Rob Williams - Roughley House


Interviewee: Rob Williams, born 1936

Interviewer: Frank Heimans,
            for Baulkham Hills Shire Council

Date of Interview: 21 May 2002

Place of Interview: Roughley House

Transcription: Catherine Sapir, June, 2006

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

I am with Rob Williams. Rob, can you tell me where and when you were born?

I was born in Hornsby because my parents had lost a daughter when she was very small so to make sure, mum came down to Hornsby. Then we moved back to Ballina on the North Coast. Ballina and (?) is where I grew up. My mother is Clive Roughley’s sister, one of four that I remembered and this was our family home. This is often where we would come down for Christmas when I was very small.

Can you tell me your mother’s name?

She was Jessie. There was one who died very early in childbirth but the four that I remembered was Ernie and Mick who I think is Archie, but everyone called him Mick. My mother was the second youngest, Clive was the youngest of the four.

When was your mother born, do you know?

No, in the early part of the 1900’s, I can’t remember the exact date but when I was coming down here, I suppose it was from the end of the 1930’s. I remember my grandmother very well but I never knew my grandfather, he died about 10-13 years before I was born. It was always my grandmother and Clive who were there.

Can you tell me a little bit about you earliest memories of this place when you first came here?

Well starting with outside. The way to get in here was always down the left side near the fig tree where the driveway is now. That was the way everyone came in here. They drove down there, parked at the back, I can’t ever remember anybody using the front door but I seem to remember, here again when you are very small you sometimes get misled by memories, but I seem to remember that there was a double avenue of pines. There were much more pines than there are now. I think some of them have died and some of them have been cut down but there was a path that went all the way down the front. Only a few visitors who didn’t know us very well would come up that path and knock on the front door. It was different because around to the left, if you are standing at the front of the house looking at the road, around to the left my grandmother had a wonderful rock garden. When you are very small it was a great place because there were paths that wandered around in and out of this place and she always had violets and because of that we have got violets planted in Hereford where we live. Hereford England.

So what made you actually decide to move to England?

I think I always wanted to go and 1962 I went across. I think mainly because everyone told me I’d never do it. There hadn’t been many people I actually knew who actually travelled very much because you had to go by boat in those days and I always thought I’d go for 2, maybe 5 years and I have been over there for 40 years now.

How old were you when you first came to this house then?

I must have been around 2 or 3. I mean I have got memories here from when I was very small so I think mum and dad used to come down here for Christmas and a lot of the family used to gather around here and this was always a magic place for me because it was so old and it had so many interesting things. Growing up on the North Coast we didn’t have anything like that so I kept finding treasures all around this place. As we go through the house I can tell you about some things which aren’t here now, which made it really interesting for me as a child.



Parlour with elephants on mantle piece

Well let's do that then, let's go for a walk.

This parlour, hardly ever used as far as I can recall. It’s like one of those houses where they keep a room for special guests and they never sort of come in very much. Looking at the mantle piece there are some black elephants with the removable tusks and we had a set of these and I can remember they had two rows and they went down in descending order. Now they came from my Uncle Ern who was the eldest of the family, and he had been a sailor and he kept going off to places like Sri Lanka which in those days was terribly exotic and he bought us back a set of these so I am pretty sure these are actually from Ernie who I remember very, very well especially from Christmas time.

Can you describe him to me, what he was like?

Receding hair line, very quiet, very droll sense of humour. When we get into the dining room I’ll tell you about him and Christmas, but he died when I still quite, quite small so I have only just got memories of him from when I was really very young. I knew Mick quite well, and he’s got two daughters who I am in touch with. They are my only two cousins from the immediate family, there was only the three of us.

Now this is my grandmother’s bedroom and I can remember this very very well. We were never allowed to come in here very often I think especially when she was taking an early morning. But I can look around and see the four poster bed and this I can remember very well, Gran sitting in here combing her hair. She was one of those people who as they got older got much much smaller and my mother was exactly the same. She became a tiny little thing. Gran always dressed in this sort of costume like that’s by the door – the black costume - because she had been a widow ever since I knew her and she always used to wander around in a black dress like that and I seem to remember a cameo brooch at the throat and she always bustled, she was always walking quickly through the house doing things, never seemed to be still at all. This was her room and I was very fond of my grandmother. She was a lovely person. Nice sense of humour, always joking and she was the sort of a grandmother that everyone wants to have.

So what other things do you see in the room that remind you of those times?

