North Rocks - Bill McGuinness - Part 2
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
If you were sick what was the closest doctor?
Yep we used to go to a Dr Cooper in Parramatta, he was the nearest doctor.
North Rocks Road was it a sealed road at that time?
I would say when we first went up there in the thirties is wasn’t but by the time we were living out there it was sealed, yes.
Was there a lot of traffic on that road?
No, before we went up there to live in ’39, ’40 we’d be up at my uncle’s place and if somebody went up the road we’d probably mention it at lunch time that someone had gone along. Traffic was pretty scarce.
Right the event of the car pass. Let’s talk about you a bit more you became an engineer at what stage did that happen and what made you decide to become an engineer?
I was an only child and my father wanted me to stay at school, he didn’t know much but he knew that he wanted me educated, so I stayed and did my leaving certificate and in the final year I got introduced to civil engineering by Mr Moorehead who worked at Goodyear Tyre Company and the Institute of Technology had just been started and I was able to enrol there and do engineering.
Yes I’d got to know the Moorehead family pretty well and old Mr Moorehead was a civil engineer and he’d come out from America in 1927 to build the Goodyear Tyre factory and I’d got to know him fairly well. He asked me what I wanted to do and I didn’t know much I said “I might be a surveyor” anyway his wife had found out that there was vocational guidance available at this time, I think it was pretty early in the peace, anyway I went to do that and they told me that I could do surveying but they thought I should do civil engineering that I was more suited to that, then Mrs Moorehead found out about the Institute of Technology and I just went from there, that’s now the University of NSW, the Institute of Technology then the University of Technology then ultimately the University of NSW.
Do you think you owe a debt to the Mooreheads for steering you in that direction?
Oh yes very much so.
What are your memories of the Mooreheads?
Well they don’t come any better, they were very much associated with North Rocks Youth Club and they were people who thought it was their duty to do things for the community.
What influence do you think they had on your life?
Well I suppose, I don’t know I would have become a surveyor or something, they hurried it along a bit. They introduced me to a little bit higher up the social scale when you become aware of that you want it and I suppose that influences you a lot, it alters your efforts.
So you think if you hadn’t met them that your life would have been different?
Well it would have been different, everything affects your life but I suppose I was reasonably ambitious and I might have done something else. I probably would have been a carpenter I think.
Preparing foundations for North Rocks Youth Club clubhouse 1947
Tell me a bit more about the Mooreheads, particularly their involvement in the youth movement?
Well Mrs Moorehead was the one who was mainly interested in it. She’d been a school teacher she was just a person who wanted to do things to help people so they had two daughters they had one at that particular stage that was our age and I think she must have realised at some stage that there was a fair few young people in the district so she encourage us to form a club and she was the patron and the guiding hand, particularly in the beginning but all the way through it she had a very big influence although she let us think that we ran it.
What was the name of the club itself?
North Rocks Youth Club.
You became a member?
Yes oh yes all the young people in the district were most of them and some from Westmead and one from Harris Park they knew somebody that they might have gone to tech with them or something like that. People from Carlingford used to come over.
Where was the youth club actually located?
It was in a little old shed in Moorehead’s property, they owned four or five acres down Farnell Avenue they had a little old shed there that we altered a adjusted.
Now what sort of activities did they organise for the kids there?
At the beginning the only thing that we had was ping pong but then we’d have working bees which we used to enjoy, building the club house. We might go to the pictures on Saturday nights, we’d have dances, we used to go to dances at Baulkham Hills sometimes we used to hire a bus and go to the beach. We used to run dances it was an old well they called it the Progress Hall at North Rocks it was a beauty it came from the army camp at Liverpool and the Progress Association went over there and pulled it down and brought it back to North Rocks and we used to have dances in it. We enjoyed it. There used to be a lady Dorothy Newton she was a particularly good piano player she could play any tune, do any dance I think she studied at the Conservatorium, she was brilliant, she used to play at the dances. There was a family called Linkenbar and their two daughters were in the club and their father was Gus Linkenbar he used to play trumpet or sax one of those and then there was another young fellow who used to play the drums, but I’ve forgotten his name. Anyway that used to be our band, the piano, trumpet and the drums. We used to do a lot of square dancing at that time, it had just come into vogue, we used to do that.
North Rocks Progress Hall 1966
Going back to Billy Watson and his bus run what more can you tell me about him?
