had the skins made up and the rug was lined with green flannel, still intact despite it’s age. Sometimes it would be many weeks before we could get away to visit a dentist and some of the bigger boys would be brave enough to tie the end of a piece of cotton around the offending tooth, with the other end tied to a door handle and the door would then be slammed! With not much thought for hygiene, a pair of pliers more often than not did the trick.
Paraffin and Carron Oil both had their place in the Medicine Chest, too. The latter used for burns was a mixture of linseed oil and lime water which was first used at Carron Iron Works, near Falkirk, Scotland: hence it’s name. Limewater itself, was familiar to households in those days. Syrup of Figs, Irish Moss and Waterbury’s Compound (which Grandfather Brady had great faith in) came later but Hypol and Scott’s Emulsion were given in liberal doses throughout the winter. Because our fruit and vegetable season was so short and there was no delivery of either into Mallacoota in those years, we must have been sorely lacking in vitamins.
We’d never heard of the hole in the Ozone layer and sun tanning hadn’t yet became popular but adults always wore hats. The womenfolk had white or floral cotton ones which were regularly washed and starched, whilst the men wore either wide brimmed felt hats or straw ones to protect them from the summer sun. Grandfather Brady always wore a pith helmet which he had brought back from a trip to Java. The men wore sleeved singlets, I guess it was a habit they followed from their forefathers in the Northern Hemisphere. What a wonderful breakthrough it must have been when Chesty Bond’s vests came on the market. Mum insisted we wore shirts over our swimming togs but even then we knew the pain of sunburn. A paste of starch and water would take away a lot of the discomfort. Tomatoes. were also cut up and applied to the burnt skin and cream from the top of the milk which immediately went ‘sour’ and the affected area smelt rancid.
When the Infantile Paralysis (as it was known then) Epidemic broke out in Victoria, long before the Salk vaccine and Polio injections it must have been a very frightening time for our parents. Our only safeguard was our isolation and Mum’s insistence that we wore a small bag containing a clove of garlic around our necks, attached to our singlets or placed in our shoes. She put aU her faith in it’s ability to resist germs even if we didn’t have the most acceptable aroma about us.
One of the school boys in those days who endeared himself to all who knew him was Laurie ‘Bulla’ Allan but my Dad always called him Hector or Heck. He had the most outrageous sense of humour and was the toughest Aussie kid you’d find anywhere and once I remember he had a badly cut foot and decided to ‘stitch’ it himself. Now that calls for bravery. When Dr. Hagenauer from Sale (a regular visitor to Mallacoota) saw the result he declared he couldn’t have done a more professional job himself!
Sometimes when I look back to those years I think of the resourcefulness of the womenfolk as they nursed their families with few medical aids. I guess a certain amount of Good Luck went hand and hand with those home cures.