It was a cool summer’s day when around fifty members of the Spare Corner Club gathered in the Fitzroy Gardens for one of their semi-regular picnics. Among their number was ‘Soft Pillow’, ‘Cooee’, ‘Venus’, ‘At Last’ and ‘Sister Olive’, ‘A Reader’, ‘Mountain Grand’, ‘Wayback’ and ‘Nil Desperandum’.

Several members were unable to make it: ‘Waverton’, ‘Cranberry’, ‘Sacred and ‘Wishbone’ all sent their apologies. [1]

Black and white photo of garden path in the Fitzroy Gardens
[Fitzroy Gardens.] ca. 1945-ca. 1954. Victorian Railways Collection; H91.50/1882

The advertisement for the picnic had been published in the Spare Corner pages of the Leader the week before [2].

The Spare Corner Club was founded by Melbourne journalist Caroline (Lynka) Isaacson in 1928 during her role as editor of the women’s pages for rural newspaper the Leader. It began after the paper published a short letter from a farmer’s wife in Gippsland who was looking for advice on how to manage her housekeeping budget. Several readers replied, and their responses were published in a spare corner of the newspaper. The Spare Corner Club was born. [3]

Adopting the non de plume of ‘Viola’, Caroline encouraged readers to write in to the Spare Corner with their stories and interests. Before long she had established a regular following, and by 1930 the previous ‘spare corner’ of the newspaper had swelled to occupy a full ten to fourteen columns every week. [4]

Readers from all over Victoria wrote in to the newspaper, adopting pen names so they could be free to express themselves. Topics of discussion varied widely, from news and current affairs, drought, and financial advice, to gardening, country living, holiday destinations and more.

There was an exchange column where club members could write in to swap flowers, seedlings, fruit, vegetables and all manner of household and farm goods. Favourite books were proffered and exchanged. Readers would also write in with household hints, home remedies and general advice.

No matter how remote the inquiry or obscure the subject matter, someone could usually supply an answer. Consider this inquiry submitted by ‘Lebeena’ in Tasmania:

Dear Viola,

I have been an interested reader of the Spare Corner for many years, and, like many others, make my entry into it with a request.

I am wondering if someone would kindly come to my rescue with advice on turkey raising. I have been told they are very hard to rear…

(Leader, 13 January 1940, p. 35)

Sure enough, a reader was ready with an answer. Mrs H.R.L. wrote in with the following advice: 

One must use a lot of common sense and not coddle the birds … lock them up at night, but not with other big turkeys.

Let them out after the dew is off the grass in the morning. They like to ramble, and will wander quite a long way if not watched.

I always went for mine early and gave them a good feed at night. This encourages them to come home.

(Mrs H.R.L., Leader, 17 February 1940, p. 36)

Such was the popularity of the Spare Corner Club that the Leader began to issue books. The books consisted of recipes, home hints and remedies from the newspaper that had been published throughout each year. Hundreds more were omitted due to lack of space. [5]

At the request of readers, a Spare Corner Club badge was produced. Club members wore it as a means of identifying themselves to other Spare Corner readers. The badge was designed in the form of a dark purple enamel viola, with the letters S.C.L. in gold on the petals. [6]

A set of Spare Corner ideals were also developed. The spare corner values included: ‘Friendship, Fellowship, Mutual Help, Service, Tolerance, Sympathy, Sincerity and Loyalty’.[7]

Many readers wrote to the newspaper to express their feelings on how much the club meant to them. ‘Inker’s’ sentiments were typical:

I remember when I first joined the Spare Corner. A friend persuaded me to write when I was complaining one day of feeling lonely, and since then I have had so much pleasure from the Spare Corner that I would not miss reading it. I think that I would rather do without a new hat, and every woman knows what a lot that means!
(Leader, 27 January 1940 p. 35).

As for the picnic on that cool, overcast day in the Fitzroy Gardens, by all accounts, it was a great success. ‘Melbournite’ swapped notes with ‘Infelice’ and ‘Wayback’ about sheep. ‘Aspidastra’s’ husband, Mr Zerbe, won the bean guessing competition, and ‘Soft Pillow’ won a crystal vase donated by ‘Mountain Grand’, but only after having tied with two other competitors.[8]

Bouquets were presented to hostesses ‘L.W.’ and ‘Rippon’, and everyone agreed they would return for another picnic the following month.

Black and white photograph of members of the Spare Corner club at their picnic in the Fitzroy Gardens
The spare corner club, Fitzroy Gardens, 24 February 1940. Photograph reproduced with the permission of Judith O’Neill

References

[1] Leader, 2 March 1940, p. 31

[2] Leader, 17 February 1940, p. 36

[3] Isaacson, C. (1935), The Leader spare corner book : a unique collection of home and household hints and kitchen recipes. Parts 7. 8. 9. Part 7, p. 3

[4] White, Sally A. (1996), ‘Isaacson, Caroline (Lynka)(1900-1962)’, Australian Dictionary of Biography

[5] Isaacson, C. (1933), The Leader spare corner book : an unique collection of home and household hints and kitchen recipes. Parts 4. 5. 6. Part 5, p. 3

[6] Isaacson, C. (1934), The Leader spare corner book : an unique collection of home and household hints and kitchen recipes. Parts 4. 5. 6. Part 6, p. 3

[7] Isaacson, C. (1935), The Leader spare corner book : a unique collection of home and household hints and kitchen recipes. Parts 7. 8. 9. Part 7, p. 3

[8] Leader, 9 March 1940, p. 36

This article has 4 comments

  1. This is a wonderful account of times gone by. Special people with ordinary lives, doing extraordinary things. Well done Sarah!

  2. SUSAN NICHOLAS

    What a gem Sarah. Caroline Isaacson’s “Spare Corner” was an inspiration and obviously fulfilled a real need for women in those early years.

    I wonder if anyone has a viola badge?

    • Sarah Matthews

      Thanks Susan. Yes, unfortunately a Spare Corner badge never made its way into the library’s collections. It would be great to find one. Sarah

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