Maroota - Charlie and Carmen Camilleri

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Interviewees: Charlie Camilleri, born 1946
          and Carmen Camilleri, born 1951

Interviewer: Frank Heimans,
            for Baulkham Hills Shire Council

Date of Interview: 25 Feb 2008

Transcription: Glenys Murray, April 2008

This interview represents the personal recollections, views and opinions of the interviewee

 

Now Carmen I’ll start with you if you like. Tell me your full name as you were born your maiden name and where and when that was?

My full name in Carmen Anne Pauline Muscat I was born in 1951 in Malta. Mum went to town to have me. A lot of the babies were born in the village but Mum actually had to go to town, to the city to have me and I was born at Msida.

What’s the name of your village actually?

My village is Manikata which is in the St Paul’s Bay area.

I believe it is a very beautiful part of Malta?

Oh very beautiful from our house where we lived as children you could see the beach and rocks really nice.

So when you grew up as a child what kind of childhood pursuits did you have? Did you work on the farm already a little bit and what was the family expecting of you as you were growing up?

Well as growing up in Malta as children we went to school of course. After school we helped on the farm. When it was holidays we were with Mum and Dad. As we got a little bit older then if you could help you helped.

And did you?

Oh yes, yes we helped on the farm all the time.

What sort of vegetables or fruit were your parents growing?

Dad did a lot of bunched vegetables in Malta and some peas I remember that. That’s about it.

Now I’ll get onto you Charlie and a bit of background, also Malta I guess? Tell me a bit about your background when were you born?

Well I was born in July 1946 and I was born in Mjarr which is in Malta of course. Well my father he didn’t work the farm much because he was more of a fruit and vegetable seller. Like a green grocer but selling from house to house. They used to have a truck and they’d go from house to house selling vegetables and fruit. I don’t remember any of that because we came in Australia in 1949, but that was his job there. When we came here well we started growing vegetables.

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L to R: John and Charlie Camilleri with Paul Sammut at Glenorie c1958

Did you know Carmen’s family at all in Malta or did your parents know Carmen’s family?

No they didn’t, we only knew them when they moved to Glenorie.

So you were only three when you came to Australia?

Yes

Did your father have an easy or a tough time when he first came here?

When he first came he had a tough time and he used to work at the milk factory and work the farm. That’s how we started growing vegetables and then we moved to Maroota and we started farming here.

So what’s the earliest date of settlement of your family in this shire, when would that have been?

1972 that’s when we started living here.

At Maroota?

Yeah at Maroota

He had a farm before that didn’t he somewhere else?

Yeah Dad had a farm in Glenorie we used to live in Glenorie. We used to work before school and after school on the farm. We weren’t interested in the school much because we were more interested in farming. That’s how we got along. It was a hard battle for us when we came to Maroota. Dad didn’t work for long here. He sort of retired early and it was the brothers and I first started here.

How many brothers do you have?

I have three brothers but one passed away and we started working in 1967 here that’s about four or five years before we moved to live in Maroota itself.

What kind of fruits or vegetables were you growing?

We only grew vegetables then. We grew carrots, potatoes, lettuce, cabbages, cucumbers and then after a while we changed onto tomatoes. Which was the major producing vegetable for us then we started another business in rendering. After all we started growing stone fruit and we continued from there.

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Charlie Camilleri on tractor at Glenorie c1969

Was it very different growing fruits and vegetables in Australia for your father than it had been in Malta? Were there many new things that he had to learn?

Oh yes completely different here, it’s all handwork there to start off with. All with a chipping hoe and mattock or whatever they had no tractors. They used to have a horse plough mainly. But as I told you he didn’t work the farm a lot. It was more my grandfather because he was more in the selling part selling fruit and vegetables.

So the whole family has been involved with fruit and vegetables ever since? Going back generations is it?

Oh yes, even before my grandfather his father and whatever they were in the same business. They used to grow a lot of grapes there and a bit of wheat for their animals. They used to make their own flour to make bread.

