Maraylya - John Cox
Interviewee: John Cox, born 1943
Interviewer: Frank Heimans,
for Baulkham Hills Shire Council
Date of Interview: 31 Oct 2007
Transcription: Glenys Murray, Nov 2007
This interview represents the personal recollections, views and opinions of the interviewee
Now your paternal grandfather’s name was Richard John Cox, wasn’t it?
What do you know about him? Tell me a bit more about his farming activities and what he grew and so on?
I always remember him as an orchardist and a poultry farmer. He was living on a forty acre property and the house was about twenty three acres and on the opposite side of the road of Cattai Ridge Road he had a vacant seventeen acre block. Which consisted of a fruit packing shed and some chook pens and orange and mandarin orchards, down the back he had a very nice piece of soil where he would grow sorghum and corn. He used to have a draught horse and a slide and a spring cart and I always remember him going down with the old horse. One of them was called Bill. He would go down there on this slide and cut by hand with a corn chopping knife thing the stuff to bring back up to the shed to chaff it up for green feed for his chooks. Also help feed his horse and probably any other animals he had on the place. So as we grew up I remember he taught myself and my cousin, Richard Cox, next door we’re only four months difference in age. He taught us to swim in the dam down the back of this property. Then when we were playing tennis and things like this, he built a tennis court on the family home. He also used to take us, we used to go shooting ducks and rabbits and things and he’d take us regularly shooting. Probably taught us how to shoot, we really look back and appreciate the time he gave us.
It’s nice when you have a grandfather that is so available?
That’s right and we must have given him a very hard time because we were probably doing some things to annoy him, being an older fellow. He’d have a hat on and a pipe sticking out of his mouth and we might have been doing a few naughty things around his property whilst we were growing up.
Was he a good storyteller?
He was pretty good, yeah he was a pretty good storyteller and a very good farmer and a good worker. He used to always be pruning the trees by hand and he’d always have a billycan with fresh water in it hanging on a limb of a tree so that during his breaks he’d keep himself drinking plenty of fresh water.
How did he clear the land that he grew his crops on?
As far as I believe, my grandfather and my father, all the land around that area, they used a draught horse pulling a stump puller. Which was like a big cable on a big winch thing that they’d hook onto the trees, then they’d hook the draught horse onto another section like a block and tackle and it would take off and it would pull the tree down. They done it all by that type of means of horse and a stump pulling winch plus I suppose a lot of mattock work and hand work.
Painting of grandfather Richard Cox house at Maraylya
What were your childhood pursuits? What kind of tricks did you get up to as a child? Did you go rabbiting? You’ve said already duck shooting of course?
Yes we used to go rabbiting. There was often a ferret or two around a few of the family homes, so we’d probably go rabbiting. We’d go shooting and we’d also be playing tennis. I think it was at quite an early age because my grandfather’s property had the tennis court down there and my mother and a few of the local ladies would have tennis of a Friday afternoon which was just a social thing. Which later became a venue for a Saturday afternoon comp. a lot of the Maraylya areas had a tennis court on some of the family properties. Then the Windsor Richmond people would come and visit and play in Maraylya and the Maraylya people would go and play in Windsor Richmond, Freeman’s Reach, Wilberforce all those areas.
What was the fishing like where you were?
Well I’ll never forget the fishing down on Cattai Creek. Our grandfather as well as taking us shooting as I said, he would take us sometimes fishing. We would go down onto Cattai Creek and he had a way of burleying the mullet down there by mixing up some pollard in water and throwing in a few handfuls. It seemed to attract the mullet and he always just fished with a single bamboo rod about fifteen to twenty foot long with just a float and the hook and a little bit of lead. Then you would fish fairly well deep, I used to fish fairly well deep on the bottom nearly. I can always remember my grandfather there with his hat on, the pipe sticking out of the corner of his mouth and the rod bending and bringing in some beautiful mullet. It was quite exciting yeah.
What about transport, what kind of form of transport, were the family using?
Maybe in those days I think my grandfather was driving us around sometimes in a big Nash, it was a big old black Nash. I remember driving along the roads on our way shooting my cousin and I. One would be on one side of the rear and one would be on the opposite side of the rear and we’d have the window down and our guns sticking out ready to maybe shoot something on the dirt roads. The grandfather would be in the front saying “hold on wait till we get there, don’t do anything”. We were probably a bit naughty. I think my father might have had, back in those days he started off with things like Ford Mercury 1947. Ford Mercury I remember a beautiful cream one that had a number plate DC 268 or something. Then he got into the Holdens, he started off with a Holden FJ and F whatever, all those older Holdens. We had some really good times.
