Thursday, May 02, 2013


When I was a little girl sporting plaits and a sprinkling of freckles across my nose, the family washing was always, reliably done on a Monday. Never on a Sunday; Saturday was never considered because Saturday, religiously, was movie matinee day. Tuesday morning was devoted to the ironing, and Tuesday afternoon was set aside to go “down town” to do the weekly shopping. Wednesday was for completing the ironing that didn’t get done on Tuesday, along with other household chores that needed attending to. Thursday had its designated activities – housework never goes away, not even back then; so Thursday's activities were a bit of the same, I imagine; but quite often on Thursday nights we went off to the “pictures” again, because it was Family Night at Gympie’s Olympia Picture Theatre; and Family Night was not to be missed, not if we could help it. Friday was spent tidying up loose ends in preparation of the weekend ahead - so, Monday, without argument, was set aside for the washing.

If we ever lost track of time and days, we’d always know when it was Monday because the family washing day would be underway! No doubt Monday was chosen because it was thought ideal to start any given week off with not only a clean slate, but clean sheets, pillowcases, towels and clothes, as well!

This natural phenomenon wasn’t just confined to our household; the activity went on in 99% of the households throughout the country and in other parts of the Western world, as well – and probably, even further afield!

Our mother, whose name was Elma, was the main income-earner in our little family unit; a unit that consisted of Elma, her mother Ivy, our grandmother, whom we called “Nana”; my older brother, Graham and me. Graham beat me into this world by two and a half years. A fact he was keen to often remind me about!

Nana maintained our humble home, attending to all the relevant chores pertaining thereto; other than gardening. Gardening was our mother’s domain. Mum enjoyed getting soil under her manicured, polished nails. For her, gardening, along with fishing and mud crabbing, was a relaxing pastime during her time off from work. My brother Graham also took an interest in gardening. I took an interest in the garden; but my enthusiasm was mild. My keenness was more directed to the picking of flowers; and to the eating of fresh, juicy tomatoes off their gangly bushes; and the enjoyment of munching on succulent, crisp, green peas straight from the vine.

Our backyard didn’t resemble a bowling green by any stretch of one’s imagination. The ground was uneven; grass grew, but a smooth, lush lawn was non-existent; its length was mostly controlled by our family of guinea pigs; those that didn’t escape, that is! Every other day there was a lot of scurrying going on as my brother and I went in hunt like hunters in an African safari to recapture the escapees before the neighbourhood dogs and cats (or ours) laid claim to them. Sometimes the hand-mower was run over the wayward grass, but it wasn’t the main chore uppermost in our minds. Graham and I had more important things to do.

Important occupations such as climbing the two healthy camphor laurel trees growing along the fence line in our backyard. The roots of the trees were set firmly in the ground. Both sheltered sturdy tree-houses amongst their strong branches. Each tree-house was built by the skilful, industrious hands of my brother. My girlfriends and I were allowed in the tree-house in the smaller tree of the two. The grander house (or palace) in the larger camphor laurel was designated “Boys Only”. Woe betide any girl who dared venture forth into that sanctified realm!

Beneath and between the two trees was a fowl house that accommodated mainly bantams, with the odd chicken if it dared to cross the road to our yard! Joseph, the cocky, titian-feathered bantam rooster ruled the court, the roost and all who roamed and perched within. Up the sides and over the roof of the bantams’ resting and laying house grew an obligatory choko vine.

On the other side of the yard, and to the rear of the property stood an open-fronted laundry shed,which consisted of three walls; a concrete floor; a sturdy, leak-proof roof and three concrete laundry tubs with cold-water taps feeding into each. Out front and to the right of the laundry shed where a lot of the action took place, stood an almighty copper/boiler!

The laundry shed also doubled as a theatre; a stage upon which my girlfriends and I re-enacted the Saturday matinee movies (or pictures as we called them during those days of the Fifties). So many times Tony Curtis, Rock Hudson or Audie Murphy, amongst other heartthrobs came to my rescue like gallant knights in sparkling white suits of armour.

Every Monday morning, Nana stoked up the fire beneath the copper’s belly. Sheets and pillowcases were the first victims to be boiled, followed by towels and tea towels. In turn, the washing loads, after draining for a few minutes in a laundry basket, were transferred to the water-filled wash tubs that patiently waited in line for their turn. The washing was then rinsed, with the whites going into a final blue rinse using Reckitt’s blue bags to keep the whites white.

All our bed linen was white in those days; coloured bed linen was still a thing of the future; or something seen in a Hollywood movie only. And all our laundry was done by hand. Much heavy lifting was incurred. No doubt, our mothers and grandmothers of the Fifties, Forties and earlier decades were strong of wrists, arms and shoulders.

After years of use, the wooden washing stick used to not only stir the items in the copper, but to lift the heavy wet articles out of the boiling, sudsy water, also, gained a “soapy” soft grey appearance. The end that spent most of its time in the hot water grew soft around the edges from years of hard work; however, after a few days rest between washes, it toughened up again before the next Monday arrived.

