A SMALL PIECE OF WOOD
Apparently wooden ‘dolly pegs’ were originally hand made by Gypsies in the UK, who sold them door to door. Sometimes they were carved from hedgerow wood, sometimes they were just a couple of sticks bound together with strips of tin. In Tasmania during the Great Depression a hawker by the name of One-Eyed Mrs Brown or Ma Brown followed the same tradition. She sold large clothes pegs made from willow, camping out as she made her way around the State.
A Tasmanian friend, Jen Eddington, told me that her grandmother bought pegs from Mrs Brown when she hawked them at Parkham, a rural district near Deloraine. I was intrigued to hear this, because my own Grandmother lived nearby at Reedy Marsh, and no doubt bought the pegs too. According to Jen’s mother, people were too afraid to refuse the old lady, because she had a very rough tongue. Another peg hawker was a fellow known as Yorky’. In the 1940s he peddled his wares around St Marys. He too camped in the bush with his swag.
If one of Mrs Brown’s pegs broke you could probably just plant the pieces and grow trees. Willow is so easy to propagate. It reminds me that my mother’s brothers made her a washing stand from willow in the 1930s. Decades later there were a couple of sizeable trees thriving on the spot at Reedy Marsh.
During those tough Depression years, children from even the poorest families could have fun with their mother’s pegs.
I loved this piece, published in 1931;
Little dolls and mascots made from clothes pegs are such fun to make.
Pretty crinkly paper (one penny a roll), odd bits of silk or ribbon give charming results.
Figures A and B show how to arrange dollies ‘arms (wound round the neck of the peg)’; these are made from one of daddy’s pipe-cleaners; as the foundation is wire, they can be twisted about in all sorts of positions.
Figure L is the brim of the little boy’s hat, made from a pair of compasses, and the inside black cut away. Now from this little brim you will find you can make every kind of hat. The little girl must have pretty hair. I’m sure mummy will find you some cotton wool, or pieces of knitting wool to show beneath the crinkly paper hat.
I know you will have no trouble making little suits and dresses. They are so simple to stick and sew together, and can be made from any odd scrap of material.
In 1926 what was claimed to be only peg factory in the Commonwealth opened in Tasmania in the small town of New Norfolk. At its peak the Pioneer Woodware Company employed 100 people, mostly women. The wood used was fragrant Sassafras, which had the added advantage of not staining fabric. There was plenty of work for timber getters, as the factory turned out 1.4 million pegs per week.
(Now I do have to take issue with the claim about it being the sole factory in the Commonwealth. In 1925 the dance hall in my adopted village of Blackheath in the NSW Blue Mountains was turned into a peg factory!)
On Christmas Day 1941 a fire broke out at the factory in a pile of timber. The Manager’s wife noticed smoke and raised the alarm. Fortunately a young man rushed to help until the fire brigade arrived and the blaze was extinguished in the nick of time.
In 1948 the factory did burn down. The town brigade turned up quite quickly, but the company had no proper provision for fire fighting, and it was hopeless. It was the largest fire ever experienced in New Norfolk, with flames 100ft high.
The loss presented an enormous problem, as it was still the main supplier of pegs throughout Australia. An emergency factory had to be set up before the new one opened the following year. It could only produce square pegs, but at least filled the gap. Wooden pegs with springs started being produced by the company in the late 1950’s.
In this photo of the new building you can spot a giant new chimney stack powering away on the far left.
As late as 1973 the Australian Women’s Weekly published an article in their fashion pages about using dolly pegs to make quirky accessories. The idea was to slide then into the pocket of a jacket, or use them to decorate a belt.
1960 was a terrible year for the Tasmanian peg maker. In April the Derwent River rose and flooded the factory, causing great damage to stock and equipment. Worse still, the Federal Government removed import duties and the market was flooded with cheap foreign pegs. The factory closed in 1975. The end of an era.
On October 7 2011, locals were amazed to see thick smoke pouring from the old chimney.
FOOTNOTE – Dolly pegs are still available from craft shops. And yes, children still adore them. Here are some my friend Chris made recently. As in the Women’s Weekly article, the peg is dressed side-on, so it can be slipped onto a pocket or belt.
And finally, this could be the most beautiful Miss Dolly ever created. Made by Desley Allen for her lucky little granddaughter. Love those silver slippers.
DO YOU HAVE MEMORIES OF MAKING DOLLIES FROM PEGS?