Wolf Bickel - Part 2


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

What about other fatalities, were there any fatalities that you know of while you were at the council?

Yes to my knowledge since I’ve been there we’ve had one fatality. His brother still works on the council, Steve Barrett. I was working in the garage at the time helping the bloke that taught me the machine. Pulled down the motor on the grader and there was a backhoe in the next bay and the head mechanic was bleeding it. He finished bleeding it and what happens when you bleed a diesel, once you get all the air out it will rev up. You’ve got to pull on the accelerator to keep it going. It revved right up and the mechanic said “cut the revs down” and he was a little bit too anxious and hit the gear leaver before he got to the accelerator and the back wheel just pulled him straight underneath. It took off and he was virtually gone before the machine left him.

What was his name?

Roly Barrett.

It must have been pretty traumatic though?

It wasn’t a good day it was a shocker.

So that was what, thirty years ago this happened do you think?

Yeah about then I’d say, yes.

Now you were trampled on by a horse I believe?

Yes, yes I used to do a lot of stock work with a couple of other blokes. Day and night you’d get called out to pick up mainly horses, especially in the winter time when there wasn’t much feed about. Normally by the time we got to them, with the people chasing them and the cars, they’re half mad. They take off at a drop of a hat and you just can’t hold them. The mate and myself had this one either side of it and then it decided to take off and I was in its road so it just rode over the top of me and jumped on my leg.

The Hermitage, 342 Old Northern Road Castle Hill 1993 when it was the Council Pound

You survived that though?

Oh yes.

Did the council have a holding yard for horses in those days?

It was a private concern up on top of Rogan’s Hill. A woman ran it and she used to look after all the animals and try and find their owners. If no one came forward within such a time she’d send them off to market.

What were those horses used for?

What once they’d left there?

No I mean while they were there in the holding yard?

They’d just be watered and fed in the holding yard.

Were they work horses?

They could be anything but most of them were just kid’s horses, some were big, some were small but most of them were just riding horses.

Do you recall any particularly bad storms or things that happened through climate rainfall, storms while you were at council?

We’ve had quite a few of them over the years where they tear through and knock houses down, trees. We had one in Pitt Town Road years ago. It was stinking hot weather and right on lunch time it hit us and it was like a cyclone tearing up Pitt Town Road. By the time it was finished you couldn’t drive up Pitt Town Road. It took us the rest of the day to clear all the trees off.

So a mini cyclone was it?

It was a ripper. I happened to be on the grader that day, cause my mate had the day off, it took us the rest of the day to push all the trees off the road, driveways so people could get home.

So what positions have you held with the council, Wolf, over the years?

They’ve varied I’ve been a linesman in the Parks and Gardens. The water cart, the rollers, I used to drive the loaders for a fair while even before I got my ticket. I was on loaders for a while, then I got the OK to learn the grader. Well there’s no ticket for the grader you do that on your car licence. Then I got my truck licence, my backhoe licence, it goes on and on.

Did you ever see any major bushfires while you were there at the council?

I’ve seen some fires but nothing major that I’ve been concerned in, no. There was one little one that I got called to, to cut fire breaks with the machine. I’ve never been in any major stuff.

What about major flooding?

They sent me down to River Road one time, the slide of the road had slipped away, to put barricades out. The boss said “try and get through”. The truck I was given was a pretty old one. It was a diesel and the air intake, which I didn’t know, was all holed in the rubber. Once the water got up to it sucked it straight in and of course the motor died. Then I had to go swimming for it.

Now you’ve been on council for pretty well on forty years isn’t it? How many is it actually? You started when you were eighteen and your..

I’m 59 in November so forty one years in November or October actually.

Wolf Bickel inside cabin of Council grader

How have the work practices changed while you’ve been at council, tell me?

Quite considerably they’re a lot more safety conscious now. Like that landslide, there’d be no way in the world they’d let us do that now. A lot more safety conscious because if somebody gets hurt it costs them money.

Now you would spend a lot of time in the cab of a grader didn’t you? Did you get a bad back as a result of that?

Well that goes with the job virtually because what a lot of people don’t realise is you’re going backwards as much as you’re going forwards. When you go backwards you have to look that means that you have to twist the whole body. It’s not as if you’re on a nice level playing field. You’re getting jostled about so the spine cops it, upper, the lower, the neck. Everything gets knocked about over a period of years.

So what sort of changes in work practices would there have been to alleviate that kind of thing?

Well they’ve been talking about swivel seats but it makes it awkward because the cabs of the grader are actually getting smaller so there's less room to do all this sort of thing. They’re virtually still the same as they were years ago.