Well I remember the dressing table here. As I said I can always remember my grandmother combing her hair and that was one of the things. But she was very private in this room, she liked to get away from things. Probably didn’t like little boys coming in and disturbing her too much. I can remember that she used to sit here, I’m not sure but I seem to remember she actually died here. I can’t remember. I know my father was with her when she died – both mum and dad I think came down and she was really quite ill by that time and she said to my father I’m ready to go which I thought was a nice way for her to behave but she was that sort of person. Never ever heard her complain about anything at all.

How old do you think she was when she died?

She must have been in late 80’s I think.

How many years do you think she spent in this particular house?

All here life pretty well. Well ever since she was married and I think she was married quite young. I should think 50 – 60 years possibly something like that but as far as I’m concerned she was always here, like the house, she seemed to come with the house and had been here as long as the house had been, which isn’t true but I just couldn’t imagine one without the other.

It must be very strange for you to be standing here in this room without her.

Yes absolutely, and Clive. Well all the family really because we did come down here quite regularly. All the time I was growing up and then when I was teaching in Sydney mum and dad used to come out here every weekend and they would do a bit of cleaning and cooking for Clive and when I was down from the North Coast or from England we always used to come out here.

So this was like you second home was it?

Very much my second home, yes, this is the place that we used to call the family home because it was so old I suppose.

Front bedroom with doll on four poster bed

So is this bedroom actually her bedroom then?

This was her bedroom, that’s her doll I believe. Now my mother has a doll which she left to us and we weren’t too sure what to do with it but it’s one that mum had from this house when she was very young and it’s still in pretty good condition. It’s got a green dress that my mother knitted for it and when we get back to England we are going to send it out to The Pines so it will be here. So it can keep company with the one on the bed.

You told me that she had long hair. What colour was her hair?

Always grey. She always seemed to be an old lady, even when I was very very tiny. I suppose it’s partly the way she dressed. You know, she dressed in very old fashioned clothes and she never changed so she always seemed to me to be very very old but then when you’re four everybody seems old.

Did you actually play with toys here in this house?

Yes my oath, especially upstairs, there’s a special place.

Now this is the dining room and this is where your memory starts to play you tricks because this is where we had Christmas dinner and there was a lot of the family here and looking at the size of this room I can’t work out how on earth we got everybody in. I have an idea that the sideboard may have been in a different part of the room so they could actually put extra tables across. There was my parents, there was Clive and gran, Uncle Ern came and I think other people like Mick and Nance sometimes came with their two girls Heather and Nancy and I always seem to have the impression that this table was absolutely full and a lot longer and the room was bigger but you know and you look at it and you think well maybe I’m wrong, maybe there’s no difference.

Those doors over on the side that was when we went out. Nearly everyone went in and out by the two back doors but occasionally if the weather was hot we would open that and we would sit out on the verandah. Never around the front that I can remember, it was always there and from there when you open it up you can see the well. Now that well wasn’t like that when I was small. It was a big pit and it was longer and it was covered with planks and they had one of those pumps that you used to pump backwards and forwards to get the water. It was great on a hot day because that water would come out freezing cold, icy cold but my parents, Clive and Gran were always worried that I’d climb on the planks, they’d give way and I’d go down so they told me it was full of alligators and for years I believed them. I kept going out there and sneaking a look under the timbers to see if I could see them but never spotted a single alligator all my life.

One memory here from Christmas, I don’t know if anyone remembers, but in the old days they used to put silver sixpenny pieces in the Christmas pudding and you would get these charms, bells and wedding horseshoes, things like that and if you found one of those you could sell it back to mum and gran and get the money for it. But Uncle Ernie would sit there in that chair in front of the fireplace and he would be eating this pudding and every mouthful he would have silver coins coming out and there would be this pile of silver coins growing on his plate and my eyes would bulge out and I would demand another helping of Christmas pudding until I just couldn’t eat any more. I’d have about one or two sixpences and I just couldn’t work it out until one year it dawned on me that there was no Christmas pudding stuck to his coins but it took me a while to work out what was going on. I remember a lot of the stuff that’s on the sideboard here, this is the way it used to be, I’m not saying that it’s the same things but Gran’s favourite pieces were always there.

Can you describe what sort of food Christmas dinner was? Was it the traditional fare of turkey and ham?

