Interviewee: Wolf Bickel, born 1948
Interviewer: Frank Heimans,
for Baulkham Hills Shire Council
Date of Interview: 26 Sept 2007
Transcription: Glenys Murray, Nov 2007
This interview represents the personal recollections, views and opinions of the interviewee
I remember nothing about living over at Villawood in the hostel. We couldn’t get out of there quick enough. You cooked in the summer and froze in the winter. Then we moved to Kellyville and Poole Road halfway up the hill and that’s the first recollection I can still hold. We’d only see Pop on the weekends, that’s if it wasn’t flooding. He was working up at Lithgow and if there was heavy rain he couldn’t get through Windsor. So it could be a fortnight, three weeks before we see him.
What kind of company was he working for?
Steel manufacturing they were building the mine structures up there.
So what sort of work did your father do? Was it labouring work?
Building up on the steel, putting it all together.
Right I imagine he’d be working at heights wouldn’t he?
Was he OK about that?
No he never said much about that at all.
He didn’t like working at heights?
I don’t know I’ve never really seen him up high to say whether he was nervous with it or not. I couldn’t say.
How long was he working there?
Probably two or three years all up I’d say.
He came home on the weekends did he?
When he could, yes, well at that time it was a bad time for floods.
Kellyville was subject to floods was it?
No not Kellyville but he had to come through Windsor and at that time the water came up to McGrath’s Hill pub on a regular basis, which meant there was a lot of water in Windsor.
Suspension Bridge, Acres Road, early 1950s
Right I see. Now you arrived in Australia in 1952 right?
Somewhere around there.
So you’re talking of the nineteen fifties now when you were young?
Tell me what it was it like in Kellyville in the 1950’s? Can you describe what Kellyville looked like?
If the water was here you’d call it a quiet backwater. There wasn’t much here at Kellyville at all really. Its booming now with all the subdivisions but then it was a very quiet little area.
How many houses would there have been approximately?
All up a couple of thousand and that would have been it in the whole area.
I imagine that Kellyville would have been seen by the rest of Sydney as being very remote, was it?
How long would it take to get there say from the central business district if you were driving out to Kellyville?
Well it would take you a shorter time than now because the traffic puts a dampener on the roads. It didn’t take all that long. A lot of people apart from Sundays didn’t venture out that way. Sundays was another matter that Windsor Road would be chock a block full of traffic well into the night. Of a morning they’re going out up the mountains, down the river everywhere. Of an afternoon about three o’clock to about nine o’clock it would just all coming back.
Right so there’s still a lot of people living there? What was the state of Windsor Road? What sort of state was it in at the time?
It wasn’t really bad, it was all sealed and decent bridges but on the Sundays it just couldn’t handle the pace.
So even forty or fifty years ago that was a problem?
Yes the Sundays and if there was an accident which there was quite often well it was good night.
Now I believe that your parents actually worked on a chook farm as well did they? Tell me about those times?
When Pop left the steel company we moved out to Glenorie in Post Office Road and he worked for a couple Convessas on Post Office Road and they had a chook farm. We were there for probably two years somewhere around there. He worked in the sheds and we went to school at Glenorie. It was another very quiet place at the time. There wasn’t that many chook sheds out there but there was a lot of citrus. Plums, oranges and all that sort of thing peaches beautiful.
It was the orchard capital of Australia wasn’t it?
Pretty well at the time yes.
Did you live on the chook farm as well?
Yeah we lived on it, yes.
On a house at the back was it?
Yeah there was a house supplied. In those days you moved to where the work was.
Shore 40 acre orchard, Cattai Ridge Road, 1950s
Now when did he start to work for councils, your father? Was this after the chook farm?
Yes, no we went from the chook farm to citrus and plums and all the rest of it. That was on the Hornsby side and we spent a few years there and then we moved to Castle Hill. That’s where I refer to it as becoming civilised. Because it was pretty wild out there, things changed when we moved to Castle Hill into Cecil Avenue. He worked for Parramatta Council for a while and Brook’s Retreads for a while and then he joined the council.
The Baulkham Hills Council?
The Baulkham Hills Council, yes.
So which year would that have been?
Could not say...
Be the 1950’s still, would it?
I’d say about 1958, 1959.
Now the Council would have been fairly small at that time was it, the Baulkham Hills Shire Council?
The Council area hasn’t shrunk over the years but the number of people in it has expanded unbelievably. The work force there was a hell of a lot more people employed by the Council. They had a lot more machinery but compared to now I don’t think they can go down much further and there won’t be anyone to do the work.
View from back of Crane home on north west corner Castle and Pennant \
Streets Castle Hill looking east to Willunga Place 1979
When you lived at Castle Hill you said you lived in Cecil Street?
Cecil Avenue. What sort of house did you live in?
It was a rented dwelling it was just below the Seventh Day Adventist Church next door to it. It was a little old fibro place with a tin roof.
Nothing glamorous right?
No but it was home for quite a few years.
How many rooms did it have, bedrooms?
Three I think.
Did you share one with your brothers?
There were six in the family?
Six, three boys and three girls.