Painting of grandfather Richard Cox's barn at Maraylya
What about entertainment in the evenings after work, did you listen to the radio, did you play cards? What sort of entertainment was there?
Probably before TV we would have played some cards and I know my parents would go and visit other families and they’d play cards at each other’s homes. I at a fairly early age used to go around and join in with some of the local fellows and we might have met at someone’s place. One of our friends happened to be the son of the local general store and he’d get the key off his Dad. That was the Maraylya general store and I think that was about seventy years ago that started which was probably before I was born. I know I would go with these friends of mine and we would go in there and have ice creams and Pepsi cola and all these sorts of things and have a yarn. Have a yarn. Then up the road was a fellow who was five years older than myself and my cousin and he would take us to the movies. We would all throw in some money for petrol and some of the people in Windsor would say “why are you bringing these young children nearly out”? Anyhow the guy said “no they’re OK they pay their way”. Then in the winter time we’d probably be on Boundary Road on the way from the Windsor Road to Maraylya and we might start a fire on the edge of the road and sit around and yarn. We were nearly all only drinking Pepsi cola or soft drinks.
I believe your father was interested in harness racing is that right? Tell me about that?
As young fellows they’d been good with horses. For sport sometimes my father and his brother would go to Broadwater which was part of Baulkham Hills Council. It’s a swamp area in the Baulkham Hills Shire and they’d catch wild horses and they’d break them in. At one stage of life many years ago Dad’s brother had bad health and he was advised to go to a different climate for health reasons and he went to a place that was in the Riverina. That particular property they were growing rice. I think it was a place called Yanco or somewhere like that and there was a lot of people breeding harness racing horses. He got a bit involved with that up there. I remember when he improved his health and came back to Maraylya to live he bought with him two or three nice pacers. So in the meantime my father decided to buy one. His brother Alf had a bit more luck in that department and he won quite a few races in Sydney with some of the stock. Then Dad’s brother went to New Zealand and bought three very well bred ones. He got involved with Kevin Newman who was New South Wales leading trainer driver at Harold Park and won the premiership many times. They had a love of that and then I think that meant that my father didn’t have as much involvement as his brother. Then when I grew up I decided to get a bit involved. I went along to visit some of the harness racing with my uncle and my father. Then Dad and I started to breed some horses together and we bred a few winners, no champions, but we had a lot of fun. I think the first two I was involved in won races, but we only kept it as a hobby. We relied on our farming to make our living and then we spent a little bit of money on breeding and racing horses. The cost of training in the initial days back in the 1970’s it was only something like forty dollars a week to train a horse which wasn’t a lot.
No, you could do it then.
John Cox with horse and foal at Maraylya c2000
Now I'm interested to see what the Maraylya environment looked like. Tell me of the Maraylya of the 1950’s when you were seven or ten years old. What was actually there at Maraylya in terms of shops and things?
As far as I can recall we had the school, there was the Maraylya general store which a fellow called Mr Fred Gallagher was running. On Boundary Road just up from the school there was a post office where Mrs Smord(?) and her daughter May, who became May Chessor(?) because she married a chap called Kevin Chessor(?). They were running the local post office. So we had a post office and telephone depot where I think if you wanted a number you used to have to ring something on the phone and then the post office would put you through. It was an old fashioned way of communication. But apart from that nearly every one had chooks and orchard and other people might have travelled to Riverstone to the Meat Works and had other types of income.
The roads were nearly all dirt roads and we’d ride push bikes. I remember because there was hardly any traffic my father would allow me to drive his 1955 model Holden and I may have only been fifteen or sixteen. He didn’t seem to care because he took a chance that there wasn’t too many other cars around. It was fairly low key. We were taught to drive on the farm when we first got the grey T820(?) tractor. We knew how to drive around the farm on those sort of things. It’s certainly busy today there’s cars whizzing around.
Did you have a butcher or a baker?
