Nelson - Norm Hession
Interviewee: Norm Hession, born 1933
Interviewer: Frank Heimans,
for Baulkham Hills Shire Council
Date of Interview: 10 Nov 2006
Transcription: Glenys Murray, Jan 2007
This interview represents the personal recollections, views and opinions of the interviewee
Now we usually start these interviews with a little bit of detail about you so can you tell me first what is your full name?
Norman Joseph Hession.
When were you born?
Where was that Norm?
In the house that’s still standing corner of Nelson Road and Blind Road, it’s now 61 Nelson Road.
What does it look like today, the house does it look different from what it used to look like?
When I was a boy it was weather board up about 4 feet and then fibro up and then when Dad died in 1969 it was covered with imitation brick work.
What sort of memories do you have of growing up in that house?
Pleasant memories lovely Mum and Dad.
Tell me a little bit about your Dad, what sort of father was he to you?
A very good father, helped whenever he could took a great interest in everything that I did.
What was his occupation?
Poultry farmer all his life.
Did you help with the chickens when you were a young boy?
Sometimes, but not very willingly I didn’t like chickens.
Didn’t like them?
Hession poultry sheds at Nelson 2001
So what sort of chickens did he have? Was there a particular breed of chickens that he cultivated?
Well when we were young it was always White Leghorns, but later on they used to have crossbreeds for laying eggs. They seemed to think they laid better.
Had roosters as well did he or not?
No didn’t have roosters, you only need roosters for fertile eggs.
That’s right, how did they breed the chickens then?
They came from hatcheries they of course, had to have roosters. He bought all his chickens from Leach’s hatchery at Baulkham Hills and that’s long gone.
How many people were doing similar work that he was doing as a poultry farmer in the area?
Dad had the biggest farm in Nelson but there was probably eight or nine others doing the same thing, but the others had their fowl sheds in amongst orange orchards.
So these had both orchards and chickens?
Yes the others did but Dad only had the chickens.
Anybody in the area breed ducks at all?
Can’t remember no, no.
Now I believe that your family goes back in this area to quite a long way. Can you tell me something about the earliest date of settlement of your family in the Nelson area?
Well a couple came out from Ireland in 1841 Thomas and Bridget Hession.
What do you know about them?
They were sent out here I think they stole a loaf of bread and a tea towel or something similar to that, but they were sent to Australia for it.
That’s not much to be sent to Australia for?
No very little.
Where did they live when they first settled here?
From what I can remember me mother telling me they first went to somewhere out near Maroota, then moved to Pebbly Hill Road Maraylya and then came to Nelson.
Which year do you think that was?
Well when they came out here was 1841. I don’t know when they came to Nelson but some years after I’d imagine. Dad told me that they had a house that I never saw, never knew anything about it. But he said they had a house in Blind Road but soon after built the slab house that is still stands in Nelson Road.
What number Nelson Road is it now?
I wouldn’t know the name of the property is Rosedale.
So would that be the earliest house in the Nelson area then?
One of the earliest ones.
Hession slab home, Nelson
On what land is the house built? Was it a land grant like they used to do in those days?
Well the property we’ve got was an original grant from Governor Denistone, I would imagine all the others around would be similar.
Who was it granted to do you know?
Man called C C Forbes and later on the Hession family bought it.
I see from Forbes?
Now you had a lot of family around Nelson didn’t you? Aunts and uncles tell me a little bit about where they lived and what they were doing?
Mainly orchards, Uncle Mick, his property had peaches and mandarins and oranges but that was all burnt out in the big fire in 1939.
The uncles and where did your aunties live?
Some married and moved away but there was three or four who didn’t marry and still lived in the Hession home. But not the original slab one, in the one next door to it, that’s still standing too.
On which road is that, Nelson Road?
Did your father build any house himself or any sheds for his poultry?
He built all the sheds himself him and his brother in law Uncle Hughie Mason built the house that they lived in. Mum and Dad got married in 1922 so the house would have been built in the early twenties.
That house is still standing too, is it?
Yes it is.
Do you remember him telling you much about it? Is that the house that you actually grew up in is it?
It is yeah.
So can you describe it to me, what it was like, how many rooms it had and the layout of the place?
Simple place, three bedrooms, front verandah, side verandah, back verandah that was later closed in, kitchen, dining room, bathroom, that’s about it.