What sort of animals did your grandfather have on the farm?

Mainly a few pigs and sheep, goats but they didn’t used to have many there. Not like here it’s only in a small way. But it was enough for them.

Charlie, your family came out in 1949 to Australia?

Yes.

Carmen when did your family come out?

My father came out in 1960. Mum and the five girls we stayed back in Malta and then we came out nine months later which is 1961.

Why did you actually come to select Australia, I mean there were so many different places in the world that Maltese people could have migrated to? I mean there was Canada and so on. So do you know why your parents chose Australia?

Well I think my parents chose Australia because a lot of people from our village were coming to Australia at the time. He knew some people here that they act as guarantors for you. They supply you with somewhere to live and work. So he came out, got settled and when he made arrangements for somewhere for us to live. Then we came out.

So were there many other people from your village even that came to Australia?

Yes there were and a lot of people came after us to. A lot of our village people came shortly after we came out.

Where did they all settle? In different parts of Australia or was it mainly in the one area?

Most of the people from our village settled round the Sydney area in different parts of the Sydney area. Some went to Horsley Park, we came to Kellyville. Yeah just in the farming areas all around Sydney basically.

And they were all mainly farmers were they?

Yeah at the time yeah they were.

Malta must have exported lots of good farmers to Australia?

Yes it did actually.

How old were you when you came to Australia?

When we came to Australia I was ten and a half. Like I said we lived in Kellyville for nine months we went to school at St Monica’s at Northmead. Then nine months after that just before Christmas Mum and Dad had bought a place at Glenorie. They started working there and we moved up there and of course we helped them in the farm and we just basically worked together and lived together as a family. It was a great opportunity for Mum and Dad to start a new life for us. It was hard because of course they’d bought the place and they couldn’t afford to employ anyone. So every pair of hands made a difference. So you just helped.

Five daughters eh?

Five daughters and I’m the eldest. A fair bit of responsibility was put on me because Mum and Dad couldn’t speak very good English at the time. I was also acting as interpreter I guess a lot of the time. It wasn’t easy for a child but you learn and you grow up a lot quicker. I think it gave me a really good sound basis for life.

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John Camilleri picking carrots at Maroota and placing them in hession bags c1971

What were your parents growing when they bought the farm after they left Kellyville?

They were growing lettuce and bunched vegetables, potatoes, carrots what else? Yeah that’s about it I think. They’d pick the bunched vegetables and they would bunch them at night because they’d put in as many hours. Both during the day and at night like most farming families did in those days. Just so they can get ahead.

So some of your nights were spent in doing that as well were they?

Yes, yes of course.

Packing and so on?

Bunching and getting ready for the next days market.

That’s a pretty long day for a schoolgirl too isn’t it?

Yeah we had time for homework and all that. But if you could help you helped.

What about you Charlie when you were young? What were your chores as a child on the farm?

Helping as much as we can as I told you we used to do work before we used to go to school. Because we used to grow a lot of bunches in Glenorie when we were in Glenorie because we had a small acreage there. That was our main product beetroot and spinach and parsley and more small stuff. Not like when we came out to Maroota. Then we used to help him before we go to school. Go to school, come back straight to the farm. Hardly ever did any homework anyway.

So what time of the day, or the morning would your day start?

Summertime around five o’clock in the morning do about three hours. Sometimes Dad used to come pick us up from school because the bus used to be late so we used to do as much as we can.

So you had from five 'til nine before school to work a bit in the fields?

Oh about seven thirty because we used to go with the bus always to school but picked up. Sometimes Dad used to come up if he was very busy to get that extra hour work because the afternoon bus was always late. We battled on as the years went by. When we started a pig business as well a bit after we left school. Cause I left school at fifteen.

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Pigs on Camilleri farm at Glenorie c1970

You grew pigs?

We had about six hundred pigs at Glenorie and we did about ten years with it roughly or fifteen. Then we moved to Maroota and we grew different vegetables sort of the same but more in bigger volume.