Sanitary pans serviced in the southern suburbs of the shire c1960 by V.M. Folini Pty Ltd Northmead
So there were three girls to one bedroom and three to another.
No by the time we moved there the eldest sister she’d moved out. Say we were there ten years halfway through that the eldest brother moved out or married or one thing and another.
So what sorts of facilities were there in the house? Did you have a fuel stove was there electricity and water supplied?
Yes we had electricity, we had water we had a pan out the back in a little outhouse. The hot water system…we had a jug for the house and for the bath it was one of those little kerosene heaters that the water ran through. That was the heat.
Cold in winter was it?
It was, pretty well, because there was no such thing as insulation in those days. It was fibro and a tin roof and that was it.
Do you know if the house is still standing?
No, long gone the church being double blocks and big double blocks, well they wanted to expand so they bought the lot.
So your father was renting that house for the entire period that he lived there?
When did the family buy a house did they?
Yes they bought a house in Pennant Street. If it was still there it would be under the shops. The shopping centre in Pennant Street just covers the whole area now. That was his big move that one. In actual fact the banks wouldn’t lend him the money but the brother and my self had to sign for it as well, because he was already too old.
Was that a brick house?
No, no it was a big fibro house. A well built big home, big open fire place, four bedrooms.
It was big?
What were the neighbouring properties like in Pennant Street? Give me a picture of your neighbours and what sort of things they did around you?
In Cecil Avenue like I said they were all big even the single blocks they were all…you’d call them double blocks today, that’s how long they were and wide. They were double blocks. In the double blocks you had your shed, your chooks, your sheep whatever you wanted. Veggie patch the whole bit.
That’s in Cecil Avenue, what about in Pennant Street?
It was still a big block but most of them were only single blocks. Battle axes and all this sort of thing.
Did you have sewage laid on?
Oh yes, yes.
That was there was it? What sort of communal spirit was there among the people there?
It wasn’t bad really because the people next door they worked on the council. The two brothers worked on the council. The gentleman on the corner worked on the council. Smith’s Earthmoving they were on the other side of the road they used to do a lot of work for the council. So we knew them all through the council.
Seems as though everyone worked for the council?
Like I said there was quite a few there.
What sort of entertainment would the people do, I mean did they get together at anytime, Christmas or whatever?
No, no there was really none of that sort….well if there was we weren’t in it. The old RSL club in the park up at Castle Hill, you had the picture show that was for the kids. That was about it.
What about other people of German origin, were there other Germans around?
Yes there were a few. The Mullers they were friends of the family and he also worked on the council. There wasn’t a lot, there was a lot from Holland, White Russians, English, Spanish everything was up there. In those days you’ve got to remember Castle Hill itself that was for the workers. All the workers lived in Castle Hill all the people with money they lived outside of Castle Hill, Glenhaven, and the upper crust.
I guess the two never met much did they?
Not a lot.
Did you see the other German families?
Driver George Adey on Baulkham Hills Shire Council's first steam roller 1930
Did they like life in Australia as well?
I’d say so because they never went back home.
You said your father worked thirty years for the council what sort of work was he doing there?
As long as I can remember and I was still at primary school just he was working on loaders at the time. I joined the council and he was still on loaders for a hell of a lot of years. He had a bad accident down on River Road and it knocked the wind out of him because he nearly went into the river. He wasn’t keen on them after that.
In those days heavy rains again and the stuff had come down out of the hills and they’d send him down to clean the roads. In those days it was the thing you picked it up and shot it into the drink to get rid of it. He did it. Next thing the whole road went from underneath the front wheels and it was only the configuration of the structure of the machine that bit in front of the back wheels. It was a bit frightening.
Did he have an injury?
No, no he wasn’t hurt.
(What did you do when you left school?)
I started a job shortly after I left school in a timber yard.
What were you doing there?
In the saw mill with the big saws, the planers, the stacking, driving the trucks, the forklifts, it was a good job.
Poor money but it was a good job I enjoyed it.
How long did you do that work?
I was there nearly two years and they closed the timber mill down and just kept the hardware store going. They handed me over to another mill I couldn’t handle it at all because there was nothing organised. So I was only there for about three months and that’s it and I’m off.
So you were actually cutting the timber as well with a saw?
Oh yes big cutting down saws.
Paddock in Olive Street 1970 became shopping centre in 1979
What was the name of the saw mill?
Well two brothers owned it, Merrick Brothers.
Where was it?
In Baulkham Hills between the main intersection and Olive Street and it was between Old Northern Road and Windsor Road. You had the hardware store on Old Northern Road and the timber yard went all the way to Windsor Road. Just down a bit from the Bull and Bush.
Right I see, so after two years of the saw mills what was your next job?
That’s Baulkham Hills where your father was still working at the time. So what exactly did you do at the Baulkham Hills Council?
I was interviewed by a chap by the name of Neville Smerden(?) he was the head surveyor at the time. Everything went well and he said “oh by the way how old are you?” I said “I’m a month off my eighteenth birthday”. He said “that could be a bit of a problem” I said “why?” He said “can’t start you legally until your eighteen for insurance reasons” Then he said “oh but bugger we won’t worry about that, we’ll put you in the Parks and Gardens for a while until you hit eighteen. Then you can come out onto the road and we’ll do the surveying work then”
So how long were you at Parks and Gardens?
