Depression In The 1930's

It was Christmas day and Geraldine Naughton; aged 76 had all her family around for lunch. Her two daughters told her to sit down in the lounge while they organized the food. One of her grandson’s, Brent decided to sit beside her and asked if he could look at her photo albums again. This always gave her joy to show her old photos and to reminisce.
The first album was of her as a baby and up to the age of 11. The second album was of her at the age of 12 years and on. Brent always asked her to tell him about the photos, the time of the Depression and when she was 12 years old, just the same age as he was now.
One photo always caught her grandson’s eye, which had been taken by Geraldine’s father with her box brownie camera that her parents had given on her 10th birthday. The photo was of her sitting on the bed, leaning on the window sill, staring out into the dirty street, thinking of the things that had happened to her and her family over the last few weeks prior to the events leading up to leaving their first home.
From there, Geraldine talked about her life as she showed the rest of the photos to Brent.
The family had been living on a farm outside a town called Brookton, in the wheat belt of Western Australia, which was owned by Geraldine’s Granddad Naughton. The family consisted of her mother, father, her brother Harry and herself, who was four and half years younger that herself.
The house she lived in, was situated off a side track from the driveway that went to the main house and it was a three room building with the front half made from cement bricks and the back half made from red house brick. At the front of the house was a cement verandah which ran from the front door, to the right and down the side.
She remembers, when you went through the front door, you entered a passage way. There was one door on either side of the passage. The one on the left was the dining room and the one on the right was the bedroom, which was divided into two by a curtain suspended on a rod of which holes were knocked into the wall to hold it in place. In one half of the room was where her father and mother had their double bed. In the other half was the two single beds for her brother and herself.
At the end of the passage way was a room of which on the left was the kitchen and on the right, behind a half built wall was the laundry which only had a big tub to wash clothes in and next to it was a big copper pot which her mother had to light a fire under to boil the water.
On the farm, the crops that were grown were wheat and barley. The animals consisted of sheep, cows and pigs which when the time came, were killed for the meat or sold when the money ran out. The milk from the cows and the wool from the sheep were used on the farm and the extra was also sold. Out the back of the house was her mothers veggie garden and Geraldine always loved getting her hands dirty helping mother prepare the ground for the next crop of vegetable in season or weeding.
Geraldine’s father had a share in the farm, working along side his two brothers Harold and James. Geraldine always loved living on the farm, but one day her father died suddenly, and later in the same year, Grandma Milton, who lived in town, died of a heart attack and the family started to find it hard to live on the farm. Her mother decided they would have to pack up and go live with Granddad Milton and Aunt Daphne.
Aunt Daphne, who was about 45 years old and unmarried, had a good job working as a clerk at the general store. She paid a generous amount from her wage towards the upkeep of the house hold. The only other money that came in was from Granddad Milton’s pension which was only one pound a week at that time, and the meager money from Geraldine’s fathers shares, was also very low. Just a hand out you would say.
On each second week, the relations from the farm would come to town bearing a small amount of produce which they handed over magnanimously.
The town house that they moved to was larger than the farm house as it had six rooms. The two front rooms were the sitting room and the main bedroom which Geraldine shared with mother as well as the bed, while her brother had the sleep out to himself on the front verandah. The other three rooms were the kitchen, Granddad’s room, and Aunt Daphne’s bedroom.
Once a week, Geraldine’s mother, brother and herself would have a bath in a big tub in front of the kitchen fire place and share the same water, as it came from two – two hundred gallon rain water tanks and it was used for everything. Geraldine liked to grow things, but there would be no water to spare, except the bath water which was never wasted.
Every other day they would wash from a wash basin that was on a cupboard in their rooms and in the bottom of this cupboard would be found a chamber pot which the older folk would used at night instead of the out house, which was always found 30 yards down the back yard. Geraldine said she was scared to go there at night because of the strange noises that were about.
Every night a man known as the night man, would come around with his flat top trolley which had drums with handles and change the toilet drums. The night man was short; stoutly build and everybody liked him, even though he had a dirty job.
Washing clothes was done in a back shed. It was set out like the farm laundry, except that one corner had blankets hanging from the rafters making Granddads dark room, where he developed his own slides of film. A work bench near by was used for photo work and wood work which he loved to do. The clothes line would meander across the yard in two directions.
Geraldine and her brother would have to cross a creek, then walk half a mile to school and go home for lunch, except on very few occasion they would be able to take sandwiches. If the creek was flooded, they would have to take the long way around to get to school. When times weren’t too bad, she would get a bit of pocket money, until Aunt Daphne went away to get married to an uncle-in-law in South Australia where they were allowed to marry because of being distantly related, unlike in Western Australia where it was against the law.
