Hanging out clothes

Across the land there were definite Monday washday rituals in the years gone by. My mother had some that she followed, but my grandmother adhered almost religiously to a strict process with the clothes from boiling them in the copper to pegging them on the line. And hanging the freshly laundered clothes properly was key to the success of the work of the day.

How she would shudder to see modern washing methods – garments being spun mercilessly in the closing stages of a washing machine cycle, only to be removed and crammed into a neighbouring contraption to be tumbled about and heated until dry and seemingly lifeless.

That would never have done for the washerwoman of the thirties or forties. To have the fresh clean wash carefully pegged out in the sun was as important a step as any that had preceded it. First, to prepare it for its vital task the washing line would be wiped by running a cloth along its complete length. This meant lowering the clothes props that kept the line high and out of the way.

Maybe you too were washing in the days of clothes props and lines across the yard, but I suppose most of us were more familiar with the ubiquitous Hills Hoist that has decorated nearly every Aussie backyard from the mid-fifties to the present. I was intrigued to learn recently that our backyards are really home to what probably should be called the ‘Toyne Hoist’, because way back in 1911, believe it or not, a man named Gilbert Toyne invented a rotary clothes hoist, which sadly had little or no success in the marketplace. It was only after his patent expired that Lance Hill perfected the design and came up with one of Australia’s greatest domestic inventions. 

But, there was something lively and endearing about the line and props method of drying the wash. Strung along the width of suburban backyards each Monday were rows upon rows of dancing figures as the breeze-filled trousers and shirts waved vigorously in a choreography that stretched from one end of the street to the other. As for fasteners, there was really nothing to beat the good old wooden dolly peg. How things have changed!  As children we were never allowed to play with these pegs as they were too precious. Nowadays wooden dolly pegs have so many other uses that only a tiny few ever reach the laundry. Children (and adults, too) paint them and dress them and they have become an essential craft item. But I like to think that the real dream of every dolly peg is to find itself outdoors gripping tightly to a pyjama shirt or pillow case that is dancing merrily to the command of a swirling wind.

Michael Goodwin