It was always the hot English style dinner. Always so. Roast vegetables, even though no matter how swelteringly hot it was, that was Christmas. I know one time I think Australians tried to bring in salad lunches for Christmas but everyone said it doesn’t seem to be like Christmas somehow, but I always seem to remember that gran was always roasting, with mum’s help, and we would have everything here, the roast chicken whatever it was, and all the roast vegetables and the Christmas pudding. That was what I looked forward to, the Christmas pudding.

Roughley family photo hanging in the Dining Room

So how many people would actually sit around the table, do you think and who were they?

Well I’m trying to work out just how many. I know that when we came down there were my parents, that was Dick Williams and Jessie, there was Clive and Gran and there was me, so that’s five. Then I clearly remember Erne and his wife Eth being here so that’s seven. I seem to have memories of Uncle Mick and Aunt Nance and possibly the girls being here from time to time. I’ve got no idea just how many people actually sat here, it’s just one of those memories that you’ve got but I just have the impression this room was absolutely crammed full and just looking at the room, it’s not a big room, but it just seemed to me to be that way. This was one of the things I liked coming down for. This is where we often came for Christmas.

What sort of discussion would there be over that Christmas dinner. What would they talk about?

I don’t know. I think, there was only Nance here who was about my age, so I imagine I was mainly talking to her if she was here but the others were quite a bit older than I was so Heather was about 10 years older and there were no other cousins around so I should imagine a lot was grown up talk which just went right over my head but I think about the family and Clive used to have a lot of chickens, I mean a lot of chickens, hundreds and hundreds and they were where the garden centre is now, they used to stretch all the way down there. Mum used to tell me that when she was a girl the family actually owned the land beyond that and it was orchards, so gradually like a lot of things, land is sold and subdivided but when I was coming here this was a very rural area. There were very few houses around here, very remote.

So what years are you talking about when you first came?

’39, ’38 somewhere around there. I’ve got a very clear memory of going up to visit some people up towards Glenorie and down a little country road and I was on a three- wheeled scooter and I can remember it got away from me and went flying down the hill and came a cropper at the bottom of it and dad tells me I must have been about two or three at the time so my earliest memories must be from about the age of two or three I should think. Certainly pre war. My first memories are here.

Alright. Take me around a little bit more then.

The kitchen... this is where my grandmother was always to be found, she virtually lived in this room. She was always working. She was one of those people who just couldn’t bear to sit still and she would bustle backwards and forwards from here. Now I may be wrong but I have an impression that there used to be like a stone sink here where the table is by the back door and washing up and things like that and I can’t see anything like that here so I am pretty sure that I’m right that there used to be a sink where the table is now. Gran used to do all the cooking on this cast iron stove and sort of charge backwards and forwards. That used to be full of things for cooking, I believe, and plates from here and I used to like to sit here and watch and mum would come out and help when she was here and they would make cakes and I was allowed to clean out the bowl – that was a special treat.

This is interesting down here at the bottom because this is one of my clear memories. Those stone jars which used to hold ginger beer, that was the sort of thing. It was so remote that there used to be a chap that would come in a horse and cart, like the one that’s down the back there with the iron hoop wheels and they used to deliver the soft drinks. I suppose about once a month, something like that, but I used to like it when he arrived because there would be some of this ginger beer. They used to have lemonade in the bottles with the marble in the neck and they had a big pile of those.

Kitchen with fuel stove

I discovered out by the barn, by the fig tree, I found a huge mountain of these things so I took a hammer to them one year and smashed them because I wanted the marbles and now we go into the Rocks to the Museums and you find these things as museum exhibits. There was a whole shed full of stuff like this that they threw out which they had just outside the back door and I think the shed’s gone now but a lot of these things you go into places and find them in a museum but of course to one generation they’re junk. A lot of stuff was thrown away I think.

So this is the room adjoining the kitchen. What would you call this kind of room?

This was the kitchen. Now I have an idea that there was a pantry or something, or maybe I’m thinking of shelves but it was all here, the food was here and the kitchen was here and this is where they cooked everything and they used to take it into there to eat. This is the door that we used more than any other, is this one here, by the back door.

That’s a very ancient looking stove there. It’s called a Beacon Light. Do you remember this one being used?

Well if it wasn’t this one, I’m pretty sure it was this one, certainly it was one something like this. Mind you I’m talking about 50 or 60 years and I think it’s quite possible there was a stove there when I was very small which has worn out and has been replaced but certainly that’s the sort of stove that my grandmother cooked on all the time. She was a good cook, she was always cooking and making things and I cannot ever remember seeing her in this room except she was trotting, quick little steps, because she could barely have been five foot tall when I knew her, she was really quite small.

