Steven Dunesky - Part 2


Interviewee: Steven Dunesky, born 1950

Interviewer: Frank Heimans,
            for Baulkham Hills Shire Council

Date of Interview: 14 May 2008

Transcription: Glenys Murray, June 2008

This interview represents the personal recollections, views and opinions of the interviewee


Does Australian landscape architecture have a particular style or do they borrow from European or Italian or Japanese landscape architecture do you know? Or are we on our own?

Yes we do we have a unique fauna, we have a unique landscape, we have a unique flora and we do design around it. Particularly in Sydney, Sydney sandstone is a wonderful material to work particularly in these transition zones in the Hills District because we’re between the Wianamatta Shales and the sandstone area so we do have those opportunities. Yes in the lower areas of the plains (Cumberland) we have very unique vegetation opportunities. We should be trying to enhance it as opposed to change it.

Some of the European gardens are very structured they’re extremely formal and hardly natural looking because they’re so disciplined the way the hedges are cut. We don’t seem to that so much here do we? We let it grow a bit wilder do we?

We have the space for that raggy edge and it does reflect more our bushland style.

Cumberland Plain vegetation

Tell us a little bit about individual projects that you’ve worked on like Crestwood Reserve or Don Moore Reserve or Fred Caterson Reserve or some of the ones you’ve mentioned already? Tell me some of the challenges in those?

Well every site has it challenges. I have to try and recall them now. In Crestwood Reserve it was the fact that we had a big area of land and it was trying to ensure that we maintained a good spatial dimension within the sight. That I think we’ve achieved. One of the difficulties with designing is making provision for the transport component. Some of these centres, Crestwood Reserve for example is a park of significance such that people need to come from the outer areas. So they do drive their car, we are still heavily reliant on our car to transport us around. So you have to make provision for vehicle parking so that always has a major impact in our parks. The spatial variation in Crestwood was a more difficult one. We had also there had some major services such as sewer lines, water services running through the park. Of course where you want to build your facilities is usually the place these services are. And yes they were there at the time. Also the financial constraints, you try to build as much as you can within given finances and they always provide a constraint. Equipment, materials to build the modern, back then they were modern. The modern concept of tennis courts with asphalt and synthetic grass as opposed to the old loam courts. People had to tool themselves up for it and that was a new advent. Introducing synthetic grass and we thought “well should we go that way or not”? But we did and it’s become extremely popular. The machinery at the time it was not always…..I embarked on using heavy machinery to build a lot of this because you could move more soil with heavy machinery at a cheaper rate. So just to be able to obtain it because most of this machinery was involved in major constructions elsewhere so, at a smaller scale just to be able to apply the techniques of heavy machinery was good. We had some very good operators at that time who took on the challenge.

It seems strange that they have artificial grass at some of those parks?

Yes, yes well look it was a change synthetic grass was introduced into turf wickets synthetic grass was introduced onto tennis courts. Synthetic grass was also introduced as a soft fall material in playgrounds with the introduction of Australian standards in playgrounds. Children of the recent time don’t seem to bounce as well as the children of the earlier days. You will recall yourself Frank that we were on these hurdy-gurdies and roundabouts and you’d fall off and you’d sort of fall onto a concrete base and you’d get up and dust yourself. But rightly so we’ve got to provide a safer environment. A lot of that’s driven by litigation of course. And that brings changes in the materials you use and particularly the synthetic grass on cricket wickets. That was mainly introduced as a multi purpose cover because a lot of soccer fields have a cricket wicket in the middle of them on the playing surface itself. So instead of falling over on concrete the soccer players would cover them up with soil. Then a new concept was introduced “why don’t we cover them up with synthetic grass with a backing on it”? So the soccer player would not know the difference between running on the grass or the synthetic grass. Being willing to give things a go and in the forefront of any new adventure we tried the synthetic grass on the cricket wickets. It worked for a while then of course the soccer players started slipping on the synthetic grass. So the notion of litigation arises again. So what do we do today we cover the synthetic grass with soil and turf and other things. It continues to evolve.

Yes it’s a work in progress I see?

Yes it is indeed.

Sports field preparation Ted Horwood Reserve Baulkham Hills late 1960s

Now in 1979 the EPA Act came into existence. That’s the Environmental Protection Act as you know. Did that change the way you were doing things at the council?

