Picture of a woodburning stove

In my youth, my mother cooked on a "wood-fired" cast iron stove, although in England ours was generally fired with coal or coke. When we came to Australia, briquettes were popular, although we used wood quite often as we had a plentiful supply from the nearby bush.
When cooking was to be done, the process was: clean out the previous day's ash (so the air could circulate) then crumple up a couple of pages of newspaper and place them inside. Meanwhile, Dad or one of us boys would go to the woodheap, select a log and split it with a small axe into "kindling". This was laid on top of the newspaper and an arm-load of logs was brought inside. Two or three smaller logs were placed on top of the kindling and the paper was set alight.
I gave all that detail to show how much work was involved in simply "lighting the stove"! And then, it had to be maintained for several hours while cooking. Cooking was quite labour-intensive also, as there was very little control over the temperature and the pots often needed to be pulled to the side of the hotplate to prevent burning.

Picture of a gas stove

Later, we graduated to a gas-fired stove, which had an oven. Gas allowed much better control of the temperature of the oven and hot-plates, so the variety and quality of our food was improved, and our various work-loads reduced. We still had to chop wood for the hearth fire, since we had no air-conditioning and this was the cheapest of the three options - wood, gas or electric heating.

Picture of an electric stove

Later again, we bought a stove that had an electric oven and gas stove-top burners. The gas gave us instant heat for general heating and cooking, while the electric oven allowed accurate, dry and finely-controlled cooking for baking, roasting etc. so Mum could really shine!

Picture of a modern stove

Modern stoves have a fan-forced oven function to better distribute the heat, electronic timing and control of start/stop/duration of cooking, as well as other nifty features.
Microwave ovens allow very rapid heating, though they generally have small capacity. Induction cookers heat metal vessels by electromagnetic induction, leaving the cooking top cold.


When I was a boy my mother used to do the washing every Monday. Why? because Monday was washday in England - everybody knew that!
The wash was done in a copper washtub filled with water that was heated by a small fire underneath. This fire, and the hearth fire were usually fueled with coke or coal, delivered by the coalman in bags. He received his bulk supply via coal trains that came from the Yorkshire area. Sometimes coal lumps fell from passing trains and were promptly recovered by my father for use at home.

Stain Removal

The scrubbing board was a corrugated steel board mounted on a frame and clothes were rubbed on this to remove stubborn stains.While in the hot water the washing was prodded and poked with a special wooden stick called a "dolly", to remove stubborn stains. Some were given further attention by rubbing on the scrubbing-board - a piece of corrugated steel sheet mounted on a small wooden frame.

Later Washing Machines

The Hoover twin-tub washer was very popular in The Olden DaysWhen electric washing machines were introduced, they were of course quite primitive by today's standards.
But one that stands out in my memory is the twin-tub washer. The twintub had a tub on the left side where the soiled clothes were placed. The severity and length of the wash was selected, soap powder added and the machine started. When the wash phase was finished the clothes were transferred to the other tub to be spun before hanging to dry.


Picture of a mantel radio from The Olden DaysOur "wireless" was of a reasonable quality, for the time... it had, I think three valves so was fairly powerful. We could hear the BBC quite clearly, most of the time, although occasionally it would develop a whistle that made listening a bit more difficult.
It was a mantel radio with two knobs, the tuning and volume/on-off controls. I believe the aerial was built-in, as I don't recall any wires other than the power cord.

Later on of course, more elaborate models were made that performed much better, but valve radios have become very much a thing of the past, with the advent of solid-state circuitry that not only performs much better, but uses only a fraction of the power and has much longer life.


A telephone used to be for contacting and talking to someone else who had a telephone - end of story; but now it seems this is one of its less-important functions.
Many of the old phones were connected to a "party-line" which served two or more households. If a person wanted to make a call, they had to first pick up the receiver and listen to see if the line was in use by their neighbour (what's privacy?). If it was free they would signal the operator by turning a small generator handle on the phone, ask to be connected to the number they wanted, and wait for this to be done.
The phones were available in "any colour, as long as it was black", so we chose a black one.


