Shepparton seniors remember summers past

By John Lewis

Tom Brain, Noemi Couttes and and Dorothy Jones come from another world — a world before summer cool.

When they were young, summers were hot.

Wherever they played, studied, ate or slept, it was hot.

There was no escaping the long sizzle, drip and melt of an Australian summer.

The three residents of Shepparton Villages had different childhoods, but they all share the same feeling about summer.

Retired building supplies business owner Mr Brain, 86, summed it up.

‘‘We didn’t seem to worry about the heat — it was just part of living,’’ he said.

Mr Brain grew up in a brick house on Clive St in Shepparton where the windows were kept open all night.

‘‘Mosquitoes were always a problem, but we slept through it. We spent a lot of our time in the channels after school — that’s all you could do,’’ he said.

Ms Couttes, 72, was one of five children growing up on her Italian family farm at Shepparton East where summers were spent sleeping outside at night and picking vegetables in blistering temperatures during the day.

‘‘We had no electricity for four years. At night we slept out on the verandah, then during the day we had to pick the vegetables,’’ she said.

‘‘Vegetables don’t wait.

‘‘We used to keep a bucket of water at the end of each row and we’d dip in a cloth and throw it over our heads to keep going.

‘‘When we got home, Mum would fill a bath and we’d cool off before bed.’’

She walked three miles each way in the summer heat to go to Shepparton East Primary School, where they would sit, dripping, in classrooms like ovens.

‘‘Sometimes the teachers would make us icy poles in cups. That helped,’’ she said.

Ms Couttes too played in channels and remembered always walking away with something extra.

‘‘We used to get leeches — we’d flick them off like this,’’ she said slapping her leg.

Tom nodded in fond agreement.

Ms Jones, 92, remembered ice chests and ‘‘Coolgardies’’ keeping food fresh at her Melbourne home.

‘‘The iceman came round every day with a block of ice and we’d break it up into pieces,’’ she said.

How long did it last?

‘‘Not very long,’’ she said.

Her reply came packed with bitter clarity.

Melbourne nights were different than country ones.

‘‘We wouldn’t leave the windows open. They stayed closed and you just slept if you could,’’ Ms Jones said.

Ms Couttes remembered Christmas time on her uncle’s farm at Ardmona where women covered themselves in cold sheets to cook over roasting wood-fired stoves.

‘‘My uncle would keep drinks cool by putting them in a hessian bag and lowering them down the backyard well,’’ she said.

‘‘Heat didn’t seem to bother people.’’

Want to keep cool, wind down the window

An air-conditioned car can be a refuge from the heat — but not if you are driving a 1963 EJ Holden.

Back before new-fangled things such as automatic climate control, going for a drive on a hot summer day meant one thing — quarter windows.

Shepparton Motor Museum volunteer Ken Cuthbert, 79, remembers driving his Holden in the 1960s with the windows down was the only way to keep cool — slightly.

‘‘The seats got that hot. We’d roll the main windows right down — then flip the quarter windows right out to catch more of a breeze. But of course it was warm air,’’ he said.

He said older Holdens had a ‘‘scoop’’ or air vent that could be opened up underneath the dashboard and increased the air flow.

Ken Cuthbert remembers the days before climate control in cars.

Of course, older car engines were also prone to overheating.

‘‘If they got real hot, the petrol would vaporise when you stopped, then you couldn’t restart them,’’ he said.

A former orchardist, Mr Cuthbert remembered being forced to leave his International truck in the orchard overnight to let it cool down.

He said European cars and trucks — even more modern ones — were not built for the Australian heat.

‘‘The air-conditioners on them are not that good. I’ve always been a bit of a Holden man,’’ he said.

The secret to keeping cool - the quarter window