Interview with a Grandma

Doris Draper was born out of a conversation with Grandma.
During a phase of detoxing and minimalizing my home, it dawned on me. Instead of sourcing new and fandangled products to replace existing fandangled products, how about I find out what they were using before advertising took over our kitchens.
“Grandma, what were you using to wash the dishes before dishwashing liquids?”
‘A bar of soap’
“Okay, what about for cleaning the benches etc?”
The soap’
“Washing clothes, hair and body, that type of thing?”
‘Just that bar of soap…’
Oh, I realized. It was actually that easy.
 
For those of you enamoured by the Hollywood housewives like Samantha and Lucy, I encourage you to ask the elders around you, about their real life experiences growing up and raising families in what we are led to believe as some of the most aesthetically pleasing days in history.
But behind the hair spray and couture, there was immeasurable elbow grease, and women working more hours than most men, just to keep up with the Jones’s.


My Grandma Pauline, as interviewed by me, Alice. October 2020.


Tell me about a day in the life of your mother (the OG Doris) and how she would keep the household clean and tidy? What would her daily routine look like?
 
G: There was always routine in those days, Monday was washing day, Tuesday or Wednesday was ironing day. My mother always wore an apron, and around the house she had house clothes- but she would change to go out. House clothes were cotton dress or a skirt and jumper always with an apron. My elder sister and I would wear full aprons with frills too. If one of us got our apron dirty she would make us change both our aprons. The same deal if our dresses got dirty. She wanted us to dress the same.
In our aprons we had a pocket for a handkerchief- not a tissue, as they weren’t invented.
My mother’s life was going shopping, cooking and looking after the kids, that what mothers did. They got the kids off to school, and came home to do housework. 
She wouldn’t have listened to music while she worked, because I think we would have only had two power points in the whole house. Electricity hadn’t come in too long before.
My mother always woke us up- rather than having clocks in our rooms. Our school lunch was two bits of bread with vegemite or peanut butter. Later on in the years we might have gotten cheese. My mother’s lunch at home was usually a beetroot sandwich. Our lunches were wrapped up in wax paper. We would be given a bottle of milk at school which sat all day in sun so you can imagine how that tasted.
In regards to appliances in the home, we had a carpet sweeper and a broom for the floors, and we had a toaster and mop. Mum always washed the floors late at night when everyone was in bed. There was some socialising on the school run to chat to the other women. It was a very social thing the school run.
Only one house in the neighbourhood had a phone. We didn’t have at home until I was 18. Which would have been around 1957.
 
What type of beauty regime do you recall your mother adhering to?
 
G: My mother had lux soap to wash her face and ponds cream as her moisturiser. She would apply lipstick as her makeup. It was stricter for me, I wasn’t allowed to wear lipstick until I was 16- even though I started work at 14.  I remember not wearing stockings to mass (at church) one day because it was so hot. I got in big trouble from my father. My first lipstick, I don’t recall the brand but it was a reddish colour and it was in a metal tube. My father told me once in around 1964 when I had your mother, that my skin looked rough and I should use moisturiser on my face and some lipstick. I did so. I went and got the ponds cold cream.
 
What were the highlights of your childhood and how would you compare it to how your great grandchildren are being raised? (Aka my kids)
 
G: Absolutely nothing alike. Discipline is the main difference. If we were told to jump, we asked how high? If mum said it- you did it. If Dad said it, you wouldn’t dare challenge him.
I think children are given a lot more choice and option in their upbringing now. I was born during the war, and when the war finished I was 5. We used to have coupons- everyone had a book of them. If you wanted butter, cream or meat or whatever, you needed to cut out the coupon to take to the shop. This was part of the rations method. I would be sent to get the shopping when I was 8. I had a scooter and I loved it. I had always wanted a bike with pump up tires, but never got one. We always had the ones with solid wheels. Girls weren’t allowed to ride a bike because it wasn’t ‘lady like’ but my 3 brothers got a bike when they turned 12. I had string bags on each handle of my scooter to go to the butcher and the fruit shop. Everyone knew everybody back then. I would have money in a purse, the shop keeper would take the money out and give it back. Think of handing someone your purse now days. It wouldn’t happen. We would go to the grocer up the top of the street, if you wanted the butter, it was on a marble slab with a wire and he’d cut it for you. The sugar was dealt out into smaller bags, the biscuits came in a big tin and they would be dealt out by the weight too into a brown paper bag.
 
What type of household cleaning products do you recall being in the house? Did that change much by the time you were running your own household?
 
G: It didn’t change much during the time of the 40s, 50s and 60s, but we used velvet soap bars- you’d grate the soap up to do the clothes washing. You’d also have the blue bottle dye to brighten whites. Bon Ami was like jiff, for scrubbing pots- it came as a powder. We had the carpet sweeper. For dishes we used the bar of soap in the soap cage.
 
What was the hardest part about growing up in the 30s & 40s?
 
G: I don’t know, we didn’t know any different. If you went anywhere you walked- you didn’t go by car, you walked to and from school. We didn’t go very far though, kids just played in the street and there wasn’t many cars around to be a danger. We played football, cricket and billycarts out in the street.
 
How did your mothers and your own housekeeping methods differ?
 
G: Well before I got married, I was taught to sew and to knit. I could sew things in grade two. I’ve got an apron and doilies still that I made when I was a child. By the time I was starting work I used to make my own clothes, I was 14 then. I did my own knitting and even knitted my own gloves. I still remember a pale pink pair I made with little bobbles on them. I wish I could find a pattern for them now. I didn’t like cooking. My job living at home was to dust and polish the silver and brass. The table was always set for a meal, three times a day. If someone was over for afternoon tea, the table got set again.
 
