The Story of Elsie and Harry Mercer by Elaine Costello

Posted by Marg P on

The Shop

They cut 5 acres of their land which abutted onto the square of the township. I don’t know where they got the money for the timber but anyway Dad started to put up this building. One big corner was the shop and we lived at the back. It was rather nice. We had a big dining room and lounge combined. It was painted chocolate brown up to the picture rail and then ivory, and that also on the ceiling, so it wasn’t too dark.

The room became very pleasant with heavy drapes at the window and transparent net curtains in between. Dad ALWAYS made the heavy curtains sitting at the verandah table and measuring off with his carpenter’s tape. He’d sew always on Mum’s hand machine, which stitched beautifully. They had about 4-5 very nice pictures Mum bought from England.

(She liked going to house sales) and a lot of framed personal ones. Dad was a very keen photographer and he’d acquired a very good camera during the war years and did enlargements and everything after developing his own films. It was s special night for us children watching the picture come up.

He also had a good ability with wireless too, in fact I can’t remember actually buying a wireless until I was 22 and even then he arranged to hear it on the other end of the house as well. I suppose his knowledge came from the war – at the farm – say about 1923 he used to tinker with wireless, and one night Mum had gone to bed with Joan and Dad had built this set. He was playing around trying to get a sound, when out of the silence a voice said “I’ve found you, I’ve found you, when I get to Heaven I’ll see you there”. When they settled down they realized it was simply the announcer saying the last two pieces of music. It gave him such a shock. But it must have been wonderful to know you’d done it at last and got wireless. After that we just bought the cabinet and put Dad’s wireless in it. They were big pieces of furniture then and the man of the house would position himself in ‘Dad’s chair’ right in front. NO ONE ELSE took that chair. That was how we spent our evenings, listening to Jack Davey, Pick-a-box, The Quiz Kids and the Lux Radio Theatre. The women would embroider or knit further back sitting on the settee. It was cosy.

We only ate inside on special days because we had two gorgeous verandahs – the side and the back. Dad and Mum slept on the side verandah (enclosed with louvers and lattice). The back verandah was gorgeous – 8 feet wide and 28 feet long. Off one end there was a big lemon tree and this was nearly all closed with lattice. Then there was a porch and you could stand on it and pick a lemon, and then the big end had weatherboards to leaning height and big roll-up blinds to put down on a cold night. We could lean over and eat watermelon. We nearly all lived out here during the day. Mum had bought 3 burnt cane chairs (quite cheap then) and had embroidered cushions in the chairs. These had magazines and other treasures under the cushions. Then we had very tall palm stands and the bridle fern reached down the sides almost to the floor. It has little while flowers and red berries and there were pots of Eucharist Lilies sometimes with their beautiful white flowers.

At night we would play cards and our pet magpie (who adored Joan), would sit on the back of Joan’s chair and make a flying leap to grab a moth and then turn back again. No electricity then so the lamp was on. Finally Joan would put him to bed in his cage (on the verandah). He was very adored. One of the local lads shot his mother when she was aggressive, (people became worried for children’s eyes). And they felt terrible that there was a baby and they brought him to Mum, I think Elsie should have worked in a zoo. She used to say to us when the circus came, “I’ll take you to see the animals fed it you are good”. Only later I realized who wanted to see the animals. Maggie talked, his first words were from Mum and Dad. It was Joan’s job to meet the train at 7am, one morning they heard the words repeated, “Joan, Joan get up here comes the train”.

The soil was very good in Ubobo – it was only water that was short. But we had masses of flowers, and when we ‘did the flowers’ for the lounge and dining room it was nothing to have 8 vases. One on the dining table, two on the sideboard, two on the bookcases, one on ‘Dad’s table’ (alongside his chair) or possibly two. There were always flowers. They would self sow in the garden, and we had roses and gerberas, iris, petunias and perennials like chrysanthemum, gallardia, cosmos, verbena, freesias and poppies and when the christmas tree (crepe myrtle) came out we had those too.

They were the depression years but we didn’t know. Dad still had the farm for some years, so we still had milk and cream and butter. There’d been bantams at the farm and turkeys, as well as geese and ducks, so this helped. We eventually had a huge mulberry tree and of course lemons. Other people had citrus and all the melon family, so you could buy them cheaply.

Water made vegie growing hard at times – but there were always root vegetables and we had perpetual sweet potatoes. Mum would say, “get me a cooking” and we loved to go and forage. They were the grey ones but OK with lots of butter and pepper. You could get a pumpkin from a farmer. Mum grew beans in season and we had beans which didn’t get frosted but which you don’t see now – Tongon Beans and Poor Man’s Beans and more that I can’t remember. We loved Chinese cabbage – it was very new and we always had a herb garden.

We made our own ice cream to sell occasionally in our shop (but you had to get ice out from town). So it was maybe 2-4 weeks apart. You had this big wooden bucket outside with metal fittings on the side. Inside you had a strong stainless steel upright container with a fitting on top, and a handle. The mechanism allowed the inside one to rotate. In between you packed ice chunks scattered with lots of coarse salt (to make it keep) and you patiently just turned and turned. When it was as hard as your arm could manage, you toped up the ice and the salt and covered the whole thing with lots of sacks for it to rest and get really hard. It was yummy ice cream. Mum put double cream because we had plenty. We didn’t get to enjoy a great lot as it was principally for sale.

One comment

  1. A lovely, interesting read. Thank you for taking the time to write your precious memories here for people to wonder at times gone by.

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