Acts such as the EPA does have an impact. It causes one to stop and to think and to be more aware of factors that can influence the impact on the environment. There has always been a sensitivity towards environment whenever we built any of our parks and reserves. Even our road works we always had a sensitivity towards it because of the fact that we knew what erosion was, knew what sedimentation, knew the impact it had on bushland. We knew what weed impacts were and introducing other materials into bushland areas. Also into your local environment so consequently under the new act, of course that’s progressed a long way since then. It caused us to stop, review, revise and incorporate the views of others. I think that’s a very important aspect in the advance of our works.

Did it make you more accountable to the community then?

It brought us closer from our engineering side I can’t speak on behalf of the planning or the building side of it but from the engineering side, from the parks side it made us participate far more closely with the community. Today that is just only a given. We involve the community in all of our decisions. It’s not as though they were never involved but it caused the community in a sense to become more participative in the process and more interested. That Act has evolved and there are many components to it that we now have to comply with.

 Community working bee Ted Horwood Reserve Baulkham Hills late 1960s

Did it make for better parks and gardens?

I would say that this Shire has always had great parks and gardens all the way along. If it has had any positive move it would have to be classed as better. I can’t say that we haven’t always had good parks and gardens. I mean Castle Hill Park even prior to the introduction of that Act was a place where visitors came to picnic. International visitors came….it was part of their trip up to the Blue Mountains to come to Castle Hill Park. We had seven gardeners working in Castle Hill Park trying to recreate little Europe. We now have less than one gardener operating there. But we still present it in a very good manner. Technology has been a major assistance in that the way we do things, the way we present and prepare and manage ourselves.

Has computerisation also played a part in that technology? Has it been important in Parks and Gardens?

Well computerisation, if I can just recall the introduction of computers fortunately when you’ve been around for a while. I’ve moved from the slide rule right through to the computer age. Part of my move towards studying parks and recreation and getting involved in it was that I knew as a result of the computers or it was deemed at that time the result of introducing computers. We were going to be working twenty seven hour weeks because these fast little gadgets were going to make life really streamlined and so consequently the question was asked and it was asked Sydney wide “what are we going to do with all our free time”?

Castle Hill Park gardeners Brian Harley, Joe Surace, Kevin Banks,
Mark Hommen, Trevor McDonald in preparation for Australia Day 1984

So consequently the answer to that was “people are going to spend more time in their parks” They’re going to come home at two or three o’clock in the afternoon after having done their days work because flipping through a file was going to be so much easier these days because the computer was going provide answers for that. What’s the computer done? It’s elongated the day it’s made us do about ten times more. It’s made everything very quick. People want instant response, instant answers. But out of that there is an enormous access to information that information is at your finger tips on a world wide perspective. We’re wiser for the introduction of computers. We have the ability to be able to communicate far more readily within our own organisation and outside the organisation as well.


In the parks arena just being able to access data, keep data, hold data. To be able to work on those statistics and to have the statistics analysed through a computer process is extremely good. We do have a computer network with a company that has been assessing our parks for many years. They go out and do a community survey for us. When I say for us for the Parks Operations Group they actually operate from Queensland and yet they do this service through many of Sydney’s councils. The results of that enable me to redirect resources. Given our resources are limited if I find over time that there is a trend towards I’ll give you an example. The last trend was that barbeques, people found that our barbeques were not up to scratch. Because they’d come to use them and they would find them not as clean as they wished to have them. That showed up across a survey over a period of time. So we’ve now redirected resources to have them cleaned on a regular basis. The last survey showed that people were very happy with our barbeques. As a result of that something else drops off. But you’re juggling continually. But that’s the ability of computers to analyse material in a very, very narrow field but at the same time take in the broader perspective.

Coolong Reserve Castle Hill 1999 has BBQs

In 1980 you became Parks Engineer and then Parks Manager in the mid 1980’s and now you’re Parks Operations Manager is that right?


What exactly does the job involve?

I don’t know if you’ve got enough tape. But briefly what happened in our parks area whilst we commenced as a reasonably small unit, parks developed. It was one of the few areas of local government that still had to grow. When I say grow, grow in the administrative arena as well as the field based practical arena. As the parks management council I could see that … As the administrative requirements for councils altered, as the legislation altered there was a necessity for us to participate in a broader field of activities. In other words you just couldn’t think well there’s a park. We’re going to draw a plan and we’re going to build it. There were all these other legislative requirements that needed to be addressed. I didn’t believe it could be done by one individual and a small group following that individual. There was a necessity for us to recognise that we needed to have specialists in both fields. That coincided with the changes that were occurring in local government. With competitive tendering with the way that the local government bodies were setting themselves up our organisation went through those changes but in a modified sense. I think they did it very wisely.