I think he had a pretty hard start that would be back in the thirties and I was told that sometimes if his bus wouldn’t work he had an old car and he used to have to pick up the people in that. By the time I can remember his bus was fairly reliable, eventually they had five or six or seven buses and several fellows working. Wally Yates used to be the baker and he ended up driving the buses and Dan Martin, the Martin family were a big family in the area. Eric Hulme, Billy Watson there was a few others too. The bus service increased with time there were four buses. It was pretty countrified, if I was going to university and we stopped or I wasn’t going the end of the term. You’d generally have to tell them or they’d pull up out the front and wait for you, thinking you weren’t ready, so you had to give them the signal that you weren’t going. Everybody knew all the bus drivers, a few of the bus drivers went off the straight and narrow and took up friendships with some of the female passengers became pretty normal as a matter of fact.
What’s the story of Billy Watson and the stop sign?
Anybody today would know that the intersection of North Rocks Road and Pennant Hills Road it’s a major traffic hazard but in those days there was very little traffic but they put a stop sign there and Billy Watson told a lot of the young fellow just watch out for that stop sign because they didn’t put it there for nothing and they had to pull up when they came to it. It’s a little bit hard to imagine compared to the traffic that’s there today.
Just back on the youth club again, how many years were you with the youth club as a member?
Probably six or seven years.
You enjoyed that time?
Oh yes very much so it was wonderful for the young people in North Rocks, we were all bits of country people and we all got together we had fun we had no money, it cost nothing. I don’t think you could have a club like it today, but it was good.
Did you obtain any position in the club?
Oh yes I was president of the club two times, we had a limit you could be only be president for one year. That was one of Mrs Mooreheads ideas, it’s a good idea.
Does the club still exist?
No oh well it’s an entirely different area now, heavily populated. No this was something you could only have in a rural area.
What can you tell me about the school for deaf and blind that was being built at North Rocks?
Not much it was on the property that the Roughleys owned he was respected as a successful and very comfortable off man. I think it was a bit of a shock to the district, because most of us knew that the deaf and blind school was in the middle of Sydney, near Sydney University and that coming up to North Rocks was a bit of a surprise. It did no harm that was built about the same time as the subdivision was going on, because the brick layer we had working building a house for Mum and Dad and he’d been working on the deaf and blind school.
North Rocks Royal Institute for Deaf and Blind Children 1966
Was it a big deal this school for the area? How important was the school for the area?
I don’t know I don’t suppose it supplied much work for the area, because they were all tradesmen that were required to build it I suppose it meant that people who staffed it later on could live in the area. It probably made a demand for homes, like I said before when we were subdividing the land, people weren’t rushing to buy the land. People thought North Rocks was out away from things, they weren’t all that keen to come there when we were subdividing. We were generally glad to sell a block of land. When we started off you could buy a block of land for less than three thousand dollars in those days, fourteen thousand dollars for house and land.
Bill when did you retire from civil engineering?
I don’t know that I really retired it just tapered off after I got about sixty I suppose it just slowly tapered off.
What sort of projects were you involved with in the engineering field?
When I first started off I somehow got into the pre-cast concrete field which was pretty new in those days , in fact the first big job I did was a lot of structures for the Wallerawang Power House, there was a shortage of electricity in 1954 and they formed the Electricity Commission to speed up the generation of electricity and I think the first job was Wallerawang Power House all the outside wiring was mounted on pre-cast concrete frames and I was involved at Villawood making those. We didn’t have much equipment or much knowledge nobody had much knowledge or equipment in those days there wasn’t much equipment at all. We made all the equipment there and they were taken up. I was involved with pre-stressed concrete we starting making them for bridges. They were pre-cast in the factory and taken out and I stayed in that industry for about eight years then I got involved with the subdivision of the land at North Rocks. We subdivided the land ourselves. That was a bit of a drawn out process, because as I said before we got landlocked and had to wait and then I decided to try making pre-cast concrete by myself and I went out to Riverstone and bought some land and built a small factory, not much more than a tin shed really. An estate agent came along and said “would you like to rent it”? I said “oh well I’ll build myself another one” so I did. I ended up I just kept building these, they got better as time went on, building these factories at Riverstone, some of them I sold and some of them I kept. I still had those until I started to taper off at about sixty, I stopped building then.
Any of your projects involve North Rocks? Did you build anything there?
We built about twenty houses on the subdivision. The idea was that if we had land and houses to sell we might get more sales. We built about twenty houses there.
A part of your Lynwood Estate?
On the Lynwood Estate yeah.
You actually built them yourself?
Yes I had a partner and he’s dead now but he was a Hungarian migrant very fine fellow too. He was a trained joiner.
What was his name?
