So I’ve heard plenty of people say that sometimes you can spend your whole time searching for something when there are answers right in front of you. But as a 19thC historian, I’ve never really thought about that applying to my own research.
Last night my grandparents were over for dinner and I said casually, “so were there ever medicine shows when you were young?” “Oh yes”, my grandmother answered serenely. Turns out in Nundle in the 1930s and 1940s, before she moved to Sydney during the war, there were always medicine-sellers who pulled up in town. They sold lineaments and proprietary medicines – Watkin’s was a big one, she said – plenty of bottles laced with eucalyptus oil. Before their song-and-conjuring acts, the medicine showmen would string up toffee-apples for the children, inviting them to an eating-contest with their hands tied behind their backs, drawing a crowd.
Turns out, too, that my grandfather’s father was actually a door-to-door salesman of his own medicines during the Depression (!). He gave them the profoundly unromantic name of Rulecko (his surname was Rule) – nothing so glamorous as Dr Wistan’s Balsam of Wild Cherry, or as exotic as Wa-Hoo Bitters – so perhaps he didn’t do so well out of them. Apparently there are still some bottles of the stuff at their home. On Friday, then, I am going to begin a little oral history, turning interviewer for a change.