Consequently we managed to maintain a very competitive and very confident business. Out of it came a break in our structure which enabled us to move the administrative components into one arena and maintain what we call the operational components into another arena. I was given the choice at the time of which area I wished to move in. I knew that we had a very, very strong staff under the leadership of the landscape architect Dave Ransom to take on the administrative side. He had to prepare plans of management he had to go through very stringent design processes and community consultation which took a lot of time. The other side of that was the operations side and so I thought well no I’ll stay with the operations side because I’m very, very interested in actually the field based activities. Ensuring that we can move that area along and work with a very competent staff an extremely competent staff in fact without that staff I’m sure that my role in local government would never have materialised to the point it has today.

So from an operational perspective we deal with the day to day operations. With the sports ground activities, the turf maintenance activities, the bush care activities, bushland maintenance, horticultural services and also the arboricultural services. So it’s a very diverse range of work. Our goal is to ensure that we can present to the community a range of activities that are available for them to use that they can see and enjoy and participate in. That task is no mean task as I said we’ve worked very hard building up a skilled base to enable us to do that.

Standing Stones landscape design at William Harvey Reserve Rouse Hill 2003

How big is your staff now?

I have ninety eight staff that’s what we call day labour staff. There’s a whole range of people involved in each of their various activities. A great proportion of them are qualified in their fields. We then have a large support contract network. In the plumbing arena, in the electrical services also in our bushland services we utilise a lot of contract staff to support us.

That’s quite a staff isn’t it, a number of people?

Yes, yes it is I enjoy being able to liaise with those staff but unfortunately your time becomes thinner and thinner on the ground. But you do spend time they’re a great bunch of people and at any one time I think any of them would stop to be able to assist and work and do their job. Most of our staff are on the job start there’s a very big trust system that’s been established and been developed with them.

Tell me what sort of issues are there with arboriculture?

Well trees we have millions if not billions of them. I’ve never taken the time to count them all but I know we have around sixty to eighty thousand street trees. From sixty to eighty I say that because I know that we have sixty thousand trees that we’ve planted. But there must be another twenty thousand trees that have been planted by others in front of their properties. Every tree that we deal with in the street is probably a tree out of place. Most trees would prefer to be growing in a bushland environment that has the right soil conditions.

Mackillop Reserve Operations Team Christmas BBQ 2004

That has no grouping to support it. Here we are growing trees up and down footpath areas. But they do add enormously to our environment. If you took the trees out of the environment it would remind you of places that don’t have trees. There are many other parts of Sydney that don’t have trees we’re still on the same shales, still on the same soil bases but the trees often make that difference. In the early nineteen seventies a tree planting programme were commenced. There was a councillor George (Eric) Mobbs, he was a local business man and orchardist and he sat on council for many, many years. Two things he can be renown for is not only the introduction of the tree planting programme within council but also the introduction of a garden competition. Hence the formative days of the name of the Shire as the Garden Shire. George Mobbs I remember him well because he worked with me in ensuring that we had some very strong tree planting going on. The parks supervisor of the day was a gentleman by the name of Terry O’Hare. Terry had an absolute green thumb and he seemed to be able to grow anything anywhere. Terry embarked on planting out our streets. The evidence of that is around today.

A street tree does have a limited life unfortunately and some species that we put in, in those early days particularly the flowering plums and the flowering peaches. They’ve come to the end of their life. What we do have is a proactive programme of replacement of these trees. Of course the Hills District being endowed with trees is also endowed with the various storms that we seem to experience across Sydney. We’re often in the path of severe wind storms.

From left, Councillor George Eric & Mrs Mobbs, Connie Lowe, Shire
President Bernie Mullane, Councillor Harvey Lowe at Ball for Orange Blossom Festival late 1960s

Consequently you have to deal with that yes we do lose many, many trees and trees cause issues. The parks operations section only deals with trees on streets. The trees on private property is under the legislation of the planning department. They have a separate tree management section there. Street trees and trees in parks have caused us a lot of work. We deal with thousands of requests annually and we keep up to date with that. We would sometimes receive up to twenty five requests a day to provide advice or have to deal with a street tree’s circumstance.


Have there been any kind of jobs where you’ve had real problems?

I can only be honest and say of course. Some of those are man made and others are out of our control. The first real job I thought I ever had ended up being a problem in its own. From that point onward we’re only human yes we do have problems. I’ll just recite the first instance. I was given a job to construct, this was in the early nineteen seventies I was given my first road job. I thought this will be great I did all the survey work I re-established, this was in the rural area, I re-established where all the property boundaries were and I did a full design on the road. I thought great everything is going fine. I did the design on it and then came the day when we had to issue the construction criteria to the ganger and his gang of construction people. All that worked out fine then about two thirds of the way through the job this letter turned up from a solicitor.

