How do you wash and iron? Do you find these tasks tiresome? Spare a thought for your mother or grandmother in the 1950s.

Washing and ironing prior to the 1950s were time-consuming, labour-intensive chores for most Australian households. These tasks were almost always performed by women. Typically they set aside a couple of days each week (Monday and Tuesday) to wash and iron for the family. The following advertisement, published in 1950, was meant to attract such women.

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1950. Hoover electric washing machine advertisement. Source: The Australian Women’s Weekly, May 6, 1950.

During the 1950s, acquisition of “modern” appliances helped bring about changes to many long-established laundry practices and traditions for some Australian families. For others, little changed, at least not until the 1960s.

To illustrate, I’m going to take you to two different 1950s settings.

The first is that of my immediate family. As a child, I lived with my parents and brother in a post-war progressive Queensland provincial city. Our home was supplied with electricity, sewerage and town water.

The second is that of my grandmother, uncles and aunts. They lived in a small town in country Queensland. Their homes had no electricity supply, no sewerage and their water supply was rainwater stored in galvanized iron tanks.

#1: My family home, in the city, late 1950s

It’s Friday night. My mother is in the laundry, preparing for tomorrow morning’s wash.

Mum’s sorting our family’s dirty clothes into piles: whites, colours and those that need soaking or hand-washing. She’s tired. I can tell. She’s sighing a lot. My mother’s been at work all week, helping my father run the family business.

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1950s. My family home in a Queensland provincial city. Photo source: Family collection.

Our laundry is a fairly large, well-equipped room. It’s located between the kitchen and bathroom of our lowset 1940s dwelling. On one side of the room, just inside the back door, there’s a set of three concrete tubs and hot and cold water on tap. A small washing machine stands next to the tubs.

On the other side of the room, there’s a wooden ironing board covered with a folded blanket, hinged and (when not in use) fastened to the wall. A large wicker clothes basket with a flip-top lid stands beside it. Next, in the corner of the room, my mother stores her brooms, mop and electric vacuum cleaner.

Saturday dawns fine and sunny. It’s a perfect washday.

Mum gets the washing machine ready. It’s a 1950s model Hoover Hand Wringer Washing Machine with a small stainless steel tub and side agitator, tiny hand wringer and aluminium tray. The tray serves as a lid when the machine is not in use.

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1950s Hoover Hand Wringer Washing Machine. Photo source: Tamworth Powerstation Museum. Used with permission.

(I’ve learnt since that this machine was dubbed the “Poor Man’s Washing Machine”, because of its price and affordability.)

I watch as Mum fills the washing machine tub with water, via a hose attached first to the cold water tap then the hot water tap. Before putting in the first load of clothes (whites), she adds a measure of Rinso washing powder. Once switched on, the machine does its work by a simple tumbling action.

My mother fills the concrete tubs with cold water. Here she will rinse the clothes once they are washed. Twice. Mum lets me help by squeezing and jiggling a Reckitt’s blue bag in the water in the third tub. It will be used for the whites’ final rinse. Mum explains, “The blue water makes the whites even whiter.”

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Reckitt’s blue bags. Photo source: City of Moorabbin Historical Society operating the Box Cottage Museum. Used with permission.

It’s plain to me that doing the weekly wash is a wet, messy, long-drawn-out business. It takes hours.

Mum uses the tiny wringer on the Hoover machine to squeeze water from the wet clothes. I think this is the hardest part of my mother’s washday routine. She puts the clothes through the wringer as she transfers them from the machine to the first rinse tub, from one rinse tub to the other, and finally to the clothes basket.

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1950s Hoover Hand Wringer Washing Machine, close-up view of the tiny wringer. Photo source: Tamworth Powerstation Museum. Used with permission.

I notice Mum wrings some items by hand. She says these are either too bulky or too delicate to put through the wringer. After washing, rinsing and wringing the clothes, my mother takes them to the clothesline to dry.

The day is warm and sunny, so it’s a good drying day.

We have a large rotary Hills hoist in the middle of our backyard. It’s used not only as our family’s clothesline, but also as a plaything by my brother and his friends. Of course, my parents put a stop to my brother’s and his friends’ antics (swinging on the hoist’s rotating arms) when they discovered the arms were bent and the hoist was seriously lopsided!

