The Disenchantment of the Home: Modernizing the Australian by Kerreen Reiger

By Kerreen Reiger

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The importance of efficient household management and the great faith in the advantages of the application of modern technology to the home were significant themes in Australian sources by the early twentieth century. The leaders of these changes in the late nineteenth century tended to be religious, moral reformers-philanthropists with a general humanitarian intent. By the turn of the century and in subsequent years, they worked in alliance with an emerging group of professionals: experts in public health, housing and the management of the household and family.

Although often the message about the home and good family living was implicit, in many instances it was quite explicit and the focus of a didactic tale. The core ingredients of the dominant familial ideology-the home as a sanctuary and as woman's sphere-rested upon the assumption of the complementarity in marriage of a sexual division of labour. Articles and stories emphasized the importance of clear masculine and feminine spheres. These were primarily directed to a middle-class audience as assumptions were made about the husband's occupation and about material possessions.

Incidents reported by a local Melbourne paper, the Preston Post, for example, give some insight into alternative experiences in which material conditions did not support a rosy family existence. Stories of parents mistreating children, of neighbours squabbling over noise and livestock, and many accounts of the sufferings of deserted wives show something of life in workingclass suburbia. Although oral history tends to produce pleasant rather than unpleasant memories of family life, the picture which emerged from interviews also based on Preston was of considerable strain and hard work rather than rosy domesticity.

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