52 weeks of personal genealogy and history: week 34: smells, good and not-so-good

The topic for Week 34 in Amy Coffin’s and Geneablogger’s 52 Weeks of Personal Genealogy and History series is: Smells. Describe any smells that take you back to childhood. These could be from meals, fragrant gardens, musty basements, or something entirely different.

It suddenly occurred to me how much we rely on other people having a similar experience to understand these smells. One of my friends has no ability to smell which must be really sad: imagine not being able to smell the roses, literally. Do you remember those kids’ books which had a “scratch and sniff” capacity? Wouldn’t it be great if you could do that with a blog?

These delicious lollies and the spearmint leaves are available from Sunshine Confectionery http://www.sunshineconfectionery.com.au/SPEARMINT-LEAVES

Hops Brewing: My strongest memory of smells actually relates to my teenage years. The smell of hops brewing in the brewery across from my high school was pervasive part of my first two years in high school. For the life of me I can’t be sure whether it still had the Bulimba Beer sign above the building or not, though I’m inclined to think it did. No amount of googling has given me a satisfactory answer.

More childhood memories are of:

Roses: Dad grew beautiful roses, and I love the smell of home grown roses.

Musk lollies: those twisted soft sticks of confectionery which had such as strong smell of, what else, musk with floral, sugary overtones.

Spearmint leaves

Spearmint lollies: Mum was very partial to these leaf-shaped green lollies.

Church incense: An accompaniment to many church ceremonies, especially in those pre-Vatican II days. I think for me it’s closely linked to funerals because as pupils of the local parish school we used to regularly sing at funerals.

Butter menthol cough drops: Their caramel-y taste was more sugar than mentol.

Friar’s Balsam and metho: Mixed together and spread on sunburnt skin to take away the sting, it has a particular indescribable smell.

Thurible with incense. http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/europe/3172337.stm

Chloroform: Now this is one I try to avoid remembering. When I had my tonsils out as a young child, they still dripped chloroform on a face mask –a negative memory of smells..Ugh!

Baking: the smell of cakes and biscuits baking each weekend.

Camphor squares:These were always stored with the winter woollens so next season the smell remained.

This image of the tannery was taken in 1890 - a bit before my time. State Library of Queensland, copyright expired, Former digital ID: picqld-citrix09--2004-10-19-08-20

Lux flakes: there’s a soap smell associated with this that’s quite different from ordinary washing powder.

The tannery: A tannery was not far enough away from us, and when the wind was in the wrong direction we’d get a very unpleasant reminder of that. With the waste going into the adjacent creek, it wasn’t much good for the environment either. I don’t remember the NARM factory giving off quite the same level of odoriferous smells, but perhaps memory deceives.

Australian bush:the smell of the bush on a bushwalk –eucalyptus, decaying plants, dust, animal smells.

Gum Tree Christmas and bride doll.

Christmas trees: My childhood Christmas trees were always small gum (eucalyptus) trees or branches,collected from the creek bank,  something we don’t use these days so very definitely linked to childhood.

At the beach: The salty smell of the surf, low tide on the reef and molluscs decaying in their shells after being collected (not environmentally responsible but ignorance was bliss).

4 thoughts on “52 weeks of personal genealogy and history: week 34: smells, good and not-so-good

  1. As I read down your list of smells, there was a sense of familiarity. But when I came to Lux Flakes, I was astounded by tghe rush of memories; the smell not only of Lux, but also carefully washed woolen sweaters. Then those memories of how carefully I attended to my prized sweaters. Then I had to lalugh, cuz nowadays I can’t be bothered if the tag doesn’t say “machine washable, dry on low heat.


    1. I laughed out loud at your modern-day woollen approach -too much housework is irreconcilable with family history! Luckily washing woollens is only required here after a trip away to colder climates.


  2. I know exactly what you mean about roses, musk sticks, spearmint lollies and chloroform, as I’ve had the same experiences. And even now we have a small eucalypt as our family’s Christmas tree, because we gather at a home in a country area.


    1. Sounds like we’ve got a “snap” moment going Judy! We succumbed to artificial trees when we were in PNG but the eucalpyts do make the house smell nice.


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