Pocket money and money in general started to become tighter and mother would always buy cheap oranges of which at times turned out to be quite sour to eat. Geraldine said she couldn’t eat apples at that time because she had bad teeth. Until the age of 21, other food the family would eat, was a combination of limb beans, tapioca and hard boiled eggs mixed together with only salt added for flavoring. For breakfast they ate semolina or rolled oats. So she looked around for an idea to raise some money. She came up with the idea of going around the neighborhood, door to door, asking if the lady of the house would like to order home made cakes or pies, then on every Saturday she would cook the items at home and deliver them when they were ready.
She learnt how to cook from cooking lessons at school. The students learnt to cook pasties, scones, fairy cakes and pastry which were used to make tarts. These items could be taken home, but when they made stews, this had to be eaten at school.
Just this little bit of money had at times tied the family over until the next lot of money came in from the pension and farm shares.
Geraldine could remember the two private hospitals that were near by. One was just around the corner from her Granddad’s home, of which a Sister Peggy owned and ran the operation of it. She was just like a doctor to the community, but she preferred to work in the maternity ward the most. The other private hospital had been converted from an old house. It was a few blocks away and was owned and operated by Great Aunt Agather.
In those days, there was no hospital benefit fund or any other aid and not much money to use for a doctor at that time. If it was a minor ailment, her mother would fix it. The old remedies for ear ache were to have warm olive oil poured into the ear. If you had ringworm, kerosene was use and it was also used with olive oil to get rib of head lice. One time Geraldine remembers coming home from school and she had head lice. Her mother was so upset, to think that her daughter was so unclean; she got a knife and cut off Geraldine’s hair short which had been shoulder length ringlets.
On another occasion, Geraldine got very sick and had at times broken down and cried all the time, which was the only time she cried like this. All her mother could do was cuddled her until it subsided. If you had diarrhea, castor oil was administered and for indigestion or feeling sick a powder called Seidlidz was given. It came in two sachets of paper rolled up. The first one was white sachet which was poured into a glass of water, followed by the blue sachet which made the water fizz.
The next photo that Brent came across was showing a group of people on a beach. This was the time when the family was on holidays, which were on rare occasions. Denmark was the usual destination for these holidays and the whole family would have to catch the train at 4.30 am to get there.
Brent said he wouldn’t have like to have got up so early in the morning to catch a train, but would prefer to have stayed in bed and slept in.
Geraldine said the worst part about not having plenty of money was that she always got second hand shoes which always caused blisters and clothes. One time she remembers getting a purple crepe dress which she hated, but had to wear. The best new thing over all that she got was a navy wool blazer that her mother made.
The next photo was the family sitting around the Xmas tree one year handing out the presents. Geraldine told her grandson that she remembered leaving a piece of fruit cake and a glass of milk out for Father Xmas and then she asked Brent what he had left out this time for him. He said he left a lamington and a bottle of home made ginger beer that his mother had made and hoped that Father Xmas drank ginger beer.
The next lot of photos was of different birds, which Geraldine explained being a loner, and on every opportunity, she would go into the bush for a walk and try to get back to nature for a while. She loved taking her camera along just in case an opportunity arose and she could still remember the names of every bird in those photos.
A medium size photo fell on the fall. Brent picked it up and gave it to Geraldine. Looking at it for a moment, more memories of the passed flooded in. She could picture herself visiting the elderly people in her district and one particular couple was these ladies in the picture, sisters and they were both single. One was in a wheel chair and she always made a fuss over Geraldine every time she visited them and this made her feel very uncomfortable.
Brent asked his Grandmother what entertainment they had. Geraldine said she remembered the old radio they had as there was no TV in those days. The radio sat on a small table in one corner of the kitchen and everyone would sit around it to hear the news, music or a serial.
One night she could remember there was a very bad thunder storm with gale force winds and Granddad said they couldn’t have the radio on, so Geraldine and rest of the family sat around as usual and talked. All of a sudden sparks started coming down the wire which lead up through the ceiling to a pole on the roof to the antenna for the radio. We were all sitting there wondering if the sparks would start a fire in the house, but it didn’t. The next morning the family found out that the neighbor across the road had their chimney blown off the roof and their toilet house out back had been blown over. Luckily, no one was using it at the time.
Brent had just got to the end of the second photo album, when his mother poked her head around the door frame and said that lunch was ready. He dropped the album into Grandmother’s lap and took off at full speed to get a good seat. Geraldine laid the album down on the coffee table, stood up and moved to the mantelpiece were a photo of her late husband was. “Merry Xmas Bill” she said, and then she made her way to the dining room to join her family in the Xmas spirit.

Depression In The 1930's


Bunbury, Australia

  • Artist

Artist's Description

Memories came flooding back as Geraldine looked through photos of her life during the 1930 depression with her 12 year old grandson at Xmas time.

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