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By the late 1950s, almost every city or town backyard had a Hills rotary hoist like this one.

Mum uses wooden Dolly pegs to attach the clothes to the clothesline. She hangs them in this manner: sheets and towels on the outside lines, smaller garments on the inside. It’s very orderly. She pegs all the same kind of garments (such as shirts, singlets, underpants, socks) together, side by side. I hand my mother the pegs from the cloth peg bag. I’m not tall enough to reach the clothesline, so I can’t help by pegging the clothes to the line. “When I’m older I’ll be able to do this,” I think to myself.

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Dolly pegs. Photo source: Public Domain Pictures on Pixabay.

When the clothes are dry, my mother “brings them in”. She sorts them into two piles – folding and ironing. Mum teaches me how to fold towels, singlets, underpants and socks. Clothes that need ironing she puts aside for another day.

It’s Sunday afternoon. Mum is getting ready to iron tonight.

My mother has to iron my brother’s and my school uniforms because we need them tomorrow. She’ll do some of the family’s ironing tonight. Mum has to go to work tomorrow (she works Monday to Friday), so she’ll do the rest of the ironing another night during the week.

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My school uniform is made of cotton and has three box pleats front and back. It has to be well ironed. Photo source: Family collection.

Mum is doing the “dampening down”, as she calls it. She dampens clothes before ironing them. She lays each item flat on the kitchen table, then sprinkles each one lightly with water by hand, from a bowl. After dampening a number of items, my mother rolls them together to form a tight bundle and stores the bundle in an air-tight space (such as the empty washing machine tub) for an hour or so. By the time she finishes, there are numerous bundles. Clothes that are dampened and stored in this way iron easily and look terrific when pressed.

I’ve noticed there are some clothes my mother doesn’t dampen. For example, she doesn’t dampen my father’s woollen trousers or her lace-trimmed dresses. Instead she places a damp “pressing cloth” over the garment when she irons it. The pressing cloth – a large square of clean white cotton fabric – is an indispensable tool in my mother’s laundry.

Mum starches some items before ironing them. For example, she starches linen doilies, our school uniforms and the collars of my father’s cotton shirts. Mum says the starch makes the fabric stiff and helps it stay crisp and smooth when ironed. She uses Silver Star Starch.

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A packet of Silver Star Starch.

Our family owns a Hotpoint De-Luxe Featherweight Electric Iron.

It’s small, lightweight and has “automatic” heat control. An adjustable dial allows you to choose the correct temperature for different fabric types. Mum says she is happy with this iron, adding: “It does a good job – it’s all that I want from an iron.” According to the manufacturer, using this iron saves 20 minutes in every ironing hour!

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Hotpoint De-Luxe Featherweight Automatic Iron and Box. Photo source: Tamworth Powerstation Museum. Used with permission.
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1950s. Advertisement for the new automatic Hotpoint Featherweight Iron. Source: The Australian Women’s Weekly.

#2: My relatives’ homes, in the country, late 1950s

I’m on school holidays and staying with my grandmother (“Nan”). She lives in a small Queensland country town. Uncle Harold and Auntie Dulcie live in the house next door. For as long as I can remember, I’ve visited them with my parents and brother. Now I am older, I’m allowed to come on my own.

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Mid-1950s. My family on a visit to our extended family in the country. We are pictured here at my Uncle Harold’s and Auntie Dulcie’s place. Photo source: Family collection.

Life here is so different from what I am used to in the city.

There is no electricity supply, so my country relatives “make do” in other ways. They use 32-volt generators to provide lighting in their homes at night. To keep food cold, they use kerosene-fuelled refrigerators. They have wood-fired combustion stoves for cooking and heating. (Read Kentish Cake and Slice of History, May 21, 2016.)

My grandmother and uncle and aunt wash and iron in the same ways they’ve followed for decades. As a “city kid”, I find their laundry practices a novelty.

They iron using old-fashioned Mrs Potts’ irons.

Mrs Potts’ Sad Irons, which come as a set of three, are solid, heavy and have a detachable wooden handle. To heat the irons, they are placed on a hot combustion stovetop. The irons must be changed regularly to ensure the one in use is hot. Unlike my mother’s iron, these irons have no adjustable temperature control!

