Baulkham Hills - Elizabeth Porter - Part 2
Interviewee: Elizabeth Porter, born 1930
Interviewer: Frank Heimans,
for Baulkham Hills Shire Council
Date of Interview: 3 July 2006
Transcription: Catherine Sapir, Nov 2006
This interview represents the personal recollections, views and opinions of the interviewee
So did you play piano for the choir and that sort of thing?
Not for the choir. I played piano for Sunday School and Sunday School anniversaries. I did a lot of that and at St Matthews, I’ve been at St Matthews since its inception which has now reached its 30th year, we ran a players group where we had concerts and I wrote two concerts for them and I played piano for that and these days I’m constantly playing piano. I’m part of a singing group.
Now when did the Library first come to Baulkham Hills. Do you remember that?
1960’s. About 1960’s,
What was it like, the first Library?
Well I’m finding it hard to remember what that Library was first like. I have been a member of the Library for a long while and utilised it for research and utilised it for reading because I’m an avid reader and my girls were always a part of it too. A Library is a very good thing. It’s changed at the moment. It’s been changed around. It was quite a prominent Library but now the Castle Hill Library is the prominent Library and that’s a lovely Library.
I know, we’ve been there. Now what were the issues of the day for the Baulkham Hills community during the 1960s. What were the big issues that they were worried about and wanted to improve and so on?
In the 1960’s. Well, I think it’s a little bit hard to say. Probably many, probably the fact that there was changing in buildings, changing roads could be a lot better, our transport could have been very, very much better than it was because say for instance if you came from Parramatta and you wanted to go to Kellyville you would have to wait an hour for a bus because they ran hourly. Half-hourly to Castle Hill. We were fortunate that living in Baulkham Hills you could catch a Castle Hill bus or you could catch a Kellyville bus and you’d be home safely but the others had a longer wait. It’s improved now, we have a lot more and since the M2 has been opened the M2 roadway which is absolutely fantastic, you have plenty more opportunity to get anywhere.
What sort of activities were you involved with at the Baulkham Hills Central School?
Mostly within the Infants section. I was part of the Mother’s Club. I liked to be part of their activities. I played piano for them also. Followed my girls everywhere. If there were parent days, even Aub would take time off from work to come down and share with the girls and not just with the girls but any other child that didn’t have a parent with them, we’d adopt more or less for the time. We repaired, a friend and I repaired a lot of school books which were torn. We would sit in the staff room and stickytape books up or have them sent home in my daughter’s school case to do at home and at one time there they thought about having a Library, a little Library for the kids because there were always books in the classrooms, so my friend and I, Joyce and I, were asked to do this and we did. It took us quite a while and we set it up and set up a system of borrowing and this went on for some time until my girls had left that area and though it continued, eventually it changed. But that was a good thing to have done. We were very excited about that.
The Hills District Bowling Club, late 1930s, with local shops opposite
What kind of work did you do since you’ve got married?
Since I got married, I was a stay at home mum looking after my children working within the Churches and working within the schools. You do this as voluntary work, but at one stage there I had the opportunity to work for a Travel Agent. I was looking for something to do so I worked for the Durak Travel Agency at Castle Hill. I enjoyed that very much and that was quite exciting, but it did entail sometimes a chance to have a little trip away which didn’t quite work with my family. Eventually I gave that one away and by chance I got a job at The Hills District Bowling Club through a friend who knew that there was a job going. It only started off as a Saturday morning but bit by bit eventuated into part time and eventually full time. I was Secretary to the Secretary Manager and eventually became Catering Manager as well, so it was an enormous job and I loved it and it was most exciting.
Things were a little bit different those days in terms of where ladies could go weren’t they in those Clubs?
In the early days, yes. My husband was always a member of that particular Club and if he wanted to take me up on a Saturday morning to have a drink together, ladies weren’t allowed in the lounge, so they would take them out to the Auditorium. You would have your drink out there and if you wanted to play a poker machine they would wheel one out for you and you’d sit out there having your drink and playing a poker machine and looking at the greens.
Things have changed a bit now.
Yes, changed incredibly and did change incredibly while I was working there.
Talking about change, let’s talk about the changes that happened during the 70’s and 80’s in the suburb. What do you think they were?
In the 70’s and the 80’s well again growth, enormous growth. We had a theatre in Castle Hill which was a good little spot but didn’t last all that very long. If you wanted to go to the pictures, well you had to go to Parramatta virtually, although in the early days, when we had the trams coming from Parramatta to Castle Hill, there was always the theatre tram which would take you into the Silents in Parramatta. When you think back to all those things the changes have all been for the better all the way along the line. We have taxi services, we have supermarkets, big supermarkets which we never ever had, lots of things like that have happened. The schools have changed. The Churches have changed even, they have to go ahead, they have to move with whatever’s happening but it’s good to know what’s happened in the past.
So what have been the biggest changes that you have witnessed do you think?
