Interviewee: Wal Buckley, born 1933
Interviewer: Frank Heimans,
for The Hills Shire Council
Date of Interview: 18 Jan 2012
Transcription: Glenys Murray, Feb 2012
This interview represents the personal recollections, views and opinions of the interviewee
Tell me where and when you were born?
I was born at Auburn New South Wales, September 1933 at home. A lot of the ladies had their babies at home in those days. I had a brother younger than me. He was born about fifteen months after myself. Then after him there was a sister born in 1937, all of us were born at home. I attended Auburn Primary School and then at secondary school continued on secondary education at Granville Boy’s High School. That’s as it is today, in those days it was Granville Secondary Technical Boy’s School. They carried out pre-apprenticeship courses there for various trade undertakings. So that children could go into apprenticeships with their first year apprenticeship technical skills under their belt.
Later on in 1950 I started an apprenticeship with Trans Australia Airlines in aircraft engineering maintenance working on DC-6 aircraft that flew across the Pacific. This was of course before Qantas had the Pacific run. It was called British Commonwealth Pacific Airlines, DC-3’s, DC-4’s and CV-240 Convairs. I continued engineering education at TAA engineering school at Melbourne for about four months and was studying to do my licence on DC-3 aircraft. I came back to Sydney and left TAA and started work at Rolls Royce aircraft engine overhaul shop at Mascot on turbo jet and turbo prop aircraft engines. This was something new that was coming into the aircraft industry. Turbo jet aircraft were not flying commercially at that time. Most aircraft were turbo prop. Eventually Rolls Royce closed down. The airline companies took over their own engine overhauls and I then looked at different types of occupation.
I did quite a number of different occupations from trainee credit personnel to working on torpedoes at the submarine base at Neutral Bay. I eventually ended up at the Government Analyst Laboratories in the toxicology and food laboratory. From there I started to go to college to do the health inspection course. I was guided by the Government Analyst Mr. Sam Ogg who was a wonderful administrator I thought. A very down to earth man and gave me great encouragement to do the health inspection course. His own son was the Health Inspector with Newcastle City Council. I always remember these words he said “for a certificate course the money is a lot better than a lot of degree courses”. So that was great incentive. There was always the opportunity in that profession to move around within the state to various councils.
Now you’ve had many varied jobs? In 1963 you joined North Sydney Council?
Oh yes North Sydney Council.
What was the job there?
I was there in the general office on costing. On stores and material costing, that was only a job to break into local government while I was doing my local government studies on the health inspection. I was there at North Sydney for two years when a position of a similar nature became available at Auburn Council. I was living at Auburn at that time. I’d married then and Auburn Council was only two blocks down the street. I could walk there in five minutes. I was lucky to get the job there and I stayed in the general office for twelve months. Then a position became available in the Health and Building Department. The Health and Building Department did the town planning as well at Auburn Council. Although the chief engineer Eric Black was the Chief Town Planner- Engineer. The Chief Health and Building Surveyor held the position also of Deputy Town Planner. It was the Health and Building guys that did all the inspections relating to a lot of town planning, development use issues as well, which was very good grounding. Auburn Council was an excellent council to get grounding in with the diversity of industry. In Auburn there was something in the order of fifty two licensed premises in twelve square miles in the municipality.
You mean pubs?
Yes pubs and they had a brewery there, pubs and clubs of course.
Now in 1974 you joined the Baulkham Hills Shire Council?
Yes I left Auburn in about August 1971 and went to Hornsby Council on Health Inspection there. I remained there till 1974. There were changes coming through under the Building Ordinances under the Local Government Act and quite significant changes. I thought I’d have to get back into the building side of things. At Hornsby Council they had split departments.
So your duties were both Health and Building?
At Auburn and at Baulkham Hills but at Hornsby it was just health.
Tell me a bit about the Baulkham Hills Shire when you first came? How was it there, what sort of a place was it?
Baulkham Hills was starting to go from a country type rustic shire. It was starting to get its foothold onto a suburban, metropolitan type of shire. That’s what was actually happening.
A lot of The Shire when I first started wasn’t sewered. In fact there was a lot of septic tanks, pump out systems, ground absorption systems. But the pressure was on just by population growth and people desiring houses. There was great pressure on the Council. Gough Whitlam I think it was Gough who allocated the extra three million dollars to Sydney Water to try and get Sydney flushed. With that money Hills Shire did benefit from Sydney Water in getting a lot of sewage works done
Folini effluent tanker Mister Whiffy at Northmead depot was used for residents with septic tanks 1970s
I believe that Gough Whitlam had a boast about that?