Clothes that needed boiling were the last cabs off the rank. The copper would be refilled with fresh, clean water. Those items of clothing that needed boiling would simmer away above the heat of the fire while the rest of the washing was attended to in the tubs in the laundry shed. One tub was used for starching. Not everything required starching, but a lot did.

Our clotheslines, unglamorously attached at each end to solid wooden posts buried into the ground, were strung width-wise across the yard. The lines sagged under their burdens of wet clothes, sheets and towels, but once the washing was pegged, the lines were held aloft by wooden props, which, until we “caught up with the times”, were made from trimmed, forked tree branches. Eventually, my brother made new props out of planed timber.

We thought we were very flash and up-to-date when we got those new fancy-dancy props! Forget the Joneses! They were running to keep up with us!

The washing was secured to the lines with wooden dolly pegs that defied the strongest winds.

Once dry and smelling so clean from the sunshine and fresh air, the washing was brought in. Items not requiring ironing were immediately folded or hung, and then put away into their rightful places. That which needed ironing was dampened by water spray…meaning lightly splashed on by hand. Spray bottles came much later.

Washing day was an event; a day-long event.

Monday night dinners were always prepared from Sunday lunch leftovers.

The following feasts were part of our Monday night fare: Corned beef fritters; Shepherd’s Pie made with leftover leg or shoulder of lamb; Beef Curry from the remaining beef roast. Monday night dinners were always eagerly anticipated and highly enjoyed.

Often for breakfast on Monday mornings after we’d enjoyed corned beef or silverside for our Sunday lunch, the leftover vegetables were turned Bubble and Squeak. The humble old B & B was a most delicious breakfast before we headed off to school.

Bubble & Squeak: In a frying pan, heat 2tbs oil; add 1 chopped onion; sauté over med-heat until soft but not brown. In a bowl, mix the onions with leftover potatoes, cabbage, sprouts, swede turnips, and whatever other leftover vegetables; season to taste. Heat 2tbs oil in same frying pan over med-heat; add the vegetables to pan; press mixture evenly into large patty. Cook until bottom is brown, 10-15mins. Holding a large plate over pan, flip the pan and plate over, turning patty onto plate; add a little more oil to pan; when hot, return patty, browned side up. Cook until the bottom is brown, about 10mins. Cut patty into wedges; serve with fried eggs, sausages and/or bacon.

Shepherd’s Pie for Two: Preheat oven, 200C (180C fan). Heat 1tbs oil in large frying pan; when hot, add 1 finely-chopped onion and 2 carrots cut into 1cm thick discs; sauté until onions are soft and carrots softened. Add leftover roast lamb, chopped into bite-size pieces; cook for a few minutes. Add 1tbs plain flour; stir through. Add 200ml stock, 1tsp tomato puree, a handful of frozen peas, a good splash of Worcestershire sauce and seasonings. Simmer for 10mins. Add a little more stock if mixture is too dry, or flour if the gravy needs thickening. Adjust seasoning as desired. Transfer to oven-proof dish; spread mashed potatoes on top. Scratch the surface of potato with a fork. Bake until potato is browned, and the gravy is bubbling around the edges – about 30 minutes.

Leftover Roast Beef Curry: Dice 2 onions, 1 or 2 peeled Granny Smith apples; sauté in 2tbs oil. Add 1tbs curry powder (or to taste); OR make your own curry paste - by sautéeing in peanut oil - 3 chopped garlic cloves, 3 chopped green chillies, 2 inches fresh ginger, crushed or grated, 1tsp garam masala, 2tbs medium curry powder, 1tsp ground coriander, 2/3rd tablespoon cumin seeds and a dash or two of turmeric) and ground black pepper. Add 1-1/2tbs plain flour; fry gently 1 minute. Blend 1-1/2 cups beef stock with 1 cup coconut milk or cream; add to onions, apples and spices; add finely-sliced celery and carrots (add chopped kumara, pumpkin or potatoes, too, if you's all up to you): bring to boil. Add 2tbs fruit chutney, 1/3rd cup sultanas or raisins and 2 thinly-sliced bananas. You can add a drained can of tomatoes, if you like. Simmer 30 minutes. Dice cooked beef into bite-size pieces; add to sauce; season; simmer gently, 15-20mins.


  1. Have I mentioned that I love the way you write! And I'm glad washing is no longer a day-long event.

  2. Thanks, Riot Kitty...I'm glad you enjoy my ramblings. :)

    And I agree...thank goodness our wash days aren't the huge, burdensome chores they once were!

  3. I remember the copper. And the steam which filled the house. And how HEAVY the washing was.

    I also remember swapping a bottle of cognac for our first ever automatic washing machine - which lasted a whole lot longer than the cognac. I think we got the better deal.

    And doesn't washing which has been line dried in the sun smell blissful. If there was a clean sheets fairy I would have clean sheets every day.

  4. I'm with you about having clean sheets on the bed every day, EC. I often say similar.

    The steam and smoke from our copper never filled the house because it was way up the probably filled the neighbour's house! ;)

    Yeah! But you would've had a far more enjoyable time from the cognac!

