Interviewee: Barry Gilbert, born 1931
Interviewer: Kevin Murray, for The Hills Shire Council
Date of Interview: 12 Sept, 2010
Transcription: Glenys Murray, Sept 2010
This interview represents the personal recollections, views and opinions of the interviewee
Barry, can you tell me when and where you were born?
My parents were living at Castle Hill I was born at Aloha Hospital in Parramatta on the 5th June 1931.
Your family has been in the Castle Hill area for quite some time I understand. When did your great grandparents first come there? What were the circumstances of them coming there?
They previously owned land in Kellyville and they bought one hundred and fifty acres of land for fifteen shillings an acre in 1867. (The land was originally Portion 144 in the Parish of Castle Hill, granted to John Good and then transferred to Samuel gilbert - no relation of this Gilbert family)
Where did they come from before moving to Kellyville?
Richard Baker Gilbert was born at Plymouth in England in 1819 and came out somewhere between then and 1850. He was married twice. His first marriage was to Jane Beaumont who lived near Kellyville. We have a record of her funeral arrangements. Then he later married Esther James who was a Castle Hill resident. They were married at St Simons Church, the old church, down in Banks Road area. They went to live at Kellyville. They lived in a house that was on a hill just below Greenwood Road and President Road at Kellyville. They owned property that ran back to Acres Road and there they grew cereal crops mainly. They sold hay at the Haymarket in Sydney. Esther Gilbert, the wife, used to take the loaded dray full of hay down to Sydney and stay overnight and go down to the Haymarket and sell the hay. Then come home.
Do you know anything of the circumstances of why they chose to come to Australia and why they chose to go to Kellyville in the first place?
As far as I know it was only Richard Baker’s own decision. He was on his own; he was in the merchant navy, a sailor. He left his ship when it was in Sydney. He first of all bought some land at Brickfield Hill in Sydney, also a couple of blocks of land in Crown Street in Sydney. Then because they thought Parramatta and Windsor were going to be the main areas for development he moved out towards Windsor and stopped at Kellyville.
Why did he then choose to move from Kellyville to Castle Hill?
Kellyville was not recognised as having such good soil. There’s a lot of clay soil in Kellyville. Whereas up in Gilbert Road where he bought the property there was a lot of good timber Ironbark, Grey gum and a lot deeper more friable soil than there was at Kellyville.
Showground Road Castle Hill near bridge photographed by Karl Lothringer c1930
So it was really the quality of the soil?
Particularly the fifty acre block over the Castle Hill Creek that Fred Gilbert settled. That was very good bush timber, a lot of Blackbutt. From my own memory, I can remember that bush being logged three times, over quite some decades between each logging. A lot of timber in there that was very good.
Do you know what is there now? Have you seen what’s left of the property now?
Well I saw the development when there were many houses built on it. So I don’t quite know how much bush land is left. I suspect that there is almost none.
So that was Richard and Esther they were your great-grandparents?
They had I understand four sons and a daughter is that correct?
Can you tell me about each of those children and where they lived and what they did for their living?
Frederick Baker was born in 1857 and he married Letitia Johnson and they had one son Icely. Icely was a very well known name in the early settlement. I guess that was why they chose it as a Christian name. He (Frederick) originally had an orchard as many of them do but I think he soon got sick of that from what I understand. He put his youngest brother Clare Gilbert and his wife Blanche Kentwell, that was, to caretake that (the orchard) and live in the old home. While Fred bought an apple orchard at Capertee which he had for a while under various managers. Then he went to Newcastle and he was a commission agent in the fruit markets for some years. Apparently made quite a bit of money and retired very early. Retired before 1920. He went to live at Dulwich Hill. His son Icely had been killed in about 1915 in Belgium in the First World War. They lived there in my memory until their deaths which was only about a month apart, husband and wife.
Grace Gilbert was the next one born in 1859, she never married. She stayed at home and looked after her mother and then finally her brother.
Where was home for Grace?
