Life On The Farm 1920’s

Life On The Farm In Southland

During the 1920’s life on the farm probably depended on the size of the farm and the number of stock farmed. My grandfather’s farm was small by today’s standards but would have been average for that era. They made their living from dairy, not the hundreds of head apparently needed today to make a living, but about 20-30 head. Of course these were hand milked morning and night initially with Bess, Chum (grandparents), Nessie, Ina, Minnie (if she was home) milking half a dozen each. They received 16 pound a month from the dairy factory for their milk. This was enough for my grandparents and five children to comfortably live on. Mum recalls them buying butter and cheese from the factory most of the year, only making their own butter during the winter when they only milked a couple of cows.

While her parents and sisters were milking in the morning it was Mum’s job to mind the porridge her mother had cooking on the range. “Mum would cut up bread ready to make the lunches. I’d lay it out on the table and spread butter and jam (blackberry, strawberry or rhubarb) and wrap them up ready for school. Then I would get the boys (her three younger brothers) up, give them breakfast. Sometimes I’d fry an egg for them, one day the pan went on fire and I had to run outside with it. It was my job to get the boys and me ready for school by the time we heard the 8 o’clock train whistle.”

My grandfather also ran about 30 sheep, primarily for home supply. He sheared the sheep himself, once keeping the wool for years as the price (3 pence per pound) was so low, only to have to finally sell it when they got so hard up they had no choice. Of course, within months the price of wool went up to 9 pence. I suspect this could have been when Mum was 17, she told me the economy began to pick up when she was 17 ie, 1932.

“If he was selling them Dad drove the sheep to Thompson Crossing to meet the truck, loading them onto the truck up a ramp. there were no sheep pens around. He wouldn’t let any of us kids to help because his dog Sport, wouldn’t work when others were around.”

“There were always about 20 or 30 hens on the farm so we always had plenty of eggs. My father would never kill a hen, Mum had to do it, I helped when I was old enough.”  I remember Mum killing hens at Colac Bay, and thinking how brave she was. Of course at 8 or 9 I still hadn’t grasped the necessity of killing your food before you ate it during Mum’s childhood.

“Dad grew oats and turnips as well as potatoes for the house. We had two draught horses to pull the plough as well as a half-draught horse to pull the cart to the factory. We raised pigs as well.”

“Probably Dad looked after the bills etc. I don’t know about that. But Mum ran the house, she was so busy all the time. She had a large vegetable garden, as well as a nice flower garden. I took Dad’s spade from the shed one day to help – we were never allowed to touch his tools – and chopped the tip off my toe. Dad never smacked or growled, but his ‘look’ was enough to know you had annoyed him. We never wanted to be on the receiving end of his look. Mum would smack us if we were naughty but only ever with her hand. ”

I once asked Mum what she thought were the personality traits she most admired in her parents. It took her a few moments of thought but she came up with her father never, ever getting upset or angry – I think Mum has inherited that same trait and to a lesser degree perhaps I have too. She also mentioned his honesty, saying he was a stickler for honesty.

The thing she most admired about her mother was her work ethic. “She was so hard working, never stopping day after day.”

Like so many people interested in genealogy and their family history, I wish I could have spent time as an adult getting to know my grandparents. I think I would have liked and admired them a lot.

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