Well that’s a hard one for me to even think of I would say. I think it depends on what you’re doing as a person, how you’re involved and where you’re involved. Sometimes what’s happening outside you you don’t notice.
Paddock in Olive Street 1970 became shopping centre in 1979
I would say the shopping centres, the overall areas like that. I mean we had Castle Towers which is one of the biggest shopping centres and that has been an absolute boom. We did all our shopping in Parramatta and an interesting factor too about going shopping in Parramatta, back in the 50’s and 60’s, and you only had a bus to get anywhere, you went completely dressed. When I say completely dressed you wore a hat. You wore your fur coat. You wore your gloves, you even did that to go to Church and when you put that against today, you go in your sloppyjoe, you go in your thongs. Just imagine going all this dressed up on a bus to Parramatta just to shop or go to the bank.
So was it regarded as a bit of an outing or an occasion.
It was an outing, it was an outing. Today, like this week, I got a taxi to Castle Hill and took myself to lunch at Castle Towers, so we would never do that before, it was just not available.
So what do you feel about the young people that are moving in now to the Baulkham Hills area? Young families and so on, how do you think they compare with those young families that you were one of back in the 50’s?
I think there’s a big difference to a degree. I think it goes back to what you’re taught as a young person and I think back in the 30’s, 40’s, 50’s, there were very, very strict ideas. You never lose that. It stands by you in all steads. Probably the young people, any of the young people that I know, are absolutely delightful. Really very delightful people. My youngest grandaughter is 19 and she’s a delightful person. I know a young man who is 19 also, he’s absolutely delightful. Sometimes they don’t quite know where they’re going. When they come to the family stage they seem to head towards, and I’m not sure whether this is a good idea, they head towards two storey houses with no backyards, no side access and close on one another. They seem to want all those things. We were quite happy to have what we could have and stay with it. There’s a difference in attitude on that.
Aerial view of Norwest Business Park 2001
Yes I don’t think the modern 19 year old would put up with what you went through, you know the rudimentary kind of housing and facilities.
Don’t get me wrong on that. I did so many things as a young person it’s rather amazing. I learnt a lot. I was on the go all the time and still came home.
Let’s talk a little bit about your activities as a researcher and writer and a poet, so you’ve done quite a bit of work in that area. Tell me how it all began.
It began when I was 14 years old. I could always write, but it began when I was about 14 and I was writing poetry and little articles and things like that but they weren’t going anywhere. I’ve still got books and books of them in my cupboards.
It wasn’t until I was with the Redex company that I was asked to write an article on a model car from the Sydney Society of Model Engineers and that got published. That was called the LCR and it was going overseas to race and it did anything up to 160/170mph on a track only for a model car on methanol and castor oil and things like that. That was my first big article. I was also became Editor of the Sydney Society of Model Engineers monthly newspaper. I became their car reporter also and from then on when I came out here to Baulkham Hills I was just still writing, I never stopped writing, my husband said I was born with a pen in my hand.
When I was with St Matthews Church I edited their monthly bulletin for two years and finally on their 25th anniversary I helped produce a book so that we didn’t lose the history of the Church and the previous Churches I was behind doing that book and that was a success. I joined the Baulkham Hills Leisure Centre, the writing group of the Baulkham Hills Leisure Centre which was held down on Seven Hills Road in the old Masonic schools and we put out a book annually of short stories and poetry from the writers involved. Now I’m still with most of those writers after all these years and that’s the 80’s, twenty odd years down the track. They are now at Wesley Castle Hill and I will go up there. We put a book out last year on poetry and short stories.
I belong to the Fellowship of Australian Writers and I belong to a publication called 'Free Expression' which allows you a chance to become published and it’s published once a month. I’ve been published with poetry in the Sydney Morning Herald also, which is quite exciting. That was very exciting to get into the Sydney Morning Herald. I’ve had two in there. I have been in competitions and had a few commendeds but I never get to win anything. One day perhaps. I have a poem in a Sydney book called Beyond the Black Stump Of My Pencil which is a poem I wrote about my husband and his sweeping up of autumn leaves and that was in the Sydney Morning Herald also. That’s with the Fellowship of Australian Writers. I wrote a poem, I saw an old, old house up at Windsor way, tucked away in a street going through the countryside and it got to me. I took a photograph of that house and I wrote a poem about it and that got published in a womens book in Melbourne and since that particular poem has gone four years at Matthew Pearce Public School in year 5 and 6 because they have to do local history so my daughter has taken the poem and utilised it with art looking at words and it’s been an absolute delight to know that it’s been used in that way.
Kentwell Cottage, 244 Old Northern Road Castle Hill, before demolition late 2006
Bette, we’d like to hear very much one of your poems that you’ve written. Can you tell us the name and read it or us?
Yes, I’d love to read you the one I wrote about and it is called 'Old Pioneer House'. It is very, very pertinent to the old houses that we have in the Hills District at the moment and is published in Women in Harmony and is also been used at Matthew Pearce Public School for years 5 and 6:
Old Pioneer House
I see it dying the little grey iron roofed house
Ailing for want of love, saddened by abandonment.
