what I did when I was sixteen...no, no, not that. I was a good girl.....

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.


  1. That was definitely a full days work....how I would have loved to see that huge frypan in action.

  2. I visited working family farms when I was a girl and was astounded at all the work and at how my parents pitched in. Your story addresses all the work as matter of factly as I saw it being done. The amount of physical labor still staggers me.

  3. My husband comes from the country and he hates lamb, I'm from the city and I like it but I didn't eat it everyday as he did.
    Things sure have changed your story brings back memories of my uncles farm.

  4. What an interesting story! Your experiences during those three months is beyond anything I've ever known outside of books and movies. I especially like that the young man lit the fire for you every morning. Sounds like the potential makings for a wonderful romance.

  5. This is fascinating. Undoubtedly hard work, but thank you so much for telling us about it. Do you still make rock cakes? And did you have to do all the cooking and cleaning?

  6. Your family were probably German-speaking Poles, there are lots near the border with Germany.

  7. What a neat story!

    I don't think anyone has been that honest about "why wasn't this person hired" in a couple of decades now. At least you know it wasn't really YOU. It was her.

  8. River, I'm tired now, I think I'll just have a nice lie down.
    My first part time job was at a service station run by a friend of my father's. I was to answer the phone and total up the day receipts which never balanced, ever. I found out later he was very good with pocketing part of the day's takings which is why nothing balanced.
    And this is typical me, with my first pay I bought a hat, white satin pillbox with a handmade rose on top and delicate veiling. It's taken me 50 years to learn how to save but I wouldn't have left that hat.

  9. Delores; the huge frying pans were quite heavy, luckily I didn't have to move them much until washing up time. I just left them on the stove and transferred cooked foods to platters for the tables.

    Joanne; it was full days of physical labour, but it didn't seem at all like hard work to me. In all the jobs I've had, none seemed like hard work until I worked for Coles. It's true what they say, it isn't work if you love what you are doing.

    Merlesworld; I hate lamb too. To my palate it's greasy and tasteless. I didn't mind it back then, but I won't touch it now.

    Susan; there was a strong friendship, maybe a tiny romance, but it didn't work out. For one thing, I wasn't very happy about the smell of sheep that permeated all clothing worn by the men.

    Elephant's Child; I haven't made rock cakes since my kids were little. I did all of the cooking there, but not all the cleaning. Mrs ** did the family laundry and her personal rooms, I did my own laundry and cleaned the kitchen, bathroom and dining room as well as dusting in the hallway and living room.

    R.H. my family were German, but my father's family were Polish a few generations before so the name carried on.

    Happy Elf Mom; she actually said to me her clients wouldn't be able to pronounce the name. which is ridiculous, since my christian name is English enough and easy to say.

    JahTeh; you're tired from reading about my days there? I remember my very first paypacket, back in the days when they handed out cash in little envelopes...I was working in a railway cafeteria and my first pay bought me a sleeveless white blouse with a frilly collar and a pair of white stretch nylon shorts. At fifteen, I wasn't at all fond of hats.

  10. Fascinating account! What was for lunch?

  11. That's a huge job for a 16-year-old. Were you homesick?

  12. A great insight into your early life and life on the stations. I really liked this post, great reading.

  13. That is one of the most interesting stories I've ever read and thank you so much for sharing it with me. You certainly found in no uncertain manner what hard work is all about but the experience would have been good for you.
    I can quite believe the hairdresser didn't want a foreign name working for her. How many girls are called by their surname anyway? Ridiculous. When P... and his first wife lived in Adelaide after emigrating in 1960 he found the people of Adelaide not very friendly and he was English and not from the continent. I think they have changed now as my daughter loves Adelaide when she goes there with her hubby.
    By the way, P... loves rock cakes so perhaps a recipe???

  14. Love the story River. My parents were both brought up on farms and can remember steak or chops and eggs for breakfast every morning.... So much meat.

    Laughed at you not being good at lighting the fire.

  15. mm; usually sliced cold meat from the latest roasted lamb leg with an array of pickles and chutneys and tomato sauce was laid out with dishes of tomato/onion salad, green salad and another loaf of bread, everyone helped themselves and made sandwiches. There was cheese too and as always the giant pot of tea.

    jabblog; not at all homesick and I learned quite a lot of cooking. Nothing fancy, but plain filling food that would keep a man working all day.

    Kymbo; thank you and thanks for the shout from your site.

    Mimsie; it didn't seem like hard work to me, just cooking and housework like I'd been doing at home anyway, just more of it more often. I loved it. I don't think I would have stayed indefinitely though. Life had other plans for me. I don't know if I still have a rock cake recipe. I'll look through my books and do a test run first before posting if I find a recipe.

    A Farmer's Wife; I could light the fire in the wood stove at home, so this shouldn't have been a problem, but the station woodstove was much larger and the fire needed to be hot really quickly.
    I remember still having chops or sausages and eggs for breakfast after I went to live with mum. Bacon too, my brother easily polished off 4 eggs, bacon and two or three sausages plus toast every morning. I'd eat one egg and a couple of strips of bacon. Those were the days when meals were built around the meat.

  16. Loved reading your story. You must have had to work terribly hard. You could write a book.

  17. Great story! Loved it.

    Having worked on various farms (wheat, sheep, dairy), I can relate to the hard work involved. Hard, but an honest day - and, certainly slept well at night!

  18. Great story. Interesting how the jackaroos sat on their own to eat, but that was the way things were then.

  19. Molly; the work wasn't that hard, I enjoyed it, but I wasn't there long enough to gather experiences for a book.

    Vicki; hard and honest makes for peaceful sleep I've found. Were you one of those..I think they're called "woofers" who go around working on farms?

    Andrew; the Jackeroos were the youngest of the hired hands, so sat in the kitchen with me, they were 19 and 17, brothers. The older men were family members so sat in the dining room with their Ma. Out in the fields they'd all sit together.

  20. No, but after leaving the city, I moved around the countryside, trying my hand at everything on any farm - driving massive tractors, delivering lambs and calves, veggie picking, rock stacking, cattle round up on horseback, fencing and rousabout.
    One farmer was too tight to get in a cook at shearing, so I was rousabout AND cook to all the shearers.
    Racing from shed to house and back again for morning/afternoon tea and lunch, washing up then having to catch up with the fleece was a royal pain in the arse!
    Boy, did I sleeeep well!! And so glad when shearing was over.
    And on the dairy, four o'clock mornings to get the cows in was trying in the cold winter. But lovely watching the sun come up over the farmlands to the ocean beyond.

  21. Vicki; wow! your farming years were much harder than my three months on the station.

  22. So interesting that they all sat together out of the house but not dining together at meal time within the house. It is a great illustration of how society worked back then.


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