Castle Hill - Heather Watson - Part 2
Interviewee: Heather Watson, born 1926
Interviewer: Frank Heimans,
for Baulkham Hills Shire Council
Date of Interview: 24 May 2006
Transcription: Catherine Sapir, Dec 2006
Let’s talk a bit about Castle Hill generally now. You know you started living there when there was very little there in 1924. Tell me a little bit, if I take you right back to the 30’s and so on, who the neighbours were that you had around you. Do you remember that?
Yes. The house on the bachelor property that my father had had, was purchased in 1929 by a Mr E M Baldwin. He was an Englishman who had been a Ship’s Engineer. He had a Stanley Steamer car. He was a Seventh Day Adventist and they’d travel in the Stanley Steamer to go to Church each Saturday. He had four sons, one of them was drowned in a water hole nearby when he was eleven, and he began working as an Electrician basically but developed an oxy welding business. It in turn developed into a speciality in stainless steel fabrication. During the war he made parts for, I think it was, Mosquito bombers. He made vats for Breweries and equipment for Taubmans for example and he would do one-off designs for people. His work was very good. A school friend of mine married a chap who worked at Taubmans and he said it is expensive to get him to make a piece of equipment but it is good and it is made to your specifications, he is the best of these one-off things. The three remaining sons joined Mr Baldwin in the business. I think it was in 1983 that the business was actually taken over and it moved from that location.
Now I’m talking about what Castle Hill was like. In 1923 before I was born the Brickworks was established in Castle Hill in Crane Lane (now Road). Three chaps, Mr Bell, Mr Stevens and Mr Britliff came down from the Brickworks at Gosford and found clay in Crane Road and they established a Brickworks there which was very much a part of life. The Bell family attended the Methodist Church so I had a lot to do with the Bell family and that Brickworks continued until 1967 that was a big part of Castle Hill.
When I was a small child there were orchards. Grandfather had an orchard. There were a lot of mixed farms very early on then it seemed to concentrate on orchards and they were predominantly citrus orchards but then during the Depression a lot of people were dispossessed because the husband lost his job and he couldn’t pay the payments on the house and a number of people came to Castle Hill and bought land with the amount of capital that they had and then some of them put up very flimsy temporary rooms, a couple of rooms, to live in and a lot of them had poultry for their own use and that developed into poultry farms in the district, so that poultry farms became dominant rather than the orchards and the orchards sort of moved further out and there were a lot of poultry farms in Castle Hill in the earlier methods where you had a run and a house in the middle of the poultry run but then of course the birds were in cages and I’ve forgotten what your question was.
Castle Hill Brick Tile and Pottery Works 1951
That’s good. You’ve given me a very good picture already of the kind of work that people were doing. You talked about one neighbour. Were there any other neighbours worthy of mention apart from Mr Baldwin.
Yes Mr Baldwin then across the road from us there was Mr James who I have mentioned went to Rhodes and worked in the flour mill. I don’t really know what all of the neighbours did. There were some people who, there always have been in Castle Hill, apart from the ordinary little people that did very ordinary little jobs, there were always the gentlemen element who would come.
The Sargent of Sargents pies bought a house in Castle Hill for a weekender at one stage and there were other people that had a comfortable house with some acres who had their own gardeners. There was always this sort of thing as well as the people who had the poultry farms and the market gardens. There were carnation farms, there was a Chinese extended family and I went to school with the youngest member of that family. Their farm was situated between Parsonage Road and Showground Road. A lot of people grew their own vegetables and some with excess would send them to the markets so it was a very interesting community.
One fairly close neighbour worked for a woman who lived on a number of acres and she had no husband that I’m aware of and he was the farmer on her farm. He had a tennis court and there was a group of friends that played tennis every Saturday afternoon on his court.
Some of the people travelled to work others were Carpenters, Electricians and Bricklayers and that sort of thing.
There were always the few business people. There were the Pitt Street farmers here as well right from the early days. Just a variety of occupations.
Sounds interesting. Was it sort of a bit like living in the country then? Was it rural would you say?
