North Rocks - Bill McGuinness
Interviewee: Bill McGuinness, born 1930
Interviewer: Frank Heimans,
for Baulkham Hills Shire Council
Date of Interview: 23 June 2006
Transcription: Glenys Murray, Nov 2006
This interview represents the personal recollections, views and opinions of the interviewee
Now, what was the reason that your family moved to North Rocks? In which year was that actually, Bill?
Well we moved up in 1946, but my father had bought the property in about 1942, I'd say, or '43. After he worked at the dock he had started to save a bit of money, and he bought the property. We used to go up on a weekend preparing it for when we moved up there.
Can you describe the property? How big was it? And where was it?
Nineteen acres, just a little bit north of Statham Avenue - between Statham Avenue and Watts Street, now. I suppose probably about 4 acres or 5 acres of it was cleared and had old orange trees on it. The rest was virgin bush, gum trees. But that was pretty typical of around there. There was still a lot of bush, but there was farming going on.
Do you know how much your father paid for the 19 acres he bought?
Yes. Eight hundred pounds.
That was a lot of money in those days, wasn't it?
Yes, well I think 500 pounds a year would have been a pretty good income in those days... it would have been really good.
Who had owned the property before he bought it?
A couple of elderly gentlemen named Burns, but I don't know anything about them.
But your father built a house for them, didn't he?
No. The locals built a house for them. I don't know much about that either, but I just know it was a pretty terrible house, and we were told that all the locals got together and built it in a day for them. I think they built two rooms, and it was like two rooms normal, then it had a lean-to verandah on the side that had been closed in. I think the original day job was probably just the two rooms.
Now, your father bought the property in 1942 and you moved in 4 years later, so, in the meantime, did you help in clearing the land?
Yes, we used to go up every weekend. We had a winch which was horse drawn, and we'd pull the trees over. Then you had to chop them up with an axe or with a two-man saw. No chain-saws or anything! Put all the bushes in a heap and then burn them. We sold the good timber - it was sold for firewood. I think most of it went to Metters who used to make enamel stoves. They apparently used it for furnaces. Good timber.
You must have been a pretty strong lad, because you were only about 12 or 13 years old at that stage when you were clearing the land.
Well, my father did most of the work, but I used to pull the cables around, and I used to drive the horse, which wasn't hard to do.
So what was the house on the property that you lived in when you actually moved in?
Well it was just the old one that they'd built for the two Burns gentlemen. So it was just two rooms, then it had a verandah that had been closed in. I don't think that it even had a fireplace. I remember one thing that we had to do was get a brick chimney put up to put a fuel stove in for cooking, but it was pretty rough.
So the house was more rudimentary than the one you lived in in Annandale?
Oh yes. The one we lived in in Annandale was quite good really. They were small houses, but they were quite well built, and not very old.
Your uncle also lived in the area didn’t he? Can you describe him, what sort of a person was he?
He moved into the area in nineteen thirty two he got the sack from Lysaught’s Wireworks because of the Depression so he bought nine and half acres off a chap called Goldby. Goldby kept a half acre and had a house on part of the ten acres. He bought that well he was buying a job really just trying to earn a living on the farm.
What was your uncle’s first name?
Same as my grandfather, the one who died.
Your father’s name?
So what sort of fruit did your father grow on the property?
Mainly peaches the area was pretty well mainly peaches and some nectarines but nectarines weren’t as good as peaches. They were a funny crop sometimes they’d bear and sometimes they wouldn’t. The area was mainly peaches and poultry.
McGuinness poultry sheds 1950s
Did your father know much about farming before he became a farmer?
No I don’t think so. His brother had learnt after he bought the farm and the two of them very close and my father used to go up there a lot just to help him so he learnt along with his brother.
Would you say it was your father’s dream to become a farmer?
No I don’t think so I suppose if you knew him you’d say he was bit of bushie type I suppose it was a natural gravitation to it. He was a bit more interested in animals than he was in growing trees or plants.
Did you have animals on the farm as well?
Well he ended up having quite a few fowls and he was pretty good at that.
So what were other farmers in the valley growing the neighbours in your area? Were they all growing peaches?
Yes peaches - mainly a peach area there was a few piggeries around.
So how many other farming families do you think there would have been at North Rocks in those days the nineteen forties?
I don’t know there’d have to be forty I suppose. There was a few there that were working and had a small property at the same time, they were supplementing their income by working I suppose, yeah I think there might have been up to forty.
What size were the average farms, were they all about the same size as your farm?
I think twenty acres would have been a big one I think Roughley’s who were further up the road they had a big property but I would have thought ten was about the living size and a lot of people who had jobs maybe had four or five acres.
