Last Friday, Delores, from Under the Porch Light, wrote about the frenetic activity experienced at harvest time on the farm when she was young.
It brought back memories of one of my very first paid jobs.
I'd spent the summer lazing at the Port Pirie beach and had met a boy who'd come to town on holiday.
He worked at a sheep station as a Jackeroo. We became good friends and a few months later I heard from him, via mail, (snail mail in those days), that the current housemaid had left for life in the big city and the position was open. Would I like to try it?
Yeah, sure, why not? How hard could it be?
My dad drove us up there, a few hundred miles north west of Port Augusta, met the family and took off for home again.
I was alone in a crowd of strangers, except for ****, and far, far, away from "civilisation", aka the nearest town.
The homestead was well stocked, with supplies and mail being brought in by the "mail train". Ordering was done by mail or telephone. I don't remember how often this mail train came along, I think once a month....and the siding was quite a long way from the house acre.
The main house was large and cool inside, with a big farmhouse kitchen, a shady verandah all around the house, a garden and over to one side a second house, far enough away for privacy, with other family members. A daughter, her husband and children.
There were outbuildings, quarters for the hands, laundry rooms and a small flyscreened enclosure for butchering and hanging a sheep, for family consumption.
The farm dogs loved butchering day!
Meat was stored in the cold pantry off the kitchen and any that became "flyblown" (maggotty), was thrown to the dogs.
I was told the routine and learned the way things were done fairly quickly.
In this big kitchen I learned to make rock cakes with lard as shortening, sultanas if there were any available, with currants if the sultanas were all gone. My very first attempt at these was pronounced excellent by the matriarch, Mrs. ** , who told me the previous girl never did get the hang of them.
The routine was fairly simple, up before dawn, start the fire in the kitchen stove and put the big frying pans on to heat. Now when I say big frying pans, I mean BIG. These pans were about 40-45cm across, one was for frying the two dozen eggs needed at breakfast, the other was divided between sausages, bacon and chops. A full loaf of bread was toasted and kept warm in the oven.
I made two of the biggest pots of tea I'd ever seen each morning.
I turned out to be hopeless at getting the fire going, so each morning **** would sneak in and do that for me. Then he'd skedaddle so as not to get caught.
After washing up the breakfast things, and sweeping the floor, I'd scrape all the scraps into a bucket and take it out to the dogs.
Then it was time to prepare the "smoko", which is what morning and afternoon teas were called.
I'd make a huge batch of rock cakes and sandwiches, then get busy baking whatever Mrs ** decided we'd have for the afternoon smoko. Most often this would be a Victoria Sponge, two layers of cake sandwiched with jam and sprinkled with icing sugar.
The family men would have their smoko in the dining room, while the Jackeroos (two of them) and me would eat in the kitchen. I never saw sandwiches and cakes disappear so fast, along with another of those gigantic pots of strong tea.
Lunch followed a few hours later and after cleaning up from that, I had a couple of hours to myself before starting dinner preparations. Time for doing my laundry, reading a book, going for a walk...
In between all the food prep and cleanup, I also had to vacuum the carpets and dust the "good" rooms.
Dinner was a big affair, with mountains of vegetables and often a leg of lamb or a few dozen chops fried in one of those big pans. And always gravy along with a full loaf of bread again. Beef and Chicken were rarely seen. It was a sheep station, after all. Thousands and thousands of sheep over (I think) 200,000 acres. May have been more, I'm not sure of the size of the spread.
I remember one night after dark, Mrs ** coming out onto the porch where I was enjoying the cool of the evening, wondering why I wasn't in the kitchen cleaning up. I explained that cleanup was finished and we went back into the kitchen because she hadn't heard any banging of pots or silverware etc. She told me then I was the quietest housemaid she'd ever had.
I didn't stay on the station long, about three months, but I managed to save almost every penny I earned, since there was nowhere to spend it except for the mail train.
I only got to go along on a mail run once and bought up big on magazines and lollies.
I left because Dad had a letter from Mum saying that she had a job lined up for me in Murray Bridge where she was living. (They'd separated when I was seven and divorced when I was eleven). Both Dad and Mum would have preferred me living in a town and I wasn't fussed either way, so off I went to Murray Bridge.
The promised job didn't happen though, I had a Polish surname then, and the proprietress of the hairdressing establishment decided she couldn't hire me after all.
She wanted someone "more Australian".
I'd lived in Australia since I was 9 months old, how much more Australian could I get?
That's when she mentioned my surname was not suitable. Pfft!!
So I went to work in the milk-bottling /cheese-making factory down on the river bank instead.