West Pennant Hills - Gwen Millhouse - Part 2


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

Right, now Gwen you’ve described the valley very nicely for us as it looked physically in the time that you were growing up there. Tell me a little bit about the communal spirit among the people living in the valley, what was it like, did they help each other a lot.

Yes as I said they helped my father, everyone was ready to help everybody else. If there was a bushfire well you would help those neighbours until it swung and then they would come and help you. It was an understanding, unspoken understanding that’s what would be done. If anybody was sick the farmers would then help with their crops or what season it was it was a community feeling.

Were they all Australians or were there immigrant people coming in at all?

Before the war we had Jews move in, they built a cottage and our doctor from Pennant Hills was a Jew. I once asked how it was that they’d escaped and yet they had this money and apparently they’d sent it out to Jews who were already here and they had this money when they came to Australia which was interesting.

What about Greeks, Italians, Chinese did they come?

There were no Chinese and yet when I was born there were Chinese gardeners down at Willoughby, there were none in the West Pennant Hills valley. Italians did come into the valley it was the Zilianis were one family. There really were not many who came in they used to cart timber but then they went in and they had a sawmill and they used to sell floorboards and ready cut timber.

What about shops in the area, were there any shops?

Not for a long while there was this store, it was our Post Office, our food, our meeting life and there was another shop a little bit further along but it was more a restaurant and it didn’t sell food so there was really only the one. The grocer used to come out from Pennant Hills around the valley and he used to come twice a week my mother mainly gave him orders on the Tuesday and then he came back on the Thursday with your order and we always liked him because he always had jelly beans for us. He was very good, how he coped in the rain I’m not sure. There’s a Roy Shepherd who was a POW and he’s in a nursing home quite close to me but he has lost his memory and I don’t go to see him now but he used to be the delicatessen and we used to support him, he’d have cold meats, butter and things like that and we would support him too.

Now the store you are talking about is that Thompson’s Store?

Yes Thompson’s were a large family there were thirteen the minister used to say there were thirteen horses and thirteen carts and they used to go all over the area.

Now you mentioned also that there was a grocer that used to deliver your groceries?

That’s Mr Bramley yes

What about some other hawkers any other people came round?

Well as I said Roy Shepherd then the iceman would come around twice a week in the summer you were well and truly waiting for him and then we got the refrigerator, the Hallstrom’s kerosene refrigerator, who had the first refrigerators on the market so that was welcomed with open arms.

Millhouse home, 25 Castle Hill Rd West Pennant Hills 1939

In which church were you married?

I was married in the Bakehouse, it was a Presbyterian Church then, I was married in the Bakehouse.

Who was the reverend do you remember?

Reverend Hanlon.

Which year was that Gwen?


So just at the beginning of the war?

Yes, yes the war started in September and we’d been married in the February of that year.

How many children do you have from that marriage?


Are they all living in Sydney?

Yes Ken’s not far from me here at Kenthurst and my daughter is at Galston and my other son is at Cattai on the Hawkesbury River.

Do you see them quite often?

No, but regularly in touch they’re very, very busy one son has got a business he and his wife.

Millhouse home, 25 Castle Hill Rd West Pennant Hills 1939

Your husband was trained as a carpenter wasn’t he?

Yes at the Poplars Training School but he never did an apprenticeship or anything but he had a natural skill and his father had been the same. Actually he was trained as a cabinet maker and he’d never been taught how to build houses but he built a house, just a small house who wanted to help him finance this house and he built it. Then he built our own home, it was a brick veneer home and the first brick veneer home in the Baulkham Hills Shire. A friend had come from South Australia where they had built the brick veneer and we were going to build fibro and he came back and he said “no” and fortunately we didn’t build fibro and we built the brick veneer, which was the timber frame and then the brick wall run up next to it and being the first in Baulkham Hills Shire I feel it could have almost been the first in NSW.

That’s interesting, it could be historic your house?

It’s still in Castle Hill Road.

It’s still there?


Your husband had a bad accident can you tell me about that?

Yes he was coming home from work, he was building down at Carlingford about three or four miles from where we lived and he was coming home and a fellow who lived in a shed and had five children and yet bought this brand new high powered motor bike and he was coming around this corner which he couldn’t take and he went straight into my husband’s car which was only a tourer and he died on the way to hospital and he wouldn’t have known a thing.

When did that happen Gwen?


So you were only married for about nine years then?

Yes not quite ten years.

That’s very sad and you had your three children in those ten years?


Millhouse home, 25 Castle Hill Rd West Pennant Hills 1939

What about changes in the environment have you noticed any increase or decrease in wildlife or birdlife in the area?

I have quite a few birds around me because the man behind me feeds them and I have very pretty Rosellas. Used to have white Cockatoos, I don’t know what happened to them, I had an orange tree in my backyard and they used to come and take the oranges and pick into them and I’d shoo them off, but what’s made them go I don’t know. I’ve got magpies and doves there always round on the lawn looking pretty. Then there’s the bush opposite early morning I hear the birds singing – magpies.

Do you think they’re more trees now than there used to be in your day?

West Pennant Hills Valley, once you could be where the West Pennant Hills School is and there’s a park there and you could look across to the mountains and there was all farms and you could see right across. But now you can’t see anything because of the trees, there was about twenty-five acres which was a private golf course and that was free of trees but of course the golf course has been subdivided and there are trees all through there now.

How do you feel about the incredible increase in population that has come through the shire since you were very young?

Coming back to the trees you have to get permission from the council to cut tree down now too and that would be another reason there are more trees around.

So there are more trees now than when you were young?

You’d have to cut the trees down for your firewood, lot of things you needed to cut trees down for.

Has the valley lost any historic buildings or places of significance at all?