It’s rather a low ceiling too isn’t it, it sort of slopes down. Also the stove would they have used fuel wood?

Yes wood burning. Make a cup of tea on that. Before they had electricity I imagine that everything you wanted was actually done there. You’d have a kettle sitting there keeping warm and just make it straight from that. We had one of these up north, it was just one of these things before electricity came in because I can remember a lot of things in this house must have been before electricity, I can’t remember when they brought it out but I930 I suppose it was about that time that you were getting electricity into this sort of house. It always seemed to me to be terribly old fashioned so if you told me there wasn’t electricity here until the late 1930’s I wouldn’t be surprised.

Well probably in Dural it would have been so isolated compared to the rest of Sydney.

Well across the road, in front of The Pines, that was just open land and you could take a short cut through there but they used to have all these native plants which I found fascinating because we didn’t have them up on the north coast but really quite different things. Down at the bottom of the hill where the Galston Road branch is there was a horse trough there for years and years and years that I can remember and they used to go down there and sail boats in it. Where the shops are down at that corner, there was one little place where you could actually go and buy ice cream bricks and occasionally I’d walk down there and get something because there was no traffic on the road. You might occasionally see the odd car come along but not many people had cars in those days and you used to see quite a few horse and carts going up.

Did you yourself ride horses?

Never. Well I say never, but Clive had horses out the back here and as a special treat I was allowed to sit on one and have my photograph taken. I think I’ve still got the photograph but I have the impression that they were Shire horses or something like that but when you’re small I suppose the horses look gigantic but no I lived in Bagerville up on the north coast for a while and we had a dairy farm and dad was into pineapples and timber, but I was never too keen on country life. I thought Sydney was a more interesting place to be.

Right, shall we continue?

Clive's bedroom

This was Clive’s room. I really can’t remember too much about it. I think the back part was a parlour that was used more often by the family that when everyone came down we used to sit in there quite often. When Clive was getting older he took these two rooms and kept them and I can’t really remember too much about that but upstairs there is something I can remember very, very well which is unusual.

Now this is where I used to sleep when I was fairly small in one of these rooms, one or the other, and when you come up the stairs and you turn around the corner, you’re looking at the wall in front of you where the windows are set into the recess – now this was something that I really liked because that wall in front of you and in the other room there as well, was wallpapered with cigarette cards. There must have been a few hundred sitting there and somebody had pasted them on as a sort of a decoration, and they had cricketers and dogs and battleships from the Second World War and all sorts of things like this but that whole wall was cigarette cards. Now, you think about what cigarette cards fetch from collectors today and you can just about weep because of course it’s all gone. Somebody at some stage decided we don’t like that and have scraped it off and painted it but it’s a shame that they’re not still there. That’s the thing I remember most about this room. At one stage this became a bit unsafe – the floorboards I think.

There’s one other thing here, I could be wrong, around the side I think, I think this is the room I preferred to sleep in because this was tucked away in the house and they had a little cubby hole there that I could hide things in. Now, I don’t know whether this is mine or not but that hobby horse – I had one just like that, so I wouldn’t be at all surprised if it’s not the one that I used to use. Where Gran had her rock garden, with those little paths, I can remember zooming in and out of those paths on one of those things. So maybe that’s the same one, I don’t really know.

It’s very likely to be it.

Oh yes.

It’s a very basic kind of a toy, isn’t it?

Yes, but where I grew up out at Bagerville, there wasn’t anything there. There was no electricity out in the bush and I was the only child and there was nobody my age, so you made your own games. I used to play over by the fig tree. I used to play with toy lead soldiers in amongst Gran’s rock garden. There was one year, if you look, that tallest tree on the left, the one nearest the house, the very tall one, I think I must have been about five and I suddenly got it into my head and I found a tomahawk and I thought I’d go and chop the tree down. So they said OK, so I went out and I think I spent about twenty minutes. I think I sort of took a little nick out of the bark but the tree is still standing. It’s still there.

This sort of furniture, I can’t remember this. I think a lot of this has sort of all come in since our time. The beds look newer than I can remember. Of course the other thing is everything looks different, it’s been restored and painted. The outside of the house I never remember it as being painted, it was all natural timber. It looks a bit different but the layout of the house and the grounds do seem to be different to me.


Go To Part Two