The original homestead and I can’t tell you what road it is nearest to now. I would have to go there. They lived in the original homestead which had been built of pit sawn timber. They cut up (walked through) in Fred Gilbert’s place over the Castle Hill Creek area. They lived there until she died (Esther) in 1922 I believe. Then Sid Gilbert and his sister Grace moved over to Sid Gilbert’s home that he’d built when he was married. They lived there about two more years and in 1924 Sid Gilbert died. Sid was born in 1861 and he was reared of course at Kellyville on the farm work. He was coachman for George Acres over in the old Acres property on the other side of Windsor Road, which is now I think Castle Hill Country Club. He was coachmen for them and worked in their orchard. They had a large orchard and he drove their horses and drove them wherever they wanted to go. He then moved to Castle Hill when his family went over there. He developed approximately thirty acres of his own land, predominately orchards from then on. He would be the most successful of the orchardists.
Why was that?
Probably he had the pick of the land. He was a particularly hard worker. Not the eldest brother but one of the older brothers seemed to have a bit more going for them and got underway earlier. The young ones working around for different people. They just didn’t get down to the orcharding. Perhaps the remuneration from orcharding improved. What they called waxed and waned. Sometimes there were good times for orcharding and then things went bad for a while. Sid Gilbert seemed to have started off when things were going fairly well.
What did they primarily grow? Did they specialise in anything?
Castle Hill orchard - 1920s
The Parramatta Orange which was normally called a common orange. They were very extensively planted. A lot of them were planted from seed and they were what they called the seedling trees. They were extremely vigorous growing and an enormous amount of thorns, big thorns. They didn’t bear fruit as rapidly as those that were propagated. The seedling trees didn’t bear fruit for five or six years after they were planted. Whereas other trees that were propagated came in, in half that time. Although the trees didn’t grow so big.
So they didn’t graft their trees at all?
Well in the early days I think they were keen to get their orchards established so that’s what they did. They took what was easiest produced at the start. Then they got onto some other oranges which were called Jobba(?), Jaffa. Then the Valencia oranges came in of course. Which originated Spain and they started on them.
Did they clear the land themselves?
Yes there was very, very big Grey gum and Ironbark timber on that land, very big. There’s a story in our family about Sam Kentwell saying “you’ll bust yourselves pushing those logs together. I’ll bring my mare over and pull them” They said “no”. He did it and the next morning she was dead in the stable.
What, from exertion?
Yes they’d strained her heart the horses that are willing to pull can overdo it.
So that was Fred, Sid and Grace. What about the other two sons Clare and Elias?
Elias (Gilbert) was born in 1863 married Amanda… I didn’t mention by the way about Sid’s marriage.
Elias and Clare Gilbert
So he did marry?
He married Christine Harvey whose family lived next door. They bought a property there from Jimmy James who’d subdivided his land and gone to live on the Showground Road end of it. He sold the rear end backing onto Tuckwell Road.
Sid Gilbert married Christine Harvey and she died in childbirth approximately 1897 (actually 1901) and a son Geoffrey died about eight months later.
Then you mentioned that Sid and Grace lived in the same home then after that?
After the mother died. Sid’s home was shut up then and he went to live with his mother and sister because the mother could find her way around on wires and various guide posts and things. She was used to the property you see.
She was blind?
Blind for eleven years.
When she died they went back to live in the newer home. (Sid’s)
Now we’re up to Elias?
Elias Edwin Gilbert he married Amanda Priscilla Kentwell and she was the daughter of Henry Kentwell and Ann Ashton.
They had their own home on the property?
They had their own home. Elias built the home before he was married. He had it built about four years before he was married. He built it before Showground Road was cleared. He built that home there. He lived in it on his own or with some friends that used to clear timber off the surrounding properties. Later on they were married and lived there till the wife died in 1948.
So they were also orchardists?
Yes he was an orchardist. He was very interested in propagation of fruit trees. He used to grow quite a few of those each year as a secondary source of income to his orchard.
Clare Gilbert's home Showground Rd Castle Hill 1976
Which brings us to the last son Clare Agrippa...
Well he managed Fred Gilbert’s property over on the next hill. The fifty acre block. He lived in that and worked Fred’s orchard until 1903. Fred Gilbert sold the property so Clare had to move. He with his wife Blanche Mabel Kentwell and they had a daughter Hadie. She was born in 1895. They moved down to the shed at Elias Gilbert’s property and lived in the shed until Clare built his home, which quite possibly could be there now. It’s (nearly) opposite the Council Chambers in Showground Road. It was set a long way back off the road closer to Kathleen Avenue, you can see it from Kathleen Avenue.
Do you think that may be the only house that’s still there now?
