A Matter of Bread

Author
Sylvia Baker

Pushing a baby in a pram with two toddlers dashing off at tangents to explore the universe as we progressed, the walk of three or four kilometres to the shops was no mean feat in itself, but the last lap over the river was the last straw. Struggling across the old wooden National Bridge spanning the Edward River, fighting for footholds between great cracks in the planks, dodging sheep, dogs, horses and drivers all crossing at the same time, absolutely exhausted me. I pondered the reason I was there at all.

'Bread!' I needed to buy bread for my family, and the baker's shop was across the river in south Deniliquin. Bread deliveries to households had been stopped as a wartime measure to save manpower, but this was 1955 and the war had been over for ten years. Elsewhere in the country deliveries had long been reinstated, but not in Deniliquin. Adding insult to injury, all three bakers were charging the extra amount applicable to delivery, at the shop counter! I considered this practice most unfair and probably illegal.

Always beset by a social conscience, I spoke to many women who, like myself, were irate but had no idea how the injustice could be rectified. Thinking that the mayor, as head of the local governing body, would have the power, I approached him, asking if he would call a public meeting to discuss the matter of overcharging for bread, the staple diet of all our families and a real 'grass roots' issue. Throwing his hands in the air with a look of incredulous disbelief, his reply was loud and clear: "We can't intervene with private enterprise: even if it is true. No one else has approached me... etc.".

Digesting this refusal and reflecting on how naive I had been to expect that local government might live up to its name by being closest to the people, I decided to call the meeting myself. There had to be some way to resolve this issue! I hired the local tennis club hall and placed an advertisement in the local paper. What a hornet's nest I stirred up. The hall filled to overflowing. There was heated discussion, but some very constructive ideas were forthcoming. The next morning, having picked up the news item on the radio, the Department of Labour and Industry arrived from Albury, 216 kms distant. They closed down one bakery that failed to meet health regulations, and required the other two to put on delivery vans. Problem solved! I wondered where the health inspector had been.

The local council of the time did nothing. I had actually believed all that guff about local government being closest to the people. Wasn't I naive? Here was a real grass-roots problem to do with a staple of life itself and they didn't want to know about it. The result of this arousal was a determination to become a member of this council, where all community decisions were supposedly made, and to influence it toward making decisions more relevant to local needs. Shortly thereafter a by-election was held and I did become a member of the Deniliquin Council, joining Alderman Molly McCrabb, a founding member of the Australian Local Government Women's Association (ALGWA), and the only woman then on the council. For the few short years afterwards that she remained there I believe that together we made a difference.

Contact
sylvia@ozsky.net