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Getting the washing done

Getting the Washing Done

My adult life seems to have been devoted to getting the washing done. Not for me the predictability of a washing machine in a convenient laundry with a permanent water supply and a handy clothes line. The adventure of my life has been defined by the variety of washing day, ranging from the desert to the ocean and now to the canals of Europe.

My Washing Ancestry

My Aunt, Sister Joan Jurd, has reminded me that  Getting the Washing Done has been an important part of the lives of my family- or at least the female members of it!  She has written:
"Memories of my mother and laundry go back about 90 years. At that time we had no laundry and mother did the washing in the back yard, lighting up the fire for the copper, wringing everything by hand (a mangle came later) and hanging out on clothes wires slung between house and fence posts. A vivid memory from our year in Toowomba in 1917 has never left me (I was 2 to 3 that year). All the laundry, sheets, clothes and nappies for 4 children and Dad and Mum's clothes were bravely blowing in a strong breeze when a vital prop or props collapsed and everything fell into the red dirt so that Mum must have had to do the washing all over again. And Mother didn't swear or cry! I did the latter, realising in my babyish way what a catastrophe it was for her."

My own childhood

I was almost nine years old before my mother first had a washing machine. Its arrival in 1954 coincided with the birth of her sixth child so for all my early life, and for my mother's first five children, washing involved coppers, large cement tubs and mangles as well as washboards made of corrugated glass and framed in timber. In fact, I still have my doll- sized wash board carefully put away. I remember scrubbing my doll's clothes and when they were dry, ironing them with my toy iron. Perhaps I was not then aware of my mother's chapped hands and the burden of washing by hand for a family of seven. The laundry was away from the house across a small lawn area, in a fibro building especially constructed for the purpose.



The machine which entered our lives in 1954 was a "Lightburn", made by a company whose main product was cement mixers. It seems that they used the same style features for their washing machine. It was a twin-tub affair so still involved a high level of participation by the laundress but was reliable and effective, a great improvement on washing by hand.

Lightburn Washing Machine

Variety- the Spice of Life

In 1971, David and I married and set up our first home. We bought a semi-automatic washing machine. I cannot now remember if that was because we could not afford an automatic or if we thought we were not yet entitled to jump ahead of our mothers, then both using semi- automatics. This machine served me quite well, but I was always trying to save water by doing tricky things with the machine and wash tub. As a result there were quite a few times when the hose was in the wrong place so that the water overflowed, running down the hallway because the laundry had no drain. Fortunately we had wooden floors.
Probably my most memorable experience at this time was when I dyed the nappies pink. I washed our red bedspread and re- used the rinse water on the nappy wash. Just as well the nappy- wearers at that time were daughters, not sons! The pink never did wash out.
This period of my laundry life was made interesting by its variety. We (David, our two eldest daughters and I) had several long trips to remote places with David's employer, the Bureau of Mineral Resources, and then in 1978 we drove around Australia in our Landrover. Laundry became a very big issue. When we were with the Bureau I was well served because they took with them a wringer/ washer, powered by a generator. On washing day the men would start this up before they left for their day's field work. They also went to the nearest river or water tank to fill the tanker so that I had enough water. The view from the "laundry" was unlimited, and usually the clothes (strung on clothes line rope erected by the helpful fellows) dried very well, completely exposed to wind and sun, to say nothing of the birds, desert sand and wind- borne seed. Some of the sheets I washed in those times still bear orange traces of the desert.


Clothes drying well, at Pooncarie, NSW. Hope the bird leaves my pegs behind.

When we were on our own in 1978 we needed to adapt to not having a washing machine. After one of the earlier trips with the Bureau we had ended up with the outside portion of a bush toilet. The outside was unused; the inside had been used only to cook up a large number of rabbits which were in plague proportions and had to be killed because they kept eating the plastic casing on the wires the men were stringing. Armed with this container and its secure lid we fashioned a washing machine for the trip. It was mounted on the front of our Landrover. In the morning I would fill it up with water, powder and clothes, and with the vehicle bumping over outback roads, the agitation cycle would be complete by lunch time. Then I would squeeze the clothes and replace the water so that the afternoon was devoted to the rinse cycle. I would hang the clothes out at night and in the warm air would have clean dry clothes by morning.


Our camp with the wash tub on the front of the Landrover

Stuck in Canberra
After our trip around Australia, we settled down to normal life. In 1979 we had our first complete Canberra winter, a great shock to the system, then in 1980 we moved to a bigger house and started adding to our family. By the time we left this house to move to Sydney, thereby again escaping the Canberra winter, we had six children.
The 1980 house was of two stories with the family rooms upstairs and the laundry downstairs, an after- thought at the back of the garage,. We needed an automatic machine now, because when they were little the children did not want to be left alone upstairs and there was nowhere in the garage for them to play safely. Also, there was a great deal of washing to be done. I used to rely on the ABC'S "Playschool" to babysit the children for half an hour in the morning while I got the washing on, then we all had a trip to put the clothes out once the load was finished.
The clothes line was way down the back ,set into an area of large pebbles, not a good play space for the little ones. Fortunately there was a swing in a separate part of the yard, so putting the clothes out was alternated with pushes on the swing and arbitrating "turns". By the time our fifth child was born, in the middle of a Canberra winter, my definition of a good day was one where I had been able to get the washing dry. I developed the trick of "freeze- drying" the clothes, leaving them out overnight in Canberra's sub- zero temperatures, then bringing them in once they had thawed out in the morning.

