West Pennant Hills - Gwen Millhouse


Interviewee: Gwen Millhouse, born 1920

Interviewer: Frank Heimans,
            for Baulkham Hills Shire Council

Date of Interview: 2 June 2006

Transcription: Kevin Murray, Nov 2006

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

So when your father came to Australia (from England), what kind of a job did he take on here?

Well he was inheriting money, and until that came through he really had no money and he had to take on a job as a tram driver. But it was around about the 25's when we bought the orchard that the money came through. So then he owned an orchard and worked for himself, which is what he was used to, not being employed by anyone.

Right. So, where was the orchard exactly?

In Taylor Street, West Pennant Hills.

And how many acres was it? Thirty, did you say?

Maybe 25 acres?

I have a note here that it could be 20 acres, was it?

Yes, somewhere around that...

So what did he do with those 20 acres? What did he grow?

Oh, it was an established orchard when he bought it, but it was mainly citrus, and it was mainly a stone fruit area, not a citrus area, so the citrus trees eventually came out and he grew stone fruit in summer, apples and plums, peaches.

Was the climate suited to apples and plums?

Oh yes.

Right, so you were born in 1920, so you were 5 years old when this happened, so what do you remember about those days, from 5 years onwards? Did you help in the picking of the fruit, that kind of thing?

I was a little bit young for that. I used to follow my father around and chatter all the time, 'cause I really loved him. That was the best way, because the older family had gone to school. When I got older we all did jobs like picking up around pruning time, picking up the prunings and stacking them. And picking up the fruit because the fruit fly would get to them, the fruit, and that would pass on and you'd have a lot of insects ruining the fruit which, of course, weren't marketable with grubs in them. So that was another job. They were either buried or burnt.

Did your father know much about growing fruit before he started?

No. He had extremely good neighbours. There was two in particular and they used to come and show him how to pack and pick and do those things - when fruit was ripe enough, and all that.

Fruit packing shed, corner of Highs and Blacks Roads 1986

Did he make a good living out of that?

Not really. We were very comfortable, though, because he had these stud poultry and those that weren't bred for show purposes and for sale would be killed and we would have those to eat. We'd catch rabbits, we'd have those. Then the butcher would come around, I think about twice a week and Mum would buy - because of no refrigeration, we only had ice chests and the ice would run out - she would buy things like a roast that she could roast, then we'd have cold meat the next day. Or she'd cut up what was over and make a stew and this sort of thing. It all had to be planned out. And then when I was seven I had to - seven was a compulsory age to start school - and I, with my brothers and sisters walked two miles to school, and two miles home again. And I remember the bushfires very much - we had no fire brigades, fire fighting or anything - they just had to fight the fires themselves and more-or-less keep the fires back as best they can with fighting them with chaff bags and things and just pray for a change in the wind so the fire would burn back on itself.

Now you mentioned that your father's produce was picked up by a carrier. Did he use a horse and cart, or was it already motorised transport in those days?

Oh no, no. Horse and cart. Draught horses, those beautiful Clydesdale type of animal. We had one draught horse and we had one pony. The pony used to drag the sulky and the pony used to be ridden - we'd ride several miles to Parramatta. You'd ride about two miles to the centre - Thompson's Corner where the double-storey store was and that's where the mail was. And we'd drive up there almost daily to get the mail.

Do you mean you rode a horse up there?


Did you ride yourself?

Yes. All the family rode that poor horse. At school, when you were asked what your sport was you had to say "Riding a horse".

Now when motorised trucks started coming, was that easier then to get produce to the markets?

Oh yes. As I said, we had our own one as well. The one where I described the chappie taking us to the pictures and then picking us up. Well that was motorised.

That was in the 1930's was it?

Yes. Late 20's. The Depression years. They started about 1927, I think, the Depression years.

Yes, tell me a little about those Depression years. How did your family survive the Depression?

That's covered where I said my father had good poultry and meals and rabbits and then he grew vegetables. We had fresh vegetables, and then we had the fruit. So we survived well, but when it came to clothing, no. My brothers mainly went bare footed - walked to school bare footed. We girls would grow into our shoes... when we first got the shoe it would be too big and we grew them until our toes were poking out of the leather. So they'd have to last a long while. ...Mum used to make our dresses and things.

She had a Singer sewing machine, then, did she?

Yes, treddle.

Tell me a little bit about some of the values that your parents imbued in you as a child. The ethics of the family, the morals - that kind of thing.

Definitely honesty. You had to be honest. You were always to tell the truth. Well, high values - you didn't get away, you know.

Gibson's orchard, Taylor Street and Harphams poultry farm c1930

We haven't spoken much about your Mum. Can you tell me about her - what sort of person she was?

The one that makes me feel so sad for her coming out to Australia, and the conditions out here, going into the Depression, is that, in the big packing shed there was a copper built from stone - the fire was built from stone, and it was about three feet down either side, and then a fire built under it, then the copper, made of copper, on top of that. And the water would come to the boil for her to boil the water for washing the sheets, and the smoke, particularly if she couldn't get good, dry kindling wood, the smoke used to come up out of these crevices. And you'd see her crying from the smoke in her eyes. And then they had things that were really very soiled, there was the scrubbing board that you scrubbed your clothes onto. And then she had the mangle to squeeze as much water as possible out of the clothing before she hung it on the clothes line.