Was it weatherboard did you say?
Weatherboard almost half way up and then fibro up to the eaves.
So two materials it was built from, why was that do you think?
I don’t know, most of the old places were like that I think.
Do you think it could have been because they couldn’t afford to have a full weatherboard house?
I wouldn’t really know.
Hession 1922 fibro and weatherboard home in 2001
Now can you describe the life of a typical small farmer like your father in Nelson, what it was in those days when you were growing up, which would have been around the thirties and forties, what was life like for them?
Hard work, not many luxuries, got up in the morning fairly early fed the fowls, early on with wet mash which was a lot of work and green feed when it rained. Dad grew lucerne that was mixed in with the wet mash of a morning. Later on he changed over to the dry mash that cut down on the work a lot. Then he’d pick up the eggs around the sheds three times a day pack the eggs when they cooled down a bit. Read his paper during the afternoon and have a sleep, have tea and listen to the radio at night.
That was his life huh?
Something like that, no petrol about during the war, went shopping once a week, had one of the very few cars in the district so he used to take neighbours wives shopping every Friday morning.
Do you remember what kind of car it was?
The first car he had was round about a 1928 model an Erskine. He bought that in 1932. Then in 1940 he bought a 1936 Buick, then in 1956 he bought a 1952 Chev fully imported with a Fisher body, beautiful car.
Must have been the envy of the district was it?
I don’t know by that time there was a few cars around.
Now how many small farmers were there in the Nelson district in those days? How many farms would you say you could count in Nelson?
Probably ten or twelve.
What was the size of their acreage?
Varied Dad had fifteen, some had forty, I’d say in between most of them.
How did your father get his goods to market, did he take them in his own car, did he deliver his eggs or did he have a truck pick them up?
No there was always carriers came around, various people, I even did it myself in a few of his latter years before he gave up poultry farming.
So there used to be regular carriers would come?
Once a week during winter twice a week during summer.
Now for the people who had poultry farms and orchards or just the people that had orchards what kind of fruits were they growing in this area?
Mainly oranges very little stone fruit.
So the soil was suited for the citrus fruit was it?
Oh it seemed to be Uncle Jack had a fair sized orchard in Hession Road, never irrigated but he made a good living out of it.
Did they have any problem with fruit fly and pests and other things and diseases?
Can’t remember it no, don’t think so.
Right they were lucky. Now talking about the values that your parents taught you as a child what would you say those values were?
Honesty’s the best policy I still try to carry it out, always tell the truth, work hard and you’ll do well, but you’ve got to work sensibly as well as hard I think.
So what sort of a person was your mother tell me a little bit about your Mum how would you describe her?
Probably the only living saint that I never knew and that’s not just biased that’s true never thought of herself always worried about her children and other people.
Did they have a tough time during the Depression here?
A lot of people did but we were alright Dad had the poultry farm so there was always an odd chicken to eat and plenty of eggs. We didn’t have any luxuries but we had what we needed.
Trouville property Blind Road owned by Lester family late 1920s
Did she make her own dresses, your mother?
Yes she was a good dressmaker, made her own jams, made her own tea towels always trying to save money because they didn’t have a lot of money.
What did she make the tea towels out of?
Dad used to buy meat meal from the MIB (Meat Industry Board at Homebush) and it was delivered by the produce merchants of course and she’d boil the trade mark, boil it and boil it until the trademark went out of the white bags and she made them into tea towels.
How did she make her dresses, did she have a sewing machine?
Yes she had an old treadle sewing machine with a long circular belt on it and she reared a calf up when she was in her teens and sold the calf and that’s what the money went on. A White sewing machine White being an American make of a sewing machine very similar to a Singer.
So did you often see her making dresses for the family?
Oh yes a lot of times. Of course when she had grandchildren she started making things for them too.
What sort of facilities and amenities were there in the house you grew up in Norm? Describe the laundry for me and the kitchen. What was in the kitchen for instance?
A fuel stove, there was a water tank outside and it was piped into the kitchen, a kerosene heater for the winter nights. I think the make of them was a "Valor" ran on kerosene.
Bit dangerous wasn’t it?
Oh not really you were careful with things.
What about lighting, what sort of lighting was there in the house?
