Doris Dawson’s Childhood Memories (Part 1)

The following is part one of four excerpts from ‘Childhood Memories’ written by Doris Dawson in 1986.

– PART 1 –

Sitting in my arm chair, most days now, gives me plenty of time to reflect on my life, and at 80 years it seems not outstanding – no claims to fame, not even an official on a committee. Oh yes, once I was secretary of a small mother’s club in a tiny town near Bendigo, during those wonderful days of raising a family. I wonder why more people do not write down the ways we lived in those days gone by.

I enjoy the bits and pieces in magazines, of the lives of distinguished folk but not many ordinary citizens.

My appearance was made at a tiny place called Yapeen, near Castlemaine, on the highway to Daylesford. Twins!! Yes, I was a twin! Identical with my sister. Would you believe it? I still have the twins of birth written by the mid-wife, on a piece of card which held the safety pins,

On the other side it seems the pins came from the USA, and guaranteed not to corrode. It would be nice to know what they cost then. The doctor duly arrived, after my father walked 2 & 1/2 miles to the nearest phone. He took some time then to arrive by buggy from Castlemaine, 5 miles away, the mid-wife had managed well considering the babies were normal size, a total of 14 Ibs. What a panic! No tests or pre-natal care to give warning twins would be expected. But knowing country people a round up with the neighbours some distance away produced suitable clothes to help out. In appreciation of one’s help, my sister was given the name of Grace, the same as hers. We survived, and grew up there for the following 20 years.

Just imagine no electricity, no running water, no gas – only candles and kerosene lamps. Tins of water over an open fire was our hot water service. The fire we had was on top of our old colonial stove with a space underneath it for a fire to cook the cakes and bread. My mother was a wonderful cook! Just before her marriage she was cook for quite some time at the Old Castlemaine Hospital in Gingell Street.

My eldest sister was 11 years old when two babies arrived with the added amount of work. She loved us, and deserved the love I always had for her. Two other sisters and a brother gave my mother plenty of concerns making ends meet.

In my possession I have a part of her house keeping note book dated 1905 and 1907. Talk about balancing the budget! It cost 3/4 (34c) for a leg of lamb, roasts of beef 2/3 (23c), shin each 1/3 (13c), tea 1/5 (15c), sugar 3/10 (30c) for 6 Ibs, rice 1/- (10c), 1 packet of matches 2 1/2 (2c), that is for twelve boxes, currants 6 Ib (5c), kerosene 4 gall tin 3/3 (330).

The Chinese market gardens quite close to our home kept the price of vegetables low.

Large Turks Cap 3/- (30c) each. One entry, pineapples, oranges and lemon 2/- (20c). I wonder how many of each? My father also grew some vegetables. 1cwt potatoes 112 Ibs. cost 5/-, bread was paid weekly, 2/3 and 4/9 for the family, of two adults and 6 children does seem little. Pity it does not say how much each cost. For our bread and meat was delivered twice or three times a week. The horse drawn carts were like huge boxes on wheels, the driver sat on top. The baker’s cart had a door at the back, for access to the bread, but the butcher’s cart had a hinged tail board that dropped and hooked up, to form a serving table, for cutting up the meat required by each customer. Flies were kept at bay by a stout branch of gum leaves, that he swished around to keep them away.

Other interesting entries in the housekeeping list were sheets of iron 3/7 (37c), and 5/- (50c) was shoes for the horse. Regular entries under CC had me puzzled but were for church collections, sometimes 6 pence (6c), sometimes 2/3 (23c). Mother’s boots were 5/9 (59c), men’s were 7/- (70c). On other pages was the income for the family.

Best of all being on a small farm we had plenty of our own milk, cream, butter and eggs, so always had good food. Usually 4 cows and about 50 fowls left small amounts for sale.

My father’s work was cutting wood, from our small block of scrub land at Bald Hill, cutting it into 2 feet blocks for carting, by small dray to customers living around us. For the princely sum of 7/- (70c) a full load (about 2 tons) 2/3 (23c) for smaller lots, he had no hope of making a fortune. He cut it all with an axe. As a small child my sister and I loved those trips in the bush in the dray. The bird life was always a source of interest to us and we looked for nests and loved the sounds and songs, which I still remember. We always had to walk home, but I really enjoyed those little outings.

Another playground for us was in the very old orchard, on our farm. We shared it with birds, lizards and snakes, the latter not worrying us as our continual noise kept them far enough away. My mother always prowled around with a small shot gun in search of them, she was a very good shot. The hot days brought the snakes about. In that orchard we enjoyed so many different kinds of fruit and nuts. The large bell shaped pears that went pink when stewed were very good. While there were small green ones ideal for baking, and 3 sweet varieties for eating raw. Plums came in too, there were several varieties. My mother used to preserve them in “Mason Jars” with screw tops with rubber rings for sealing. This she did by standing them in a kerosene tin, half filled with water bringing it to the boil over the open fire.

I remember her removing the bottles with a cloth to tighten the lids when partly cooked. There were not many apple trees, one a small red apple, we thought a quarantine was our favourite, but had to be eaten before too ripe or it went very mealy if left to ripen.

Two huge mulberry trees provided lovely seats for us in the shade, the large limbs made excellent climbing, they came from the trunk in ground in gently sloping branches. Up these lovely trees we were also safe from the snakes that were always about in the summer months. These mulberry trees supplied the leaves to feed our quantity of silk worms that took up a lot of our time. My mother made a small frame from sides of old broken slats, to make a frame, and with cotton reels and stiff wire made a contraption for winding silk from the cocoons, the worms made. She never used the silk but I remember her sending some to Melbourne to some friends there.



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