Has the advent of computerisation been a factor in the way you work?

A little bit as far as laser levels go. We did a big oval a few years ago and it saved a hell of a lot time and money. Rather than putting in a whole series of pegs over the area. We just put the laser in hooked it up to the machine and away she went. There was no need for people to go checking levels. I could do it all form the grader.

So you used computers for that?

It shoots a beam and the unit on the grader picks it up and it will tell me if I’ve got to go up or down.

That makes it easier?

Yes and a lot quicker.

The Shire has undergone a big increase in population over those years that you’ve been there. How do you feel about that increase?

Personally I like Castle Hill the way it was years ago when it was a nice little village and everybody knew everybody. Not necessarily their business but everybody “g’day how are you”. They knew who you were where you came from. Now that’s all gone because there are that many people there that it is unbelievable.

There’s been a huge increase in housing, the number of houses that are built there of course?

Yes back of Kellyville and Box Hill and all through there.

 New housing development in Kellyville c2005

So how do you feel about that rate of development? Do you think the houses are too close together or too many of them? What do you feel?

Personally I think the blocks are too small but a lot of people don’t want to mow the lawns of a weekend and have a bit of a garden or chooks in the backyard. They just want to relax of a weekend.

Now did you get married at all Wolf?

Yes I got married and we had three kids.

What are they doing, those children?

One’s in the car dealership business, one is doing security work and one is a housewife.

They all live in the Shire your children?

No, none of us live in the Shire, I’m afraid we can’t afford to.


Well it’s not really a cheap area to live these days.

So you can’t afford to live where you used to live as a child?


Where are you living?

Shalvey over at Mount Druitt.

So Wolf, what have been the major changes that you’ve witnessed over the years at Baulkham Hills Shire?

I’d say the main thing is the influx of people and when you get that amount of people in an area everything changes, it’s got to. When I was a kid especially just before I left high school the mates and my self. We’d grab some food and rifles, would you believe, and we’d go off into the bush and spend the weekend down the bush if I wasn’t working and there was never any trouble. You couldn’t do that sort of thing today. I used to walk through the main street of Castle Hill carrying the knapsack and the rifle. Police would see you “behave yourself”, “yeah righto” and off you’d go.

You wouldn’t walk around with a rifle now?

No they’d lock you up now.

Those new people that have moved into the Shire are they happy do you think living there?

I’d say they probably are otherwise they’d move out. I can’t see why they wouldn’t be. They get serviced pretty well by the council I’d say.

So the population must have increased ten-fold in that time? Do you still have that interaction that you might have with neighbours or is it all changed?

Road Patrol at Baulkham Hills Shire Council Depot c2000

I think it’s all changed because the life styles, there’s a lot more pressure on people now. Those days they were hard, but they were easy in that you didn’t have the pressure on you all the time. Now you’ve got pressure on you at work to succeed to keep your job. You’re worrying about this, worrying about that so its never ending now.

How has the council changed also over those years?

Over the years as people left or retired a lot of them weren’t replaced. Where years ago we might have had ten people in a gang now a lot of them are down to half that. We haven’t got the amount of gangs that we used to have.

Is that because a lot of the work is outsourced now?

That and technology has got a lot to answer for there. The machines we had years ago. You had to have people around to clean up, now we can do it all with the machines. In that respect they’re that much better you can do a lot more with them.

So things must have improved possibly for the citizens of the Baulkham Hills Shire over those forty years? Like the better roads and so on?

In some respects yes. The biggest problem is that they have that many roads and everybody wants every pot hole done. With that big dry spell we’ve got a lot of roads cracked because everything shrinks and a lot of roads crack. When the wet hit it went the other way. Pot holes appeared left, right and centre. They want it done quick smart but you’re not allowed to inconvenience them. You’ve got to do it when there’s nobody there, otherwise they go crook.

Does that mean working a lot of weekends?

At times yeah I remember years ago every weekend we’d be out and during the week just potholes, potholes, potholes every day.

Talking about the state of the roads, what’s it like now in Baulkham Hills Shire do you think? Is it vastly better than it used to be?

The majority of roads are sealed now. The roads aren’t too bad really. The trouble is a lot of the roads are sealed but haven’t got curb and guttering. In other words they’ve still got dirt shoulders. They’re the problem now. They’re not getting really the attention they need to keep them up to scratch. A dirt shoulder is there to get the water off the road and keep it off, to keep the road safe. If you keep the water off the road the road will last a lot longer. If you’ve got water running over a road and traffic over it it’ll destroy it.

So is there a problem with drainage in some of those roads?

