April 8 - 14, 2018: Issue 355



Hearing a small group of boys bemoaning problems with “coverage” of their smart phones (of course each had one) in some areas where they live I could not help reflecting on my life as a boy in the Nineteen Thirties during the Great Economic Depression.

I wrote in my first article for Pittwater Online News about that time when life was hard.  (Issue 18 August 7 – 13, 2011)  Conditions then, with very limited social support, are probably unimaginable to many today in our largely affluent society.  This article largely is an edited version of that original article.

The call “Cloooothes Props” down the street is a lasting memory from the depression.  Before Hills Hoists sprouted in backyards, and when electric clothes dryers in the home were unimaginable, every house had a clothes line – a multistranded galvanised wire stretched across the yard - on which clothes were hung to dry.  When loaded with wet clothes the lines, unless propped up, sagged and clothes dragged on the ground.  The clothes prop was used to push the line up in the middle.  Men in ragged clothes, anxious to earn a few pence on which to live, trudged the streets with bundles of dry straight tree saplings on their shoulders.  The saplings were cut to leave forked branches at the thinner end which could be used to push up and support the middle of the clothesline.

Other men wandered the streets selling braces (pairs) of skinned rabbits.  Chicken was an expensive luxury item which few could afford – reserved for Christmas or for a really special occasion. A family could be fed a tasty but cheap meal of white meat from a pair of rabbits.

Supermarkets did not exist.  Food was bought in different ways.

The milkman came in a horse and cart. The decorated body of the cart was a tank holding the milk, with taps at the back.  The householder left a billy-can or a covered jug, in most cases with the necessary money, near the front gate.  The milkman used a measuring jug to draw milk from his tank and to fill the householder’s container.  Delivery of milk in bottles came very much later.

The baker, also with a horse and cart, came to the door with a wicker basket over his arm. Turning back a covering piece of canvas he displayed the breads in the basket to the housewife. This too almost invariably was a cash transaction.  During the depression every tradesman had to worry about being paid – yet communities, though poor, generally were honest and any cash left out for a tradesman was safe.  Shopkeepers often displayed a sign saying “ Please do not ask for credit as a refusal often offends.”

Items such as sugar, flour, salt, grains, rice were bought from a local grocery shop where the grocer weighed the requested quantity of an item from a bulk container into a brown paper bag. Virtually nothing was prepacked.  Butter was not prepackaged but was cut and weighed from a large ply-wood “butter box”.

In the absence of refrigerators ice boxes were relied upon to preserve food and keep it cold. These were small tin-lined wooden cabinets with shelves. At the top there was a large container into which the iceman delivered a precut block of ice from his cart.  As the ice melted it kept the contents of the icebox cold. Water from the melting ice was piped to a receptacle which had to be emptied periodically.

Television was yet to come.  Some households acquired the new-fangled invention radio – providing some entertainment.  On Saturday afternoons, children whose parents could afford sixpence (5 cents) could “go to the movies” where the matinee programme included cartoons, a serial (usually cowboys and Indians), a newsreel and a feature movie.

Toys were often made by family members. One of my treasured possessions, which has accompanied me throughout life, is a wooden money box made for me by my Uncle Con (my mother’s brother).  Made from ply-wood offcuts from a butter box (the lettering of which can be seen through the paint) it says Merry Xmas 1933 on one side and on the other;
Little Georgie is no Fool.  He puts his pennies in his Stool.”

Some people grew a few vegetables in small plots in their gardens. They  watched for the tradesmen’s horses and carts to gather up manure as fertilizer.

The postman delivered mail twice each day.  Men arriving at work in the city in the morning to be told that they would have to work back could post notes to their wives (or mothers) to let them know – the note arriving in the afternoon mail.  Few people had telephones. Great reliance had to be placed on the nearest public telephone box in cases of emergency.  Rarely, if ever, were the public telephones vandalised.

There was a sense of community – you knew your neighbours – and in the shared adversity people pulled together. They could rely on a helping hand.

In a material sense so many of us are better off now – but have we lost something on the way?