Well my father’s home is there (but seriously altered now).
I mean of these sons?
Sid Gilbert’s place is gone it was burnt. Fred Gilbert’s is gone that was demolished and a new home was built. The old homestead the original one is gone because it was bought by my uncle (Richard) for twenty pounds. He pulled it down and took the bits down Showground Road and built on the Showground Road. Next to his father Elias’s place. That place had a couple of fires in it. That went out. I think somebody deliberately lit it. It didn’t burn down so they went back two or three days later and did it again and made a job of it.
When I can first remember there were five Gilbert homes on one hundred acres. There were Gilbert families living in all of them on the hundred acres.
So the hundred acres was the original size of the original property?
A hundred on the southern side of Castle Hill Creek and fifty for Fred Gilbert on the northern side of Castle Hill creek.
That’s quite a sizeable property?
Blanche and Amanda were sisters weren’t they, the Kentwells?
Yes they were sisters.
Elias Amanda Harold and Percy Gilbert
Do you know anything of the circumstances of how they met?
First of all they were cousins they were second cousins so they were well known to each other. Clare and Amanda were the same age they were born in 1870. They would have been at school together so they knew each other all the time. Blanche was seven years older than Clare. Amanda was a few years older than her sister Blanche. Blanche did more of the housework while Amanda was more involved directly with farm work. Fruit picking, vegetable growing sort of thing. Blanche when she left school at twelve or thirteen worked for the Wansbrough family as a maid. She worked and lived with them all the time until she was married.
So Elias is your grandfather? Can you tell me a bit more about their children? How many children did they have?
They had two children Harold Edwin my father born in 1899 and Percy Richard born in 1906. My father Harold had Polio (Poliomyelitis) when he was a child. He was always disadvantaged with that. But he did very well considering that they didn’t have any assistants with any kind of prosthesis or leg brace or anything. He always walked on his toe on the right foot. He was opening batsman for the A Grade cricket team at Castle Hill. He did very well at that. He was interested in music. He used to belong to the Parramatta Choral Society and practised and played in there about three nights a week over a long period. When he had to ride a pushbike from Castle Hill to Baulkham Hills to get the tram to Parramatta and then when he got to Baulkham Hills he had to ride back to Castle Hill down to the showground area.
So the Polio didn’t slow him down very much?
No he was always a constant worker, a steady worker he couldn’t run flat out or anything like that. An interesting story I’ve probably told Heather about this but when he was at school at Castle Hill he’d walk a mile and quarter to the school. After they’d had lunch they used to walk out to Dural which was about five miles to play cricket with the Dural school children and then walk back to Castle Hill school and then home. The headmaster used to go in the sulky and take the kit. Sometimes he said they used to take turns in hanging onto the back of the sulky and trotting along.
The other brother Percy he played the piano fairly well. He learnt for five or six years. He was rather more musical, more of a musician than my father. But he didn’t take it seriously. He was quite poor in health when he was young. He finished up having pneumonia eight times and he never weighed more than eight and a half stone. He died when he was forty nine. His health was never good. He was very choosy with his food he ate about that many things.
Harold, Elias and Percy Gilbert
Did either of those brothers work on the orchards?
All the time.
That was their job?
Yes that was their job they stayed there. In both of their cases Elias Gilbert offered them on leaving school. He offered them eleven acres of land if they worked for him for seven years for their keep. Each of them did that. He used to buy their working clothes and they worked for him under those circumstances. When my father finally got his eleven acres at twenty one years of age it was worth one hundred and ten pounds.
He built a house?
Built a house on part of it on the Showground Road end in 1929 he was married. Then Percy bought the old homestead for twenty pounds and built next door on Showground Road.
So Harold married Gwen?
Gwendoline Ida Pullan.
Pullan with an a?
Then Percy Gilbert married Florence Grace O’Brien from Parramatta.
So your father you say he excelled at cricket?
Yes surprisingly good for his incapacity at running.
He must have been a courageous sort of man? How many children did they have your parents?
I’m the only one, an only child. Percy and his wife Florrie only had one daughter. That’s all the children that they had.
When were you born?
You spent all your childhood living on that property?
Until I was married, up till I was twenty four I lived at Castle Hill at home on Showground Road.
Can you perhaps tell us something of that childhood? It must have been an interesting childhood?