In some cases but most of it is getting to the stage where we’re told what to do, when to do it, why. If they saw a bit of grass don’t touch it. Years ago we’d start at one end of a job, a road and go right through and do the whole thing. Both sides when you finished you’d look back and it looks good. Now its hit and miss and it doesn’t really work.

Maintenance of shoulders on rural roads in Baulkham Hills Shire

Is a lot of the work outsourced where you used to have gangs working for the council that you don’t have them now?

I think there’s more work than we realise that's sourced out, yes.

What do you do now on a day to day basis? Are you still driving all those loaders and so on?

In a sort of a fashion in the last five years I’ve been ganger about four times. As gangers leave I’d take over until there’s a replacement. I’m still driving the grader at the same time. For some reason people come into the position and they don’t want to stay a couple of them went onto better jobs. The last one we had he went to China to teach them how to speak English.

So what’s been the biggest change in road construction over that time do you think?

Probably the way we’ve got to do it these days. Years ago when there wasn’t the amount of traffic and they were a little bit more conscious of what was going on around. We could do a two kilometre stretch of road which meant you box the road out you build up your shoulders. You could leave the traffic on that and let them put it down and you’d actually see what happened to the road. The traffic's the best teller of the road you can get. If it’s going to blow it’s going to blow with traffic. Cars, trucks they’ll bring it up quicker than anything else. Now we can’t do that anymore. We’ve got to dig it out and fill it up in the one day. You can’t do those big sections anymore and that makes it a lot more expensive.

And the fact that we have now stricter environmental laws has that changed things at all in the way that you work?

Yes it takes a lot more time because you’ve got to set up and its not just once on the job. You’ve got to make sure everything is right every day.

So the fact that you used to be able to push land fill into water, rivers you can’t do that now, can you?

No they’d hang you now in those days nobody knew any better.

So has that made it very much more difficult for you to work?

No it doesn’t make it more difficult but it takes a lot longer. Say down on River Road where we ….and occasionally still have smaller landslides and slips. Instead of a loader going down like, we did years ago when we had a bad lot of weather. I’d go down with a grader and I’d pull it out from the cliff face and my father would come through with the loader, pick it up and just shot it into the drink. You can’t do that sort of thing now so unless you’ve got a fleet of trucks there to get loaded. It’s a fair haulage to get things away. You’ve only got a couple of spots there where you can take the stuff. If you’re lucky you got two trucks. Well it’s all time and time is money.

So there have been changes in the employment patterns then too have there?

Yes, yes.

You and your father together would have clocked up almost seventy years or so of work for the council together?

Yes pretty close to that.

How have you enjoyed that time?

I’ve enjoyed the lot of it pretty well. All the aspects of working on the council, yes.

Do you have any plans for retirement at all?

None whatsoever.

Are you teaching any of the younger blokes now about ?

Well I try to there’s a young bloke. Well he’s not that much younger than me, he’s fifty. He’s not a bad operator but he hasn’t been in the field on big jobs he mainly does maintenance and smaller construction jobs. He’s one of those sort of blokes, he doesn’t ask that many questions but he watches and he listens and he picks it up that way. If he wants to know something he’ll ask.

What are the young blokes that are coming into the construction area with you on the council, what are they like? Are they better educated than you were?

They’re better educated but they don’t seem to want to stay with it. Today it’s all money and nobody wants to become a labourer when there’s a better job that they can put in for next week and get more money and get up and up and up. Then they’re gone.

So it’s not a long term life commitment like in your time?

No. no I think those days are gone.

So you’re one of the old school?

For better or worse yeah.

Former Baulkham Hills Shire Council Depot, Pennant Street Castle Hill, 1965 (now Piazza carpark)

Any other comments you want to make about your life or life on the council that you might have?

I think I can honestly say as far as working with the blokes on the council, apart from a couple of exceptions, on the majority of it I have had a ball. It hasn’t all been easy, but life wasn’t meant to be easy. The amount of bosses I’ve been through over the years it’s been very interesting at times. Quite a few of those people are no longer with us. I’d say ninety percent of them are gone. The biggest problem with that is if they don’t do this sort of thing now and then all the history of the place is gone. Once they're gone and no one’s put it down on paper or videoed or whatever. That’s it, it's history.

It’s very important isn’t it?

Well to me it is. Years ago up in the old yard up at Castle Hill just behind the shopping centre. In the store we had a big board and it had photos of some of the blokes when they started or when they left. When the big move was on it went I don’t know where it went but it’s gone. You want some sort of a record so you can look back and say which ones better now or then? As far as work practices go and lifestyle I know which way I go.