International Women’s Day: remembering the lock women!

During the research for the book Harnessing the River Murray: stories of the people who built Locks 1 to 9, 1915-1935, I interviewed people who spent their childhood in the lock camps. Today on International Women’s Day, I would like to pay tribute to these strong, hard-working and determined women who raised their families and supported their husbands under very difficult circumstances.

Max Pearson ‘painted’ this particularity apt word-picture of his mother’s domestic work and I believe it represents the other women at the camps:

Ida Pearson

“The houses only had open fires and Mum was an excellent cook for bread and rolls. I am not saying it because she was my mum, but I used to hear people saying behind her back, that they didn’t know how she does it. She’d probably make bread three days a week. At Lock 7, my mother used to sell bread for sixpence a loaf, beautiful bread. The day she was going to make bread, she’d also make rolls, and she’d make buns, and she’d have to get all the dough ready the night before. She’d put us to bed and she’d get this dish, put the dough into it and she would put the dish between her legs and she would punch the dough. For sweets, she’d lay pastry out and put raisins on it and put another sheet of pastry over that and before it was cooked she’d cut it into squares, and we’d have that for sweets. If the cow was in milk, we’d have cow’s milk on it. If the cows were dry and the goats were milking we’d have the cream on it … it was beautiful. Sometimes we had a cow and sometimes we had a couple of goats. We helped milk the cow and goat during the week. My mother would scald the milk and get the cream off it and keep it in the cool-safe for a day or two.”

Thelma McGair, nee Eddy described her mother’s work similarly:

Eva Eddy

“My mother was busy in the house and always looked after Dad because he worked hard. She would get up and get Dad’s breakfast. She had to feed the hot stove all day and she made her own bread, hot cross buns, etc. Life was tough for the women with their wood stoves. The evening meal was a hot meal and we always had sweets such as rice pudding and boiled puddings with jams. It would have taken all day though to prepare meals like that. We were never hungry as Mum could make something out of anything. If someone killed a goat they shared it, and if anybody caught a lot of fish, they shared them too. We ate rabbits all the time.”

Florence Rains

But more severe hardships were endured especially during the great Depression as Evelyn Smith recalled: “It was during the Great Depression: work was scarce and my father was on rationed hours of work with a wife and six children to clothe and feed. Things were so bad at Lock 7 that Mum decided to raffle her sewing machine for threepence a ticket. I of course had to go around selling tickets. How I hated that. I felt it was degrading to have to ask people for money.”