“Life in the Forties and Fifties”
by Ian (Harry) Wells
“Take-away” back in the forties and fifties, when I was a kid, meant a sum in arithmetic at school. Nothing else. Certainly not a source of food. There were no mega-giants like Maccas, KFC, Pizza Hut or the like, just “chippies”. A “big mac” was what they told you to wear when it was raining!
Take-away food back then meant “fish’n chips”. The outlets were small affairs, often conducted by post-war migrants: British, Greek, Italian or ex-pats from one of the other European countries, who came to our shores for a better life. There were, of course, a few Aussie owners, too. The fish and chips were traditionally wrapped in white paper first and then in newspaper. Beef dripping or lard was used for frying back then. Salt and vinegar were sprinkled over the fish and chips at the time of serving and before wrapping; you could choose to have none, of course, or either or both.
The long-standing Roman Catholic tradition of not eating meat on Fridays, especially during Lent, and of substituting fish for other types of meat on that day, continued to influence habits even in predominantly Protestant, Anglican and secular families. Friday night remained a traditional occasion for eating fish for many years. I have great memories of tearing the top from a newspaper-wrapped bundle and relishing the hot fare inside, especially after a tiring session of swimming … lovely! The wrapping ensured the fare stayed piping hot to the last mouthful. Is it just the fond memories or did the stuff REALLY taste so much better then?
And what about the Sunday roast? It was a traditional British main meal that was usually served on Sundays, but could be eaten on any day of the week. This consisted of baked meat (chicken, beef, lamb, or pork), roast potatoes with accompaniments, such as Yorkshire pudding or “stuffing“, vegetables and a variety of sauces or gravy. It seems to me we ate more lamb then, a leg or a rolled shoulder, and less often beef, pork or chicken. For my mum, the only criteria concerning the food that we ate were … did they like it and could she afford it?
Again, memories … Our house stood on a very long block, and the back half of the block was fenced off for a chook run. There were a lot of chickens, a couple of dozen at least. We had plenty of eggs to eat, some to sell to help the budget, and an occasional chook to eat on special days like Easter and Christmas. I enjoyed feeding the chooks veggie scraps, wheat and pollard, and collecting the eggs, but I didn’t like watching the process of the chopping block. Dad would chop the head off one of our many hens or roosters for special occasions. It seemed that, despite his observing the chickens carefully before the event, he usually managed to select a hen full of eggs. Sometimes a decapitated bird would get away from him and we would have to chase after it. It seems bizarre to ponder on us two boys chasing a headless hen around the yard, but it seemed OK at the time, good fun actually. Dad would pluck the chook in our bath, half-full of hot water. Mum would clean, stuff and cook it, and it would taste great!
We often visited my grandmother and grandfather for Sunday lunch, and I have fond memories of Grandma’s “Yorkshire Duff“, a baked pudding served with the roasted meat, gravy, potatoes and vegetables. They would often visit us, too, again usually on a Sunday, and Mum always had a baked dinner when they came. It was probably done “turn-about”, but I’m not sure now.
In the 1940s, the “Oslo lunch” concept was introduced into Australian schools. This Norwegian-inspired healthy lunch of milk, a piece of fruit and a salad sandwich made with wholemeal bread, was shown to have a positive effect on children’s health and learning. This regime was invented by the Norwegian Professor Schiotz, had been associated with improved child health and weight gain in Norway and Britain. It was probably because our school had a larger than normal migrant population that Oslo lunches were introduced in an attempt to improve our collective standard of nutrition, whatever the reason I thoroughly enjoyed those lunches. Ladies from the Parents and Citizens Association (P&C) prepared the food under the guidance of a nutritionist. I usually chose the cheese and celery filling on wholemeal bread, and an apple. Quite a change from my usual white bread concoctions or Saos with vegemite!
Frozen food back then equalled “ice cream”. There was nothing else. And ice cream only came in one colour and one flavour … white vanilla … and none of us had ever heard of yoghurt!
Lack of efficient refrigeration precluded storage of anything frozen. Until the late forties, “ice boxes” were the only way for most people to keep food chilled. That was the way we did it at home when I was young. There was no way we could keep ice-blocks or ice-cream otherwise, and definitely no storage of any frozen foods. The ice man used to call around each day or two, delivering blocks of ice, which he carried from his enclosed truck with a pair of steel claws that gripped the block of slippery ice and protected his hands from the cold.
I can remember when we got our first fridge. It was powered by electricity! and we all looked at it in amazement. I remember my mother making ice cream using condensed milk, and other delicious desserts that she had never been able to make or keep before the advent of refrigerators. The freezer part was quite small, just big enough for a “brick” of ice cream and not much more, but did we appreciate and enjoy those treats? Did we what!
© Ian (Harry) Wells
Aussie: Colloquial word for “Australian”
take-away is “take-out” in other countries;
chook: Australian colloquial speech for chicken or hen/rooster
chippies: childhood word for deep fried chips; an establishment that sold fish and chips; “Meet you outside the chippy.”
bloke: Aussie slang for fellow or male person
Saos: brand of savoury crackers
vegemite: a yeast spread
a mac or mack: short for mackintosh or raincoat
Ian (Harry) Wells was part of the Primary Teaching profession (NSW Department of Education) for half a century, including in promotional roles, and a stint at the University of Newcastle. He now lives on the Central coast, close to his adult children and grandchildren. Four younger relatives have also chosen to go into the teaching profession. Ian studied at Armidale Teachers’ College in the class of 1961-62