Now the Glenorie farm was started in 1958 wasn’t it?

Yeah, 1958 because Dad bought it in December 1955 and then he built the house. Oh we did work a little bit before. We used to travel from Toongabbie to Glenorie but mainly crops that will keep like potatoes they didn’t have to take much care. You could leave them three or four days without being watered or sprayed. Then picking it doesn’t matter. But when we moved to Glenorie it was mainly bunch stuff.

Did you have any time for childhood play, swimming or playing sport or anything?

No we never used to go to sport at school. We used to be called conscientious objectors because we never used to go to sports we always wanted to work on the farm.

At that time in Australia the Maltese and the Italians were fairly new so the Australian kids all used to take the mickey out of them?

Oh yes they did yeah.

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Pigs going to market from Camilleri farm at Glenorie c1970

They called you some names and things?

Oh yeah, yeah dagos mainly well that’s what they used to call us. All the people that came from Malta they were mainly farmer in those days. Not like now but in the late 1930’s to the late 1960’s whenever they came they were mainly all farmers.

What sort of food did your Mum cook at home?

Oh well those days meat wasn’t on the menu. It was mainly if you get a roast now and again on a Sunday. It was mainly soup and macaroni and rice and sort of you put a bit of meat with it and eggs and put it in the oven in a dish. Make it like a hard macaroni. We used to eat a lot of that. She used to cook a lot of potatoes and a bit of onion and a bit of meat on a Sunday. Mainly it’s more soup in those days without vegetables I mean without meat mainly vegetables.

What about you Carmen, tell me what did your Mum cook for you?

Pretty much the same thing a lot of breads potatoes because the meat wasn’t available readily to buy and pretty much similar to the Maltese recipes that they used to cook at home. With the pasta, we always had meat on the Sunday. If Dad could take her out, because Mum didn’t drive so Dad had to take her out. If he could take her out they’d buy meat but it wasn’t our diet was basically the potatoes and the breads and yeah the pastas and those sorts of things.

How important was religion in your family?

Oh extremely important. We always went to mass on a Sunday always without fail.

Did you say Rosaries and things like that at night?

Oh yes the Rosary every day. I forgot about that.

You Charlie?

We never used to miss mass always and well during Lent it was a lot of fasting as well. But Rosary we never used to say the Rosary often. But mass you can’t miss mass. Not on a Sunday, not on a Holy Day there used to be a fair few Holy Days of obligation days, not like now they sort of cut them out. Religion was number one actually.

So what was Christmas like in your household?

Very, very light no presents in those days, not in our days. We used to get along together. We used to have our uncles and aunties come over or we’d go over. Because those days they were the only relations or friends we had. It was the family and we used to go to our cousins often those days.

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John and Paul Camilleri packing tomatoes at Maroota c1977

Did the Maltese families have much interaction with each other that were around?

I think those days it was more than these days. These days more with your own family and these days we’re also a long way away from each other as well. Those days it was all around Glenorie up to Fairfield and Girraween. Pendle Hill that was pretty popular with the Maltese, Quakers Hill.

Were there many Maltese families in Glenorie at that time?

No, not in Glenorie there might have been a dozen the maximum there were more Italians. It’s not like when we came to Toongabbie that’s all there was or actually Pendle Hill when we first came from Malta it was only Maltese. Three quarters of the place was Maltese.

Really?

Yeah and mainly they went into farming or growing chickens, more laying birds like hens.

What about you Carmen, what do you recollect about the other Maltese families around?

We used to visit each other. In those days I think visiting was a thing that you did for relaxation. We used to spend a lot of time us five girls playing together, we just enjoyed each others company. We didn’t have a very big social life. Mainly our social life was just visiting a few friends and just playing together.

What about when someone got married? Did you attend Maltese weddings?

Oh we didn’t really go to a lot of weddings in those days because we didn’t know that many people and if we were invited to a wedding most of the time maybe Mum and Dad would go.

Now how did you two actually meet in Australia tell me?

Our families knew each other we’d known each other for….