Gough said one of the things that he did do “he flushed Sydney” which was good really.
It’s one of the least known things about Gough?
Yes that’s right, but I thought it was a good thing.
What was The Shire Council like at the time you joined them?
The Shire Council they were a mixture of orchardists, small business people. Mainly small business people, mainly independent or Liberal. I have indication I think that the President of the Shire Councillor Mullane. I think he may have been on the Labour Party because he always got second ticket on the Labour Party ticket for the Local Government Conferences next to Doug Sutherland who was a Labour Lord Mayor of Sydney. There must have been party connections there somewhere.
Was it a good Council to work for?
Yes they were, they were an excellent Council in my opinion. Quite liberal, quite reasonable to their employees too I’m sure they appreciated what the employees were doing at various times.
Who were some of the people who were working at Council, some of the major people?
The Shire Clerk I had a lot of respect for was David Mercer. I didn’t find out until after his passing that he was a flight lieutenant navigator in the Pathfinder Squadrons over Germany in World War Two. This would have been a very precarious position because fifty thousand lost their lives in Bomber Command. It was higher than any other form of form of the service, fifty percent fatalities.
I had a lot of respect for David because he would go through the office and treat everybody the same. It was a very hard position too. He was answerable to Council and he had to stay on side with staff too, to get the best out of staff.
Who was the Mayor at the time you joined?
The Mayor at the time was Councillor Bernie Mullane.
Bernie Mullane Baulkham Hills Shire Councillor 1959-1991
Now there’s also Barry Pullinger and Ted Simpson who were they?
Barry Pullinger was Deputy Clerk and he became Shire Clerk. The same with Ted I knew Ted from Hornsby Council. When I was at Hornsby Council Ted was Rates Clerk and he qualified as a Town Clerk. He left Hornsby and I think he went to the country somewhere and in later years he came back to Baulkham Hills as Chief Clerk. From there he went on to be Shire Clerk.
What were the immediate challenges that the Council faced at that time in the 1970’s?
Well the immediate challenge from the health and building side was the growth in building. We were very lucky too in this respect that there was a lot of good builders in the area. There weren’t too many bad eggs as you might say or shonks. They were building quality homes. Even some of the big builders and I’ll name one John Heap (?) for example. John would get up on the roof and show his apprentices how to frame up a roof and all the rest of it. He was one guy that was in building in a big way. He built a lot of homes in The Shire. If you didn’t know him you’d never think that he would be up on the roof showing the apprentices. He’d leave that to his foreman or leading hands or some other tradesman. I saw him on a job once and he’s up there and he said “no you’ve got to show these kids the right way”. Which I thought was good.
Your job was to check their work, was it?
That’s right it was inspections from footings or slabs and frames, then of course final inspection, drainage and septic tank installations.
Did you have many projects that were not up to standard? Were there many?
Generally there weren’t too many. As I say usually the builders were of a fairly high standard. There was the odd one I guess that would stand out as being bad. You just serve notices on them to carry out the necessary works. There used to be a section under the Local Government Act that was called “a stop work notice”. They had to stop all work on the job apart from the works that were specified on the order to be carried out.
Eric Mobbs presenting a trophy at the Orange Blossom Festival 1985
What were the development considerations as part of the newly created subdivisions? What did The Council insist on that they had to do?
For a start there wasn’t any inter-allotment drainage not like there is today. That’s been brought about by the fact that lots are small today. Lots were a lot bigger then. Some of the lots were in the order of a thousand, nine hundred square metres or even as high as twelve hundred for single residential dwellings. Any drainage problems from higher levels on the contours they were regarded as the owners individual responsibility to protect his own property. If you were on the lower side that was your problem. It was brought about by the fact that whether the house is there or not because of the contour levels the water is going to run down hill anyway. That was the legal consensus of it. We did have senior legal counsel’s opinion on those issues. Not to get too involved in private drainage problems.
That was a huge amount of land that they used to allow for a single block? What were the ramifications of that?
What actually happened when the Wran Labour Government came in there were considerations of having smaller lot sizes. I guess this is also to spread infrastructure costs… a lot of benefits I guess cost wise. The Council was very objectionable to this. In fact it was Councillor Mobbs that said “no we don’t want to go down below seven hundred square metres because we want seven hundred square metres for children to be able to play in their own backyard. Not in the street”. To that end I actually had to do some photographs. I did about forty photographs one afternoon to give to the President and the Shire Clerk and all the Councillors. They were meeting Eric Bedford the Minister for Planning at Parliament House. Council was putting forward its argument not to reduce the size below seven hundred. Council was very successful in convincing the Minister Eric Bedford at that particular time. They went along with it.
