Barry Gilbert - Part 2


Interviewee: Barry Gilbert, born 1931

Interviewer: Kevin Murray, for The Hills Shire Council

Date of Interview: 12 Sept, 2010

Transcription: Glenys Murray, Sept 2010

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

You mentioned earlier that an orchardist’s life is one of ups and downs; do you recall a time that was up and a time that was down?

I remember one thing that was very important. There used to be a market for selling citrus to New Zealand. There were various trading restrictions, I don’t remember the details but they stopped us sending mandarins to New Zealand. There were thousands of mandarin trees dug out in the Castle Hill district when that happened.

The other thing was if you could keep the fruit on your trees till January, February you could be sure of a good price. That was the late Valencias. When the Second World War finished and we copied the Americans in using bulldozers to clear scrub the irrigation areas were opened up. As soon as they opened up we could not compete with the late marketing. They were later than us naturally being further from the sea. They just had very clean skin, low humidity. That’s an interesting point when you grow stuff near the coast you get skin blemish because of the fogs and the extra rainfall. Whereas in the irrigation areas they get a very low humidity, less fogs and their irrigation is through channels not overhead. So they can keep their fruit very, very clean.

So you found it difficult to compete with them?

It went out. You could stand on Kurrajong Heights and look down and you could see thousands of citrus trees when I was ten or twelve. Kurrajong Heights looking back down into the lowland and now you can’t see any, just gone. There was wall to wall citrus there then. There’s an area behind the aerodrome (Richmond Air Force Base) called Cornwallis and it goes down behind the Anglican Church into flat country the river flats. That was just full of citrus all the time down in there and now there’s nothing there. It’s turned over to turf farms.

You said you were lonely as a child did you socialise much as a teenager?

Not till I got to about fifteen, sixteen. When I got a bit more self motivating I had my friends we used to go out with. We’d visit various places and then I was probably seventeen or so I started going to the various dances around the Hills district. I started to socialise more then.

ANZAC Memorial Hall in southern end of Castle Hill Park c1960

Were dances a big deal?

Well my father used to play violin in the various orchestras around the place for dances. I used to get a ride to them you see. That’s how that happened.

Did you inherit the musical gene?

Not in any skilled way. I used to have an orchestra and play for dances. Glenorie, Arcadia, Galston the RSL at Castle Hill (on Old Northern Road, in Castle Hill Park - first known as ANZAC Memorial Hall) and Kellyville.


No piano.

Do you still do that, play I mean?

No I bought an electronic organ about forty years ago and that makes you very lazy with the piano.

Did the method of transporting change over the time? You mentioned that you had a ute that you used?

That was a car. Originally it was bought by my father and my uncle in 1928. They used it as a car until it got a bit tattered and then they chopped it down and made it into a utility. It would carry approximately half a ton of fruit and we used to use that till gradually we stepped up a bit and bought other second hand vehicles at that stage no new ones at all.

So you always transported your own, you didn’t use a transport company?

Except when we wanted to send something to Sydney, when we wanted to send to Sydney we sent it with a carrier. He used to pick it up and take it into the city market. It was a long haul down there with a very slow vehicle.

Harold, Elias and Percy Gilbert

You’ve also written an account describing the hunting in the Castle Hill district. Can you tell us something of your recollections of that?

Well hunting’s fallen out of favour a bit in recent years. Originally with people trying to establish their orchards and gardens with wallabies particularly and later rabbits. They had to do something or else they couldn’t conduct their business. They were stumped. So they used to get people who had ferrets and beagle hounds to chase the things away and try to shoot some of them. It became quite an interest for us. We used to breed our own pups and fox terriers and hounds. It was a great interest.

So this was when you were a child or later?

Well my father and uncle had hounds from when I was only five or six years old. I can remember those. So when I got older I went in that direction as well.

Was that for your own use or did you lend them out to neighbours?

No we didn’t lend them out. Ferrets were very easily lost in burrows. So we used to go to people’s places if they asked us to. Sometimes people would have a shed with a timber floor and the rabbits would be all underneath it. They’d be causing a terrible trouble. We used to chase them out with the ferrets and shoot them or catch them in nets. They were very much troublesome vermin that was the crux of it.

Did you sell the rabbits?