Well I’m always sad for my five sandstone homes that I loved the history of them. There was one down Aikens Road that they had to take it down because of electric high powered wires coming through and some company involved with this offered to shift this house into the forestry as a heritage and it was never moved because they said it would cost too much to remove. Then there is still one but it has been grossly altered on Castle Hill Road where you turn off to go down to IBM and there is one almost behind me that was shifted stone by stone and they were all double stone wall and this one that has been brought up into Old Northern Road it was rebuilt but only into single stone walls so it’s quite a big one there and it sells antiques. It’s almost an antique itself.

 Allen's stone house, 548 Old Northern Rd Dural 2004

What do you think has been the biggest change to the valley since your early days?


I suppose there were three changes from what I was used to. As I said cutting into five acre blocks where they grew flowers, nurseries, there was an Italian there almost where it comes into Pennant Hills Road and they grew mainly Gerberas, and from there into developers buying.

That’s been the big change. Can we talk a bit about your book 'The Settlers of West Pennant Hills Valley 1799 Onwards'. What prompted you to write it?

It was always called Dixie Lane and there was one lady who objected to it being called Dixie Lane she said “it is called Aikens Lane” and I said “well it was good enough for the early settlers it’s good enough for me” and then when this lady asked me about why we had said Dixie Lane I began to realise that there were people who did not know the history of West Pennant Hills Valley, they just didn’t know. I was asked about the first people who came there and it was when Grants were made when the early settlers came out in '79 (actually 1790's - early 1800's), like the Bellamy’s would get one hundred acres or someone else would get sixty acres. The Aiken’s got thirty acres and so they had these Grants made to them and so I did my research I got the names of all the grantees and then I followed each one of those as to what had happened to their grant and so I followed those all through until I came to the developers, how it was broken into twenty acres and into five acres and who lived there. What did they do with this and how did they use their twenty acres or five acres and so I covered every settler.

Anything surprise you in coming across those accounts?

Lots of interesting stories I go down to the Archives and follow through and drive my son mad the next day because I used to go to his office telling him about the things I’d uncovered. My doctor had got the book and he said “you know I knew the patients, I knew they were sick I treated their ailments but I had no idea what those people did with their lives and their problems and their ups and downs”, he said “I had no idea”. That’s how it answered the question.

You give some very interesting accounts in your book of the coming of the water supply and the postal deliveries to the valley. Can you tell us about that a bit?

The water supply, we had to have tanks and then we got water, the city water and then the farmers paid a guarantee that they would use so much water a year if it was put into the valley. The water was laid and we had to pay this guarantee that we would use so much water whish was not difficult particularly in the drought years. But the farcical part about that is now you’re not allowed to use the water to any great extent it’s restricted to what you can use.

Things have changed a bit. What about the post coming out here?

The post, my father used to get settings of his stud poultry and he’d get money orders so we would have to take them up and get them cashed, but that’s where we rode the horse two miles. These people who had the post office delivered the mail, there must have been a fee for that but I’m not sure. I used to collect the mail myself for a lot of the people down the road just as a courtesy, then they got this car and took on delivery and started to also deliver groceries and orders in competition to this man from Pennant Hills who with age he had to retire in any case so Thorby’s gradually took over the delivery.

So what do you think were your main findings in writing this book, what sort of conclusions did you come to?

It was a place where I’d been very, very happy. I just feel that nobody’s teenage life could have been happier. Everyone strove together.

 Oratava Avenue and the Valley from Pennant Hills Road 1962

Is there anything you regret that’s happened in the valley that you’re sorry about?


Can’t remember.

So you’re happy with the development that’s come and how it’s changed?

Oh it’s sad but that’s progress.

Sad that it isn’t like twenty acre lots?

Well I’m sad that these huge homes have all been built there but they tell me that’s progress.

They tell you, well people have to live somewhere I guess. What do you see the future of the valley, as how do you see the future of West Pennant Hills Valley?

I’m not particularly interested I think they’ve wrecked where I lived and I’m happy where I am.

Why do you say they’ve wrecked where you lived?

I think it should have been left into one acre, half acre, two acre blocks and I’m led to believe that that was really the aim of the council but these developers and it wasn’t as we had wanted.

Do you think it’s because of the price of land being so expensive they couldn’t leave it that big?

Well I suppose so, this is the greed of money isn’t it where money just outstrips everything.

You’ve had a very happy and long life in West Pennant Hills Valley until you came here to Dural. How do you look back at them now?

Well as I say in my book I trust you will share with the settlers of one hundred and fifty years and be able to appreciate their lifestyle and the beauty of the valley which all who lived there say “that was my valley”

How green is my valley. There’s a big forest there isn’t there, Cumberland State Forest which you wrote about in your book.

Yes, yes Mr Swain was appointed Commissioner for Forestry’s in 1937 and he was not happy that the people of Sydney did not have an access to a state forest so he wanted to find a forest so that they would not be deprived of the beauties and amenities of the forest. So they set out to find somewhere where they could have this area. There was what they called Shepherd’s Bush so they selected that. It had beautiful trees Blue Gums, Blackbutts a few Ironbark, Smooth Bark Red Apple Trees and Red Mahogany. So they decided to earmark this, I think it was about thirty five acres, into a state forest.

The people of Pennant Hills are lucky to have that?

They are yes, yes.

When did you write the book, which year did you start that?

The book developed out of me being asked Aiken’s Road and Dixie Lane and I had to go to the State Library to do a lot of research and then a friend of mine said to me “you know you should write a book out of this” so lots of people thought that I writing the book to personally sell which I did not. I had got all the knowledge from everybody and the Historical Society paid for producing the book (in 1987) and it was sold with a small profit. (It was so successful that it had to be reprinted soon after).