In the kitchen Dad had a very good light it was equal to an electric light. In the kitchen another one in the lounge room, it ran on Shellite fed from a tank on the back verandah and every night he used to pump it up before he turned the lights on and it ran through a tiny little pipe across the ceiling to the lights and they had a mantle in it and you had to light them up with a match.
What about at bedtime what sort of light was in the room was there anything at all?
You’d have to take a hurricane lamp and sit on the dressing table when I was quite small used to get ghosts running around in the bedroom and all that sort of thing. I remember one time a hand came up between the edge of the bed and the wall, that was quite frightening but when I went to sleep the hurricane lamp was taken out again.
When you say a hand do you mean a ghost or is this a practical joke by someone?
No just imagined it used to get the horrors a bit when I was a child.
Yes we all do. Where was the outhouse, the toilet?
Out in the backyard first years it was an old fashioned one with just a pan, then Dad got a septic tank in later on never inside it was always in the backyard.
The laundry. What was in the laundry how did your mother do the washing? Can you describe washing day for me?
Early on before electricity, there was a copper in the corner of the shed, a bricked in copper, Jack Peterson from Rouse Hill was my first cousin, he built it and bricked it in for Mum and she’d boil the water up in that, I remember poking it with a stick in the copper. Then there was a washing machine the make of it was a Lehmann, she christened it “Dolly” I don’t know why but I read in a book later on that they were referred to as dolly and that was one of my jobs, you lifted it up and down and plunged it down into the bottom of it where the water and the clothes were in it and plunged this like an upturned funnel it had holes in it and you pushed it down into the water and I can remember “Oh you’ve got to give them a hundred” or something else might need a hundred and twenty and that was one of my jobs to do that.
Wooden clothes line and outside toilet at Hessions - Nelson 2001
A hundred or a hundred and twenty what?
Oh up and down into the water with this big funnel type thing.
Must have been quite a strange washing machine was it?
Oh it seemed to work.
Interesting, so had did she dry her washing on the line.
Yes had a clothes line the old fashioned one with a forked stick to hold it up and the upright with a cross piece at each end went right across the backyard.
Pretty basic huh?
Oh yeah, later on Dad got a Hill’s Hoist when they became popular and it’s still down in the backyard of the old place.
So what are your memories of Jack Peterson, you said he built the fuel stove, what other sort of associations did your family have with the Petersons and who were the Petersons.
Well Mrs Peterson and Mum were sisters, Jack’s Mother Mrs Peterson, Auntie Rachel. Uncle Tom and Auntie Rachel owned what is now the Mean Fiddler and he had a poultry farm on it when I was only a child. Jack Peterson always had a truck as long as I could remember started off with Rio back in the thirties then he got a second hand Albion and like it that much that he bought a new one in 1938 and he was my first cousin, had a carrying business at Rouse Hill corner of Commercial Road and Windsor Road and then went into produce and I worked for him for the best part of twelve years had a few disagreements with him and I’d leave for a while and then he’d ask me to go back again but most of the first twelve years of my working life I worked for him.
What sort of a character was he can you describe him?
A big man six foot two or three very, very strong I remember getting into trucks with bagged wheat at Mulgrave and they were one hundred and eighty or more pounds each and he’d throw them out onto the truck. He’d say “stack them on the truck Norm” and he’d bury me with them and when I couldn’t handle it all as fast as he could throw them out he’d say “ what’s wrong with you today Norm are you a bit crook or something?”
Sounds like an interesting character was he?
Real character of a fellow.
What business interests did he have around the town?
Just his one business of carrying and then moved into produce and then I bought the egg run off him at the end of 1960 and left and went out on my own.
Let’s talk a little bit about childhood pursuits that you did and childhood play, where did you play around the place?
Mostly out in the bush around Cattai Creek.
Could you swim there as well?
No I could never swim still can’t but the water was never deep enough in Cattai Creek unless it was in flood and you didn’t go near it then.
You used to slide down a tin didn’t you into Cattai Creek?
Yes used to turn sheets of iron up so they’d slide down into the creek down the sandy banks, used to climb a few trees now and then and fall out of them never told Mum.
Better not too, what were your chores or duties as a child what were you told to do?
Remember pushing the old hand lawn mower was one of my jobs to keep the grass cut around the place and there was a fair area considering it was just a hand lawn mower, no motors.
Just push it?
Box Hill-Nelson Bushfire Brigade's first water tanker
The 1939 bushfires were a very major event in this area and I believe you have some personal experience of it can you tell me about that fire? What happened on that day?