Oh yes during the war. We used to say rabbit skins were worth a pound a pound. They were quite good pocket money for youngsters. We’d get an order some people would want a nice young rabbit and we’d skin a rabbit and take it to somebody and sell it to them for one and threepence or one and sixpence.

That was your income was it?

That used to pay for a few cartridges.

Gilbert family headstones at Castle Hill Cemetery

Your family has some association with Castle Hill Cemetery I understand? What’s that association?

I was a Trustee for the Castle Hill Cemetery. I can’t tell you the exact years up until it was taken over by shire councils. I think there was legislation in State Parliament that the shire councils became responsible. Up to that time I’d been trustee for a long time. It didn’t involve a lot we made some decisions about putting concrete strips down and paying someone to clear it and planting a few trees.

How did you come to be a trustee?

Well because I was on the Parish Council at Castle Hill and a Church Warden. The church had a responsibility to see that their own particular denominational section of the cemetery didn’t fall into some state of disrepair. So there were representatives from various denominations formed a group of trustees who kept an eye on what was going on with the grounds.

My friend Elbert Kentwell who I worked with for a long time told me there was a need to have two graves up at Castle Hill on Gilbert Road in the new cemetery. One of them was a Mr. Joe Fuller’s daughter and another one whose name I don’t know. He dug the two graves on the one day for five shillings each. When he saw Mrs Fuller she said “I’m sorry Elb I haven’t got the five shilling but I’ll give you Joe’s walking stick”

Who was it you said had purchased the graves in the cemetery in advance?

Oh the old cemetery?


My auntie or great aunt Grace Gilbert had a plot of ground bought and she was buried we’ll say about 1941 or 1942 (actually 1942). She was buried in that cemetery. (As were Ether and Richard Baker Gilbert, their son Sid and grandson Geoffrey).

In the old (St Paul's) Castle Hill cemetery?

Burials after that time were down in the new area. The cemetery property begins at the top of the hill in Gilbert Road. There was a slight confusion. There was a need to bury a few people urgently so they started digging graves in the corner of the cemetery. Then after they looked up the instructions for the development of the cemetery land. They found out that there was a common road lower down with an entrance that had to be developed first. Then the grave digging had to proceed either side of the common road. They buried these other few people up on the graves on the top of the hill because they weren’t well informed in those days. Fitzroy’s for instance. Frank Fitzroy used to come out there and tend that grave. I remember having words with Frank because he felled an enormous ironbark tree there without any permission. He should not have done it. He cut this big ironbark tree, he grubbed it out roots and all. It was an enormous tree. It was only a minor skirmish the words.

Roadside graves, Castle Hill Cemetery

He felled it for the timber?

No it was staining the headstone.

Oh just to get rid of it?

The leaves were annoying him when they fell on the grave. Those Fitzroys by the way they used to have a saw mill between Francis Street and Church Street. Down behind the Anglican Church. They were related to the NSW Governor Fitzroy.

One of the other people that we’ve interviewed for Hills Voices Online is Heather Watson. What was the relationship that your family had with her family?

Her father Elbert Claude, he was my grandmother’s first cousin so that Heather and my father were second cousins. We had a close association because Heather’s father worked for Syd Gilbert for quite some years. My recollection of the information is that he worked for them for eleven years for five shillings a day and his dinner three days a week. He was given his dinner because he was a so much better worked than the others. None of the others got their dinner. He also boarded with my grandparents Elias and Amanda for some years. He didn’t marry until he was quite elderly. Well elderly forty or forty two or something like that. He boarded with them, got on well with them and spent a lot of time in our family's company and that’s that association.

You're married to Gwen - also Gwen, the same name as your mother? Does she come from the Castle Hill area as well?

I met Gwen at a dance at Kellyville in 1952 and we got married in 1955.

Gwen and Barry Gilbert's wedding, 1955

Did you have children?

Yes two sons one born in 1958 and one born in 1961. The younger one was killed 13 years ago when we moved here.

Is there anything that you’d like to add that perhaps I haven’t asked that you’d like to tell us about?

I can tell you about one amusing item from the Castle Hill Show. They used to have all kinds of novelty races. Schemes that they thought up that would attract interest. One of them was called the donkey race. The prize was for the horse that came last. No one was allowed to ride his own horse. So everyone went like blazes to try and come first so that their own horse would come last and win the race. That was a quaint little introduction…took a bit of thinking out I thought.

