The Getting of Wisdom

by Arna Delle-Vergini

I recently took a trip to Sovereign Hill. It was under duress, but I enjoyed it nonetheless. I didn’t find any gold (much to my daughter’s chagrin) but I did walk away with a copy of Australian Early Settlers Household Lore – written by Mrs. N. Pescott, or, Loma.

“Australian Early Settlers Household Lore” is packed with recipes and contains basically everything you need to know about managing a household – from how to cure insomnia with clove drops, how to dress a sheep’s head (oh dear), how to make a ‘toddy’ (whisky, sugar, hot water and lemon), how to mend broken glass, kill rats and flies, prepare facial cream out of milk, magnesia, paraffin oil and witch-hazel (no nasty chemicals in that there list of ingredients) and even lists all of the wedding anniversaries from first (paper) to 60th (Diamond) in the event that you can’t remember them yourself. At the top of each page is a quote often of biblical origins such as “Eat such things as are set before you”, St. Luke or, “Man shall not live by bread alone”, New Testament; Matthew IV.

A cameo style photo of Loma appears early in the book. Her décolletage is fancily trimmed with a generous proportion of Chantilly lace and she wears white kid gloves. A delicate choker, pinned with a broach, adorns her neck. It also appears that she may be wearing a crown. A crown! She is quite the authority!

‘Lore’, incidentally, is a body of knowledge accumulated though education, experience, traditions and beliefs. I love that someone has actually taken the time to research and compile early settler accounts of how to cook, keep house and, basically, live a civilised life in terribly trying times. I am guessing here, but I imagine at the time the early settlers were actually alive, they had other ways of communicating this valuable information – through storytelling and skill-sharing largely. There would not have been a lot of journal keeping going on. You learnt the ‘lore’ through conversation mostly and, of course, guidance/mentoring and practise.

I feel that this is how we learn about law too (‘scuse the pun). Not so much the actual Law (which is such a small part of being a lawyer) but the lore of being a lawyer. When you think about it, not much has changed really – it’s just that more of our knowledge is in print and it’s killingly easy to disseminate. Isn’t that comforting? Doesn’t that feel good?