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‘The Help’

An intriguing Australian photo from the Edwardian era c1915. A maid at right and the next lady seem amused. The woman second from left seems more dour while the man is anxiously pointing at something. Perhaps he wanted another slice of what seems to be a huge cake. It is not known if the scene is staged for the camera or not, nor who any of the people are.

House maids were part of a large army of staff employed by larger houses in a variety of positions. Such jobs included head and assistant cooks, housemaids, a lady’s maid, valets, chauffeurs, butlers and housekeepers. The last two were at the top of this particular “pecking order” though still “downstairs” from the owners. At the other extreme but still within the house were skullery maids and young “juniors”.

Outside staff were an entire other branch of employment and included head gardeners, under-gardeners and (in very grand residences), stable masters and gamekeepers.

Even in the early 1900s many children would be expected to leave school by 12. They were then considered adults and expected to get a job. The concept of adolescence did not really exist then.

The hard life of factory or farm work would be far less attractive than ‘going into service” in a large house (becoming a domestic servant). In such places people could have a job for life and if they rose through the ranks, might even have servants of their own.

Advertisements in local papers frequently asked for maids and cooks. Many were attached to hotels, boarding schools and large district properties.

In the early 1900s, the Suttors, Royal Hotel, Henry Crago, A. Rigby – all at Bathurst – wanted maids or cooks. Conditions would have been a bit more relaxed than a huge estate – much like the photo. 

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