I would call it semi rural always and when I was in the Infants School Mothers Club there was a lady who lived at a very nice property out towards Dural and she said that if she went with her husband to maybe a cocktail party or some sort of an event in Sydney people would ask her where she lived and she would say the edge of Castle Hill………oh! Are you going home there tonight? People thought it was the end of the world and didn’t realise that it was easy to get in and of course now the people in this block of units go into the city daily whereas as a child, in my childhood years, people didn’t travel such long distances but now people do travel long distances. It’s really interesting to look at the social change that’s happened.
Showground Road Castle Hill 1951
Talking about the social changes also. Let’s talk a bit about the social and cultural life of the people of Castle Hill. What was it like then?
It’s hard for me to be objective because, as I’ve mentioned, I grew up in the Church and my mother used to get these Concerts going and there was always a Social gathering at the Church and we would get onto the back of a lorry. There was one family that had a nice table top lorry and we would put seats out of the hall on the back of this lorry, get a permit from the Transport Dept. and go out to the Hawkesbury to Mitchell Park or something like that. No seat belts, no nothing, just on the back of this table top truck. That’s not nearly so sophisticated as what happens now but then the whole world wasn’t as sophisticated as it is now.
There was no television. There was not a Library in Castle Hill until one chap started hire cars. His wife could also drive and I’m not sure if they had one or two cars but his wife used to stay at the phone in the office and she had a little library and that was perhaps in 1950. That was the first Library in Castle Hill. Life wasn’t very sophisticated but we had our own culture. You went to visit friends. There was always social activity at the Church and there were dances. You would go to somebody else’s home and as I mentioned there was always more often a musical instrument in the house and the young men of the district all had guns and each family would have some ferrets and some hounds and they would go hunting for rabbits or for foxes that were in the district and this was sort of entertainment. All the boys together and they would bring home the fox pelts and rabbit pelts and they would become rugs or neck pieces – the fox furs would become neck pieces.
As well as that, I don’t remember a Football club but there was certainly a Cricket club that was quite active in the Cumberland competition. Tennis, there was more than one tennis court about. I played tennis during the war here and that was a group from the Church that played on one court. So there was all that sort of thing but there wasn’t a whole lot of cultural entertainment.
Snell's Grocery and Dave Morris's Butcher shop Castle Hill built 1929
Were there any other shops? Can you remember any shops in the area?
Yes, historically there was a shop at Rogan’s Hill at the junction of Castle Hill Road and Old Northern Road but in 1911, this is partly in my memory and partly Historical Society, Mr Whitling whose father had had a shop at Rouse Hill, came to Castle Hill and set up a shop. From the photographs it looks like in the front of a house. He set up a Grocer shop and by 1920’s he had built the building that still stands at the corner of Crane Road and Old Northern Road in Castle Hill.
I remember that very vividly as a child because there was a Bakery at the back and there was also an Iceworks there at one stage. It was a General Store really. You could buy seed, potatoes, you could buy certain hardware items there as well as groceries and in one corner there were two ladies who presided over the Post Office and the Telephone Exchange and the Telephone Exchange was a plug in board about a metre long so these two ladies were either selling stamps to you or weighing your parcels and plugging in the telephone calls, so that’s a childhood memory that I have. The Post Office prior to that was in a house. It still happens in remote areas. The Schoolmaster had the Post Office at one stage on the verandah in front of the School and Mr Wansbrough had it at another stage before it was at Mr Whitling’s. I think it probably went from there to a free standing Post Office across the road.
Whitling's 2nd store with horse drawn hearse carriage 1930s
Was there a Bank also?
Yes. The Commonwealth Bank was in the Post Office of course and where the National Bank is now on the corner of Castle Street and Old Castle Hill Road, that Bank was there very early although memory tells me that it served some other purpose before it was opened as the Bank, but a lot of people, including my father, banked at the Bank of New South Wales in Parramatta and for all the work my mother did in the garden and the house she really enjoyed her weekly trips to Parramatta to do the banking because my father was Church Treasurer so there was the Church money to be banked at the Bank of New South Wales and that’s where my father banked as well and mum had an excuse to go to Parramatta every Friday.