Nick Hidi sad story he had to leave to get away from the communists, he left his wife and three children there I think by the time his wife could have got out the children had grown up and got married and they didn’t want to leave then. He went over there and saw his daughter he was very, very frightened of going there apparently the communists had his name on the computer.
Bill there have been a lot of changes in North Rocks since you first arrived, sixty years ago what do you think were the biggest changes that you have witnessed?
Just turning semi rural country into highly developed residential. It’s completely altered, it’s just like a suburb now. It’s even got to the stage where it looks a bit tattered as far as I’m concerned it’s starting to look a bit old. That’s a big change from rural to residential that starting to show a bit frayed on the edges I think.
Housing estate in Lawndale Avenue 1966
You’ve been a part of that yourself by having the estate subdivided?
Oh yes, yes we only did what was normal or what was natural at the time I suppose.
Was a lot involved in that subdivision the number of years it took and so on. Did you have any obstacles in doing what you wanted to do there in subdividing the land?
You had to work with the council, you had to get approval. The council were cooperative, I think the council was pretty good in those days. They had a shire president Bernie Mullane and I think he had a lot of power but things seemed to get done as far as I could find out. In those days you could take a set of plans specifications up to build a house and if you waited there for an hour and a half you could walk out with them approved, that helped things along.
Now before the subdivision there was a green belt, the Cumberland Plan that was devised for Sydney in 1947 I think. What was the effect of the removal of that green belt as far as you were concerned?
Well it just released our land for subdivision, we had applied to council to cut a block of land off my father’s nineteen acres to build a house on for myself and it wasn’t allowed. It meant that instead of being rural it could be turned into highly residential. It was a huge effect with all the result of shops and traffic and houses.
So in fact the removal of the green belt was responsible for your subdivision?
Oh yes, yes.
Bulldozer on McGuinness Lynwood Estate 1964
Now let's talk a bit about the use of the land at North Rocks and the changes in use of the land from rural to residential and also commercial. What can you tell me about the industrial and commercial use of the land?
I don’t know much about the industrial land down further towards Windsor Road. I was a bit surprised that some of it became industrial land, because it’s very hilly and not particularly good industrial land but I suppose it’s brought jobs. The commercial side well there’s a big shopping centre there. That was held up for a long time, Council wouldn’t let them build because they couldn’t solve the sewage problem I think. I remember it was years before, people talked about and talked about, I don’t know how they solved the sewage problem, I think it was built before the sewer went through the area.
Are you talking about the Westfield development?
It’s been a major boost to the area in terms of retail?
Yes it has been and apparently it’s been quite successful although the people in that area could have gone over to Carlingford, but Westfield seems to have been successful. I think I heard that they’re expanding it. It was a good shopping centre, had everything that you needed. We shopped there for a fair while.
Well, the shopping centre obviously came in the 1970's with the release of all those blocks of land. Do you think that was the reason for it?
I would say, no question about that, yes. They wouldn't have built that without the houses.
Do you think it's been a good thing for the area, having the industrial and commercial use of land?
Oh yes. From a town planning point of view, if you can group some factories and some shopping, I think that's ideal planning. It means a lot of people haven't got to drive into Sydney to go to work. I think it's a little bit of decentralisation. I think it's excellent.
Westfield North Rocks was officially opened in 1979
So, looking at the North Rocks of your youth, when you first moved in there in '46, how would you describe the people then, living at North Rocks, and their aspirations?
I would say they were people that wanted to... they didn't have much - didn't have much money, much education or anything like that, but they were all wanting to better themselves. There was no question about that. That would have been normal, though. They'd buy a bit of ground and they'd keep their job and they'd try and work the ground up and make something of it. I don't think any of them thought "well, some day I'll be able to subdivide it". I don't think that entered into their mind. They were all pretty decent, honest sort of people trying to better themselves. There wasn't many ways of doing it in those days.
So what sort of transformation do you think North Rocks has undergone since that time?
Well, there's not many of that sort of people left anyway, now, little farmers. Farming like my father did, well that's finished - where people had 10 acres of something, now they'd have 200 acres with all mechanisation and that, so... No, all those people have gone. Now what you've got now is professional and trades people... a different type of people altogether. They're more the suburban type of people.
So North Rocks has been transformed from a rural area growing fruit and poultry and pigs to a very suburban area. So, how would you describe that transformation?
It's just a complete 100% change, isn't it? It's something that had to happen, because the people are there and they've got to be housed. There's no way you can prevent it. I think there are other opportunities for people that want to get on today. That was probably how a lot of people saw as an opportunity in those days. I think today probably they'd look to education or something.