I didn’t realise it till recent times. I was thinking back and I’m positive I was a very lonely child. I was bullied at school for eight years out of ten. I always was in the company of people much older than myself. Sometimes forty or fifty years older. I spent a lot of time with Heather Watson’s father (Elbert Kentwell).
Gwendoline Gilbert nee Pullan
I worked with him for a long time, I had a lot to do with him. He was a very close friend. I avoided anything to do with peer groups. I didn’t operate very well there at all. I was only interested in people who were senior. I thought they could give me more lasting and wise advice and they’re the people I clung to. There was nobody about there really of my age, not at all.
Your school days don’t sound…
I did well at school.
In spite of the bullying?
No I think that maybe the reason for some of the bullying. I did well at school.
Where did you go to school?
I finished Castle Hill sixth class at eleven and went to the junior high school in Macquarie Street at Parramatta for the next three years. Then I left and came home to work on the orchard.
Perhaps you could describe a typical day when you were at primary school? I assume you had jobs on the orchard?
I didn’t have many jobs during the week. I used to mainly get ready and walk, walked to school of course. Then walk home and dodge the big kids.
How far was that walk?
A mile and a quarter.
On Saturday I’d have jobs. Work was strictly out on Sunday of any kind. But it was always Sunday School and Church.
Castle Hill Public School c.1920
Where did you go to church?
St Paul’s at… do you know where the funeral parlour is now? (Old Northern Road, Castle Hill).
Yes I think I do.
Well that was St Paul’s Anglican Church and I went there.
What sort of jobs did you have to do on the Saturday?
Well mostly it was cleaning out either the cow shed or the stable. Cleaning it out and spreading the manure on the orchard. Then rake up a load of bush leaves to put back clean into the stalls. That was the job. Then in the summer time there’d be a job after school. Cutting green feed for the fowls or the horse or the cow.
So you had animals on the farm as well?
Yes always. We used to keep about three hundred laying hens. Usually we had a couple of pigs and fed those on the fruit.
The fruit that you grew was citrus?
Predominately citrus but there was more stone fruit starting to creep in. It was a quicker return and the price was usually a bit better.
Elias, Amanda and Harold Gilbert in front of Elias's home in Showground Road
How did the produce get to market in your childhood? You mentioned how your great grandmother did it.
Well there were two ways. There was a fruit carrier by the name of Luke, surname Luke. They lived in Baulkham Hills and they used to come round the orchards and pick fruit up. As well as that we used to take fruit once a week to Parramatta to sell to shops who were regular customers. Then anything we couldn’t sell we took to Phillip Street (actually George St) to the fruit markets there and left them with an agent.
As things went on and the two of started to work more consistently the volume of fruit increased and we had to go to Parramatta more frequently. I used to take the fruit in a couple of mornings a week in a small utility truck.
What were the roads like in those days?
Sixty k’s an hour strictly, no speed.
What about in high school, how did you get to school?
I had a pushbike by then. By the end of primary school I had a push bike and I rode up to Castle Hill and got the bus to Parramatta. Then home on the bike in the afternoons from Castle Hill. I got on well in both schools actually.
Did the bullying continue in high school?
For the first year but then I gradually became one of the bigger kids and I wasn’t worried then in the last two years at school.
Over that period of time particularly when you were a child I assume that you noticed a few changes going on around you in the district?
The changes are so many that looking back it is hard for me to pinpoint those changes. They were small changes. It was a conversation that went like “did you notice they’ve pulled this down” or changed that or moved that or there was a road going through. Cecil Avenue for instance was just a cart track with wheel tracks of the cart and the horse going up and down there when I was going to school. I used to take the horse to Muir’s blacksmith shop at Rogan’s Hill to get the horse shod. Down in Castle Street there was a little bridge and it was made of slabs. They weren’t across the bridge they ran the same way and through it there were little cracks and some of the horses wouldn’t go through there if they could see water under the bridge. So you had to go away round.
Just getting back to the property before you sold it, how many trees would you say you had on the property?
In round figures my father and I had two thousand between us.
You had chooks, pigs?
Poultry, pigs and a horse and cow only for our own use and for farm use.
Did you have any packing houses, did you do any packing?
We did all of the packing.
All of it?
Yeah we did it all. We had one small shed in the central part of the orchard and then the main one down on Showground Road.
Go To Part Two