That’s changed that policy several times?
Well this has changed now. Landcom came in. They’ve bought land and they don’t want Sydney to sprawl. They’re trying to compact more people closer together.
Where were those new subdivisions being built in The Shire in the seventies?
In the seventies they were in the Crestwood area, that’s West Baulkham Hills area. There were quite a few in Carlingford. In fact War Service homes in the early to mid seventies I think they built about five hundred homes in the North Rocks area adjacent to the Muirfield Golf Course all in that area on either side of Barclay Road. That was big subdivisions in there.
When did Kellyville begin?
Kellyville progressively started in the old village area. They’re all seven hundred square metre blocks. That would have been in the late seventies early eighties. Then of course Kellyville expanded when Landcom came into this area actually.
There’s been some criticism about Kellyville by some quarters that the houses were built before the infrastructure was put in. Is that right?
Oh the infrastructure would only have been the railway, the railway and probably the T way. This area out here Beaumont Hills and the initial new areas not the village area where the seven hundred square metre blocks are. The road was just a single lane either way and there were bottlenecks.
Were the roads guttered and drained and all that sort of thing?
No, some of them weren’t but of course it was the Carr Government that did the upgrading of New Windsor Road and Old Windsor Road. Once they were done it made vast improvements.
Does it seem to you that the development of this area was too rapid for the infrastructure to catch up with it, like sewerage and all this sort of thing?
Oh the sewerage was always here in this area. It wasn’t in the old area initially but it did eventually come. The main thing was the transport. Also the electricity, they had to go through and upgrade some of the electricity here because there was greater demands with air conditioning etc. Most of the houses here have fully recycled air conditioning anyway. You need it in the summer.
What sort of problems confronted you as Health and Building Surveyor when you started in the job? What would you say were your biggest challenges?
The biggest challenges were possibly the volume of work. There was a limited number of staff, personnel to try and get through the work. That was the biggest problem as far as I could see.
What have been the major changes in The Shire since you started there in 1974 if you look at that almost forty year period between then and now?
Mainly the commercialisation within The Shire, the light industry and commercials. People being able to work close to home. These are major planning considerations today. I think it’s the idea on planning today. It saves infrastructure and motor vehicle traffic.
Norwest Business Park Aerial View. (Windsor Road in the foreground)
The Baulkham Hills Shire, or The Hills Shire, went from a sleepy, rustic, semi rural area in the nineteen sixties early seventies to a mix of commercial. You’ve got the Norwest Business Park now and all that sort of thing and residential different blocks. There’s been a complete transformation. How do you think that’s been handled?
Well I think it’s been handled quite well. I think in some areas of the commercial zones there doesn’t seem to be enough parking in many places, customer parking. I think some of those areas leave a little bit to be desired. Of course that’s all land values and expense there with that. I think it’s been handled quite well really. When you look at what it used to be like in the sixties. I’ve come from areas that I’m familiar with in the old commercial, industrial areas of Bankstown, Lidcombe, Beralla, Auburn, and Silverwater. There weren’t the planning controls in that period that councils could implement designed plantation areas. Landscaping around commercial and light industry type facilities. Where that’s to the fore today and I think that’s been a great asset. I know it’s costly to development but when you look at it and you’ve come from the Alexandria, Redfern, Botany areas to Bankstown and Auburn which has been a little bit better.
In fact I remember Alan Hayes telling me once he was the Chief Health and Building Surveyor at Auburn. They thought that Auburn and Silverwater when it was zoned for commercials they thought it was going to be a second Alexandria with factories right up to the front and no plantation. No off street parking or anything. Auburn Council under their planning scheme ordinance certainly did push for a number of things. In fact you might even say in some instances councils might have been ultra vires, gone beyond their powers in some instances on some things I know.
What sort of things?
Well when they were building three story unit blocks. I know at Auburn Council they insisted on a certain area for children’s play areas. Drainage easements and dedicated easements. These things weren’t really in any sort of legislation. This was sort of a grey area. I know a number of developers who whinged and moaned about it. That’s how you get the slums of tomorrow particularly when you don’t have any child playing area facilities. Where are they going to play? People do have children that live in blocks of units.
Go To Part Two