Picture of a gramophone record player from The Olden Days

Our record player, or gramophone player as it was known, was a wind-up one with a horn speaker on top next to the turntable. It was built into a box about 450mm by 450mm and, because we liked to keep up with the times, it could play both 78rpm and 45rpm records (there were no 33 1/3 or 16 2/3 then), either 8 inch or 11 inch sizes.
The records themselves were black vinyl discs with a hole in the centre, and were prone to scratching or breaking if treated carelessly. The sound was maybe a little unclear by today's standards, but clear enough to be enjoyable. When it became a bit muffled we knew it was time to clean or change the needle.

Ginger Beer

Ginger beer was very popular as a home-made drink. Ginger was placed in a jar with water, sugar and yeast, and more sugar and ginger added for about a week. It grew and in about a week it was ready to make the brew. The mixture was strained and the liquid placed in bottles with more sugar and water, and started to ferment, while the solid part was returned to the jar and continued to be fed. In about one more week the bottles of ginger beer were ready. Often they would explode while the brew was fermenting.


Because the preparation of hot water took quite some time, being heated in the kettle on the stove, we had "bath-night" once a week on Saturday, so as to be clean for church on Sunday. The same water was re-used by several members of the family.


The mangle, or wringer was operated by turning a handle to rotate two rubber-coated rollers, which squeezed the water from newly-washed clothes.When clothes in the washtub were considered clean, each piece was passed between the rollers of a "mangle", otherwise known as a wringer, that was mounted on either the sink or the floor nearby.
This was a parallel pair of wooden rollers with a rubber coat over them, and they were rotated by turning a handle attached to the end.
The washing was then pegged to the clothesline with wooden pegs until dry.
Later, washing machines had a mangle fitted above the wash-bowl and driven by the washing machine motor, making life easier for the washer-woman (or man)

Hot Water Bottles

It sometimes got very cold in England, and we had earthenware bottles that would be partially filled with hot water to warm up the bed. They had a strong plastic screw-in stopper. New ones could sometimes be obtained from the Rag and Bone Man in exchange for rags or glass bottles.


After the war, there were limited supplies of some goods in England (and many other places) and "rationing" was introduced, to ensure everyone had a fair chance of obtaining some of the scarcer items.
The Government controlled this by the use of coupons, that were issued to families, I think on a monthly basis. When my mother needed sugar for instance, she would go to the local co-op shop and produce her sugar coupon which allowed her to buy a pound of sugar. There were quite a few goods that needed coupons, like tea, flour and some meats.

Soft-drink Bottles

There was a "bounty" on soft-drink bottles ("pop" bottles) of up to thruppence (three pence) a bottle, and it was common for kids - and sometimes adults - to collect these to return to the shop for their deposit. In fact, it was the major or sole source of pocket money for many kids at the time. I've heard that some children (?) actually snuck into the yards at the rear of the drink shops, stole the empty bottles from the crates, and returned them to the shop, or another one for a second deposit.


The icebox of The Olden Days served the purpose of modern-day refrigerators. 
  There was a compartment at the top to hold a large block of ice that provided the cooling.

To keep food fresh, it was necessary to keep it in the icebox. This was a large, upright insulated box, usually about the size of a small modern-day refrigerator. About a quarter of its volume (at the top) was used to hold a large block of ice that was the cooling agent.
The ice was delivered by the ice-man who called about once a week with a small van that held perhaps about fifty of the ice blocks, each about 600mm long and 300mm square. As it melted, the water drained down a pipe at the back of the icebox and was caught in a tray underneath. It was important to remember to empty this tray regularly to avoid a small flood on the kitchen floor. The ice-man's stock was kept cold with dry ice, and sometimes we were given small pieces of this, which we would place in puddles to see it race around on the surface.


