Seasons here in North Queensland, Australia are changing finally, and we are slowly leaving behind the sweltering heat of our summer and welcoming in cooler nights and somewhat more pleasant days. In my house at least, blankets are slowly again finding a more permanent place on our beds, and the winter clothing will soon be a permanent fixture in our family again.
It was our personal changes in clothing that made me also think how very different things must have been for the English immigrants who settled the townships that I write about in my books. These new settlers came from a cool climate country; their clothing was suitable (though I’m not sure about practical) to that. However when the English born would have landed in Australia, dressed in layers and layers of clothing, they would have been greeted by much warmer weather; weather not so accommodating to the styles they’d been wearing for so long.
Most often in my books, I tend to move away from the traditional layers women were expected to wear. I do this mostly because from the history I have read, as well as my own common sense, I can see that ankle length gowns on top of several petticoats, corsets, bustles…none of these were even remotely practical in North Queensland.
Sure the settlements in North Queensland led a gala lifestyle for a time, and they indulged in many of the dances and events that they did back in England. But the day to day life of the majority of women involved working helping around the estates, and helping their husbands on the stations.
Though they still carried with them their titles, North Queensland settlements were for the most part farming areas, be it cattle or crop. The people who lived here, had to work hard and constantly battle against the elements. Many women found it difficult, and dangerous to their health working on these properties still wearing the garb they had travelled out in. So many wives took to wearing their husband’s trousers and work shirts, no longer fearing the ridicule they’d have faced back in England. The embraced practicality, and, over time, did away with tradition.
Australia was a new country, and gave a new start to so many people during the 19th century, both rich and poor alike. But it also gave so many women a form of independence, and what happened in their wardrobe soon spread to the rest of their lives.