Monday, November 19, 2012

The women tuck up their skirts

A night's haul of mice, Minyip, 1917
We have a photo in an old photo album. It shows my ancestor (at right) and three barrows full of mice. Robert Wyllie was a wheat farmer near Minyip in Victoria's Wimmera district. In the autumn and winter of 1917 the mice built up to huge numbers, millions, and there are articles in the newspapers of the day about how to protect wheat reserves in silos and stacks. Sowing the crop was also a problem as the mice ate the seed in the soil. The mouse plague was bad in South Australia, Victoria and New South Wales and cost the farmers and the governments millions of pounds.


Ararat Advertiser 5 April 1917
I couldn't find many articles about women trying to keep mice out of their homes but I know they were impossible to keep out. Imagine! This quote is from one report:
We are having a visitation of mice. They swarm in the paddocks, and the little creatures are swarming with fleas, and they invade the house, bringing their companions with them. Dan complains that a mouse has mullenized* a patch in his whiskers while he slept! After that, uneasy lies our head. They rob the roses from the curtains, they nibble mats and rugs, they borrow our books leaf by leaf, and have made a library of their own in which we commonly find a nest of wee pink quadrants. The men wear 'yorks'** to prevent the invader mounting, the women tuck up their skirts, and when sitting keep up a constant movement with their feet; but this tapping of the foot is common to bush women, for there is continual necessity of warding off small life. The Register, Adelaide, 4 May 1917
I have added the photo, above, to the National Library's Flickr group so it now shows up on Trove's search page when you search 'mouse plague'. Those keywords turns up other amazing photos on Trove as well.

* Pending the development of an effective machine, a technique known as mullenizing (after a farmer from Wasleys named Charles Mullens) became popular as a means of clearing the scrub. Mullenizing involved dragging a heavy roller over roughly cleared ground to crush young shoots; the field was then burnt, and a spiked log was run over the ground, and a crop of wheat sown. The next season, the stubble and any mallee regrowth was again burnt, and eventually the mallee died, though stumps remained underground. Wikipedia

**  I can't find a definition for 'yorks'. I wonder if it means knickerbockers, or a clip around the bottom of the trouser legs.

2 comments:

  1. Gee, this brought back memories - I grew up on a property between Horsham and Murtoa in the Wimmera. I can remember as a child putting table legs and bed legs into containers of water to prevent the mice running up and over them and us. We used to sit watching TV and watch a steady stream of mice squeeze through a tiny crack in the wall and run across the room. This happened most winters. You would pick up a bag of feed and there would be a dozen of them underneath. I don't miss it at all.

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  2. He is a Barnes......... Not a Wyllie

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Lorraine