When laundry day was a serious workout

YourLifeChoices’ 91-and-a-half-year-old columnist Peter Leith continues his series of short stories recording Vanishing Australia. Today, he describes laundry day.

As young newlyweds in Adelaide in the early 1950s, we moved into an old, four-room red-brick house with a sleep-out on one side and a free-standing garage on the other.

It was, and still is, in Payneham, in Adelaide.

At the back, the entire width of the house consisted of a concrete floored area with the bathroom at one end and the laundry at the other. The bathroom housed a wash basin, gas water heater, bath with a shower over it, and the toilet.

At the other end, and separated from it by the back door, was the wood-fired copper and two connected concrete troughs. All three had their own, cold water tap and – a wedding present from the in-laws – a hand-powered wringer mounted on the division between the troughs.

Every Monday morning, before having my shower and shaving, I would fill the copper with water and light the fire under it.

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Showered, shaved and breakfasted, I would then make sure there was enough firewood and the copper stick and tongs were in position.

After I had left for work, the wife would put the sheets and pillowcases and any other ‘whites’ and ‘boilables’ into the copper first and boil them. Whenever necessary, she would stir the contents of the copper with the copper stick. Once they were ‘cooked’ to her satisfaction, she would, with the tongs, convey them to the adjacent, cold water-filled trough. There, they would be dunked and rinsed, then put through the hand wringer into the second trough of cold water and stirred.

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The last step before their journey to the clothesline was another run through the hand wringer and into the laundry basket.

In 1952 Adelaide, the young housewife who did not have her washing on the line by 10am, or 11am if she had babies, was – to say the least – dilatory if not actually slovenly.

Do you recall the days of copper-boiled laundry and hand wringing? Is the washing machine the best invention ever? Do you have a story or an observation for Peter? Send it to [email protected] and put ‘Sunday’ in the subject line.

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Written by Peter Leith



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