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Wash. Wring. Hang.

March 23, 2011

Waterfall fountain made with old washboard and wash tub

Image Credit: jandclindenbaum

One of the hardest punishments is to be thrown into the world with aspirations and dreams that cannot be fulfilled for want of education….

I received only a few weeks’ schooling. Ignorant and alone

I lived in a world of make-believe.

~ Winifred Steger

Winifred Steger was born in England in 1882. To break the cycle of poverty her father takes part in a land grab and books a passage for his family to head for Australia, work the land and strike it rich.

Arriving in Australia, Winifred and her father find that their land grant is covered with a prison of prickly pear and is worthless. Faced again with poverty, endless backbreaking work and isolation in an unfamiliar country, Winifred’s father spirals into depression and alcoholism, leaving Winifred emotionally alone. From skivvy in a bawdy house to a loveless marriage, Winifred battles almost insurmountable odds to maintain her dignity and sanity, finding solace as she creates fictitious scenarios to ease her hardship.

Copper wash tub with hand operated clothes wringer.

Image Credit: Pine-Strawberry Museum

At the age of twenty-six, she is forced to abandon her four small children. Finding work in a hotel bar, she meets and falls in love with an Indian man, Ali, who treats Winifred with respect and decency. She bears him three children and the small family travels to outback Australia where they run a camel line. A new phase begins in Winifred’s life, taking her to places and meeting people she has only ever dreamed of.

if you're going to stop for long periods in mean-spirited roadhouses; then choose a pink one ~ Rumi

Image Credit: The Pink Roadhouse, Oodnadatta, Desert Mandala

The first cameleers arrived in the 1860s and remained a part of the Australian rural landscape for over 60 years, until the railway track to Alice Springs was laid in 1929 (it was extended to Darwin in 2004). Their numbers are estimated to have been three thousand. Most were unmarried; others had left their wives and families behind. Some married aboriginal women. They lived in settlements called ‘ghantowns’, complete with halal butcher, imam and mosque.

Nearly all the cameleers were from the western parts of British India (present-day Pakistan), most being Punjabis, the rest Pathan (Afghans), Baloch and others. However, the appellation Afghan was stuck to them and has stayed ever since, although it is a misnomer insofar as it attributes the cameleers’ origin to Afghanistan.

The fate of one white woman of extraordinary grit, Winifred Steger, became intertwined with that of the cameleers, first as the wife of Ali Ackba Nuby (Ali Akbar Nabi) and then of Karum Bux (Karam Bakhsh), both Punjabi Muslims from near Lahore.  [REad more…….]

The Book by my Bedouin

The Washerwoman’s Dream: The extraordinary life of Winifred Steger 1882-1981

Camels carrying poles for the Overland Telegraph, c.1870s

Image Credit: Objects Through Time, migrationheritage

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