Thursday, 9 June 2022

The rising cost of food

as well as rent or mortgage repayments is under discussion in today's paper. 

I am not surprised. It is one of those sort of "human interest" articles which get put out from time to time, a sort of reminder to us all.

Every time I read one of these I think back to our time in one particularly tiny rural community. My parents were the teachers in the two teacher school. It was in a remote area. "Very remote" was probably the nearest sheep station - a couple of hours drive north-west on an unsealed road.

Our house was "new". It was one of the fibro-asbestos sheet houses built all over the state by what was called the "PBD" - Public Buildings Department. My parents were required to live in it and pay rent to the PBD. It was all part of working for the Education Department. 

The house had been built without any supervision. The land had not been cleared properly and there were trees struggling to grow under the small stilts the house sat on. The house was smaller than the plans had said it was supposed to be. The water had not been connected. It was connected to a tap outside the house. The very narrow pipe to this ran across the top of the ground. In summer it was too hot to put your hands directly under the tap. In winter the pipe would slow to even more of a trickle if it was very cold.

There was no electricity connected. There was a woodburning "Metters No 5" in the kitchen. Using that when the temperature was rising in the summer was not the best.

My parents could afford to make some improvements. The water was eventually connected to the inside of the house. That meant the Senior Cat did not have to carry buckets of water to the copper in which my mother did the washing. The PBD provided a 32v power supply in a little shed a few metres from the back door. The Senior Cat and the man from the EWS (electricity and water supply) put it in. It didn't work that well but it worked well enough to let my parents prepare lessons at night without resorting to fuel burning lamps.

Wow! We were suddenly considered "rich". There were plenty of other people in the district who had none of these things. My brother and I remember going to visit a couple of other children from school. They lived in a "house" made from a rough wooden frame and hessian/burlap wheat sacks that had been tarred over. The floor was dirt with patches of linoleum. That was probably the worst accommodation in the small "town" but there was more in the district which was not much better. There was a police station built of brick, the town "pub" of very definite solid construction and the house attached to the bank building and a couple of other older houses of more solid construction. Most people lived as we did apart from the water supply and the 32v power supply.

The big expense for people then, as now, was the vehicle they used. They needed a vehicle. Some people had a car but most of them used the lorry (truck) as both the farm vehicle and the one which transported the family. They kept 40 gallon drums of fuel on the farm. Families survived from one "wheat cheque" or (a few) the "sheep cheque" to the next cheque. They had to budget for an entire year.

I was reminded of all this when I read the article this morning. I wonder how the people in the article would survive under those circumstances. The reality is that most of them would have no idea. They would not manage. They talk of the price of a can of baked beans and "two minute noodles". Faced with a kangaroo shot by the farmer for meat they would have no idea what to do. I certainly would not wish it on them (and I cannot tolerate kangaroo meat!)

But perhaps it would be kind if we tried to teach children something about all this in school. They might have more idea how to cope with ever increasing prices.  

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