Baulkham Hills Shire Arboricultural Technical Officer Kristy Murphy planting a street tree 2005

The boss at the time was Brian Mattock and I remember Brian walking out of his office. He always had his hands in his pocket and he always used to jingle some coins I think that was just to let us know that he was coming and to make ourselves look busy. He always wore leather shoes so you could hear him pounding up through the office area. He gave this letter to his deputy and the deputy walked out and they both looked at me. I thought to myself “well good morning” and they put the letter on the desk and said “would you mind reading this”. I read it and it had a word called maleficence I had absolutely no idea what maleficence was at the time.


I think I’d been introduced to it when I was studying surveying but it all seemed reasonably new to me. Apparently I’d caused a maleficence on this man’s property so anyhow I had no answer for them until I went and got a dictionary and looked it up. What had I done? I’d actually commenced to drain one of the big dams on this property. My levels worked perfectly but what I hadn’t done I hadn’t taken into consideration. I’d taken a level on the water but in the interim between me taking a level on the water I knew it was a very tight situation. But in the meantime I’d not considered the high water mark. I thought to myself “I’ve got a level on the dam” and in the intervening period we’d had some substantial rains and the dam level had come right up. So I’d designed this road giving consideration to the dam level as it was back then. As our fellows came past and they put in the new drains the dam started trickling back out onto the road and down the road. So I’d caused this great concern. So that was my first faux pas from that point of course I began to learn a lot more and a lot more.

Things could only get better right?

I thought they could only get better in fact I didn’t know whether I’d have a job the next year. It was resolved I think a report ended up having to go to council on it. Here’s this little fledgling down here shuddering in his boots.

In this particular series of interviews with different people we’re looking at the changes in the Shire that have happened over the last forty or so years or as long as people can remember. What do you think have been the major changes from your perspective?

It is difficult to sum that up but let me have a go at it. From a lifestyle perspective the Shire has moved from a rural shire to a highly urbanised shire. That still has the connotations of being a rural shire. Why has that occurred? I think because we have maintained the name of a shire. People always relate shire to country and rural areas. In addition to that we still have our rural part of the Shire. We still have places where people grow their fruit, grow their vegetables. It’s only a short drive from anywhere in the urban areas within five minutes you can experience this rural component. But we have become highly urbanised. The growth particularly has occurred around our major centres. Places like Castle Hill, places like Baulkham Hills. Castle Hill I recall being able to drive through it at back then I think it was thirty miles per hour. Where the post office is now was a nursery. That was "Blondie’s Nursery" it was just a friendly little place. Over the road was a horse watering trough. Down the road was a fish and chip shop, a picture theatre and the police station. The police sergeant at the time knew absolutely everyone in the Shire. Sergeant Burrett was his name if you did something wrong often you would hear about Sergeant Burrett grabbing the kids by the scruff of the neck giving them a kick in the backside and sending them home. Or knocking on the door and saying “little Freddy has been caught doing this, that and the other”. Freddy would not dare to do it again. Not with Sergeant Burrett around. Sergeant Burrett was still an extremely friendly person I remember he used to be our scout leader our cub leader.

Castle Hill 1972

That same intersection now has a five way intersection sets of lights. The vehicle movements would be in the tens of thousands daily, pedestrians cross the road at given points. If you decide not to use a pedestrian crossing you do it at your own peril. There are multi storey buildings there around that intersection. That is some changes that have occurred.

Massive changes obviously?

Massive absolutely massive changes.

Also the way of life has changed completely from rural to urban so does that influence the way that you choose your plants and the way you manage your parks?

Oh yes we endeavour to provide a park structure that is acceptable to the community. We are not trying to impose our own views on the community. We like to think that the community goes in and enjoys what they have and they feel part of it. Even to the point that they feel as though they’ve contributed towards it.

Flower display at Castle Hill Park during Orange Blossom Festival 2003

Local government is a fascinating place to work. We’re often at the short change of the private sector who believe that we have big armpits. That we rest on these shovels but that is not the case. It is a vibrant organisation, it is a vibrant area of work to work in. You can’t always be working as the traffic goes past. I always recall the fettler on the railway. You never, ever see a fettler working when you go past in the train you ask the question why? Well he has to stand back and let the train go past. That happens sometime in our area as well that people when they go past might see someone standing there. But there is a reason for them being there and a reason for them standing there. We do I believe a magnificent job and all of the staff and volunteers involved in our Shire do an absolutely superb job in trying to keep this Shire alive and working.