Out of Prunes

Grocery Shopping With Ulladulla’s Mellshimer Sisters

With its red indicators left in the positions selected the last time it was used, this early twentieth century grocery reminder card is frozen in time. It seems to be a snapshot of what its owner intended to buy that week at the grocery store, and their choices are clearly marked. And curiously, as written at the bottom of the left-hand column, it seems they were all out of prunes.

For thousands of years, people have been making shopping lists. The oldest known example survives in cuneiform script on an ancient Mesopotamian tablet, and other examples have popped up from periods throughout history ever since. Keeping track of which foodstuffs to buy seems to have long been a shared human behaviour. Recent studies of shoppers have shown that between 40 and 67 per cent of shoppers still use lists.

This shopping list was owned by the Mellshimer sisters – Ella Ruby (1886-1979) and Ada Maud (1888-1970), of Ulladulla. They were the daughters of George and Mary Ann Mellshimer, who lived at Bawley Point, and then ran a farm at Ulladulla. As adults, the sisters ran the E.& M. Mellshimer General Store.

But was this the Mellshimer sisters’ own shopping list? Or perhaps it once belonged to one of their general store customers? Their store sold all sorts of food supplies and household needs, including haberdashery, and they may have even sold these cards to their customers, as Woolworths in Sydney did in 1929, for 1 shilling each.