Did your mother raise her daughters to be homemakers?
 
G: She did. She was a terrible cook though. She used to make what I called a ‘violent stew’ She would get pork quarter chops, plonk them in flour, fry them with dripping. Then cook them and put them in the pot with potatoes. I always had to shell the peas, not my sister because she would eat them as she went. I always have hated peas since. There might have been carrots, potato and then she would thicken the stew with flour. That was it. Foul.
 
Tell me about the cars?
 
G: Our first car was a Ford twin spinner. A black one. My father was a policeman and in the late 50s the police cars were pale blue, and every other car seemed to be black. I got my licence when I was 19. I went home and told my parents I had it, and my father went through the roof! He told me it wasn’t the thing for women to be driving cars, and as such my mother wasn’t allowed either. When I was 18 or 19 I bought my first pair of black tartan slacks. We (She and my grandfather) were doing car racing by then and I couldn’t have done that in a skirt and 7 petticoats (she really wore this many, starched to keep her skirts full)
I never asked permission for racing in the VSSA.
I only went with him (my grandfather) for 6 weeks before I told my mother I wasn’t seeing him anymore. My mother told me I was only allowed the one boyfriend or id be thought of as a floosy running around. I only found out recently that both my sisters were allowed to have other boyfriends before they married. I never even knew until about 5 years ago.
Neville and I were together 4 years before we were engaged, then 6 before we were married.
 
Tell me about the men’s involvement with housework?
 
G: My father didn’t assist with house work. He would cut the grass, not that we had much, and he would chop the wood. Neville didn’t do housework either. He actually bought me a trolley to take the bins out myself. That wasn’t all men though. I also painted the house by myself once too- for us to sell it. I did a lot.
 
When did you notice households starting to use more and more chemicals and products in their home?
 
G: Probably not until supermarkets came out. This would have been say late 60s? Coles was the first I think. It was fascinating with all the different things. Tupperware came in and I started to learn about it in the last 60s in Melbourne. They did a party plan and people had been trained to use the Tupperware. They’d bring everything into your house and the party plan lady would make food and show you how you could make a cake and store it for later. Whereas before that you just couldn’t make it and store it. Everyone went crazy for plastic and Tupperware after that. I feel like its dying off now, party plans aren’t as common. Times have changed and everyone buys online.


How do you feel society is now, compared to 60 years ago?
 
G: No respect. I think women are less respected now. If you were going to get on a tram or bus, men would stand back and allow you first, or help you off. I had never been into a bar until the late 70s. Women hadn’t been allowed in general.  We went up to the pub in Wallace and the kids and I had to wait outside. Neville then came out and told us we could come in because it was a country pub. I thought it was great, I only had a lemon squash but thought it was great that new experience. A big difference back then was you could live on one wage, things were a lot cheaper because you didn’t have as much stuff, because you just lived on what you needed. My mother was married to a policeman. If she was walking down the street, the boys always wore caps and they would stop and tip their hat to her and say ‘Mrs Delaney’ Now the kids will run over you, they have no respect- not all of them but the general respect in society has reduced.  
 
Compared to how I live now, what part of running a house in the 50s & 60s do you think I would be most horrified about?
 
G: Having an egg beater (she cackles) You wouldn’t be allowed to have your own money. Even when I worked as a teenager my mother took ¾ of my wages. I only found out recently that my sisters paid board but my money was just taken. You wouldn’t have wall to wall carpets, you would have mats that you’d have to take outside and belt to get the dust out of them. There wasn’t a washing machine- you had a copper boiler with your wooden pole to dig the washing around and a twin concrete trough with a wringer. You would have loved dressing in the 50s and 60s. You never went without a petticoat. Most of the time a singlet too…But how would you feel if someone came to your door with dead rabbits for you to skin? or tripe. (Disgusted, I am a vegetarian- modern privilege perhaps?) There were kids who’d go out hunting and then come door to door to see who wanted them. Slung over their bike. You’d also have to blacken the stove. There was a stove blacking product to make the stove blacker. You always polished your brass. The brass step at the front of the house was always polished. The numbers on the house were usually polished brass too.
 
When thinking of instances of cancer, diabetes and other disease, do you think it has increased in the last 50 years? And why do you think that is?
 
G: Yes definitely. I think it’s because of all the chemicals in the food. They are now so many added things, whether its biscuits or your cleaning products. Things even as simple as milk now are so over processed.
 
Do you think society can’t live without the cleaning aisle in the supermarket now? Or do you think we are victims of advertising?
 
G: We're just victims of advertising, you could have one aisle or one lot of shelves and that’s all you need. We aren’t given a choice as consumers, we are force fed on the television, food like takeaway and products to buy. I lived without most of those products. But I do remember when Kentucky first came here in the late 60s. If I had spare money I would get a couple of pieces of chicken on St Georges rd. Northcote. It was so good. 
 
What are the differences between homemakers of the 1950s and now?
 
G: I don’t think it’s much different these days, you still have to wash your clothes, do the floors and iron. But we have items now that make it different. We had an ice chest for a fridge and when we got married Mum and Dad gave us their old Kelvinator which I had right up until I was 60. I’ve only had two fridges my whole life. We didn’t have a lot of photos like you do now. Electricity was sparse. Each room had a light but you didn’t have all these lamps and power points everywhere. I had always wanted a food processor and I got my first electric mixer in the 90s.
 
What has been your favourite invention for the home in the last 60 years? Perhaps one that made life a lot easier?
 
G: The automatic washing machine for sure. I still have my first from the 80s. I had a twin tub and before that I had a washing machine with a wringer attached.