The Sitting Room
This room, the sitting room, lounge or front room was always considered to be the ‘best room’. It was a very formal room, used by the family for special occasions who always wore their best clothes and shoes. Visitors entered through the front door, tradesmen and family members used the back door.
The dusting and polishing was carried out carefully, almost reverently, as most items could have been heirlooms or brought from the ‘old country’. Children were not allowed to touch these pieces and woe betide the child who broke anything!
People of importance were shown into the front room, and served tea from the best china. In later years when formality eased, this room had a more general use, being the favoured place at the end of each workday. Two chairs placed each side of the fireplace, one for mother to knit or embroider, the other for father to smoke the last pipe of the day and in later years listen to the wireless (radio) or gramophone. Meals were rarely eaten in the sitting room, except on special occasions, Christmas and family gatherings. It is said that the Russ family held dances in this room. Even in death, the coffin commenced its journey to the cemetery from the sitting room – a room of importance in life and of final respect in death.
RUSS FAMILY OBJECTS
A decorative small teapot, now with small chips on the spout, was probably used for special morning or afternoon teas such as when the vicar visited. Donated by Leslie Fowler, husband of Irene Russ, granddaughter of Titus Russ.
With a delicate fruit bowl design stitched on paper, Titus’s mother, Mrs Clementina Russ, did this beautiful but now fragile sampler.
Donor: Pearl Elizabeth Thompson nee Field, granddaughter of Titus Russ.
Child’s China Plate c1880
Now with the pastoral scene worn and faded, Caroline Russ used this small child’s china plate for her children. Donated by Leslie Fowler, husband of Irene Russ, granddaughter of Titus Russ.
Glass Cake Stand c1880
Owned by Caroline Russ, wife of Titus, this heirloom was passed along to her son Walter and then to Thelma Killen (nee Field) the granddaughter of Caroline. Thelma passed the stand to her daughter Elizabeth, Caroline’s great grand daughter.
Octagonal Table c1871
This octagonal table has been associated with all three generations of the Russ Family during the time they owned and lived in the cottage. Donated by Leslie Fowler, husband of Irene Russ, granddaughter of Titus Russ
The Main Bedroom
This bedroom was the sleeping area for mother, father and baby, until another came along to take its place.
The cot was positioned on mother’s side of the bed. Basic furniture was bedstead often cast iron or brass, chest of drawers, wash stand. The trunk probably held the family’s possessions on the long sea voyage from England. The bedroom was a welcome haven at the end of a long workday (unless baby was screaming). Often an embroidered biblical message hung over the bed.
Adults’ clothing was minimal – one or two sets of clothes for working, one for ‘second best’ and ‘Sunday best’, the latter being very elaborate.
Sometimes the main bedroom housed the sewing machine, if mother was fortunate enough to own one. Mending, darning and other sewing chores were often done here. Clothing was worn until it was outgrown, patched on patches, or could be recycled as hand-me-downs for another family member.
Shaving gear for father – brush, cut-throat razor, strop and bowl were kept on the washstand. Mother’s hairdressing implements – curling tongs, butterfly clips, brushes and combs lay on the chest of drawers.
Very few homes had a bathroom with running water, bath, shower, basin and toilet as we have today. Water was kept in a large jug and poured into a basin for the morning face wash.
A towel rail kept the towels aired and ready for use. A chamber pot was kept under the bed or in a small cupboard.
This saved a long dash during the night as the toilet or dunny was an earth closet or pan system situated well away from the house, down the back yard!
A Victorian Childhood
Children of Caroline Russ (nee Wintle) Johnson and James Waterson Johnson. Left to right: Emily, Bessie, Samuel, James
Country children of the late nineteenth, and even into the mid-twentieth century lived a relatively harsh life by today’s standards. Families were often large, ten children in one family being quite usual.
Each child had their own set of chores about the house and farm, responsibility growing as the child grew. Collecting eggs, tending the vegetables, feeding the horse, milking the cow and chopping wood, were all part of a child’s day. Many children did not attend school, as there was no school in the area. Children who were fortunate enough to gain a limited education, had to do their chores before walking up to three miles to school, many barefooted.