Between linesman and Parks and Gardens I was there for twelve months or a bit more. Then I went out on the field in construction.
You did any surveying at all?
No just measuring, cleaning the line, they did all the mental stuff I did all the hard yards.
You enjoyed that?
It wasn’t bad mainly because most of my work was with Neville and he was a top bloke so it was easy.
The Hills Bowling Club & Baulkham Hills Park with Jenner & Railway Streets in distance c1957
How many people would have been working at Council in those days?
All up probably the same amount roughly that there is now only the roles have reversed itself. When I was in Parks and Gardens there was about half a dozen blokes in the Parks and Gardens I was the youngest, the next chappie he was twenty one and that’s when he passed away. After that it was in their sixties because they used to put them in Parks and Gardens virtually just to leave them in there. Do a bit of mowing up in the park until they retired. Out on the field in those days it was pretty hectic work, once they got on, they looked after them a bit. The timber yard was harder work, more physical because every time you picked something up it was heavy. The Council work well you were in traffic, you nearly had to have eyes in the back of your head because at the beginning you didn’t know the people that you were working with and some were good some weren’t so good. Some would drink some wouldn’t so it was a sharp learning curve.
Now talking about interesting events that might have happened while you were working at the Council the jobs that you might have done I believe that you had an interesting story to tell about a landslide repair at Wisemans Ferry. Do you know when that was and what it was all about?
It would be probably about twenty nine years ago and we’d had a hell of a lot of rain and we got the word to go down and block the road off, bit of a landslide. We got down there and it was about half a kilometre from the police station on River Road. We looked up and all we could see was this humungous pile of rock, mud, trees you name it, it was there. We looked up and five hundred foot up the side of the cliff here was this not a blade of grass nothing. Just clay where it had stripped it all down, that was an interesting job.
What did you have to do on that job?
There was a lot of chain saw work cutting the timber up so that the loader could get in and move all the material. We couldn’t open the road because we’d moved the material on the road during the day. During the night the rest of it slipped down so we had to repeat the procedure. Then it was discovered there was a rock, a massive boulder up the top, and it had to come down. So we ended up having to get up there and drill up to eleven foot holes. We peppered it with holes and ended up blowing it to pieces with gelignite.
How high up was that rock?
It was about five hundred foot up in the air at the side of the cliff and it was about the same from the top down. It didn’t matter which way you went at it, it was a good climb or a good drop.
So you were working at very great heights there?
Didn’t worry you?
I did and still do like that sort of work because it’s very stressful because you’re tensed up all the time and you’ve got to use your scone and if you don’t well it can be good night.
What sort of other jobs were you involved in while you were working for the council?
I was on the back of the water cart for twelve months that was interesting. Regulating water and directing traffic this way and that way. We had a rubber tyred roller we had an old steel roller that I used to drive quite often when the regular people were off. I got matey with a bloke that used to drive the grader and he turned around one day and he said “do you want to learn”? I said “that’ll do me”. So he asked the boss and the boss at the time said “yes we’ve got no spare grader or loader operators”. So I stayed with him a number of years and learnt the grader and been on them ever since.
And the rollers as well?
Well I’ll jump on rollers, loaders, as the job requires.
Did you lay any road or did curbing and guttering?
We did that for years, yes.
So what was the state of the roads in the municipality how would you describe it? Did it vary between different parts of the municipality?
Well in those days we had a lot of dirt roads. Some of them were bad roads only because of the material that was on the roads. Like clay, shale and they wouldn’t last long. You’d do them one week and next week they could be just as bad. It was an ongoing thing virtually all the time to maintain them.
Now did you have any work related accidents at all while you were working on the council?
I’ve been on compo twice since I started at the council. The first one I got two bits of steel in my kneecap and we were down the river at the time. I rang it in and they said “go up to the medical centre” and I said “yeah, yeah I will this afternoon”. “No, no you’d better go now”. I said “well its overtime now, so I’ll go this afternoon”. So I went in the afternoon and the doctor up there said “oh no, no I wouldn’t touch that” he said. “I’ll have to send you to a specialist”. So a month later I was in Baulkham Hills Hospital and he dug them out. The second time I got a bit of hot tar in my eye and I had to go to a specialist for that and I never lost any time through it.
The steel that you got in your knee, where did that come from?
Well on the back of the graders you’ve got rippers and scarifiers and when you replace them you’ve got to give them a good whack with the hammer. It was first thing in the morning and everything was cold and I hit one and the corner flew off and whacked straight into my leg. So I hit it a few more times and it let go. I put a new one in and I did the other one and about the third one I copped it again. It lobbed in my knee about two inches from where the other one was.
Is that still giving you problems that knee?
It is a bit of late, once the operation I never felt a thing for years. It’s giving me a little pain when I get up on my knees now, but apart from that it’s alright.
You never took any time off from work?
Was that the done thing in those days?
For some probably, yeah.
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