Did you ever enter into that?

No I didn’t no we didn’t have enough money for me to ever have a pony.

But you had a horse on the property?

We had a farm horse but it was always such a trial to find the feed for them. It was always a rocky, scrubby sort of area we had that wasn’t orchard. My father thought that we never could afford to have a pony and feed it for nothing when it wasn’t earning any money. That’s the way things went.

When was the last time you were in the Castle Hill district?

About five years, I went down for a friend’s funeral.

What did you think of the changes that you can see now?

Well in most cases overall the quality of the development is good. Good quality but it’s not the same place.

Do you feel sad about that? Do you feel that it’s a life that’s lost that’s past?

Yes I do feel sad about it because it’s a different world. I think that just about sums it up.

Do you look back with fondness on that way of life?

Yes times were harder but it was the only lifestyle we knew so therefore we didn’t miss the improvements. I think memories are rich to do with that era. I can think of the story of my grandmother’s Auntie Mary Crane. She said that her auntie had a little brush and she brushed the crumbs off the table after every meal. She saved them in a jar till she got enough to put in a pudding.

I can remember as a child lots of homes in the area which were slab homes with dirt floors and calico ceilings. Once you demolish all those places you… to go back and link it with anything that you know of the past.

Elbert Kentwell and his horse 'Jimmy'

It’s always sad when the past disappears like that but it seems to have disappeared quite quickly in that area?

Heather’s father told me quite a lot of stories of things he used to do. One of them was he used to muster stock for Matthew Pearce (actually Matthew Squire Pearce of Stanhope Gardens) out where Norbrik was. I think that’s developed now isn’t it?


Bella Vista was the old homestead there. He used to muster these cattle for Matthew (Squire) Pearce and they use to go down towards Parramatta. At North Parramatta they used to cut in down the Victoria Road and come out at an angle down near Flemington on Parramatta Road. Go down to Sydney they would camp probably near Flemington in the paddocks there at night. Then take the stock down to put on the boat at Circular Quay. Sometimes there were pigs as well. He used to say it was a wonderful bit of fun. Women and girls would be out the front sweeping the paths and opening these little shops up that opened right onto the street. He said a couple of pigs had run in the door and run behind the counter. He said you never saw anyone get up on the counter as fast as they did. Then they’d go out the second entrance and straight down George Street.

When was that? What era was that?

I can’t say to you that he wouldn’t be doing it before he was twenty and he was born in 1881. So it would be the turn of the century.

I have here a Kellyville Public School Centenary 1873 to 1973. In it there’s signatures from a committee who made application to the NSW Government for establishing a primary school at Kellyville. I notice the name Richard Gilbert is in it. I can’t just turn up the correct page but it’s there. They were living in Kellyville at that time and although they bought the land in Castle Hill in 1867 there was a transition period. They had to come over and build a temporary accommodation for a few of them and they had to clear some land to protect them from bushfires. Then they had to dispose of their Kellyville property and move. It was 1875 before they had actually planted fruit trees in the area.

There’s one thing I could tell you a story. They used to cross the creek at what they called the Long Hill Crossing. Long Hill is the low range that runs from Wrights Road to Showground Road. It was rather an unbroken hill there, hence the name. Down from that there’s a crossing which I know quite well, Flat Rocks and the water was very shallow there. That was the place that they used to cross with their drays and their horses to get over onto the Castle Hill Cemetery side.

My grandfather used to work for a fellow called Ted Black or Edward Black up near where the Mowll Memorial Village is. He used to be very good at mowing with a scythe. His starting time was at sunrise and he worked till sunset. He (my grandfather) walked from Kellyville to there. At the end of the week at so much per acre Black refused to pay because he said he couldn’t possibly have done that area in a week. He got a surveyor from Parramatta to come out and survey it before he’d pay.

Fred Caterson Reserve, Castle Hill

The surveyor came out?