Picture of a chain-operated cistern from The Olden Days
We were fortunate to have a flushable toilet when I was a child. The bowl section was not much different from some modern-day ones, but the cistern was quite different. It was made from cast iron and was mounted up high behind the bowl. The flush was activated by pulling on a chain attached to an arm at the side of the cistern.
I can remember being terrified by the noise of the water rushing down when I flushed. Because the toilet was upstairs, I would ensure the toilet ("lav") door was fully open, grasp the chain-handle in one hand, move as close as I could to the door, take a deep breath and pull the chain. Then I would run, two or three steps at a time, as if all the demons of Hell were after me.
Picture of typical outdoor toilet, or outhouse When we moved to Australia, it was a different story. We had an "outside-toilet"" which was near the back fence. It was just a very small shed, an "outhouse" with a wooden bench seat with a large hole in it. Under the bench was a large steel can, maybe 30 litres in capacity. My fear of the "demons from Hell" had been replaced with a (justified) fear of redbacks under the seat.
Once a week, the "dunny-man" would come in his truck to empty the can. He would open the rear of the outhouse and lift the can onto his shoulder, carry it to the truck and tip the contents in before returning it to the outhouse. The Dunny Man was paid quite a large sum of money if a can happened to burst while being carried.


Pictures of some interesting medicines from The Olden DaysOur medicines and pharmaceuticals have changed drastically.
These pictures of old medicines were sent in by Norm.
From some of the label information, they were likely to either cure or kill, depending on your personal stamina at the time!

I recall that my parents firmly believed in the benefits of a regular dose of castor oil. Maybe as a lubricant?

Clothes Iron

When the washed clothes were dry (or sometimes nearly dry) they were brought in in the cane laundry basket for ironing. There were a lot more things ironed then than are now - even underwear would be given a quick "once-over" with the iron to make it nice and wrinkle-free.
The iron was a flat steel plate with a point at one end, much the same as today's irons but without the cord and with a wooden handle. It was heated on the stove-top, then tested with a few drops of water to make sure it wasn't hot enough to burn the clothes.


Picture of a thimble, a small but essential household tool in The Olden Days The ubiquitous Singer sewing machine of The Olden Days

My mother often sewed by hand, for small jobs like clothing repairs. Her "tools of trade" were sewing needles, cotton, and a thimble. But for making clothes, hemming and such, she would use the trusted Singer sewing machine. This was a "treadle" meaning it was operated by treading on a footplate and rocking it back and forth. This turned the mechanism that moved the needle, with the cotton in its eye, up and down. There was a kind of "flywheel" at the top which she would have to turn to start the machine's rotation.


Since our ancestos used strips of bark and animal skin to bind things together, we've come a long way, and found some quite ingenious ways to accomplish this more securely, simply and quickly with buttons, braces, belts, zips, velcro, superglue and many other devices. Some of these are obvious, while others I feel deserve a bit of comment.

Buttons were first made about 5000BC, probably for decorative purposes, but functional buttons with buttonholes for fastening or closing clothes appeared first in Germany in the 13th century. They may be made of plastic, wood, leather, shell or several other materials, and are used for clothing, bags and cases.

Picture of a zip fastener Zip fasteners were invented by Whitcomb L. Judson, an American inventor in 1893. The method, still in use today, is based on interlocking teeth, that are meshed together and unmeshed by moving a slider with a V-shaped groove between them.

Velcro is a "hook-and-loop" fastener invented by Swiss electrical engineer George de Mestral in 1941, and patented by him in 1955. The fastener consisted of a fabric strip with tiny hooks and another with small loops. When pressed together, the hooks were caught by the loops, attaching temporarily, until pulled apart. They were first made with cotton but this was soon replaced with nylon and polyester. The word Velcro comes from the french words "velours" (velvet) and "crochet".

Superglues are made from strong, fast-curing bonding adhesives of the cyanoacrylates group. The chemicals are mildly toxic. The glue typically has a shelf life of about a year unopened, or about one month once exposed to air. The original patent for cyanoacrylate was filed in 1942 by Goodrich Company while searching for materials for clear plastic gun sights for the war effort. It was considered unsuitable for the wartime application, but in 1951, researchers for Eastman Kodak rediscovered cyanoacrylates and a form of the adhesive was first sold in 1958. During the 1960s, Eastman Kodak sold cyanoacrylate to Loctite, which in turn repackaged and distributed it under the name "Loctite Quick Set 404".

Construction fasteners have also surged ahead. From the original nails, screws and bolts, there has emerged a huge array of specialised fasteners. From simple rawlplugs to loxins and dynabolts for super-secure brick and masonry fixing, there seems to be a fastener designed for every type of application. Circlips, split pins, security-screws, non-removable screws, rivets, lock-washers and other smaller components add to the array of hardware now available for securely fastening items of all shapes, sizes and materials.

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