What about the medical facilities. Were there any doctors or a hospital nearby?
Yes. As I mentioned when my father fell down the well they had to go to Parramatta with a horse to get the doctor. Now as a child, and I’m not sure when this began, there was a Doctor Jeeves and a Doctor Davis who both practised in Pennant Hills and each of them had rooms at Castle Hill and two or three days a week each of them came to their rooms at Castle Hill to see patients. I went to see Doctor Jeeves, who lived at Pennant Hills, and he would make home visits. I can remember him visiting me when I had measles and the like as a child and there was a Private Hospital where Beecroft Road meets Pennant Hills Road. It’s now a Vet’s premises, a two storey house, and that was a Private Hospital and I had my tonsils out there.
I was born in a Private Hospital at Parramatta. Our first child was born in a different Private Hospital at Parramatta and of course Parramatta Hospital as such was there but in sort of round about the war time and immediately after the war there were quite a number of small Private Hospitals about. I suppose some people went to Hornsby Hospital but basically that was the medical facility until the very end of the war when a fellow called Doctor Smith, who had been an Army Doctor, was released from the Army and he lived in Castle Hill and conducted his surgery here.
Were there any pubs in Castle Hill?
There never has been a pub in Castle Hill.
We’re not called the bible belt for nothing. There was an Inn. Christopher Crane’s, the New Inn was mentioned, but his brother, who was my ancestor, had the Hart and Hind on the corner of Cecil Avenue and Old Northern Road so they were Inns which isn’t quite the same as Pubs and there were a variety of Inns along Windsor Road and on the road into Parramatta but the Royal Hotel was built where the Bull’n Bush now stands at Baulkham Hills. I can’t tell you the date that that was built but it was a building that had wrought iron verandahs. I think it was in the late 1930’s that the Bull’n Bush Inn was built around the existing Royal Hotel that was down there on the corner, then it was demolished. That is the reason that the green roof of the Bull’n Bush Inn is the shape that it is. Very recently a dining room has been built closer to the actual corner but that’s the story there and the Bull’n Bush I think was opened, I was going to say 1936 , I don’t know whether that’s correct or not (actually 1937) but I can remember my father, who was a teetotaller was very irate when the Shire President in opening that establishment said it’s a fitting gateway to Baulkham Hill’s Shire. My father was absolutely ropable because the Shire President was also an elder in the Church of England Church and my father couldn’t understand him glorifying the Bull’n Bush Inn in that way.
Old Northern Road Castle Hill 1972
So it is like the citizens of Castle Hill were very staid and good citizens who didn’t drink a lot. Is that your impression of it?
Well in earlier history they used to find stills in the area but I don’t think we were any more or less teetotal than any other community. I think it was just that Castle Hill was always glad that they didn’t have some of the troubles that are associated with hotels and they were quite happy to have it at Baulkham Hills and those houses if you like or the people who didn’t like to drink or didn’t want to drink at a Hotel were very happy to have Castle Hill hotel free but for those who wanted to have drink there was always the Bull’n Bush down there. Of course bottle shops have made a big difference to all of that.
There’s been a lot of change in Castle Hill. That’s what this project is very interested in. What do you think have been the biggest changes in Castle Hill since the time when you were very small? There have been changes in shopping, transport and schools. Tell me a little bit about some of those changes that you saw.
There certainly have been big changes. The density of the population, I suppose, has been the most remarkable. This community was settled in the early 1800’s basically when land grants were made here from about 1818 and up to 1823 or something like that and then subsequent subdivisions so the nature of the place has been changing gradually since then. There was an influx of people during the Depression, in the manner that I’ve described, when people were dispossessed of their homes and then after the war there was an influx of people because building was so much on hold during the war, materials weren’t available, and with a husband overseas families wouldn’t commit themselves to housing and they couldn’t anyway so that it was after the war when a lot of people wanted a change in their lives that people, subdivisions and an influx of people came to Castle Hill after the war so that aspect had changed.