So how many siblings were there originally in the family?

Six. One died when he was six days old, so I'm inclined to forget him.

You had five sisters and brothers?

I had three brothers, counting the one that died, and two sisters - and myself... three girls, three boys.

And your mother managed to cope with all that - to bring them all up and that?

Well, she did, but it nearly killed her.

What sort of food did you eat at home? You've already said there were too many rich, milky things, but...

Oh, no, but we had the fruit and vegetables.

What sorts of desserts did she make?

Very heavy plum puddings, which my father would eat every day of his life if she'd made them. And rice puddings. And sometimes we'd have our fruit custard with fruit...

So this is really made from the milk that you got yourself?

Well, the rice is made with this pure Jersey milk. And the plum puddings were made with butter and heavy foods... I loved them.

Did you have a cow?

Yes, a Jersey cow.

That was yours?


Who used to milk it?

My father. My mother could milk but she didn't milk because she was getting the tea and that sort of thing. It was a very cold house. It wasn't lined - just timber slats, with the cold air coming everywhere, and very heavy frosts.

And how as it heated in Winter?

Well, we had this open fire in the living room, not the kitchen. And we all sat around that. And then you had to go... off the kitchen was this verandah, and every room opened into the verandah - the bedrooms. So we'd have to go along these cold verandahs to get into bed. The three sisters, we all slept together on a mattress that used to go down in the middle. Lovely in the Winter - we'd all snuggle up, but in summer it was pretty hot - you'd end up getting on the floor in Summer, it'd be too hot.

The three of you in a double bed, was it?

Yes. My sister that died, she left home around about 16 to go to the country and they did Ladies' Companion on the properties. So she wasn't with us for that many years. It was mainly my sister, who is still alive, but she's in a nursing home and her memory's just about gone.

Moores Bridge, Aiken Road near Hill Road 1986

What sort of childhood play did you engage in? Did you swim? Did you fish? Did you do all those sorts of things?

Well, there was no swimming available. We'd play in the creeks, when there was water in the creeks. Volley ball. The boys'd play cricket. Marbles, skipping, vigaro, if I didn't say vigaro, were the games that were played.

How did you play vigaro?

Very similar to cricket, but whereas cricket is just two lots of wickets, with vigaro there'd be about four places you'd run to and if you were bowled out while you were running from one to the other...

Was it "girl's cricket"?

It was.

What sort of a social life did your parents have? I mean, what did they do in the evenings?

My father didn't look for social life. He would go to his fruit growers' meetings about once a month and he'd brighten up no end.  We'd always be happy when Dad was going to that. Also his poultry. He had very few friends, but they were close friends. But in this store, which was about two miles from where we lived, the lady there - there was a bakehouse which had been stopped from being used - so, she let us have that for our social life, and everything centered around the bakehouse. She used to put seats along for church on Sunday and Sunday School. And everything... it didn't matter what religion, everybody went there to church. And then we'd have our Fellowship on Saturday and Monday night - that was for the young people, teenagers, and we would do a Bible discussion and then we would do an hour's just having fun. And we were just so happy.

What denomination was the bakehouse?

It was Presbyterian. Mrs Thorby had offered it to the Anglicans and they weren't interested, so then she got her dear old minister friend from Thornleigh - Reverend Hanlon, he married us. But he used to ride a bike from Thornleigh to West Pennant Hills - it was probably 3 or 4 miles - and then he got this T-Model Ford and he was the laugh of the district, the way he used to drive this T-Model Ford out. And that was very cold in the Winter, too.

Was the bakehouse also the place that you saw the pictures, the movies?

No, we had the picture show at Thornleigh. I don't think they had slides in those days.

No, no, films. And who took you there? Was it the fellow called Les Maher, was it?

We walked. Les Maher was the one who took us to the beach, Dee Why. And then he was the one that picked up our fruit. But, no, we walked two miles up to the bakehouse. And the school was a little bit further along from there. We walked to the school.

So was your family a religious family?

My father said he had to go to Church three times every Sunday when he was in England and he had enough religion to last him for the rest of his life. But we used to all go, as I said, to the bakehouse. For the seven years we were there we were running functions to build a church. And then at the beginning of the War, '39, the church was opened - Bethlehem - which was called the "House of Bread" because we were born in the bakehouse.

 Aerial view of Thompsons Corner 1974

Born in the bakehouse?

Well, that's where we started. That's where our religion was born, in the bakehouse, so we called it our "House of Bread". Bethlehem. And then when my husband was killed they built a hall - raised money and wanted me to have it, and I wouldn't have it, so they built the hall. And it's called the Jack Millhouse Memorial Hall, which is still there.

What's the bakehouse used for now?