It was a terrible westerly wind it was one hundred and seventeen degrees in the old scale very, very hot. I forget the time of day that it came through Mum sent myself and my sister across to a Mr and Mrs Bill's place they were on the opposite side of Blind Road to Dad’s place. I don’t know why Mum sent us there but she did and we finished up in one of their old disused fowl pens and I still remember Mr Bill coming down and lifting up the wire netting to let us out of it. The fire went through Mum was carrying out buckets of water for Dad to water the place down around the house and that night what used to be known as and still is to some people as Bullock’s Bush was all lit up everything was alight.
Was there any fire brigade then?
No, no organised fire brigade at all, you just did what you could yourself. I was only six years old at the time so the memories of it are a bit hazy.
Anyone got injured in that fire?
I don’t remember any injuries. I suppose deaths are injuries. Two fellows got burnt to death up at the top of the hill corner of Old Pitt Town Road and Nelson Road and Mason Road in that corner. People seemed to think that they were shift workers and they’d been asleep but they apparently tried to escape and got caught in the barbed wire fence and that’s where they were found.
It’s tragic isn’t it?
What was done after that to try and minimise the bushfires? What did the people do of Nelson?
I don’t know much what other people did, but every year in the spring time Dad would burn around the house a strip probably forty, fifty feet wide around the house and around all his fowl sheds burnt the grass off so there was nothing left to burn during the summer.
Historic fire fighting tools at Kenthurst Fire Brigade. L to R: knapsack, foam making
branch, branch, 2 stirrup pumps and bucket, 3 breeching pieces, canvas water bag
What other momentous events happened in your childhood. There was some pretty traumatic things that happened with your brother for instance, can you tell me about that?
I can remember Laurie getting sun stroke went in and saw the doctor at Riverstone he didn’t seem to be very worried about it. I thought he’d rush out 'cause I thought Laurie was dying, but he said “oh no he’ll be right just go home and don’t worry about it”. He got all right.
Was Laurie older or younger than you?
Nine and a half years older than me.
Talk a little bit about the food that you ate at home. Where did it come from and what kind of food did you eat normally at home?
Mum and Dad went in every Friday morning bought groceries at Riverstone that was after Bussell Brothers at Windsor stopped delivering. Early on groceries were delivered from Windsor and of course eggs, the occasional chicken.
Did you eat any meat, any lamb?
Oh yes always ate meat but the interesting thing Bussells used to deliver groceries once every fortnight and on the Saturday afternoon before Dennis Mason from Riverstone would ride his bike around to all the customers and pick up the orders for the following Tuesday.
What was the sort of community spirit like among the few families, there weren’t that many families in Nelson. Did you each other well?
Oh yes every Sunday morning Dad would walk away somewhere and have a yarn with some of the neighbours.
Let’s talk a bit about the form of transport that your family used before you had the car. What would it have been before your father got his first car?
He had a horse and sulky. Jack was the name of the horse I think. He was a grey horse but I can’t remember him, only what they used to talk about it.
Did you ever see the horse?
Talk about your school years a bit, primary school years which school did you go to?
How did you get there, someone deliver you or did you walk to school tell me?
Brother and sister walked approximately five k’s then when I started school my brother had a Royal Enfield push bike and he put a luggage carrier on the back of it and he used to double me to school. Then when I got big enough I used to ride a bike to school myself. I had a bike of my own.
How big was the school that you went to the Rouse Hill Public School?
Number of pupils got down to thirteen at one stage and they were thinking of closing it and then another family moved in with a few kids and they kept it going.
What were your favourite subjects at school?
None wasn’t interested in school at all. All I wanted to do was leave school and go driving trucks which I did.
But you had to learn to read and write?
I seemed to manage that without any trouble. I sort of learnt that without much effort at all.
Do you recall the name of your teacher at the school?
Yes Mr Harris, Albert Edward Harris.
What was he like?
Did his block fairly often but he was a good teacher.
You walked five kilometre each day each way to school did you?
No I didn’t I rode my bike, me brother and sister walked.
Any school mates that you can recall that are still around in the district were there any?
Very few left in the district Jack Iori from Rouse Hill went to school with me, Peter Brocklebank went - he’s up the central coast. Can’t think of anymore lot of them is dead now of course.
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