Did you father have any problems with fruit fly or pest or any other problems with growing his fruit?
You had trouble with fruit fly but you had to spray for them if you got them you heard about it pretty quickly. My uncle used to take the fruit into the market and sell it everyday so if there was fruit fly in today’s fruit we’d hear about it tomorrow morning pretty quickly and you’d have to do something about it. They were able to control it with spray although later in the season it gets harder to control.
Were they using a DDT spray?
I don’t know what they used but they did spray.
How did your father get his water supply to irrigate his farm?
There was water onto the property in those days, when we first went up there the road wasn’t even sealed but the water was on.
You mean town water that you used for irrigation?
Yes sometimes in the fruit season there’d be a restriction. My father and uncle got fined a few times, being caught watering their trees, people are getting caught for that again.
So how did he get his fruit to the market, your father?
My uncle used to go to the markets every morning get up about three o’clock and he had a truck and he used to take the fruit into Sydney.
So his own and yours?
Yes oh the two brothers worked in partnership yes, but the markets were in Sydney then not at Homebush.
Was there a way of getting it to the city by railway?
Well I was told that the train line to Carlingford was originally built to get produce into Sydney but it wasn’t certainly at this time. It was all taken in by truck when I’m talking about.
Looking at the fruit growing as a business in those days was it a profitable situation?
Yes I think my father might have averaged eight or ten pound a week out of it, five hundred pound a year which wasn’t a lot but it was a living. It varied a lot if you got a hail storm you mightn’t get anything.
McGuinness peach orchard's last harvest 1964
How long did your father have the orchards and was producing fruit till when?
We moved up there in forty six I think it was about nineteen fifty seven there was a rezoning of the land, maybe fifty eight or fifty nine and after the land was rezoned they kept farming but the interest dropped out of it. No new trees were planted and slowly they stopped growing.
The area was called the Lynwood Estate is that right what was the origin of the name Lynwood?
We thought it sounded nice.
Was the house you lived in called Lynwood?
Oh that was the property we just had that on the gate I don’t think there was any numbers in those days just to differentiate the places we used to give them names.
Let’s talk a bit more about the house that you lived in at North Rocks that very first house can you describe it for me in terms of the rooms?
There was just two rooms probably about eleven feet square and then on the side of that there’d been a skillion roof put like a verandah but then that had been closed in with windows that they’d got from somewhere and pieces of fibro, it was pretty rough.
Did it have a bathroom?
So where did you bathe?
There was a bit of a shed at the back it had a fuel copper and a bathtub with a tap over the bathtub and that was it. The toilet was just one the sanitary man comes and collects.
Folini sanitary waggon 1960s at Northmead depot
Before septic tanks came in?
Did your father build on?
The verandah part that I just described we demolished it and we extended the verandah around further and closed that in. It made it a bit neater and a bit better job and built a fireplace with a Cozy Stove and got it reasonably comfortable.
What was the external material that the house was made of?
Mainly all fibro, some weatherboards ours had weatherboards up to the window sills and fibro from there on.
And the roof?
So it wasn’t a very flash place was it?
Oh no, no it was just basic. Later on my father built a septic tank and we built a bathroom attached to the house with a septic tank and a shower and things in it.
Did you have your own bedroom?
Yes I did.
Did the house have electricity?
How did you heat it in winter?
We had a Cozy Stove used to put coke in it they worked pretty well too. Only of an evening didn’t have it going during the day.
The house was on North Rocks was it, what number was it on the road?
I don’t think it had a number I think that’s why we gave it a name I don’t remember us having a number but I could be wrong on that.
McGuinness Lynwood Estate, Watts St to North Rocks Rd 1964
So the house was actually situated between Statham and Watts Street?
Well Watts Street which wasn’t there at that stage but it is now.
So how long did you live in that house?
From when I was sixteen until I was twenty seven, eleven years.
What was the reason you left?
Did your parents stay on in the house?
Yes they stayed there for several more years.
When the land was rezoned in the early sixties you said fifty nine was it?
I think so.
How many building blocks did it become?
It ended up with eighty two blocks on it.
That’s quite a bit of work, how long did that take to subdivide?
It took till about nineteen seventy because A there wasn’t that big a demand for the land and B we could only subdivide part of it and then we became sort of landlocked. We couldn’t continue until a road on the adjoining property was built. There wasn’t a scramble for land in those days like there is today.
How long did your parents stay on living in that house?
We built them a new house on one of the blocks of land and they stayed there for about five or six years and subsequently they moved out to Dural.
Bill can you describe the North Rocks environment to me when you arrived there in nineteen forty six. What was there?
