Sunday, February 26, 2006

Carefree Shopping

Val has chronicled the woes of supermarket shopping in Australia in the mid 1970s. Her post made me think of shopping when I was a child in the 1940s and early '50s. I lived in the country, at a time when very few women drove cars. Indeed, there were several families on nearby farms who didn't even own a car, therefore most of the household shopping was home delivered.

Mum would ring up the grocer in the nearest town, which was 12 klm (8 miles) away, on Tuesday morning with her order for the week, and this would be delivered by the owner of the grocery store on Wednesday afternoon. Colin would bring in the groceries, all stacked in a wooden box, set it down on the kitchen table and unpack it. Then he would check through the order again to make sure it was all there. I remember that he always wore a white apron and had a pencil tucked above one ear.

On Monday mornings Mum would ring a butcher in another town about 22 klm away with her weekly order. The meat was delivered by the mailman on Monday, Wednesday and Friday and left in the mailbox together with the mail. Mum bought meat from that same butcher for more than 20 years and never once visited the shop or met the butcher.

Bread was delivered Tuesday, Thursday and Saturday from the bakery in the local town. The bread was left in a large wooden box at the entrance to the farm. Our house was 400 metres from the road so one or other of the 7 children would need to walk down to the road to collect the bread or meat and the mail and carry it home in a hessian sugarbag on their back. We sometimes ate most of the inside out of a loaf of bread on the way home, leaving just a crust. You can imagine how happy that made Mum! She used to rouse at us, saying, "If I gave you bread to eat with nothing on it, you wouldn't eat it. Yet you'll eat it before it even gets to the house."

We collected milk from our own cows and butter was brought out once a week from the milk factory by the milk carrier. At one time we would go through 7lbs (3.5 kilos) of butter a week.

At various times a greengrocer would call with vegetables and fruit. We had many fruit trees of our own on the farm, although Dad would often buy whole cases of apples and oranges from orchardists in the Mildura area. These would be sent down by train. At other times, two of my brothers grew vegetables and sold them to Mum for half shop price. This meant that Mum had cheap vegetables and the boys earned some pocket money. What they couldn't grow, Dad would usually buy during a weekly trip into town.

None of this shopping was paid for at the time of purchase. At the end of the month each business would send a bill in the mail and Dad would write out a cheque for each one and post it off.

In the late 1950s supermarkets started to appear in Australia and we began making a fortnightly trip to a larger town for groceries and vegetables. However, meat and bread continued to be bought as before.

In the early 1970s, before moving to Canberra, Richard and I, and Michelle and Tanya lived in another small farming community which had a corner store (see photo), where most groceries could be purchased. Many of the goods still came to the store in bulk and had to be weighed out by the storekeeper. Sugar, salt, a range of dry goods, and biscuits are some of the things I remember being sold in this way.
Michelle developed a liking for Monte Carlo biscuits so it didn't matter which sort of biscuit I asked for, Malcolm would always include 2 Monte Carlos for her. At the same shop you could buy hardware, gift items, and stock feed. A typical country store.

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Val said...

What an interesting story, and beautifully punctuated by a photo of that lovely country store. That reminds me of something I forgot to mention in my post which is the milk bars. These are local family run shops that you can walk to and are often a lifesaver. They are getting tough competition from the supermarkets that are now open at all hours - that's the downside of more convenient supermarket hours, I guess.

Motherkitty said...

What a great remembrance of your life on the farm while you were growing up. I could almost picture you and your siblings, and your parents. Getting a food delivery of some kind probably felt like Christmas every week. Thanks for the memories.

Sue said...

Hi Alice,
Found your site through Kerri! Enjoyed reading about your food "shopping" Quite different from my early years! I'm a born and bred California girl and have always lived the city life (same town all my 57 years!)
As I told Kerri, my SIL is a native Aussie and has lived over here all her married life. She has introduced us to many of her native expressions, foods, etc.
I'll be back to visit you again.

Kerri said...

Such an interesting story Alice. I love reading all about the way things were back then and you write so beautifully!
We had milk and bread deliveries and even a fruit and vege truck.
Monte Carlos were one of my favourite biscuit too. Mmmm! I've been adding things to the list of foods I miss (and that was an item at the top of the list) and that other people have mentioned. I may have to write an amendment to my 'Aussie foods' post :)
This is a great post!
The little store is a perfect touch.

Calidore said...

Looks like my Mum wasn't the only one to eat the centre of the bread before it got to the house. Grandma used to grump and her as well. On those days they got scones, and if anyone complained look Thank you for sharing your early years. It seems such a shame that times change and our children can't know such simple pleasures and personal service from the shops today.

ms*robyn said...

our own little corner store here in Woodford just closed down last week. too much competition from bigger supermarkets in other towns. Now all we have is a post office and have to drive to the service station if we need milk. I hate that.
Alice, your story is wonderful ! we are so lucky to have grown up in such a wonderful country.

Shell said...

I so enjoyed reading this post. They sound like such wonderful times. It almost seems backwards that things used to be delivered and now we have to go and get them all ourselves? I can't wait until internet shopping comes to brisbane supermarkets. I'd love to go online, order all of my groceries then have them delivered - I think it would make me a more conscious shopper too!

This was a great story and it reminds me of how much has changed just in my own lifetime! I only remember milk and bread being delivered in my own time. But I did get to experience the life my grandparents once lived - they killed their own livestock for meat, milked cows for milk and cream and made butter, and had a huge vegie patch. It was wonderful. Thanks for reminding me of the way they used to live.

Val said...

And I remember milk being delivered in metropolitan Melbourne in the 1970s by horse and cart! I used to wake up to the sound of the clippety clop of horses' hooves on suburban streets. The horse would know the route and how fast to go and the milkman would run back and forth between the cart and the houses. It was magic!

susan said...

Another wonderful story, Alice, thanks for sharing. Times sure have changed, not always for the better.

judypatooote said...

What a lovely story Alice... Simpler times, I'm so glad I got to experience them....I remember the ice man delivering ice out to my cottage....oh what a treat because he would always chip off a piece of ice for me to suck on.... can you imagine kids today, excited about an ice chip....LOL

Takoma Gardener said...

VERY interesting. Thanks. Susan

Maggie Ann said...

How very interesting! You have a lot of wonderful memories.