Broken boards of the verandah trying hard not to slip into the dust,
Shaky posts have moved leaving the rusty corrugation of the awning to fall away.
Rough brick foundations have served the test of time,
Now they are powdery, collapsing to let one corner of the house to hang, to shift.
Its once welcoming portal is flung off old hinges, half leaning towards the inside.
Windows are naked without glass.
Ragged splintered fences tumbling, crumbling and derelict,
Keep the house half hidden as if in shame for times neglect.
The softness of gum trees, the autumn tones of changing foliage caress the house in its graveyard of wretchedness.
The paddock of overgrown grass and weeds help create the illusion of desolation of being forgotten.
Not a scythe or mower has touched the grass in years.
The poet, the artist in me, aches for the house.
I want to write a sonnet, paint a masterpiece so that a little bit of pioneering might not die unheeded.
I have no sonnet to write, only a requiem for this place or for any other paddock graveyard where little old pioneer houses hang grimly to life when in fact life has quietly passed them by.
That’s beautiful, thank-you.
What sort of a reputation does Baulkham Hills have for the arts?
I think a fairly good reputation. I mean it goes back, there’s always been an eisteddfod, there’s always been dancing, music, instrumental work. There have always been concerts. Now with RSL’s, our Churches, there’s something big going on all the time. There are groups moving always. There are voice speaking choirs. There are all sorts of things happening. There’s a place for you to go and even with television and that there are television schools, there are acting schools, there are dancing schools.
So all those things didn’t exist when you moved in. There have been big changes.
No, those are the very big changes that have come into it, although my daughters, well one did dancing with the Elaine School of Dancing and this goes back to before she was ten years of age. Both of them learnt music, one learnt guitar. There’s always something that they could do which is wonderful.
I didn’t realise that Baulkham Hills has such a rich cultural background.
It is, it is.
You’ve given some talks too to various groups. Tell me about that.
I like doing talks. The very first talk I ever did was on the Sydney Society of Model Engineers and I did that to a whole Lodge room full of men with my father and my grandfather. My grandfather Wood of the Australis Car who was absolutely delighted to think that one of his grandchildren could stand up and do something similar.
But after that, there was a bit of a wain and it wasn’t until I was moving around in the Church that I began to pick up small talks and later on I have done very much bigger talks. I’ve done the Australis Car, I’ve done horse racing in the Hills which is very early horse racing at the time of Captain Phillip when horses first came to Australia and I have done early movies because I worked for Metro Goldwyn Mayer when I was 17 in Sydney. That was the most fascinating time of my life. So I have done quite a fair bit.
At the moment I’m working on a Castle Hill/Baulkham Hills story for August and I have an article to write on one of my horse stories for the Hills District Historical Society’s magazine which is coming out in August.
You are very active, that’s great.
I never stop. It’s good to be active.
View from Parsonage and Windsor Roads looking west, 1970, long before road widening in 2006
Talking about the future of Baulkham Hills, how do you see it developing. I mean what do you think the future is going to be like in 10 or 15 years time?
Oh goodness, what a question. That’s frightening because I would say we are going to be over crowded on the roads because the roads have not come anywhere what there needs to be. I mean there are the great big improvements of M2s and newer systems and the widening of Windsor Road going out towards Kellyville. Rouse Hill, that’s so desperate, it’s been desperate for years. I just don’t know, with all the townhouses, all the units coming in I can see there’s not going to be any of the early moments of green grass somewhere or lots of trees and things like that. I think things are going to change. I doubt very much if I might even be here in 10 or 15 years time. I might miss out but I think it’s a little scary what might happen in the future.
So how do you look back upon your time in the early days of Baulkham Hills, this rural community that you joined? Do you have a sense of nostalgia about it or do you think it was just a phase they went through and things are better now? How do you feel about that?
Oh no, it’s got very nostalgic. I’m very glad for it. I’m very glad of how we moved and what we did and how we’ve operated. How as volunteers for things we’ve helped. I think that’s a good thing. I just hope that that continues. Volunteering is very important.
You may very well have been one of the modern day pioneers of Baulkham Hills do you think?
Oh, an unheard one I think. One in its quiet corner.
Well Bette, I haven’t got any further questions. Do you want to talk about anything else before we close the interview? Is there something you want to put on record here?
I think that probably the only thing that I would like to put on record is that being a member of the historical society of the district and what we try to do to keep things going, to keep interest going, to follow through, to research we can’t afford to lose the history of this district nor New South Wales nor Australia in general. We are not like other countries in the world if we do they are still retaining a lot of history, a lot of beautiful buildings. We must hang on because it is a heritage and it’s just a heritage for the whole of our young people and it’s rather surprising in the schools today they do have to learn a little bit about it and that’s great. To be a part of something or to dress up in costume a great thing to do and great reminder of what went before us.
Lovely notes to finish on. Thanks very much Bette.