It was developing farmlands I suppose it wasn’t all covered in farms, I suppose thirty or forty percent would have farming on it. There was a couple of piggeries. There opposite my uncle’s place there was just open paddock. There was a few houses somehow there’d been a few small blocks of land subdivided so there was a few houses on an ordinary block of land starting to get along North Rocks Road. But there were paddocks with just cows running in them. North Rocks Road was not tarred it was a good road because it ran along the ridge of the hill so it was never a problem it was well drained. There was a little school which had two timber school rooms. There were small farms I think mostly people who were trying to get on by getting a bit land and doing a little bit of farming. I can’t think what else to say about it really.
Lynwood Estate North Rocks subdivision plan 1964
Tell me about some of the neighbours who were they?
There was Mr Dawson who had a pig farm and next to him there was another pig farm that was owned by Dr Wearn. Dr Wearn was a fairly well known character in the area and he owned al lot of land he was a very capable doctor of dentistry apparently. There was a small farmer opposite my uncle then the Goldbys who I’ve mentioned before they’d sold that house and a chap named Bruce Spence moved into it. He was a plumber and he worked for the Gas Company subsequently he left the Gas Company when the building started around North Rocks and he was fully employed as plumber around North Rocks. There was a German architect he lived in Statham Avenue. My uncle subsequently built a new house when he made some money in the war and the architect named Brechwell(?) he designed it for him. They built a little shop on the corner of Statham Avenue which sold groceries then near us there was an Italian family named Delfino they used to have a baby every June and they subsequently sold that to a Mrs Newton who came from a landed property down round Cooma somewhere. Next to us there was a farm which Dr Frank Mills bought he was a heart surgeon the first to do open heart surgery in Sydney as far as I know. Opposite us there were some people named Dorrell(?) they subsequently went to live down Mollymook. There was builder named Kennedy he was sort of the local builder, my uncle got him to build a cow shed and a packing shed and he also did the carpentry on my uncle’s house. The bus was a pretty important part of the area and that was owned by Billy Watson and that was up on the corner where Westfield Shopping Centre is now. Later on he took on a partner Eric Hulme and it became Watson and Hulme. Eric Hulme lived on North Rocks Road just along from the property that Dr Mills bought.
Can I ask you a few more questions about Dr Wearn apparently he was quite an influential person around the area and a little eccentric some say?
I think he was eccentric I understand he had a doctorate of dentistry, which would have been quite unusual in those days, from Sydney University I think. As I understood he had some ability with cleft palates. I think he must have had some money he bought a lot of property in the area. He and my uncle argued continually there a right of way down my uncle’s property which one plan showed my uncle had access to and some other plan showed he didn’t and he and Dr Wearn fought continuously about that. But Dr Wearn’s property he owned what is now Muirfield Golf Club. He was an eccentric man he owned a piggery and he used to pick up fish scraps and feed them to the pigs and the people were screaming about the smell. I remember one day I ran into him and he said “do you want some bread” and he had a Mercedes and the back seat of it was all full up with bread he’d collected at the bakery that hadn’t been sold and he was taking it home for his pigs. He was a little bit out of the ordinary.
Walter and Polly Wearn
You said there weren’t too many shops around just the one general store so how did your family obtain their supplies?
My mother had to go to Parramatta. I think she probably went twice a week. Everything you wanted was in Parramatta, your doctor and your dentist. Mum used to have a string bag and she used to go to Parramatta in the bus and bring the food home. There was nowhere else. There were no shops that we could go to.
So how did you get your bread and meat supplies?
The meat she had to bring home from Parramatta but there was a baker. Baker used to come round with a horse drawn cart I think I might have mentioned Delfinos well they had a party to celebrate their christenings and I remember the baker saying he had to drive his horse and cart in that day to unload all the bread.
The general store that you talked about where was it exactly and who owned it?
Originally it was a paper shop which was on the Parramatta side where Billy Watson’s buses were. That was owned by Tom Bullen he had a store there, later on there was a little one I mentioned earlier built on the corner of Statham Avenue. I don’t remember if Bullen’s was a store or whether it was just a paper shop, I can’t remember.
You said your mother did her shopping in Parramatta did she go by bus?
Yes the bus that Watson and Hulme owned ran from Parramatta Station to Beecroft Station which later on when I had to go to Sydney made it pretty convenient because you had the option of going either way.
Apart from the Italian family the Delfinos that you mentioned were there any other so called ethnic people in the area, were there any Chinese or Greeks or Maltese?
Not that I can remember certainly not Chinese or Asian people. There probably would have been other Italian farmers around but not many.
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