It was correct. There was a well known surveyor in that area called Busby and he was the man that they all used to get to check things. My grandfather said they used to have their horses running in the area that was called Government Grounds. The Castle Hill cemetery area. They had bells on them; there were no fences at all then. He left school when he was twelve. He used to have to go and get the horses and harness them and load wood which they carted to the Sydney Woollen Mills at Darling Mills Creek. The Tuckwell Road Hill which was known for a long time as Prettyman’s Hill. There was a man that lived there by that name. It was very clayey and they couldn’t pull a full load of wood up there. So they used to take half a load up and drop it on the footpath outside Bill Tuckwell’s home. Then they’d go back and get the other half of the load. My grandfather said old Bill Tuckwell used to help him load up the second half load and he took it down to the Woollen Mills. They used to fire their boilers with firewood then.

My grandfather told me he used to cut a lot of oak for different bakeries too. All round the cemetery there was a lot of oak in that area when he was growing up.

The bakeries preferred the oak?

The she-oak. Oh yes oak was the thing to burn it was very good holding the heat and it didn’t leave a lot of ash.

Thank you very much for that. I’m amazed you know so much about your ancestors. Did you do some research on that?

No you grow up with that.

So your parents told you stories of their parents and the life?

Pretty accurate, my father was the sort of person who would never say anything positively unless he was positive. If there was any doubt he’d say that’s what I think.

You knew your grandparents?

Yes I was thirteen when my grandfather died and I spent a lot of time in his company. Grandmother died four years later still living in that home. They didn’t have any electricity in that home ever. They didn’t have an ice chest, nothing.

No water of course?

When they went apart from the bed and a couple of cupboards you could have put everything in the back of a utility truck. All the clothes she had you could put under her arm, your arm and walk out with.

It’s a different world isn’t it?

My father was the first one that broke out of that a bit. They all had pretty meager homes. He built a thirteen square double brick home on Showground Road. It’s still there. You’ll probably notice it’s the one that’s closest to the road rather than any of the others that have been built since. When you come to the lights at Gilbert Road coming from the Kellyville end. You go through those lights and it’s the first brick home on the left that is close to the road.

Harold Gilbert's home, Showground Road

When was that built?

1928 and he was married in 1929. The contract price was a thousand pound. I’ll go back the contract price was 905 pounds and he put a bay window in one area or a seat in the window. He did a septic tank which the rest of the family were horrified with and it went up to a thousand (pounds).

Why were they horrified?

You couldn’t have a toilet in the home, inside the house.

It had to be outside? The house you grew up in, it had electricity. Did it have town water?

1941 I was ten when the electricity was put on (it was first available in Castle Hill from 1926). That was the first thing. Then we got a radio which was five pounds that somebody had up the street.

Do you remember the electricity being put on?

Oh yes I was ten.

So was it a big deal?

Oh yes my mother was always after those sorts of things but my father was never interested to spend the money. He couldn’t hold out any longer he was fighting a losing battle.

Did you have town water?

Yes he paid to get that put on right at the start. It seemed quite an advance for those times. It came down the road about 600 feet just inside the fence from the footpath. He put his own line on (it was first available in Castle Hill in 1913).

So your orchards, they were irrigated?

Only small areas. Towards the finish I did put the city water on from down Tuckwell Road up onto my area. I used it but I only just really got started when the land was sold. So I didn’t really get a lot of benefit from that.

Thinning peaches for a better crop

It probably cost a lot too, did it?

Yeah but the blocks of citrus that had been irrigated the small areas paid quite well.

More productive?


During your life did you always see your life as working in the orchard or did you have ambitions other than working there?

Primarily it was orcharding that I was interested in. I was very interested in propagation of fruit trees. I was always interested in field days. I used to do a lot of stone fruit pruning because our citrus business used to cut out in the autumn. Then I’d often prune for three months for various orchardists round the district on their stone fruit during the winter time.

I was also interested in building and when we sold our land at Castle Hill I did a test and got a carpenter and joiners licence. Although I didn’t do a trade course at the tech I did an informal examination and got that. Then I built various things. Built various homes for the family and other people. I was quite interested in that. I was associated with Heather Kentwell’s father in a lot of that building originally. I spent a lot of time in my teenage years splitting timber so that was half my work. Posts and rails and slabs. Adding various timbers for the roofs, plates, bearers, beams.

Did you learn that formally or just on the job?

Only from my grandfather and people I picked it up from. Also morticing posts with a morticing axe and that kind of thing.

Did you build your own home?

At Castle Hill I had help from Heather (Watson nee) Kentwell’s father (Elbert Kentwell).