7. Living Conditions

Making a living

Food

No fridges, no McDonald, How did they survive?

Food
It was difficult providing food for a pioneer family. Flour, tea and sugar were the main items carried in from the nearest store. Treats were treacle and dried meat. The flour was made into damper. Settlers planted hop bushes so they could have yeast and then be able to make proper bread. Fish from the creek was the only fresh meat and bacon was a real treat. A house cow was another important item to buy as soon as there was some grass for the cow to eat. They drank the milk and made butter from the cream. Because they had buttermilk they could have a pig, but a pig needed a good fence which had to be made first. Later families acquired some chickens and a vegetable garden. This meant eggs and fresh vegetable. Food gradually improved to include potatoes all year round and other fruits and vegetables in season as well as meat from the farm. Without freezers though meat could not be kept for long without salting it. The pioneers invented a wide variety of pickles and chutneys to make salted meat more palatable.

Clothing

Sturdy, warm and uncomfortable.

Clothing
The clothing of the late nineteenth century was by the standards of today very thick and uncomfortable. Women and girls wore long skirts, usually made of wool; blouses, petticoats and long underwear all of cotton. Men wore woollen flannel t- shirts and flannel shirts and long pants. The singlet invented for shearing became popular in the summer.

7Clothing

A family moving house across a log bridge over the Tarwin. Note the every day clothing of the pioneers.

Falling trees

An ever-present danger in the early years.

Falling Trees

Being hit by a falling tree was a major cause of death in the South Gippsland region in the early days. Many a land clearer lost his life by being struck by a branch or tree. The first person to be buried in the Leongatha Cemetery was Dennis Maher who was working on the construction of the Great Southern Railway when he was killed by a falling tree while he slept in a tent near the present railway station. People were even killed when a buggy was unluckily hit by a falling tree as it moved along the road.

The photographs below illustrate the dangers involved in tree felling

7TreeFellinga

Note the man on a spring board near the top of the tree. He is taking the top off the tree before moving further down and cutting the tree in sections. This was a dangerous occupation but many men did it.

Medical

When a broken leg could be fatal.

Medical Help

Medical help was very limited. In the early days of settlement in South Gippsland the nearest Doctor was in Sale. People had to handle their own injuries and something like a broken leg could be fatal. It was not unknown for scrub cutters to sew up severe cuts for others or even themselves or to splint a broken limb. Families had very limited medical knowledge and had to get by. Women travelled to relatives elsewhere to give birth and were not keen to bring small children into the area until the houses were reasonable. A story that best illustrates this is the story of a small member of the Dodd family from Dumbalk North.

“The first birth on the Tarwin took place in my family – a boy-in February 1880 … This baby boy not being strong, it was decided to take him to Melbourne for medical advise; this meant carrying the child 30 miles on horseback to Morwell, and then the long train journey to Melbourne. The mother was away a fortnight and sent word to say that the child was doing well and to meet her at a given date at Morwell. This was done. I , the father and husband riding into Morwell, leading the spare horse. Imagine the shock I received when the mother put into my arms the body of the child – it was dead. It appeared that the little fellow had had a relapse, and had died in the mother’s arms while attending Dr Lloyd’s surgery. The doctor gave a certificate of death, and the mother not having any friends in Melbourne, and knowing that I would expect to meet her in Morwell that night brought the child up in her arms, no one in the carriage knowing the child was dead. The next day Saturday the journey out into the bush was made. On Sunday morning a coffin was made of blackwood slabs and the grave was dug. Thus on Sunday afternoon, November 14th 1880 the little chap was laid to rest on a high bank of the Tarwin River.”

About three weeks later a two year old Dodd boy also died — again Mrs Dodd was alone as her husband was off selling cattle. This child was also buried on a Sunday next to his brother on the banks of the Tarwin.

Frank Dodd in “Land of the Lyrebird”, pp 134-136

Transport

Travel by the light of the full moon.

Transport

The roads were as very bad. Dusty and full of ruts in summer and muddy in winter. People rarely travelled far unless they had to do so. The horse was the main means of transport other than walking. Early settlers were known to walk 20 or 30 miles just to pay their lease money on time. If a function such as a wedding was held it was usually during the day or around the full moon so people could see to go home.

A bullock team

Once the land was at least partially cleared goods and logs could be moved by bullock team.

7BullockTeam

(From the Leongatha and District Historical Society)

Road Making

The tracks were muddy indeed and it was a very difficult job to try and turn them into roads. Here bullocks are being used to make a road.

7RoadMaking

(From the Leongatha and District Historical Society)

Bushfires

The Great Bushfire of 1898 wiped out much of the Great Forest in Gippsland. Read this first-hand account

Bushfire Story

“The disastrous Gippsland Fires (1898) occurred when I was in Leongatha, and my house had a shingle roof, and was practically surrounded with fire. We had a very anxious time and only by keeping the roof deluged with water was the house saved.

“Indeed one night the situation seemed so precarious that I removed the family to the township, fully expecting that the house will be demolished during the night, but in the morning we found that the fire had passes on and that the house was intact.

“One sad incident as a result of the fires was the death of one of our sons (Norman) who caught cold while keeping the roof wet, developing rheumatic fever and died within a few days.”

William Young, the first owner of The Great Southern Star

Many families lost their homes, possessions and family members from bushfires.