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It’s not just a backyard clothesline

Kelly Hesford

Kelly Hesford

August 4, 2012

It occurred to me, as I watched my three year old turn the cardboard inner tube of the cling film into a trumpet, a telescope, a tunnel for mini cars, then a collection chute for crumbs to put in the drain so he could “feed the sharks, mummy” that one of the most common threads running through my childhood involved using my imagination.

Photo by Anna Bartlett of shinyhappyart.com

Turning the ordinary into something far more extraordinary. Sadly, this willingness for me to take a moment for the fanciful faded somewhere along the line. It’s only now I have children that I’ve noticed – as I repeatedly fail to be amused by something one of my children has done that would have once been the cause of great hilarity – that this ability has ceased being a feature of my personality.

Furthermore it occurred to me, not without some surprise, that my load might seem lighter and the days more free if I could find a way to shake off this heavy cloak of responsibility. To replace the proverbial frown with a spring in my step.

Inspired by this variation of stopping to smell the roses I took a little time to recall some great moments of my childhood.

I’m rather amused to report that some of the best laugh out loud joyous moments came courtesy of running around, lost in imagination, in our backyard and garden. And a centerpiece for all this carry on was frequently our rotary clothesline.

I thought I’d trawl through my childhood memories and compile the following list to encourage me to see the possibilities in commonplace objects.

Ten Ways Children See A Rotary Clothesline:

  1. A handle from which to get the sense of flying – taking hold of the line and running around like crazy to get momentum before lifting their legs off the ground and spinning around (until a shout came to ‘get down from there’).
  1. Hide and seek or games with the sheets (my mother used to always wash the linen on a Saturday, and we were forever letting the sheets thwack into us, sticking to our face and body with the force of the wind).
  1. A cubby house or circus tent big top (with the help of carefully hung linen) in which to act out whichever character was fancied on the day.
  1. A hideout of blankets to huddle up with their prized picnic treats.
  1. A place to string doughnuts for a party game. Who could eat the whole doughnut first without using their hands?
  1. A place to hang a piñata thereby raising the unpredictability stakes (and to increase the distance the lollies spread once it had burst and continued to swing around).
  1. As an easel for painting or spraying with paint (this worked better on a still day rather than a windy one!) then a place for the paintings to dry.
  1. Launch pad into a paddling pool (rather unpopular with parents).
  1. A perfect place to string balloons and decorations – for a party or to create a magical fairy kingdom ‘tree’.
  1. A way to annoy a sibling by trying to time the spinning of the clothesline so they got tangled in clothes unsuspectingly (again, not hugely popular with parents).

While not all of these uses are well advised or in any way recommended, they perhaps serve to illustrate the possibilities in the garden beyond the functional if only given the chance.

Speaking of pegs, my little ones love ‘doing pegs with Nana’ which involves sitting under the clothes line and being responsible for passing her pegs to hang out the washing.

For them, it’s all about the thrill of rustling around deep in the laden peg basket to make a satisfying noise (as children tend to do) and consider themselves being ‘helpful’.

And Nana can recall, as a small girl in the early 50s, standing in the backyard of her Nana’s home in Central West NSW surrounded by family members marveling at one of the first rotary clothes lines in their town.

photo discoveryresearchgroup

‘The wind blows the clothes around in a circle to dry them’ – she can remember their astonishment at this ingenious idea. Nana, with some bemusement, tells how she realises now it was a standard hills hoist rotary clothesline of the time, but to them it was like magic and a symbol of so much more.

As living costs increase and property sizes shrink we have seen an emergence of other styles of clotheslines. These have been appropriately designed to maximize drying space without compromising the backyard garden or living area within the home, particularly in the case of units or townhouses.

Photo Margie Moore

Living in a unit is no excuse for a freestanding folding clothesline not to be a tunnel, a cubby house, decorated to look like a dragon or a place to tape cardboard to become a ramp for cars (when not being used for washing, clearly!) Folding frame, retractable and ceiling mounted clothes lines can still be that balloon decoration holder, the site for the doughnut game, a magical mystical tent and many more things than my adult mind could ever hope to imagine.

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Catherine Stewart
11 years ago

I grew up without a Hills Hoist. There’s a vague memory of a single line across the backyard and a clothes prop, but then my mother became thoroughly modern, and dedicated to her clothes dryer. But (apart from the environmental credentials) there’s nothing like the smell of line-dried clothes. Yesterday when I pulled ours in, there was also the faint spicy smell of wattle flowers among the sheets. Delicious!
But my grown up daughter’s memories seem to be more about playing ‘Goon of Fortune’ (in others’ backyards!), which apparently involves a cask wine bladder and a spinning clothesline. Ahem.

10 years ago

Thanks for sharing this. We are converting half of our bare dirt backyard into kids’ playspace and thought we needed to move an incoming rotary clothesline away from kids’ traffic, as well as far back in the yard to hide it from view inside the house. Now I can envision prominently staking the pole on the kids’ grassy spot which is right in front of our kitchen window to enjoy all the imaginative play it’ll get by our two daughters and their playmates.

Catherine Stewart
10 years ago
Reply to  Julie

That’s such a sensible idea. I often see play spaces relegated to right up the backyard where the kids don’t go – or a long hike to the clothesline – I think you’ve hit on a very clever combination. I quite like the look of washing blowing in the breeze too. It’s somehow soothing.