A 40’s childhood.

Sylvia McLachlan

On the 1940’s home front, if a space traveller had stepped out of a time capsule and started looking for a supermarket or a television we would have thought “Flash Gordon stuff!”

The 40’s (in north Queensland, at least) was the era of the corner store, where the shopkeeper knew all the families; the butcher’s shop had sawdust on the floor and a wooden block with a meat cleaver and “Hong”, our Chinese greengrocer would appear each week with fresh produce in the back of his truck and a set of scales swinging from the roof canopy. ”Mummy, Hong’s here!” my sister and I would call and dash out to see what he’d brought from his garden. Then there was Peter the ice-cream man (the precursor of Mr Whippy) who had a horse-drawn cart with churns of home-made ice-cream packed in dry ice in the back. To this day I say it was the best ice-cream I’ve ever tasted.

In the early 40’s food was kept chilled in an ice-chest or, even more primitively, especially in country areas, in a meat safe. The ice-chest was replenished weekly by the “ice man” who came around in his truck with blocks of ice about a metre long, which he carried into the house with a large pair of tongs. A meat safe was simply hung from a hook outside the kitchen door. These were made of metal, inset with gauze panels to let the breeze in and keep the blowflies out.

There were no hot water systems.  Dad would light a fire under the “copper” in the back yard and heat water for the bath tub. This was carried into the bathroom in a bucket and the family would take it in turn to bathe – first we kids, then Mum and then Dad. By the time Dad got in, the water would be stone cold. Some years later we had a chip-heater installed. This was the height of luxury. It was a kind of slender boiler with a chimney that went up through the roof. When the wood fire was lit, it would make a “woof, woof” sound and sometimes shake so badly it seemed it was going to blow itself apart.  We kids were a bit scared of it. The backyard copper was also used to wash clothes. A “propstick” was used to churn the clothes as the water heated and to lift them out when it was time for them to be scrubbed and rinsed. The way those clothes were scrubbed, it’s a wonder they lasted as long as they did!

For entertainment we listened to the wireless. During the day there were serials- Dr Paul and  When a Girl Marries, at night there was Hagan’s Circus and The Smokey Dawson Hour. We especially liked Sunday night with The Lux Radio Theatre, which sometimes presented spooky plays like Lizzie Borden, complete with gruesome sound effects as she wielded the axe.             

I look back on those years with fond nostalgia.