The next step was the family's move to Sydney where doing the washing became much easier because the children were older, with only the youngest not yet at school. I had the freedom to come and go to the clothesline without having to organise it as a major expedition. The laundry was outside but quite accessible though the clothesline was a long way from the house. At this time we acquired a dog whose main love in life was running, with a secondary interest in herding. The main focus for her rounding- up was the washing trolley and I could not wheel the clothes to the line without her coming to make sure I went the right way. At times I would deliberately wander off the shortest route and she would get very worried, nipping at the wheels to get me back on track. She would wag her tail in triumph when we reached the clothes line.
There was still much washing to be done, at least ten loads each week, but I maintained one rule throughout all these years: no washing in Sunday. That was my definition of a "day of rest". By this time sorting the clothes became more taxing than the washing. Faced with five children of similar sizes (the youngest was still much smaller) I needed to devise a way of being sure who owned the many socks, undies, blouses and t- shirts. Each child was allocated a different colour and I meticulously sewed that colour onto their clothes, a fair effort but worth it to get garments back to their wearer.


After thirty years of marriage, David and I started to slow down and embrace retirement. I found that one thing I cannot retire from is the laundry. However, there is much less of it now, only two or three loads a week instead of two or three a day. We have moved to a smaller home. My laundry is again downstairs, and my washing hangs over a sheer drop. I need to peg it very carefully but the view is a reward in itself.
The main challenge for me these days is getting the clothes clean and dry while we are on sailing voyages. During our trip to Papua New Guinea and the Solomon Islands in 2002 we had four people on board so there was quite a bit of washing. We mounted a large barrel with a lid at the bow of the boat and used a system similar to that successful during our trip around Australia. This did not work so well because on a long sailing trip there are no stops, so no chance to go to the bow to change the clothes to the next cycle. Unless we were moving the clothes were not agitated so the benefit of was lost.

Washing Barrel #2

Also, it is hard to peg the clothes to the lifelines (my clothesline) while we are en route, and even harder to keep the pegs in place with the sails needing to move freely. In the end, I washed by hand while we were anchored. An added problem was the shortage of water so that all the washing and rinsing had to be done with maximum water efficiency.
After losing several socks and undies over the side, as well as one large blanket (fortunately in a marina where we could retrieve it) I developed much safer techniques of pegging the clothes to the lifelines, always three pegs per garment (even socks) and everything hung evenly over the rail.

For our next voyage to Vanuatu and the Solomon Islands in 2006 we again had four people on board but decided not to take the barrel. This time I washed by hand but seemed to miss out often on land visits because I had to stay at the boat getting the washing done. We were able to collect water on this trip so that was less of a problem. One night In Vanuatu our rubber boat filled with water so I could sit in it and use the collected water, retained in two separate compartments- my first ever twin tub. I very much enjoyed not stinting on the amount of rinsing water.

The "twin tub"

The very best washing set- up was at Wagina in the Solomon Islands. We were anchored in a beautiful lagoon just near the local fishing co- op. It was equipped with full water tanks and also shelters with benches of a height just right for washing in a bucket. We had the villagers' permission to use as much water as we needed there was plenty of space to hang a washing line. The result was a very satisfactory day getting the washing done.

Wagina, Solomon Islands

Our final two long trips have been very much easier for laundry, with fewer people to wash for and destinations where there were washing machines. In New Caledonia (2007) we could not find any laundromats, so we took the clothes to the laundry. The main problem was that one sock went missing every time, all of them mine.

At the beginning of the trip to Tasmania (2009) we lost our dinghy and were unable to get off the boat, so it was back to the old hand- washing techniques, though as we could not go anywhere, I was not left out of any excursions. We were very pleased to be able to go ashore at last in Eden but the laundromat was up the top of a very steep hill. Still, small price to pay to get to a washing machine. The rest of the trip was a combination of hand washing and laundromats until we returned to Eden with a huge pile of washing. We carted it up the hill only to discover that the laundromat had closed down in the three weeks since our last visit. My disappointment showed how tied I remain to my lifelong priority: getting the washing done.

Luxury at last

In April 2010 David and I travelled to Europe for the first step in a long- held dream, to buy a barge so that we could gradually explore Europe by travelling on its canals and rivers. We set certain criteria for the boat we wanted but "a washing machine" did not make it onto the list of "must haves" as David was convinced there would surely be lots of convenient laundromats. I was not so sure but could agree that other aspects such as size, condition and the number of cabins were all more important.

Imagine my joy then when we found "Anja", a Boltjalk built in 1903 in Friesland, Holland. She was beautiful, right size, right number of cabins,  good condition and very comfortable, not too much more than our desired price.

Anja, our European Home


Her previous owners had lived on her all year round and had added all sorts of touches to make her more comfortable including a WASHING MACHINE. The offer was made and accepted and we were the proud owners of a very beautiful old boat complete with not only a washing machine but even two extendable clothes lines under cover but with good airflow. No more traipsing to "Laveries" (we were in France), no more stringing clothes along the life lines and in the rigging. The instructions were in Dutch and at first the machine took a lot of power and a very long time to wash a load until we discovered the Dutch word for "Cold" and chose a different cycle.  What a luxury to be able to wash a load as we sailed along the canal and hang it out as soon as we arrived.

The washing dries well on the "back verandah"

Perhaps this is the the final chapter in getting the washing done, the perfect combination between our love of exploring, of experiencing different life styles and seeing beautiful places and getting the clothes clean with very little effort.




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