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Mrs Potts’ Cold Handle Sad Iron (c. 1871). Photo by courtesy of the Tamworth Powerhouse Museum.
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Mrs Potts’ Cold Handle Sad Iron (c. 1871). Photo by courtesy of the Tamworth Powerhouse Museum.

Unlike my mother, my grandmother has no ironing board. Instead, she uses the kitchen table, placing a thick woollen blanket covered with a white cotton cloth on the table and fastening it with large safety pins.

My country relatives use a “copper” to wash their clothes.

The copper is a large copper-lined cast iron pot with a lid. It is filled with water, which is heated by a fire lit underneath the pot. Nan’s copper sits on a three-legged iron stand; my uncle and aunt’s copper rests on a brick base. The coppers are located outside, in their backyards.

Today is a typical washday for my uncle and aunt.

I’m an inquisitive eight year old, so I’ve come to watch what they do. My uncle and aunt have no children of their own, so they love having me around. (Read Auntie Dulcie and the Bung-in Cake, April 14, 2016.)

Uncle Harold tells me he got up early, filled the copper with water (via a long hose from the nearest tank) and chopped wood for the fire. I watch as he lights the fire under the copper. I’m surprised to learn that he helps my aunt do the washing. I’ve rarely seen my father helping with the washing.

Auntie Dulcie collects and sorts the dirty clothes. First, she sets aside clothes that need soaking or scrubbing. Next, she separates whites from colours (as my mother does) and items for the copper from the hand-washing. She tells me that cotton garments, sheets, tablecloths and towels can be safely boiled in the copper, but those made of fine cotton, silk or wool, or with embroidery or lace, have to be hand-washed.

The copper is ready to use when the water comes to the boil.

Before adding the first load of whites, my uncle cuts small pieces of soap from a bar of pure Sunlight soap and adds them to the boiling water. He uses a long wooden stick to immerse the clothes in the hot soapy water. He stands by the copper, stirring its simmering contents from time to time until they are ready to be extracted.

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Early 1950s. My uncle using a make-shift copper boiler. Photo source: Family collection.

After about 15 minutes, Uncle Harold removes the steaming clothes from the copper. He takes great care. “I’ll be in big trouble if I drop any of these on the ground!” he says with a grin. He places them in a metal tub to cool a little before carrying the tub to the laundry. Here, Auntie Dulcie rinses them a couple of times in cold water, finishing with the obligatory blue water rinse. I say, “My mum does that too.” She smiles and nods, knowingly.

Their laundry and laundry equipment is very basic.

My uncle and aunt have a highset house, so their “laundry” is located under the house. The laundry has no walls – it’s an open space with a concrete floor. Besides the outside copper, their laundry equipment comprises a set of three fixed concrete tubs (like my mother’s), cold water on tap, metal buckets, two large circular galvanized metal tubs, cane basket, wash board and scrubbing brushes, mechanical wringer (mangle) and wooden clothes trolley. The laundry is furnished with a small wooden table and cupboard.

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Galvanized metal wash tub and wooden wash board.

Once all boilable clothes are “washed” in the copper, my uncle uses a bucket to transfer the hot soapy water from the copper to one of the concrete laundry tubs. By adding just the right amount of cold water, my aunt can use the warm soapy water to wash the rest of the clothes by hand. After she washes, rinses and puts the clothes through the mangle, she places them in the wooden clothes trolley, for wheeling to the clothesline.

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1950s. A woman uses a wooden clothes trolley to transport the wet clothes to the clothesline. Photo source: State Library of Queensland. Public domain.

Their clothesline is not at all like my family’s.

Instead of a rotary hoist, their clothesline consists of four lengths of galvanized wire, extending almost the entire length of their backyard. The wires are strung between two fixed wooden posts with cross-arms. As the wet washing is loaded on the lines, the lines begin to sag. The problem is easily solved: My uncle props up the lines using one or two long forked saplings, which he positions strategically at various points along the wires.

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Clothes pegged to dry on wires strung between two posts. Photo source: Les Barker Design, on Pixabay.

What changes came about in the 1960s?

By the mid-1960s, my parents replaced their small 1950s Hoover washing machine with a new Hoover product.

