Friday, September 14, 2007


While walking though the bush up in Vanua Lava, the boys could hear a "slap-slapping" sound, and came across a group of women in the distance doing their laundry in the stream. This, of course, is the way that laundry and other ablutions have been carried on for centuries in our world.
Seeing this picture reminded me of how much change and living history you and I have experienced in our own lifetimes when it comes to domestic chores.
When I was a child in England, there was no such thing as a laundry. In fact, from what I see on UK TV, it is still uncommon for a house to have a room dedicated to washing, and most seem to have a washer/dryer as part of the kitchen set up.
In my childhood, washing was mostly done in a copper, which may be in the kitchen or scullery, or perhaps in an outhouse if you were lucky enough to have one. There was also a concrete tub with a "Mangle" (wringer) attached. It would have been backbreaking work lifting heavy wet garments and linen in and out of the tubs and copper with a stick. In those days sheets were made of very heavy cotton or linen, which probably necessary in view of all the poking and boiling they were subjected to!! And it is little wonder that a whole day needed to be devoted to the weekly washing. I believe it was usually a Monday, because there would be cold meat for tea, left over from the Weekend Roast!
When it came to washing the woollen blankets, our Mum had a great labour saving device - us kids! The blankets would be placed in the bathtub, with plenty of Lux flakes, and it was our job to tramp up and down on them!
Our first washing machine was purchased when we lived in the flat at Kensington, Sydney, where we shared an outside laundry with the people upstairs. As my mother worked, Friday night was laundry night. Those earlier electric machines were styled very much like the old coppers, and for a while the mangle was still a separate piece of equipment, still operated laboriously by hand. The old tubs were still used for rinsing, as it was easier than refilling and emptying the machine.
When I first arrived on Norfolk Island, I lived in a place with no laundry facilities, and washing was done on my knees in a tin tub on the back lawn on Saturday mornings. I heated the water in the bathroom, using one of those wonderful old puffing chip heaters, and it was bucketed out to the yard.
When electricity generation gradually started to spread over Norfolk Island in the late sixties, and they started to import washing machines, I believe the old coppers were rapidly discarded, and you would be hard pressed to find one nowadays.
The arrival of "Twin Tubs", with their separate bowl for spinning, represented an enormous step of progress, and saving of energy putting things through the wringer. Nevertheless, you still needed to be on standby, to supervise filling the machine, and to switch the clothes from one bowl to the other for the spinning and rinsing. We had a twin tub early in our marriage, and with three children under two and a half, my attention was often distracted. On more than one occasion, I set the machine to fill, and forgot about it until the water started pouring down the stairs!
How well I recall our very first automatic machine! A visiting friend and I actually stood in front of it watching it go through all its motions from start to finish!
Bernie recalls his mother had a hand-operated washing machine when he was a child. I seem to recall her saying she had sent away for it using a generous sum of money they were given as a wedding present. Evidently it was a metal tub with an external handle. This handle was pushed to and fro, and the clothes in the machine would be tossed between two washboards.
We still have a set of three concrete tubs in the "old laundry" in the shed out the back, and I find them enormously useful for soaking things, washing garden pots, filling buckets etc. Over at Devon Cottage, there is a pair of old concrete tubs which are filled with soil, and which have been marvellous for striking cuttings!
There are "new generations" of washing machines soon to come on the market which use very innovative technologies, mainly aimed at cutting down on water usage. It is hard to imagine a machine that involves less labour than modern automatics, unless it incorporates a robot that goes around and picks up the dirty clothes from the floor or laundry basket.
Meanwhile, here is a picture of pot scrubbing Vanuatu style! The boys say it is very effective, and the sand leaves them gleaming! And there is the added bonus of it being a communal activity, an opportunity for the women to get together for a gossip!
Washing up that is another story!

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