Monday, October 25, 2010

Princess Remembers...A love Story....

Hello Dhaaarlings...

I love wisteria in full bloom and I  feel just have to show you my wisteria vine...
And... I can relate to you the reason for this deep seated love...

Wisteria is another of my favourite blooms and like many other flowers.. one that evokes many mixed memories from my childhood

When I was just a young slip of a Princess...
My paternal grandparents lived on an a small twenty acre farmlet that had it's own creek that ran into a dam. Set with gently undulating fields and partially covered in native bushland. 
Nanna and Pa raised a very small herd of beef cattle... about 6-10 beasts every year. Of which, they would have  one or two of them butchered to supply their own meat... and the remainder would be sold to market to help supplement their income.

They were pretty self sufficient back then... having a black and white house cow called Queenie. I remember that Queenie was... come milking time... a cantankerous old girl. And without fail...would either attempt to kick over the milking bucket usually when it was half full or...
I if you had forgotten to attach her tail to the rusty bulldog clip that hung from a light chain nailed in to the side of her milking stall... would never fail to give you a suddenly smarting whack in the face.
It was then that you remembered. Sometimes it seemed that this was her sole aim in life...
For the rest of the time she was a delightful old moocher.

 They had a very productive vegetable garden which was always bursting with seasonal produce. The orchard sported apple, peach, apricot, lemon mandarin, orange, plum, quince, and loquat trees. Blackberries grew wild along the dam wall and there was always a bed full of strawberries... netted to keep the thieving birds at bay. The resultant bounty of vegetables and fruits... each year in season... Nanna would preserve as jam or sauces, bottling the stone fruit and pears, or bake the remainder into wonderful pies and tarts. We kids would help with every step in the process from picking preparing, cooking to eating...

There was a chicken yard and two coops that kept us all supplied with fresh eggs daily and... on special occasions... fresh chicken.
In those days chicken was a real special meat to have and considered to be a luxury. 

Although.... for the hen that had stopped laying or the inevitable young rooster causing too much trouble in the hen house... it wasn't too special an occasion!.
Nor was it too special for us kids watching Nanna as she wielded the axe over the unsuspecting bird on the chopping block.
And one day having to chase after the now headless bird running about the yard after escaping Nanna's grip... and then having to help her to gut the still warm cadaver in preparation for a sumptuous Sunday roast.

"If you kids want to eat... Start Plucking!" She would say as she hauled the recently rampaging bird... out of the boiling copper in the laundry.

Right down the back of the yard...
At the end of a long brick path leading from the back door of the house...
Stood the "Thunderbox"!
In other words... the oindoor toilet.
Hereafter referred to as... "The Old Dunny".

Which... brings me to this story about a wisteria vine and the old Dunny at my Grandparents farm.

The old Dunny was constructed of wood. Most of which had been hewn by my Pa, from radiata pine trees on the farm. It was about four foot wide and six foot deep... seven foot in height with a dirt floor and a tin roof.
A door made from the same wooden planks as on the walls was hung to allow for privacy and could be closed to keep out the weather by hanging a bit of old fencing wire over a nail just inside the door. Inside the Dunny, an enclosed wooden bench seat had been crafted and a hole cut into the top of the bench which was where you sat... comfortably and unassumingly over the big metal pan underneath... when you "needed to go".

The hole in the seat could be covered with a wooden removable lid when not in use.
 I don't ever remember a toilet seat as such... Just the hole cut out with the edges rounded and sanded smooth...

These old Dunny's could, as you might well imagine get quite...well... stinky particularly during the high heat of a hot Australian Summer
(Or any other time for that matter)

So as was often the case, many a scented tree or vine was planted alongside an old Dunny. It was a regular practice used to provide screening and shade from the intense sunshine and heat... and... as a foil to aromatically camouflage the often reeking stench coming from the Dunny...
 Despite the regular sprinkling of sawdust and wood shavings... scooped from a bucket in the corner behind the door... and the liberal sloshing of liquid into the pan from a big brown bottle full of Lysol!

Fragrant plants like climbing rose, jasmine, and lilac were often among  some of the popular choices used for this purpose...

Well... Nanna had chosen to plant a wisteria beside the Dunny.
 And each year in late Autumn after flowering and losing its verdant green canopy of leaves she would almost religiously go "down the back" armed with secateurs and a pruning saw give it a "Damn good going over"
Thus.. keeping the sometimes unruly beast in check. And every year it remained in check up until the year that she died...

 But... by that time... Nanna and Pa had already put in a "modern" outdoor septic system.

An often heard saying is... "Built like a brick shit house"
Prefixed by He's... She's or It's...

Well... I don't know... but in my mind I think the term was coined after the construction of Pa's new Dunny...
But I might be wrong...

A solid brick "lavatory" was sturdily constructed...
It was a family affair with Pa Supervising. My Dad and the Uncles doing the bulk of the work and even Pop... my great grandfather... bought in in an advisory capacity.