They purchased a Hoovermatic Twin Tub Washing Machine. For my mother, this new semi-automatic top loading machine drastically changed the way she did the family wash. It was a God-send. There was no wringer or need for handwringing. The Hoovermatic Twin Tub (as its name suggests) consisted of two tubs: the left side tub for washing and the right side tub for spinning and rinsing. No rinse tubs were needed.

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Early model Hoovermatic Twin Tub Washing Machine. Photo source: Tamworth Powerstation Museum. Used with permission.

The new machine was both efficient and economical. You had to be present to fill (and top up) the wash tub with water, transfer clothes from the left to the right tub for spinning and rinsing, and fill the right tub for rinsing. However, the wash, rinse and spin cycles were very quick and my mother was able to wash, rinse and spin clothes at the same time. It made washday less demanding. Water-wise, the process used very little water and the water from the spinner could be re-used.

I loved using Mum’s Hoovermatic Twin Tub washing machine. So much so, I purchased one (a later model of course) when I married and my husband and I set up our own home in the mid-1970s. It served us well for the first 10 years of our married life! Oh, how well it cleaned all those cloth nappies!

In the mid-1960s, my mother bought herself a new iron.

The new iron, a General Electric Steam-and-Dry Iron, made ironing so much quicker and easier. There was no need to dampen or starch clothes. The steam-and-dry iron heated up rapidly and, after you added water, it was soon ready to use. According to the manufacturer, it had 39 steam holes! You pressed a button on the top of the iron to produce a shot of steam if you needed it. The iron had “automatic” temperature control (you set the temperature for a particular fabric type by moving a dial) and it could be used as either a steam or dry iron. Mum still used her pressing cloth for some garments, but for many it was no longer needed.

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General Electric Steam & Dry Iron with Original Cardboard Box. Photo source: Tamworth Powerstation Museum. Used with permission.

In the 1960s, I helped Mum do the family’s ironing. From the age of 10 or 11, I ironed simple things like handkerchiefs, tea towels and pillowcases using Mum’s Hotpoint iron. By the mid-1960s, I was able to iron anything – shirts, blouses, skirts, pants – and I readily adapted to using the new iron. The steam-and-dry iron was a pleasure to use. Believe it or not, I liked ironing! And I still do! (I can hear my daughter sighing as she reads this!)

During the 1960s, even my country relatives acquired the latest “modern” laundry appliances.

Uncle Harold and Auntie Dulcie bought an electric Simpson Roll Stop Washing Machine. The machine consisted of one large cylindrical wash tub, central agitator and top wringer. It was modified to operate via their 32 volt generator. They also purchased an electric iron (I don’t recall the brand), similarly adapted for 32 volt usage.

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1960s. An electric Simpson Roll Stop Washing Machine.

I’m not sure when my grandmother acquired an electric (32 volt) washing machine, but I know she had one by the late 1960s. But she didn’t replace her iron(s). Nan lived until she was 94 (she died in 1981) and I don’t think she ever dispensed with her Mrs Potts’ irons.

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Early 1960s. My grandmother on the steps of her country cottage. Photo source: Family collection.

So, how do we wash and iron today?

Technological advances in the 21st century have revolutionized how most people wash and iron today. For example, my husband and I own a fully automatic electric washing machine, electric clothes dryer and fully automatic (self-regulating) steam iron. With these appliances, we do not find washing and ironing time-consuming or arduous. Moreover, my husband and I share these tasks (as well as pegging the clothes on the outside clothesline to dry when the weather is fine and sunny), which also lessens the workload.

When I recall how my mother, grandmother, uncles and aunts washed and ironed their clothes in the 1950s, I am convinced our lot (today) is a breeze.


In sourcing images for this story, I was assisted by Mr Ian Hobbs, of the Tamworth Powerstation Museum. Ian went out of his way to help me, providing many suitable images from the museum’s large collection of washing machines and irons. Thank you, Ian, and the Tamworth Powerstation Museum.

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Photo of author

Judith Salecich

Writer, researcher, former secondary and tertiary teacher and public servant, wife, mother, grandmother, child of God, photography enthusiast, lover of life, history, food and all things creative.

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26 thoughts on “How did people wash and iron in the 1950s?”

