Doris Dawson’s Childhood Memories (Part 2)

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

– PART 2 –

Dad’s snake sticks. I forgot to mention, were always scattered around the fences strategically. He gathered them in the bush, young saplings turned at the end like a long hockey stick.

At a very early age a bucket dredge came through one part of our farm, following the creek bed in search of gold. It consisted of a big wooden pontoon, with a house of galvanised iron to house the machinery, and huge iron buckets that moved on a kind of belt. These buckets dug into the gravel, and brought up loads of stones and sand, to be washed on a long grate where the gold was left, that is how I remember it. It is strange how little things remain in one’s memory! When the pontoon was replaced with a new one, my sister and I, then very young were lifted onto the new one, as it was launched into the dam. The creek was blocked to provide this dam and it always meant danger to small children. The winch, which was so noisy at night, moved the dredge by an enormous wire rope, onto its various positions to collect the gravel. Some beautiful oak trees along the river bank had to be sacrificed, to allow the dredge to proceed, so we were deprived of the pleasure of gathering acorns for our pigs. After the passing of the dredge the first creek bed became a grazing paddock for our cattle, and my father replaced the oaks with weeping willows.

Periodically we would look forward to the visits of an Indian Hawker. His horse drawn covered wagon was crammed full of odds and ends, from bolts of cloth to saucepans. Pins, buttons and ribbons, I can remember the fine tooth combs for cleaning our heads for nits. This was necessary as lice was a constant worry to school children. There were very few vermin killers then.

These well loved hawkers, used to call on us because they could hobble their horses and come to the house in summer. My mother would warm up their fry – pans, usually curry. In winter they would light a fire near their wagons and warm up their own meal. They slept in the wagon.

The income from this small farm is interesting indeed. The list in the old budget account dated 1905, reads that although my mother paid 1/1 (11c) per pound for butter, she only received 7 pence (7c) when she had a surplus. Also in the list of income entries were calves at 3 pouinds7/6 and 2 pounds each, honey 2/6, bees wax 9/6, milk and cream 4 pence and for ploughing 4 pounds 6/-. But Mrs. Robert’s roaster, only brought 1/-, Six days working for the council with horse and dray was 9/- per day (it does not say how many hours). One months milk was 4/8. It does not say who supplied it.

Always there were bees on the farm. I don’t know how my mother did it, but she made a hood of unbleached calico, with a peephole of fly wire which she would put along with a long sleeved dress, and gloves to find the queen bee from a hive that settled near the house – sometimes in a tree or on one of the sheds. The swarming bees were always watched so she could collect them. A kind of mint from the hanging bunch of bees she would collect the queen bee and put it in the new hive. The hive was made from a strong wooden box that came with 74 gallon tins of kerosene. The lid was turned upside down on a wooden platform, The bees then, after getting used to their new home could enter through a small entrance, cut in one end, opening onto the platform. On this the bees would alight with their legs covered with pollen they collected from flowers. The cross bars my mother put in the box gave the bees a help – to form the honeycomb, and she also enticed them in with a brush over the sugar, and water and bees balm. How mother knew when the hive was full of honeycomb and honey I don’t know, but it seemed like twelve months to me as a child.

Next thing was to transfer the bees to a new box so we could harvest the honey. I can well remember the preparations for “robbing the bees” sometimes the neighbors came to share in the fun, which was always done after dark so the bees would not swarm. Mother donned her bee outfit and began by turning the full hive upside down, allowing the bees to rise into the new box fitted on top, while we tapped the lower full one. It took at least an hour, constantly tapping one each side of the hive with short sticks. This complete she would lift the box of bees onto a new platform, and the full one she would stand over a hot fire of coals prepared in the ground, with frame one which to stand the upside down box. Sulphur spread on the coals quickly suffocated the very few bees left behind. Next the full box of honeycomb was taken to the house to be cut in slabs. I remember large pieces on plates for relations and friends. We all tried some too. When the honey taste had gone the wax was a bit like chewing gum, you did’t want to swallow it. To get the honey from these beautifully formed cells of wax mother began by taking the caps off with a long blade knife. The honey extractor was double decker – two large heavy tin drums. The top half contained a conical shaped coarse sieve and fitted, the lower half over which stretched a fine strainer so that no pieces of wax went through with the honey trickling down. She then crushed the wax and honey in her hands. In a few days the honey was ready for bottling

The bees wax was boiled in a four gallon kerosene tin, containing a small amount of water. After the wax melted together and cooled. It was easily tipped out in a large block and sold.

We usually had four or five cows on the farm to help the budget and at most times provided an income.

My parents built a small cellar under the house to keep things cool. Two natural benches were left on either side off the passage, and, over all the cellar was 8 or 9 feet

long and 4 or 5 feet wide. Wire around and shelves above the side benches, kept the animals from getting into the cellar from underneath the house. These benches in early days were where the pans of milk stood to allow the cream to rise, and be skimmed off for use in the house. However, very early in my life I can remember the first separator being installed on a large piece of log, standing about 2 feet high. The lower part of the machine was bolted to this block. The large metal bowl into which the milk was poured when warm from the cows, was fitted above two spouts, – one taking the cream and the other skim milk. A certain speed had to be reached, turning the handle, before the milk was turned on to run down amongst the cups that did the separating, the milk from the cream. The steel top half of the machine had to be taken apart, and thoroughly washed each time. This was a regular job for my sister and I, and we learned to fit about 12 cups into the heavy bucket that had to be fastened up with a spanner, or the milk would leak out. Sometimes, if the speed was’nt quite right, the milk and cream would be mixed – too much speed meant thicker cream, and too little speed meant the cream was thinner and some would go out as skim milk. My sister and I learned to do the “separating” but never tried to milk the cows. My mother was the only one to do this while my father always rounded them up and fed them. Milking of course was done by hand, in the old fashioned bail with a leg rope to the comer post of the cow shed. When the cream was a few days old, several bowls were tipped into the “cherry churn”. This was a well constructed box with a circular body and lid. The sides ran a spindle connected to a frame inside, and rotated by a handle. It was most important to have the cream at the right temperature and age as fresh cream took much longer to churn into butter; also if the weather was too hot or cold it made butter making much more difficult.

I remember my father getting buckets of cool water from a well we had on the farm, to stand the container of cream into to try and cool it. Butter was always in demand, and income was scarce that these jobs couldn’t wait for suitable conditions. Butter was washed and salted.


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