George Repin
April 2018

Previous Reflections by George Repin 

The Nineteen Thirties  Remembering Rowe Street  The Sydney Push  Saturday Night at the Movies  Shooting Through Like A Bondi Tram  A Stop On The Road To Canberra  City Department Stores - Gone and Mostly Forgotten  An Australian Icon - thanks to Billy Hughes  Crossing The Pacific in the 1930s  Hill End  The Paragon at Katoomba  Seafood In Sydney  How Far From Sydney?  Cockatoo Island Over The Years  The Seagull at the Melbourne Festival in 1991  Busby's Bore  The Trocadero In Sydney  Cahill's restaurants  Medical Pioneers in Australian Wine Making  Pedal Power and the Royal Flying Doctor Service  Pambula and the Charles Darwin Connection  Gloucester and the Barrington Tops  A Millenium Apart  Have You Stopped to Look?  Gulgong  Il Porcellino  Olympia  Durham Hall  Sargent's Tea Rooms Pie Shops and Street Photographers  The Ballet Russes and Their Friends in Australia  Hotels at Bondi  Alma Ata Conference - 1978 Keukenhof - 1954 The Lands Department Building and Yellowblock Sandstone  The Goroka Show - 1958  A Gem On The Quay  Staffa  The Matson Line and Keepsake Menus Kokeshi Dolls  The Coal Mine At Balmain  The Hyde Park Barracks  The Changing Faces Of Sydney From Pounds and Pence to Dollars and Cents Nell Tritton and Alexander Kerensky  Making A Difference In Ethiopia William Balmain  J C Bendrodt and Princes Restaurant  Azzalin Orlando Romano and Romano's Restaurant   Waldheim  Alcohol in Restaurants Before 1955  King Island Kelp  The Mercury Theatre   Around Angkor - 1963   Angkor Wat 1963  Costumes From the Ballets Russe Clifton at Kirribilli  Chairman Mao's Personal Physician  The Toby Tavern The MoKa at Kings Cross  The Oceaographic  Museum  in Monaco  The Island of Elba  Russian Fairy Tale Plates  Meteora  Souda Bay War Cemetery Barrow, Alaska  Cloisonné  Tripitaka Koreana Minshuku The Third Man Photographs and Memories  Not A Chagall!  Did You Listen? Did You Ask?  Napier (Ahuriri, Maori) New Zealand  Borobudur  Ggantija Temples Plumes and Pearlshells  Murano  University of Padua  Ancient Puebloe Peoples - The Anasazi   Pula  The Gondolas of Venice Cinque Terre  Visiting the Iban David The Living Desert Bryce Canyon National Park   Aphrodisias   The Divine Comedy  Caodaism   Sapa and local Hill People  A Few Children  Cappadocia  Symi Jean-Marie Tjibaou Cultural Centre   Aboriginal Rock Art on Bigge Island    ANZAC Cove (Ari Burnu) 25 April, 1997  Hotere Garden Oputae  Children of the Trobriand Islands  Page Park Market - Rabaul  Rabual   Kotor, Montenegro   Galleries of Photographs I   Lascaux   Galleries of Photographs II   The Cathedral of St. James – Šibenik, Croatia  Ivan Meštrović  - Sculptor   Delphi   Gallery of Photographs III  The Handicrafts of Chiang Mai Raft Point  San Simeon - "Hearst Castle"  Floriade - The Netherlands - 1982   Russian New Year  Mycenae  "Flightseeing" Out Of Anchorage Alaska  The White Pass and Yukon Route  Totem Poles  Tivkin Cemetery  Krka National Park - Croatia   Tavistock Square and the BMA   Orthodox Easter  Wieliczka Salt Mine  A Walk on Santorini  Indonesian Snapshots Ephesus - The Library of Celsus  Ephesus - Some Places Of Interest  Waimea Canyon and the Kalalau Valley United Nations Headquarters 1958  A Miscellany of Flower Images   Gardens Bath St. David's In Wales   Zion National Park Nicholas Himona - Artist   Kraków   Lilianfels  Collonges-La-Rouge   Gingerbread Houses   Cape Sounion   Delos   Wroclaw  Colonial Williamsburg  Gruyères   Strasbourg  Coventry Cathedral  The Roman Theatre at Aspendos  Turkish Carpets The Duomo of Orvieto  Rovinj  The City Walls of Dubrovnik  Monaco- Snapshots   Bonifacio, Corsica  Autumn in New England USA  The Great Ocean Road   Pompeii  Didyma  Lawrence Hargrave 1850-1915 The Corinth Canal  Malta  Snapshots of Amsterdam Café Central - Vienna  The Forbidden City - Beijing, China  A Ride on the Jungfrau Railway - 1954   Snapshots in the Highlands of Scotland 1954  Must See Sights in Paris - 1954  Corfu 

Copyright George Repin 2018. All Rights Reserved.