  1. Loved reading this. I have memories of my Mum using “Blue” and Dolly Pegs and using a copper to wash. Great memories

    • So many memories from your story and the comments. Mum had a copper way back when I was small though I remember the stick to move those hot items…such a hazard. I think, but I’m not sure, that she went straight to the twin tub but took ages before progressing to an automatic. It was such a process and I confess I selfishly hated how much running up and downstairs I had to do to help in the holidays. Your poor mum must have been exhausted doing all that on top of a working week!

      I wonder are Lux flakes still available…mum always used them. And, of course, once damped down the ironing had to be done as soon as or it could go mouldy.

      When we married and lived in PNG I had twin tubs but initially I had to chop the wood to heat the combustion stove and water heater before I could start washing. Such fun…or maybe not.

      I absolutely loved my automatic when I got it!!

  2. I grew up in town as well. My mother had the 1950 Hoover machine and an electric iron. The clothes were damped using a soft drink bottle with a perforated cork. When I married we moved to the country and had a copper, long clothes lines and a prop and used a 32volt plant for lighting. I still remember poking a hole in the copper when pushing a branch into the fire. I truly love my automatic washing machine.

    • Dear Anita. Thanks for sharing your memories. That “poor man’s washing machine” was certainly popular! Re dampening the clothes, your mother was more inventive than mine! Your move to the country gave you many new experiences. I love the bit about poking a hole in the copper. Ouch! Someone else may have not been too pleased. I’m glad you’re happy with your automatic washing machine. Best wishes, Judy. xx

  3. Just loved this Judith. As we lived in small country towns in school residences which were very primitive with no power and ” dam” water which was the town supply and only a rain water tank with tar and corks to repair leaks. My grandparents had actually better resources as they lived in a town with the power on.
    We had a copper in an outside wash house which was enclosed inside a brick structure with a fire at the bottom. Washing started on a Sunday afternoon when dad filled the copper by bucket and we children collected two tin buckets if wood chips and dad cut wood for the kitchen stove, the lunge fire and the copper as well as get us to collect chips fir the bathroom chip heater which heated the Saturday night bath. Punishment for my siste and I was often to peel the Velvet soap bar with an old knife then it would slowly melt to a gooey slime ready for the morning. Such sore hands from that. We had concrete troughs, reckitts blue and a big enamel bowl for starching doilies, our school shirt collars and dress collars for our Sunday best clothes. Our kitchen stove always held a four gallon rectangular kerosene tine of cloth nappies bubbling away which were washed and rinsed in blue daily. I thought then as a little kid that everyone had one on the back of their hob. Most families that I knew , had babies in the 50’s. our washing was hung between wooden poles which could occasionally collapse in strong wind. We also had extra lines strung up from tree branches in the orc hard in the late 50’s when we finally got a “real” house of our own. Mum and grandma both used the silver starch too and Lux soap flakes for washing knitted woollen jumpers and baby clothes. Rinse and Persil was used for the washing machine when we got one and had power in 1958. First we had a Hotpoint then a Hoover but mum’s big day came when we got the twin tub. It was revolutionary and halved washing time. Ironing was with a kerosene iron with a little tank in it plus two flat irons which we kept changing on the stove. They were more modern than your pictured ones. They had names but cannotremember them. Mum damped down the clothes with an old baby bottle with a special sprinkler endand put them inside a towel lined wicker oval washing basket which travelled from town to town with the oval wooden washing basket frameon wheels. I was allowed to iron tea towels, handkerchiefs and tablecloths, serviettesand pillow cases. I can smell the smell of starch and ironing now. Every thing was folded over the wooden clothes horses and shirts hung on hangers and we all had to put away the ironing on Tuesdays after school.
    At the four school houses we lived in, all were similar with a single trough and outside brick copper with a copper lid and a wooden lid as well. Mum was overjoyed when we got our own house as it had an inside copper and a double concrete trough. Our farewell presents from one town were an electric iron just the same as your pictureand a cream enamel speedie electric jug and then the transfer letter came and the school house part of town did not have power connected. Mum cried and so did we. We were only there for a year so we’re excited to find that our next place had power and one power point in the kitchen forappliances. The electric iron easily scorched clothes too, nearly as badly as the old flat irons. Mum had pieces of white material to use under everything and a bowl of water so the steam helped. Irons were heavy though. The day we got the new Hills hoist, we ran all the way home from school and found that we could use clip on wooden spring pegs as well as dolly pegs. Mum used a white powder that was what dry cleaners used to dab on greasy marks to absorb them on school tunics and dad’s suits. Then they hung on the line dancing in the sun. Everything was hung so carefully too, so peg marks would not show on the ironing. I am still a careful peggerouter!! I despair when I see most washing hung crookedly. People were so worried about the power of the power, that only one light was allowed on at one time, so we still had lamps to help out. Still had a back yard toilet with a can until I was 16 in 1963. Then we got the new outdoor toilet followed about 20 years later by the indoor one but still kept the outside one . Times were much different. Loved your beautiful story Judith. So many things I have experienced.

