HUNG OUT TO DRY!
Baby boomers like me may have memories of old ‘prop’ clothes lines. They had been around for generations, although there was an attempt to improve on them as early as 1889. An Australian invented a device for carrying a double line, which could be elevated via a lever mechanism. It removed the need for props, but didn’t seem to catch on.
AT LAST – AN AUSSIE ICON IS BORN
We have to thank a nagging wife for the first real leap forward in clothes lines. In 1945, Mrs Hills from Adelaide lost patience over a growing lemon tree that was snagging her sheets and towels. She told her husband Lance to either chop the tree down or design an alternative method of drying clothes. And he did! Admittedly he improved upon previous inventions to produce his compact, rotating line. It could be lowered for ease of pegging, then raised to catch the breeze. An early order books shows they were pretty expensive, at ten quid each.
A HILLS HOIST HISTORY LINK
The first commercial batch of Mr Hills’ hoists had an interesting historical component.
The struts were made from the metal frame of a giant underwater boom. It had been suspended below Sydney Harbour Bridge during World War II, with the object of snaring enemy submarines. Lance Hills purchased the scrap metal as a job lot.
The Hills Hoist was a Godsend for a farmer’s wife. My mother’s old clothes line had been put up in a paddock, as it was too long to fit in the garden. Often livestock nudged the props and Mum’s snow white sheets would end up in the mud.
Nobody minded the new clothes line appearing in photos. Family friends and fellow farmers the Rowes were happy to share the stage with their rotary line. By the ‘sixties’ the Hills Hoist was as iconic as Josie and Heather’s duffle coats.
I love this slightly earlier photo of my sister Robbie and I proudly showing off our Brownie uniforms under the hoist. It must have been taken soon after being installed. If you look closely you can spot the old line and one of the props outside the fence.
Here is the same Hills Hoist a generation later. My newphews Rick and Peter are sitting at the table and chairs their Grandad made circa 1970. I see my mother’s garden is still flourishing and there’s a new fence. The lawn looks a bit dry though!
And here is their father Laurie installing a hoist in their own backyard, not that far way.
My oldest brother Ken lives in our old homestead now. According to my niece he has a more modern line, but prefers to use ‘the clunky old one. ‘
The new clothes lines meant that every kid had access to a hurdy gurdy. We loved swinging on ours, although not if Mum was watching.
To be honest, Mum needn’t have worried as they are virtually indestructible. Following the devastation of Darwin’s Cyclone Tracey in 1974, one was discovered intact, with washing twirling away amid the complete ruins of a home.
The Hills Hoist is often used to express our cultural identity; in artworks, and in hit movies such as Muriel’s Wedding and The Castle. It even appeared in the closing ceremony of the 2000 Sydney Olympics.
Vegetarians might find the next picture a bit confronting. But hey, the bar-b-que is part of Aussie life and a Hills Hoist makes an effective if bizarre rotisserie. Hope it didn’t dry out the turkey meat!
On a more uplifting note, the photo below illustrates nature’s artwork. It was created when a family accidentally left a sprinkler on one frosty night.
The Hills Hoist has been listed as a National Treasure by the Australian National Library. I think that says it all.
AN APPROPRIATE END FOR THE HILLS HOIST
Appreciator of all things vintage Clint Hardes found a hoist abandoned in the bush and recycled it into a nifty little drinks table. And yes, he assures me it still winds up and down.