We used to go to church at the same place every Sunday.

Yeah so we just knew each so...

One thing turns to the other...

There wasn’t a matchmaker or anything like that was there?

Well no, one day he came visited Dad and he asked him if he would be happy for us to start going out together. Dad of course said yes and I said yes and the rest is history thirty five years later.

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Charlie's father's rabbits at Glenorie c1971

Oh well it certainly worked, thirty five years later. Now you left Glenorie Charlie in 1972?

Yes 1972.

So you were there for a long time from 1958 to 1972 that’s fourteen years. Did it go well on the farm was it successful?

Well not really you plod along but there’s not big money in it. Not those days because you have to grow a lot and when you’ve got only small acreage but we did all right. That’s how we started.

How many acres did you have there?

Dad had twenty five acres but when we had the pigs we started going a bit better. We had two incomes and it was a bit different. The farm was Dad’s the vegetables were his as well. Then when we started growing the pigs they were ours. My brothers and myself we started together and then one of my other brothers came in as well but they were mainly Paul’s and mine the pigs and Dad of course as well. When things started going bad when we couldn’t give them swill feed. Then we had to get rid of them because we started on grain and the grain was too expensive for what the pig was worth. It wasn’t worthwhile growing them anymore. So we just had to start selling them off until we got rid of them all.

What about you Carmen, how was your family doing as farmers?

Well they made a living. Made their wages that was all they knew. Dad was happy to work on his farm, Dad loved his farm and so basically they earned a living.

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 Marriage of Charlie and Carmen Camilleri by Fr Leonard at Our Lady of the Rosary Kellyville 1972

Which church did you actually get married in?

We got married at Kellyville because there was a Maltese priest there and Mum and Dad wanted us to get married in the Maltese community. We got married in 1972 and then we moved to Maroota straight after that.

So Charlie, did you buy the farm then at Maroota?

No well we had a farm. It belonged to Dad and Paul and myself so we had a house there we moved there. But after a while when we got married because we bought that in 1966, in 1973 I think or 1974 we bought here. We didn’t build the house until about twenty four years ago. In the meantime we bought another few properties and things started going better. You couldn’t buy them now because it’s too dear in those days it was cheap so you didn’t need a lot of money, not like now. You can’t afford places around here now.

How many acres is here at Maroota?

This property, this property is forty.

The house that you lived in when you first came to Maroota can you describe it for me? What was it like?

It was a little cottage it had two bedrooms.

I can describe it. Two bedrooms, a little kitchen, lounge, it did have a shower inside and a toilet outside in the laundry.

Was there running water?

No, no running water just tank water. There’s still no running water till now actually.

Did you have electricity laid on?

Yes we put it in just before we moved in because there was no electricity. And Carmen said “if there’s no electricity I’m not moving in”.

They had generators before there.

You didn’t like the idea of slaving over a fuel stove I suppose?

No I did not like the idea of having to chop up wood.

They had a combustion stove there which we took out straight away.

But no, that was a very tiny cottage.

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John and Paul Camilleri picking lettuces at Maroota c1971 with cottage in distance

Were there many farms already at Maroota when you came here?

Not actually growing vegetables, there was only one which I think was Zorelli, he’s an Italian bloke. But before that there were only the Australians which had mainly oranges and lemons which is called citrus, citrus farms. When things started going bad with citrus no one could sell them in those days. They started growing peaches, the few Australians that were around and then after about four or five years after we moved up here a few Maltese started moving into Maroota. They started growing vegetables they bought a few orchards out. But there is a fair bit actually grown now because the half a dozen Maltese there are in Maroota grow a lot of vegetables for the area. But there’s no Australians growing vegetables except two Italians I think.

In Maroota?

In Maroota yeah.

It’s a Maltese concern and Italians?

That’s all there is half a dozen of us and they all grow vegetables.

Is it half a dozen Maltese families?

Yeah families, sorry, properties half a dozen properties there’s three across the road exactly, ourselves and Mike Catard and there’s another one up the road South Maroota.