Each child was lucky to have two sets, perhaps three, of clothes – one for working, one for school and one for Sunday best. Garments were handed down from child to child – note the wear of the tiny shoes on display. Clothes were made at home, from Dad’s trousers, Mum’s dress, or any other garment no longer required.
Cottage kitchens were small, but the heart of family living. Food was prepared and eaten in this room and in many cases personal hygiene such as the once a week bath was performed in a portable metal bath or galvanised wash tub. Some kitchen activity such as washing and preparing vegetables were undertaken outside the back door under the shade of a tree or a simple bush pole verandah-come shade house.
Note the importance of the large stone fireplace that absorbed heat and helped warm the cottage in winter, but in summer it was hot. The warm shelf to the right would have been an ideal spot to prove bread dough, the yeast being activated to raise (prove) the mixture.
The wood fire was the source of energy for everything, but fire posed a risk – hence the earth floor, in case coals fell out. In this cottage the kitchen floor is compacted crushed termite (white ant) mound. There was no running water, no gas, no electricity, hence no refrigeration or electric kitchen gadgets. There were many hand operated devices such as milk separators, butter churns, meat grinders, sausage makers, candle moulds, toasting forks, remembering you had to slice the bread yourself as there was no sliced bread.
Milk was added to the churn, than turning he handle caused the paddle inside to mix the milk until the milk fat clumped together, separating it from the liquid whey. The solids are then washed and salt added. Using the butter pats the final whey is removed and the butter is shaped into a block.
All early irons needed to be heated on a wood stove. Flat irons were heated by placing them directly on top of the stove. The Box Iron was heated by placing red-hot coals from the fire inside the iron.
The coals had to be loaded carefully and then the iron was then thoroughly cleaned of any ash or coal dust before ironing the clean sheets!
Many households made their own candles. If money was available to purchase whale oil or kerosene for use in lamps, this was often reserved for the sitting room and kitchen where good light was required.Candles were used in the bedrooms.Made of tin, the 8 candle mold was used domestically to make candles. Cotton wicks were hung inside each and then the liquid wax was poured in.
The candle wax was obtained from rendered animal fat which had been mixed with sodium hydroxide, a dangerous chemical process.
No supermarket down the road full of convenience foods for our early settlers. Food was ordered in bulk from the general store in town, and it sold everything. The basics such as flour, sugar and salt all came in bags about the size of a bag of potting mix. Biscuits, dried fruit, oatmeal and other dry foods were weighed at the shop and packed in brown paper bags.
Fresh fruit and vegetables were seasonal, except for potatoes, which were less perishable. Self-sufficiency was essential with a cow for milk and cream from which butter was made. Chooks provided eggs that were so precious they were preserved by smearing them with grease. Fig, mulberry, almond trees and a grapevine together with a vegetable garden provided limited ingredients for jams, pickles and sauces.
Selling or exchanging food with neighbours was a common practice, particularly
With no refrigeration, meat spoiled rapidly. The diet was often supplemented with rabbit or kangaroo meat, pigeons and galahs.
Meals were simple and depended on the economics of the family.
Breakfast could consist of oatmeal porridge, fried eggs, fried bread (the bread being home made) and washed down with strong tea. Lunch was probably a wedge of bread and dripping or cheese, and more strong tea.
The evening meal may have been a stew, chops, tripe, liver or even brains, accompanied by potatoes and vegetables from the garden. Puddings, such as Spotted Dick, Rice Custard and Jam Roly Poly finished the meal.
The Sunday Roast was a special meal, with the joint being used for the next few days as Shepherd’s Pie, and cold meat sandwiches.
Preventing contamination and spoilage of food was quite difficult. The vented mesh enclosed ‘safe’ protected against mice, flies and other vermin and was used for short term storage of food such as cooked meat, pies, jams, pickles, relish, cheese and butter. The closest thing to a refrigerator was the Coolgardie safe, which was a galvanised metal frame covered with hessian. By keeping the hessian soaked with water the evaporation kept the contents relatively cool, the water often attracted stinging bees, so opening the safe could be a difficult operation.
This type of safe was usually located outside the back door in a shady spot, preferably in a breeze which assisted evaporation.
Long-term food preservation included smoking, salting, dehydrating, or cooking fruit, vegetables and meat and then storing the product in jars of vinegar, brine or syrup.