Oh, the bakehouse has been taken down. It was taken down when they did all the developments at Pennant Hills Road. I forget what year it was taken down. The store and the bakehouse were all taken down. But we had the Hall and the Church. But there were some Asians - I'm not sure whether they were Koreans or not, but with the last of my knowledge, I'm not sure whether they still had services there and I was happy. There was talk of... I forget, there was something they were going to use the Hall for and I wasn't happy about that, but any rate, they didn't and it's still there.

Now, did anyone in the family play any musical instrument?

No, we're not musical at all.

Right, so did you have a radio at least?

Yes, my father told me he'd gone and bought this first type of radio which had a big... horn? ... loudspeaker. And that night he had taken my mother to hospital because the birth of my baby brother was imminent and he told me that he'd bought a loud speaker and one day he was going to buy a loud squeaker, the next day, so that was the arrival of my brother, Frank.

So, he was going to get himself a loud squeaker?

Yes, a loud squeaker.

That's interesting. Now, when your family, say, wanted to go to Parramatta, what form of transport would you use then?

Well, when we first went there, there were these draught horses - not sure what horses we used, but they had a buggy which seated about six, I think. But that was disposed of very early in the piece. And we had the sulky. And this horse, light horse, took us. We went in the sulky, only two or three were able to go in the sulky to Parramatta.

Was it your own horse, was it that you were talking about?

Yes, that was poor Paddy that did everything, yes.

So, when did the first private cars come to the valley?

Mr Kenway got the T-Model Ford, and I think that was the first car. And then Mr Allen got a Chev, and it had two seats in the front and two in the back, whereas Mr Kenway's just had the two in the front, and then like a small buggy, seats on either side on the tray at the back.

Bus terminus, Highs Road near what is now Alana Drive 1986

And when did the buses start running in the valley?


It was a long while before the buses. They used to go half way down - about a mile from where we lived. I had well and truly married and I think my father - they weren't ever used by our family. They came later.

Now give me a picture, if you can, of the West Pennant Hills valley as it was in your first ten years of life. Describe what it looked like, and what the nature was, and so on.

Did I read to you that description in the book I wrote?

Yes, on the last time you did, yes. But just tell me about it now.

Well, in the Spring it was very, very pretty with the blossoms all out and the perfume from some of the blossoms and the houses were on 20 acres, 15 acres, and the roads were not sealed. And if we had heavy rain the wheels would go down to their axles and the tracks were all over the road where people were picking another, drier track. And there were some big hills, and if you were riding your horse, you'd love to trot down the hill and canter up the hills. That's where we'd egg the horse on to go faster. And, as I say, in Taylor St alone there would only be about 5 or 6 houses, along the length of Taylor Street. So where we used to go to get water, down Aiken's Road, that first developed into 5-acre blocks and we all eventually... it got too expensive, farming, down there because of the rates, they were putting the rates up. And so the farmers - my brothers - went up to the country. And it developed more, the developers took over and so it altered.

I bet there are more than 5 or 6 houses in Taylor St now!

Yes, I just don't like going down it and I don't bother very much to go down it, because it's suburbia now.

Do you remember the names of the neighbours who were around you in Taylor Street? The people, the families?

Right next door to us there was an Evans who had married an Aikens and that's where Aikens name had got it from. Not a very desirable type at all - The Aikens were alright, they were honest people, but the Evans were a pretty bad lot. He used to steal our apples, and drag them into his place and market them, or whatever he did with them. Then down below from us was... Harpham owned it, and he used to put men on to run it. He was a German, Harpham, but he was alright, and the people that used to run the farm for him. Mainly poultry, he had, whereas we had orchard. The people opposite the Browns were extremely good neighbours. They were quite good church-going people too, and she ran the Sunday School for us - there were only about 6 or 7 of us, her children and us. They lived in a weatherboard place. That's all disposed of. Then roads have been developed since, and it gradually...

That's interesting. Good picture, that. Now, let's talk a little bit about your school years. Which school did you go to?

I went to West Pennant Hills Primary. I only did 5 years. It's usually 6 years, but they put 3rd and 4th Class together and if you were good enough you only did that one year and you went to 5th Class, otherwise you stayed there for your two years. Well I went up into 5th Class and so I only did 5 years Primary, there was no Kindergarten then. Then they made an error of sitting me for the Qualifying Certificate - QC, it was called - and that passed me to go to Carlingford School. It was an Agricultural School and when I finished the three years there I passed high enough then to go on to Hornsby High. Now if I had done my High School Certificate instead of Qualifying I could have done the whole 5 years at Hornsby High which was an extremely high grade school - Hornsby Girls High, of which I've always been very proud, finishing my education there.

And how far did you go with your education? Did you get the Leaving Certificate?

I got my Leaving Certificate, I passed reasonably well, but I foresaw then that I was going to go to Teacher's College, I had got a half scholarship there. But, being fair to my father, I foresaw that... well, you had to guarantee that you were going to teach for three years, and I foresaw through my life in the Fellowship, that I'd seen someone and I knew that I would not do that and so I left school and went , what they called "subsidised teaching". I went up to Rylestone for a while, and Claremont College at Randwick, and then I was married.

Right, we'll come to that a bit later...

Go To Part 2