Are you all friendly competitiors?

We’re all friendly….

We’re not competitors.

No we’re not competitors I don’t care what they grow. If they want to grow more they can, if they want to grow less they can. But there are a few of them that do try to compete against each other.

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Charlie Camilleri fertilising with chicken manure at Maroota c1973

Why didn’t the oranges and lemons go well at the end?

Well there was no work in them used to be good money but when the MIA the Griffith area they started growing a lot of citrus which was thousands of acres and the quality was a lot better they didn’t want the locals anymore. So they started to send them to juice and juice money was peanuts. It just wasn’t worth it. We did buy a farm as well had oranges on it. We picked it for one year but it wasn’t even worth picking. By the time you pick and send them you have to have a carrier to take them. They won’t pay before six months and there’s nothing in them. There’s no one else growing them now. There’ll all out the citrus.

Who introduced the nectarines to Maroota to grow?

The Australians there was a fair few in Canoelands growing them so there’s a few Australians here. That’s who first started growing them there was Kevin Hitchcock and a few of the Ramms. Then we had a go at them as well. We did well unless you get a severe hail storm. We lost a couple of years out of them, not consecutive years but that’s very bad because you won’t get a crop until twelve months later then. You’ve got nothing.

What do you do when the whole crop's wiped out? Your income lost?

If you’ve got a bit of land you could put a quick crop in like either zucchinis or cucumbers just to keep you going for a bit. Besides that you can’t do anything.

So what do you grow here now at the moment?

At the moment we’ve got peaches and nectarines and we’ve got a few hundred trees of avocadoes but mainly peaches and nectarines.

That’s your biggest crop is it?

That’s our biggest income now.

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Washing peaches at Camilleri orchard Maroota c2000

Did you have any problems with fruit fly or rot?

No with fruit fly we don’t because if you spray them when you should spray them you won’t there’s no problem whatsoever. Hardly anybody gets fruit fly in Maroota because everybody takes care off them properly. If you lose one crop most probably the other crops are damaged as well then. For brown rot you do get it now and again when you get a very bad wet year. This year we had a little bit, not much because the main wet weather came more in January, February. If you did have them now you wouldn’t hardly ever pick them. They’d all be brown rot.

So you’re lucky you got your crops off the trees in time?

Well we grow our crops till Christmas mainly or maybe a week later because there’s too much grown in the south they’ve got the big acreage in Victoria as well.

What’s your water supply for irrigation purposes?

Oh pretty good. We’ve got big dams. The main one we’ve got holds about 35 million litres and we’ve got another two. At the moment they’re all full. We did battle on for a while, not last year, this previous two years they were getting pretty low. We’re on micro jets like watering the trees they don’t take a lot of water. It’s not like when you overhead. They just got a dripper underneath each tree and you could regulate how much you give them a lot more. We fertilise them through the water as well, the majority of the fertiliser is through the water.

Now Carmen, apart from running this beautiful house you’ve got here, do you also help on the farm?

Yes I’ve worked on the farm along with Charlie all our married life. Yeah I used to help when the kids were young because Charlie and his brothers worked together we all used to work together. It was good the boys always came in for lunch. I always cooked them lunch in those days, not like these days, but those days it was very family orientated. I cooked them a hot meal everyday. They were there basically from six in the morning till anytime of the night till we finished. It could have been ten, eleven o’clock at night.

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David, Michael, and Sharon Camilleri feasting on peas at Maroota c1983

We used work extremely long hours then. Basically I was supplying them with food as well in that time. As the kids grew up they loved being in the family orientated and working together situation I think it was very good for our kids to grow up…

I think it was.

Like that too because they grew up...

With us.

With us.

On the farm.

Yeah and it was good for them and it was good for us because we were with our children all the time and the children were with their extended family as well. Like Charlie’s brothers and whoever else happened to be helping at the time. It wouldn’t have been odd for us to have twelve people sitting down for lunch on a regular basis. I think that was really, really good.

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