    • Dear Maureen. Wow! I am overwhelmed by your response. You have shared so many memories and revealed so many connections with my story. I really appreciate your feedback. Love, Judy. xx

  4. Our laundry was outside the house but built onto it with the toilet alongside that. Mum had a three legged electric “copper” with lid and a wooden “copper stick” for stirring the clothes when boiling. When finished boiling they were lifted with the stick into the first of twin concrete tubs for rinsing, then through the mangle to the next tub for blue, then back through mangle for final rinse and into wicker basket for trip to the two long lines across the yard with “clothes props” to keep the middle of the lines in the air. We had a man come around in horse and cart selling clothes props.

    • Dear Max. Your description reminds me a lot of what I observed when visiting my country relatives. Like them, many people had done their washing like that for decades. Clearly, you remember it well. Thanks so much for sharing your memories from that time. Kind regards, Judy.

  5. Thanks Judy, you have certainly brought back some memories of my own childhood. The old hand wringer washing machine and copper to boil the sheets to make them white. No rotary hoist, just strung lines. I remember that mum used have me iron the hankerchiefs with Mrs Potts irons. Like many people I used to have a set of these which I used as a door stop, but too many house shifts, we no longer have them.

    Isn’t our present day technology wonderful!

    • Dear Sylvia. Thanks for sharing your own memories with me and my readers. You had the best of both worlds – the copper and the hand wringer washing machine. Actually, I never used the Mrs Potts’ irons, but I do remember holding them – they were very heavy. I’m impressed that you learnt to iron using these irons. Yes, they made great door stops. I had forgotten about that! And yes, how grateful we should be for all our present-day appliances! Love to you and Bruce. xx

  6. Great reading…we also lived on a cattle property in CQ…we didn’t have any power at all….mum had a metho and shelite iron …I quite often did the dampening down of the clothes and ironed.There was 2 kerosene fridges a kerosene deep freezer for the beef that was killed.Mum cooked on a wood stove which also supplied hot water….buckets of hot water were carted to the bath tub from kitchen to the bathroom.The simpson wringer washing machine was a petrol one with a villers could do a whole wash on a gallon of petrol…also had a copper for the towels ect…I can still smell the smell of boiled towels.

    • Dear Judy. Thank you for sharing your vivid memories of your life in country Queensland. Your family clearly managed well without electricity, with the appliances you describe. It’s very interesting for those of us who haven’t experienced these things. Best wishes, Judy.

  7. Judy You brought back so many memories with the washing and ironing. My father
    always helped my Mum on washing day. We did not have a machine so he always
    wrung out the clothes for her. I remember when Mum purchased a lightweight iron
    and Mum thought it was wonderful. Oh those Mrs Potts irons however Mum never had one but my grandma did. How far we have come. We don’t know we are alive do we?
    The reckitts blue was a winner making clothes lovely and white.. I don’t know if you can still buy them really interesting blog.Judy and I remember the wooden pegs too

    buy them.
    but my grandma

    • Dear Margaret. I’m so glad this story brought back so many memories for you. Thanks, also, for sharing your memories with me and my readers. Yes, our lot is so different from those of our predecessors – we should be so grateful! Lots of love, Judy.

  8. I remember all the above!

    I grew up in a home with baby siblings (1960’s/70’s), and being the oldest, I helped my mom with the care of my siblings, and changing and washing diapers were but two jobs I remember well.

    Mom used a wringer washing machine, and my job was catching the diapers as they exited the rollers, putting the diapers into the laundry basket, then hanging the diapers on the clothesline. Occasionally a pair of rubber pants would accidentally go through the rollers, and BANG! Those pants would pop just like a balloon, only much louder!

