Cards and games generally were ideal pastimes for evenings, both in the home and at public gatherings. One of the important reasons for this was the general lack of strong artificial light, a situation which made reading and needlework an eyestrain.
Country halls with their rows of kerosene lamps or patent Gloria lights were a focal point in the community. By the soft glow of such lamplight, the older folk played euchre, the younger ones danced and the small fry skipped about or nodded off to sleep.
Needlework was a most important pastime. It encompassed both the practical needs of the household along with the desire to create fine pieces of needlecraft, often simply for their own sake. How much embroidery, cut work, tatting, drawn thread, smocking, crochet work and lacework was made over endless patient hours, and all to “bloom unseen” as undergarments, or be kept in drawers, or safely hidden under bedcovers?
Those struggling to keep a family clothed were, however, unlikely to have time for the more genteel aspects and blessed the treadle sewing machine as people in the third world do today. In more affluent households ladies scanned pattern books and journals for ideas and designs to test their skills; they turned out yard upon yard of beautiful lace, dozens of d’oylies, and scores of eccentric needleworked knick-knacks. Much of it for the “Glory boxes” that all young girls started to keep from a very early age.
Dressing up and going to dances was one of the joys of what was often a plain and hardworking life. The music provided was a variable component, depending on the availability and talent of local and district musicians. Most halls had a piano and reasonable pianists were usually in good supply. With the pianist could be a fiddle player, someone on the accordian or concertina and other musicians with instruments ranging from the harmonica, or mouth organ, tin whistle, jews harp, etc.
Music in the home, if taken seriously, could involve the whole family and so there could be cellos, clarinets, flutes, violins with all the accoutrements. Australia’s traditional and popular music was, to varying degrees, altered or overlayed by powerful influences such as the phonograph or gramophone and from the late 1920s and early 1930s, by radio broadcasts.
Edison’s cylinder phonograph, first invented in 1877, was still widely used in the early decades of this century until competition came from the new disc gramophone, prototype of all records players up to recent times. The development of the cinema stretches through the whole period 1880 to 1940. By the end of that time pictures with both sound and colour had been developed.
In the home around the turn of the century a family might enjoy an evening with the magic lantern – apart from all kinds of glass slides there were visual effects created through hand wound kaleidoscope slides.
Stereoscopic views were a happy way of being transported to distant places and seeing, if at second hand, the great events of these times. The departure of the troops for the South African War and the visit of the American Fleet were typical subjects. Tours of exotic places rated highly and father might favour the “French Bicycle Girls” series.
The keeping of photograph albums became a much more personal hobby with the invention of the simple box camera. This provided an opportunity of the amateur photographer to capture on film all the different aspects of family and community life. Before the box camera there had only been professional studio photographs of the family or paintings of popular views and portraits of notable people. From the 1890s onward amateurs with box cameras filled albums with photographs, at times obscure and ill-composed, but in most cases showing a natural, lively quality.
Households which could boast a library were fortunate and one can only wonder whether the occupants made use of such resources. Most libraries would be based on the accepted classics, along with the Bible, a few guides and almanacs, a dictionary and perhaps a volume on home medicine.
People were rarely at a loss for household pastimes; they wrote letters, played charades, read the newspapers and enjoyed magazines like the Bulletin or Punch. Keeping a journal was popular, as was writing poetry, homilies and other “scraps” in a special book. Specially printed coloured pictures were also available and carefully arranged in large scrapbooks and even on boxes, trays and screens.
For most, it was an age of simple pleasures when time was savoured rather than saved.
All of these objects can be seen in our museum.