Writing has been subsumed by research this week. The project grew 3,000 words in the process, but the key research diversions revolved around two focii: Ulverston, Tasmania, where the opening to Chapter 1950 is set, and dentistry in 1940s Australia.
Mum travelled to Ulverston with a friend whose sister lived in the town, so I started researching what Ulverston was like in 1950, and discovered this amazing resource online (see below):
The 1953 Tasmanian Education Department film is incredibly invaluable in establishing the setting's physicality. Mum told me in our interviews back in 2010-11 that she worked scaling fish and packing boxes in 1950, and it turns out through finding newspaper articles online that International Canners had only recently opened their food processing cannery in Ulverston a year or so earlier, giving me another vital piece of evidence to add authenticity to the tale.
My mother had upper and lower dentures - all teeth having been removed when she was young - and I was curious as to how and when that would have eventuated. Research led me to a series of articles on the history of dentures and dental practices. People like Mum, especially in middle and working class families, grew up through the Great Depression that flowed into World War Two, and dental hygiene and upkeep were quite often neglected and unaffordable. The manufacture of dentures from vulcanite and ceramic was reaching its apex as a craft, enabling wearers to look and feel 'natural'. The practice of 'drill and fill' was only gaining traction at the start of the war as a means of ensuring recruits and active service people could continue to serve and it didn't get momentum in Australia until well into the 1950s. It was accepted in folk mythology in some western cultures that teeth inevitably decay as a part of living, and sugar and sweets were relatively cheap commodities, even during wartime rationing. Couple all these factors to a prevailing theory that decaying teeth were sources of significant germs that affected other parts of the body and it was little wonder many young Australians in the 1930-40s chose to have decaying teeth extracted.
It turns out, in Scotland and other places, the extraction preference led to a practice dubbed 'Wedding Teeth' or '21st Birthday Teeth'. As a gift, parents would pay for the full extraction and provision of dentures to their older teenage daughters to ensure their daughters retained beauty (especially as Hollywood starlets always had perfect white teeth) and that newlyweds weren't saddled with the woes of tooth pain and dental costs in the early years of marriage!
I've yet to chat with Mum's family to learn what they might remember of when she had all her teeth out. A photo I have of Mum when she was 15/16 looks like she had already had her teeth done by that age, but it seems too early. I guess I'll learn through asking people.