    Natural sunlight helped bleach-out unsightly stains in the diapers, and the natural sunlight helped disinfect and kill any leftover bacteria in the diapers, which helped prevent irritation and diaper rash, though those old-fashioned rubber pants kept baby’s bottom warm and wet, which wasn’t ideal (I’m sure) when it came to baby’s comfort, but then again, you didn’t see kids still wearing diapers till age 4 and 5, like we do today.

    Oh, yes, I do remember the days…

    Just love this blog!

    Thank you for the memories, Judy!


    • Wow! Margaret – so many memories. I’m glad your experience of washing and ironing in the 1950s and 1960s resonated with mine. So much of this culture has gone. They are only memories now. It gives me much pleasure to record them, so folk like you can enjoy them too! Best wishes, Judy.

  9. Judith. That’s the sad part, and you hit it right on the head, so much of the nostalgia associated with many of the old ways has been lost, and that’s a shame.

    My oldest was born in 1983, and my youngest, 1992, and I put all 6 of my kids through old-fashioned cloth diapers and rubber pants, pins and all, and never had a problem with it, and while I was grateful for the invention of the electric and automatic washing machine, I would have happily done diapers in an old-fashioned wringer washing machine had that been all that was available when I was diapering.

    In the 1970’s, when I was doing a lot of babysitting, Pampers were a rarity, very few mothers used them. Everyone’s clothesline proudly displayed a long row of diapers and rubber pants, and you didn’t see 4 and 5 y/o children still wearing diapers back in the day. Toilet training came early.

    I occasionally come across articles that put down the use of cloth diapers, and some even poke criticism at how bad old-fashioned cloth diapers were, however, the part that always makes me smile and laugh the most, is how mothers (like my own mom), myself, and the countless mothers I babysat for, all were repeat cloth diaper and safety pin users, telling me that good old-fashioned diapers and rubber pants were trusted by the older generation of moms. They were tried & true, reliable, and in keeping with traditional babyhood.

    Gosh, I could go on and on… but one thing I remember doing when diapering my children for the night, was double diapering, and boy, did that ever make for bulky bottoms! Between the thickly padded double diapers and ballooning rubber pants, it looked like they were wearing marshmallows, and I can still remember the plasticy rustling sound those old rubber pants used to make!

    • I have 7 children, 2 are adopted. One was 9 when we got him the other was 3. I had my first at 15(yes, VERY young) 2nd at 17. Adopted the 3 19 while pregnant with twins and had my last one at 22. Adopted a nephew a year later. Used cloth diapers and line dried everything when possible. I’m 30 now. Definitely old school. My husband is 6 years older than I am. He thought I nuts, but always goes along with whatever I think is best. Love that man! Sometimes old school is BEST!

  10. A great description of the work our parents had to do to keep us clean and neat! I came across your blog while researching for a personal history I am writing to celebrate my Mum’s 100th birthday this year. She passed on in 2001. She earned her living as a single parent having to support our family by washing and ironing for people. The iron she used was really clunky and heavy from what I remember, so I was looking to see if I could find out what sort of iron it was. When I read your wash day description it brought back very similar memories for me. Thank you!

    • Robyn, I’m so pleased you discovered my blog and enjoyed reading my account of washing and ironing in the 1950s and 1960s. I wish you all the best in your research project, to celebrate your mother’s 100 years. Thanks for sharing this with me. Kind regards, Judy.

  11. In modern days we have luxurious life. I remember my mother used to wash clothes with hands. A long rod she used to smash clothes. I thing that was the hardest way to wash clothes.

  12. My great grandmother had an early model washing machine with the wringer. She used it into the mid 1980’s. Early on prior to having the machine, her water for her wash house was fed by a hand dug well with a hand pump. She used this water for cold water washing when I was a little kid. ( I was born in ’72) I would help her do laundry. She had a clothesline the length if her yard with 4 wires. My husband and I moved into her house in 2002. Right after we moved, our dryer broke. I dried all my clothes on the line. It was great during the summer on hot days. Clothes would dry quickly. I love my bedsheets to be air dried. I don’t have that option where I currently live.


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Hi, I'm Judy

Short stories from the heart...about life, family and local history, people, places and food.

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