Yes we had a butcher that was Mr Fred Mackellar(?) his name was and he came from Windsor. Him and his daughter would make the butcher’s delivery with the meat and sausages and things. There was another store in Windsor called Bussells(?) that would deliver groceries. I remember my mother would make a list up and she’d have the groceries delivered. Then there was a baker would arrive. There were certain days the baker arrived that happened to be a fellow called Vick Gillespie(?) who actually at one stage was the mayor of Windsor Shire Council. So we had a butcher, a baker and the groceries.
But they all came from Windsor?
They all mainly came from Windsor.
So there was not much in Maraylya then?
No, no I mean the general store might have sold a few necessities and things but it was a stage in the early days where I think it was all like deliveries.
Jack Cox first home bulit c1937 at 50 Cattai Ridge Road Maraylya
What was the main occupation of the people at Maraylya? Were they mostly all farmers or were there other tradesmen?
I think there were other tradesmen, but I think there was a lot of families had growing of citrus and there was chook farms and vegetables. There was always a lot of water melons and pumpkins. I know I used to be trying to save money to buy my first motor car and any sunburnt pumpkins I’d put them aside. I had a pig pen and I used to rear cockerels to raise them up to sell them for eating. So I sort of earned enough money in my childhood to buy a new car when I was sixteen and ten months old.
So I was very fortunate to have a good family that gave me the chance to do things on the property. I’d do jobs after school and school holidays and then my father would sometimes give me a row of apple cucumbers or some little thing or a little row of mushroom beds out under the straw and bags and that was my payment for helping him.
Tell me where exactly was the farm located, your father’s farm?
Well the farm that we had was all on….you go up to the end of Boundary Road Maraylya and stop at the stop signs and turn right onto Cattai Ridge Road. Well if you went up there a couple of hundred metres my father’s property was on the left. It was called 50 Cattai Ridge Road. It’s now 151 Cattai Ridge Road, they’ve renumbered it. He would grow mushrooms on the house block, cross the other side of the road on the thirteen acres which I’d mentioned before and he’d go down onto the seventeen acres where his father had. He’d borrow a piece of ground because we would grow the outside mushrooms on fresh land every year. We didn’t want to put the mushroom beds on the same plot that we did last year in case of any contamination. There was no such thing as steam sterilising to kill the germs from one shed to the other like there is these days. He’d even sometimes ask a neighbour could he grow mushrooms on their property.
Area for emptying and sterilising mushroom boxes at Maraylya 2000
How did he get the idea to start growing mushrooms because it wasn’t that common was it in those days?
Well it wasn’t that common but there was mushrooms started to be grown around the Oakville area by some chaps my father’s age. The Hessions and the Sanders brothers he got the idea of trying it. That happened to be in the early fifties when some of the canneries like Edgell and Big Sister foods would come around looking to start canning the mushrooms. So it was quite good to grow some rows of beds in between his orange orchards. It started off and it appeared as though it was a more reliable source of income than some of the other vegetables.
Was everyone growing mushrooms or were people growing other things as well?
People were growing other things as well. The ones that were growing the mushrooms tended to do quite well, do quite well.
How big was the average allotment that the farmers had? How many acres would they typically have?
As I said some of the land was twenty, forty acres, those types of acreages. When my father got more fair dinkum into growing mushrooms and mainly concentrating on mushrooms and giving away the chooks and the orchard. He would only grow one and a half acres of mushrooms. There might have been myself and Dad and one or two workers and we done it all by hand. Shovelled the compost and all the things like that it was all old fashioned. But if you happened to grow during autumn, winter and spring because you couldn’t grow them out in the field in the hot summer you had to only do it in the cooler, milder months. Around about an acre and a half of mushrooms and we’d put the rows at six foot apart. Then you’d have to sometimes have a water system, when the Westerly winds would come you’d have to be wetting down the area and the bags or otherwise the wind would blow the bags off the top of the beds.
Harold Gill and Eileen and Jack Cox picking field mushrooms at Maraylya c1956
Sometimes we’d sew the second hand fertilizer bags which we’d cut open and sewed together as a sheet. We sometimes had to put sticks or logs along the top of those plus water them down to stop them blowing away.
When did your father start growing mushrooms about which year do you think?
I think it was possibly 1953, in the early 1950’s.
You joined him as soon as you left school did you?