  5. Ah Tuesday is ironing day!
    Send one of your women along to do mine would you...

  6. I don't have any women, Adullamite. I could send you a man, if you like.

    I wouldn't even suggest my two cats! Ironing is way beneath them!

  7. Clothes that have been washed on the line smell so wonderful - thank you for that memory jog!

    Your family;s life sounds wonderful - lots of love there, especially with the delicious food. (I'm going to try making bubble and squeak.)

  8. Ah, this took me back! Washing was an all day (Monday) affair at our house too. My mother had a machine that had to be hauled out to the middle of the kitchen floor. Then there was a lot of dolacawling with hoses, rinses, refills and wringing! Thank God for the convenience of modern equipment...And, as rainy as it always is in Ireland, drying the clother took as long again, if not longer! Many times, having spent all day outside, in dubious weather, the still-not-dry clothes would be dragged inside and draped over the wooden clothes horse by the dying fire in hopes they'd be dry by morning....Oy! No wonder fewer women had outside jobs. Running a home and raising children took every ounce of their energy. Shepherd's Pie----my all time favourite comfort food!

  9. Hi there is amazing, really, when you give thought to it just how much things have's hard to believe sometimes.

    I'm going to have to make some Bubble & Squeak too...I've not had it for quite a while.

  10. G'Day Molly. At least we were fortunate here in Queensland where warm, sunny, blue skies are prevalent.

    And, I agree with you...most women back in those days had full time jobs caring for their homes and those in it...and their work didn't stop come 5 or 6 pm, was ongoing...and repetitive.

    Sometimes we forget how lucky we are these days.

  11. Good story. When we lived with Mother's parents, Grandma did all the laundry and I was too young to take notice of the time it was done. However, when we moved to a small community, Mother always did the laundry on Saturday. Before we could hang the clothes, we had to go wipe off the clothes line with a damp cloth. We always used the wooden spring pens for our clothes and had a clothes pen bag that we slid along the line in front of the wash. I do remember my chore was to pack water from the springs and we had a water heater that was oblong in shape and about 3 inch diameter and about six inches in length. We had to heat the water for each load and we had one of those wringer on top of the machine to run the clothes through. Lots of hard work and then I had to iron. When I was young I spent far too much time ironing all the clothes. Peace

  12. Thanks, Lady Di. It would appear that "Wash Day" played a huge role in the lives of many of us...of our generation, anyway.

    Ironing...I hate ironing and these days do very, very little of it! A sheer waste of time when I can be doing more pleasurable things, I do believe! ;)

  13. I made a Shepherds Pie last week. I'd forgotten how good the old favourites are! Your tale of wash day brought back a few memories also. How labour intensive work was then. Great story!

  14. Hi Deborah...thanks for dropping's nice to see you. :)

    It's ages since I've made a Shepherd's Pie...and I do love them! I reckon I might just have to put roast lamb on my menu this coming week...followed by Shepherd's Pie. Not only have you talked me into it, I've written myself into it, as well!

  15. This is a delightful account. Although, not necessarily as delightful as it could have been to me. For I have been unsuccessful at finding something to smart-off about so far. Be assured that I will endeavor to persevere!

  16. Oh! Jerry! Jerry! I'm so sorry I've made it difficult for you! ;)

    Sleep on it...I'm sure you'll think of something!!

  17. Brings back memories for me too. Especially those "clothes poles" that held up the clothesline when there was wet wash hanging.

    I looked up why wash was traditionally done on Mondays. Theoretically, it's because the wash was the most onerous task a mother faced before washers and dryers were invented. She needed all her energy to accomplish this task, so Mondays were suited best, coming right after Sunday, the traditional day of rest.

  18. We knew those wooden pegs as 'dolly pegs', because they seem to have a head and two legs.
    I remember pegging out, as a kid, and then rushing out as rain started to threaten the washing on the line.
    Visits to mr great-uncle and aunt's farm, washing still done by hand, water in a galvanised tub, a copper 'posser' pumped vigorously up and down, the ribbed washboard for scrubbing collars and cuffs, the steaminess of the wash-house, just off the farm's big kitchen, long blocks of hard soap, and the end result, fresh washing strung out among the apple trees in the orchard. Oh, and the big old mamgle, for wringing water out of the tortured sheets...

    And I remember, shortly after I got married, a long long time ago, the gift of a Hoover something-or-other-matic washing machine, secondhand from the mother-in-law. It had a square plastic program card, that could be inserted in the front slot to give eight different programmes.

    Keymatic! Just found it on the interwebs...
    Funny how easily we forget just how much work was involved in doing the washing when we were kids.
    Now I just chuck it in and press a button.

  19. Hi Dave and Soubriquet...I've stirred up many memories, it appears.

    Wash day was a major day in all of our our growing up. We have it so easy these days...and we still have a whinge at times! lol

    Thanks for coming by, you two! :)

  20. How odd. I know I left a comment here a few days ago and now it's gone.

    Anyway, I said that I thought your mom was a beautiful lady and I love the photos of her.


  21. You did mention similar on my next post, Janice.

    But I did the same the other day...I thought I'd written a comment on someone's blog...but it wasn't there when went back in later...ghosts!!! ;)