Modern Fremantle to a Flapper
Welcome to Merry’s house – with all the modern conveniences of Australia in the 1920s. I admit I don’t know for certain which house it is in these photos, as the recently renovated house that’s there now looks very different. But it’s one in that cluster on the left hand side of the photo.
Merry and Maria lived on Tuckfield Street, which is (and was) a real road in Fremantle, Western Australia. If you’re trying to place everything in Ocean’s Widow, I can make it easier for you with a contemporary map. This is dated 1919, four years before Maria arrived in Fremantle, but it’s the closest I’ve been able to find. If you find this version a bit small, you can click on the image to see the full sized map.
If you prefer your maps in aerial form, yes, I even have an aerial photograph of Fremantle Harbour taken in the early 1930s. In the foreground is the wharf and in the background, in order of increasing distance, the rail bridge and the road bridge, respectively. Merry’s house is in the land on the right hand side of the river between the two bridges. Like the map above, you can click on the image to see a larger version of it, if you wish.
While Tuckfield Street had some grand houses – including the one that became Sacred Heart Girls School, where Merry worked as a teacher – their house was a simple, single-storey building, albeit one with a beautiful view of the harbour from the front veranda.
Well, that’s the outside. But what about inside? What were modern conveniences in 1923?
First and foremost is power. Yes, Fremantle did have electricity and even electric lighting in 1923. But…most households like Merry’s didn’t use it for anything but lighting.
A Modern 1923 Kitchen
Appliances were all people-powered with no plastic in sight.
Refrigerators weren’t unheard of, but they were a luxury few could afford. Instead, the modern housewife had an ice chest, often made of local hardwood like jarrah and varnished or painted to match the rest of the kitchen cabinets. A large block of ice went into the cupboard at the top, chilling the contents until it melted and the ice man returned with a fresh block.
Refrigerators didn’t really infiltrate West Australian homes until the 1930s, with a huge compressor on top that was almost as big as the refrigerator itself.
Water and modern plumbing in the 1920s was…well, not quite what we’d consider modern today.
Fremantle was the first town in Western Australia to institute a public water supply in 1890, which included wells for public use. With the proliferation of cesspits in Fremantle in that time, often in close proximity to the water supply, many households chose to supplement their drinking water with a rainwater tank that collected rainwater off their roof. A windmill pump to go with it in the backyard was the most modern way to go.
Plumbing…ooh, here come the dunnies and cesspits. Actually, cesspits weren’t commonly in use in Fremantle any more by 1923 – the outdoor toilet at the back of the garden, known locally as a dunny was far more prevalent. These had a metal pan at the bottom to collect waste. The dunny was up against the back fence of the property, which bordered on an alley that ran behind all the houses. The purpose of this alley was for the poor bloke who had the delightful job of collecting and emptying the pans. You definitely didn’t want to be in the dunny when he was on duty – first you’d feel the draught as the dunny man opened the back flap in the alley, then you’d wait, frozen in fear as he groped in the dark beneath your bottom for the pan, and then you’d have to hold in whatever you’d planned on depositing in the pan until he came back. I’ve heard stories of incidents where the groping hand found more than the pan, too…
And was there toilet paper? Well, we already know there was toilet paper on the Titanic and the Trevessa, so it’s fair to assume Merry and Maria had the modern-day product to wipe their behinds with.
Surprisingly, doing the grocery shopping was much like it is today. Okay, it involved more cash than credit cards and EFTPOS machines were nowhere to be found, but packaged foodstuffs were common in 1920s Fremantle.
The tins were useful for storing other things and many of them have survived to the present day.
Yes, I did go to great lengths to research my Siren of War series – but that’s the point of historical fiction and historical romance. Getting the details right so the story flows effortlessly.