Yeah I joined in because when I left school I was almost fifteen. Fourteen and ten months and I remember I was involved in helping him when I was twelve or thirteen or a bit younger. I had my own little bed that I’d be doing things to that before I went to school when I was thirteen. That would have to be fifty one years ago. I’m pretty sure that it was in the early fifties that my father…..He probably wasn’t the first but he was one of the early growers.
Was there much poultry farming, pig farming all that sort of thing going on elsewhere around Maraylya as well?
Dad’s brother had pigs at one stage and I remember down Boundary Road there was a pig farm down there.
So people were diversifying?
They were diversifying and doing a few different ways of making a living.
Growing tomatoes on a trellis at Maraylya c1956
What about the make up of the population at Maraylya were they mainly people of Irish, Scottish or Anglo Saxon background or were there other nationalities or migrants from Malta or Greeks or those sort of people?
Well there was actually quite a few people moved into the areas because there was the hostel migrant camp up at Scheyville. Scheyville migrant centre and a lot of the farmers like my father would go up in the morning and have a lot of the migrant ladies to come and help pick beans and peas and even help with the mushroom work. When a lot of those people had decided to settle down in Australia and moved out of Scheyville camp a lot of them only went two or three miles out of the camp and bought a five acre block of land. Or a piece of land round the Maraylya, Oakville area. Today there are some of those families children are our mushroom growers still growing mushrooms today. Dad had a Danish chap that was working for him that came from the camp. We had a lot of Polish people and all sorts of Baltic type people and there was quite a few different nationalities and I think some of those people had experienced mushroom growing in the country they’d come from. So it wasn’t very new to them to be getting involved in growing mushrooms. Some of them had some experience in Denmark and the like.
But these mushrooms that you grew in the begining were outside weren’t they? They weren’t in sheds right?
That’s right, outside.
So if you got a particularly hot day you might lose your crop no?
The story was that if you had damp straw touching the damp bed and then you might have had eighteen inches of straw each side of the bed and over the top. But that could be eighteen inches could be five or six hundred millimetres each side. Somehow or other the ventilation of the air and the air movement could be nearly acting as a water bottle on a car. It seems that when you undone the bags and the straw and got to where your production was the protection of the bags and the straw had kept it rather cool in there. Especially if you could water down and stop the dry wind blowing it around and attacking it.
Jack Cox's second home at Maraylya built 1976
Now how much would canneries pay for the mushrooms your father was producing?
I’d say from my memory it was always around the three shillings a pound to three and sixpence a pound. I remember the canneries would play one grower against the other. They might call the growers to a public meeting where all the growers would go and talk to the canner. He’d come to the district and might say “I’m sorry we don’t need so many tons this year and we’ve got to drop the price from three and sixpence down to three shillings, or three and sixpence down to three and threepence” That was normally what the Big Sister foods, that’s what they would do. But Edgells sometimes would leave your price the same but say “we don’t want need as many, but we want our growers viable so we’ll leave the price at three and six but we’re going to reduce the tonnage”. Then you’d realise that you couldn’t plant as many beds because they didn’t want quite as many, but they would leave it at a profitable price.
Was it only Edgells and Big Sister that would buy the mushrooms or could you sell it to yet other canneries?
Imperial which was the Riverstone Meat Works, they had a brand called Imperial Mushrooms but they were small players. A few people had a little contract with those, where they’d take them over to Riverstone Meat Works and they’d have a little access into a sale there. But other than that, they were trying to develop the fresh mushrooms and little bit by little bit growers would send small consignments to the Sydney markets. Then all of a sudden people started to acquire fresh, fresh became very big and canneries became much less.
John Cox in his mushroom cool room at Maraylya 1991
Right I believe a lot of your family members also grew mushrooms? Tell me who were the members of the family who had farms around the place?
My father’s brother Alf and his son Richard were growing. They were growing next door the same as Dad was and I joined my Dad. Up St Johns Road there was some of the Whitmore brothers, which were my father’s cousins they were growing a few. Then over on Fisher Road there was a chap called Alf Bowd(?) he grew mushrooms. There was so many neighbours that all had a little go at growing mushrooms. It was only some of these people that went on like we did to specialise and eventually go into sheds and then from rough sheds which were made out of bush posts and corrugated iron. Then eventually I think in 1969 was when Dad and I built the modern farm which was made out of insulated panel and became air conditioned and were living in really lovely conditions those mushrooms.
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