My Brother and the "Cousins" were the designated  "Gofers"...
Sent to go for bricks, buckets of water from the tank to mix the mortar and more beers from the fridge.
As I recall... it was very thirsty work.

 The walls were double bricked and it was annexed on to the existing detached brick laundry containing the old wringer and washing machine, the fire lit copper used for boiling the sheets (or unfortunate Sunday lunches), the milk separator and various stores lining the walls on shelves in metal biscuit tins and big glass jars. 

In the lavatory a brand new porcelain cistern and bowl set that flushed with water were installed.
It even had a wooden seat with a hinged lid that you could open and close.
The room had a small glazed window built into the wall above the cistern.
 And a little hand basin fixed to one wall with a cold running water tap!
Nanna always kept a little block of soap, like the ones that I would later discover in motels... and a little hand towel hung over a handrail beside the sink.
Very fancy and with all these modern conveniences.

 Nanna was so excited to show us kids how it all worked.  We were fascinated. She lined us up and then let us one by one take a turn at pressing the cistern button, watching the water come gushing out around the bowl.. swirling around and disappearing... accompanied by gurgling  noises as the water traveled down the pipes.
And she was also very proud of her newest acquisition.
 A toilet roll holder and accompanying  roll of toilet paper!
She tore off a piece so that we could all have a feel. It was so soft...

Gone forever were the days of sitting around with pairs of scissors.
Cutting up old news papers and magazines into squares to use for Dunny paper... pinned through one corner on an exposed and bent upwards six inch nail as as was the case in the old Dunny.
We were all amazed by the marvel of modern technology.

And so... with the new modern marvel installed... the old Dunny was rudely abandoned.
And over time...sadly neglected though nostalgically at least by me... not forgotten.
It no longer held the pivotal role of being the main seat in the house.
A position suddenly usurped by this new and flashy or...flushy... interloper...
 No longer the nocturnally torch-lit haven... providing momentary safety from driving wind and rain during a frightening thunder storm. No longer the haunt for a sneaky ciggy with the cousins... surreptitiously pinched from an unwary parents' mislayed packet.
No longer the place for a quiet read of a "penny dreadful" on a balmy afternoon or... the regular rendezvous for a furtively fleeting session after school of "you show me yours" with the other kids from down the road.

 But.. I digress...

Pa never pruned the wisteria again after Nanna died.
And over the ensuing years... like the rest of the garden... It was left to ramble and roam.
 Each season the neglected wisteria would get bigger and bigger, growing up and over the roof of the old dunny... with a canopy of mauve flowers that eventually stretched for thirty feet in all directions... providing welcoming cool and scented shade in the middle of the summer heat.
And as its tendrils eventually reached to the ground...became a great place to hide when avoiding seekers.

In bloom it was a sight to behold remaining majestic and spectacular in it's splendorous display.

But sadly under all that weight... the poor abandoned dunny that had so well served the family for many a year... began to develop a subtle lean. And each season as the lean became more pronounced its old weathered boards began to split and bow out of shape. Its once sheltering tin roof... rusting away to form larger and larger holes... It's door tiredly hanging off it's rusty hinges.

Each year the wisteria continued to grow larger, stronger and more unruly...The old dunny would lean over even more. Visibly straining to remain upright. 

Eventually... the weight of the Dunny's heavy burden became too much.
 And one day it just gave up and toppled completely.
Finally beaten.
 It lay exhausted... sprawled under a mountain of mauve blossom and tangled vine. A pitiful shadow of it's former proud and glorious self.

I cried the day that Pa finally pruned the wisteria.

He took to it with the chainsaw...

and then the axe...

and then the mattock... grubbing out the roots.

The wisteria stumps and vines along with the remaining planks of the old dunny were unceremoniously dragged out into the paddock... piled up into a large pyre... doused with kerosene and set to with a match

I remember standing there watching the flames getting higher and taking hold... tears streaking my face as history... part of my own history... was slowly lifted up in a curling smokey ascension to the heavens...

I really loved my Nanna


  1. What wonderful memories!

    My maternal grandparents lived very much like that far out in the countryside.

  2. What a wonderful nostalgic post. A lovely memory to share with us. Thank you my beautiful darling.

    I love wisteria as well. For me it reminds me of my ex-MIL.

  3. Thank you for sharing that lovely post with us Princess. The next time I see the wisteria blooming here I will think of you and your Nanna.

  4. Lovely, Princess.

    And if it weren't for you, I might never have added "dunny" to my vocabulary.

  5. Thank you for sharing this lovely and wonderful post! This is a beautiful and heartwarming story you've shared. Absolutely fantastic.

    Now I know what those purple flowers are called. They are so very beautiful, just like your wonderful grandmother.

    I'd like to think that the spirit of that wisteria made its way to heaven, where it continues to blossom and bloom under your grandmother's loving care.

    And I'd also like to think they have indoor plumbing in heaven, complete with toilet seat warmers.

  6. What a lovely mince down memory lane Princess. It was like reading a Catherine Cookson novel. Halcyon days indeed.