Big day: Opening of the Armidale electricity works in 1922. Even by the early 1950s, many homes did not have access to either electricity or town water.This is the third in a new series on domestic life and the rhythms of childhood
One of Australian poet Mary Gilmore’s poems is called The Saturday Tub. The poem is a nostalgic look at childhood. The writer, dreaming by the fire, is thrown back where I used to be in eighteen hundred and something three.
The children line up to take their turn in front of a bath the size of a churn. It was, 'where's the flannel?" and, "Mind the soap!" Slither and slide, and scuffle and grope. Clean, they are dried, dressed in a night dress and packed of to bed with a prayer.
Today, we take a hot shower for granted, a necessity to get our day started. We forget how recent this is. Perhaps we only learn this when people start reminiscing.
A hot shower or bath is actually a complex process.. It requires water, a way of heating and transporting the water, a way of disposing of the waste water.
In most of the early town in New England and
Southern Queensland water came from local
streams, from wells, from the sky as rain stored in tanks. It was in short
reply and not always very good.
At Hillgrove where water was always short, run-off from
carried filth and rubbish accumulated from homes and businesses down the ridge to
form putrid pools. At Inverell, the shallower town cesspits polluted the deeper
water wells. In both cases, disease and death resulted.
The newly formed but short of funds municipal councils looked to improve the situation.
In Armidale, the council first developed a well in the market square, but was then forced to look for a bigger solution. The result was the Dumaresq Dam. and the first municipal water supply in 1897. Glen Innes was slower, developing a scheme to pump water from the river in 1918.
Other towns came along in their own way and at their own pace, with water supply depending upon the precise geography of the area as well as available funds. Outside the towns, the small settlements and farming properties remained dependent on tanks, dams and streams.
First gas and then electricity did spread, but the process was slow and variable. Wood remained the dominant fuel for cooking and heating in the towns and countryside and still does in many places.
As late as the early 1950s, some houses in Armidale still had no electricity nor access to town water. Other towns were in a similar position.
Marsh Street in Armidale where I grew up,
we had both electricity and town water. However, wood was still our main fuel.
The house well had been filled in, but we had two big tanks, one providing
water to the house, the other to the out-door laundry with its big copper and
In my next column, I will share with you some of the nostalgic memories of the days before hot showers were possible.
Note to readers: This post appeared as a column in the Armidale Express Extra on 9 May 2018. I am repeating the columns here with a lag because they are not all on line outside subscription. You can see all the Belshaw World and History Revisited/History Matters columns by clicking here for 2009, here for 2010, here for 2011, here for 2012, here for 2013, here for 2014, here for 2015, here for 2016, here 2017, here 2018