Applying makeup to Castle Hill Players perfomer backstage in ANZAC Memorial Hall mid 1950s
Castle Hill always had a culture. It may have been a rural culture but that didn’t mean that we were yobboes and had vacant heads. There was always thinking people and intellectual people and people with community awareness. The influx of people brought people who had grown up in an urban society and consequently they were different so the nature of Castle Hill inevitably changed post war when more people came in and it was then that the childrens’ library and craft association came. They had a childrens’ library and craft after school. It was then that the Players were established, the RSL was growing and the Picture Theatre was more prominent then after the war. There had been gradual changes. Inevitably life changes for everyone and I often think about my father and how much change he saw and when paddocks that I walked across as a child began to disappear and turn into building blocks I felt that Castle Hill was changing but indeed society and history, it’s all a matter of change. It’s more or less inevitable but that’s not to say that I didn’t grieve about certain things that disappeared.
My father built very substantial houses and as subdivisions happened a lot of his houses were transported to other places and when the pest inspection man came, oh look at the timber in this roof, dad built very substantial houses and as such some of those have lived on in other places.
One of the big advantages of the changes in Castle Hill, as I’m getting older, I realise I’m so glad that there are so many medical facilities in Castle Hill. There’s a Day Surgery, there are Specialists who come and visit, whereas as a child you would have to travel to the city and places like that to get that medical attention. There was always a hospital at Parramatta but things are much more accessible and while life has changed and some people continually run away because they want a lot of space around them, as someone of an advancing age I am grateful that I don’t have to trudge into the city to do the sort of shopping that my mother did. You could buy clothing and all of the things in Parramatta and there were deliveries, even of groceries from Parramatta, when I was a child. Just the same, it’s nice to be able to do almost everything that you want in Castle Hill because I am fortunate that I’m healthy but in the years to come when I need help it’s really very good to feel that you’ve got this sort of community where all of the things are available.
I do regret the monster that is Castle Towers though. I wish it wasn’t quite such a monster.
Aerial view of Castle Hill township 1999
How do you see the future of Castle Hill?
It can’t get very much bigger. They can knock down a few more of the older houses and bring more high density to the area and while I enjoy living in this complex that contains 16 separate units, some of the blocks of units that I see around me have a much greater number of individual dwellings in the one building and I would not really enjoy that.
I would hate Castle Hill to lose all of it’s open space. We have some nice open space off Gilbert Road. The Showground itself is an area for community events quite apart from the Show and it is a green area down there. I think I’d regret not having bushland to walk in. Heritage Park is another large park that isn’t terribly well known in Castle Hill.
Castle Hill is almost a dormitory suburb of Sydney and sadly there must be many families who leave for work before seven in the morning and don’t get home until after seven in the evening and that at a personal level affects their family life and they don’t have so much leisure because of the travelling that they have to do in conjunction with their jobs.
I am not happy at the thought that Castle Hill Shopping Centre will grow any larger than it is because the mere fact that the shopping centre is there brings more and more cars to the area.
We have most amenities here in the district and there is entertainment and shopping facilities. There are also recreational facilities so that we’ve got a little bit of everything and for the future I do hope that Castle Hill residents as a whole become aware that this community really began in 1801 when the Government Farm set aside the large area that contained the convict barracks and that’s a far cry from where we are today.
It pains me to see bushland disappearing because it was so much part of my life as a child and I could walk through the bush and pick wildflowers. Now you’re not allowed to pick wildflowers and there were paddocks, wattle paddocks, where the acacias bloomed and the wood was wonderful to burn after the acacias that have a very short life burnt down, but that’s a little bit of nostalgia for me remembering what Castle Hill was like. You’ve got to work at it to become part of the community and you’ve got to work at it to make friends and to build a community such as is available in Castle Hill.
That’s lovely. I have no more questions. Is there anything else that you wanted to say that you haven’t been able to say?
No, not really.