Dural - Pat Nati (OAM) - Part 2
Interviewee: Pat Nati OAM, born 1950
Interviewer: Frank Heimans,
for Baulkham Hills Shire Council
Date of Interview: 24th July 2006
Transcription: Glenys Murray, Nov 2006
This interview represents the recollections, views and opinions of the interviewee
So when you came to Dural in 1964, was there already a house on the property that your father bought?
Dad had gone around with my Uncle Cosmo looking for properties, nice property that got the winter sun, good soil and catchment for a dam. So he’s looked for all these things and he finally found these fifteen acres here in Dural and it had an old homestead and it was all citrus, apples, oranges, peaches. People used to grow chickens, and they used to have a little stall out the front and they sold chickens, strawberries and all the fruits and veggies and then the five acres next door came up for sale, auction sale and they’d just finished building this magnificent home.
Dad went to the auction and purchased that so that it joined onto the property, so the next minute we had twenty acres and it was magnificent so we didn’t have to do much to it to move in with the whole family.
Nati Farm and house 790 Old Northern Road Dural 1969
So that’s the house you grew up in?
Grew up in yeah.
Is the house still here is it?
Still here yeah.
Mum lives in there on her own now, but she’s got all of us all around, so we’re only minutes away if anything was to happen.
Did you have electricity at the time?
Had electricity, city water and public transport the Glenorie bus used to come by in case anyone did want it. My sisters all went to school at either Loreto or Mount Saint Benedicts. Yeah the schooling and we had a little school across the way Middle Dural Primary that all my three daughters went to and my nephews and nieces all went to this wonderful school across the way and it’s still there.
Roughley House with a well on the right
Can we talk a bit now about the neighbours in the area that you know and what they used to do for a living?
When we first moved up, I told you Dad purchased that first five acres, next to him was the original homestead owned by Mr Roughley. That was a grant, the highest spot because he had two hundred acres here. That was a grant given to him by the first governor to his great grandfather or great great grandfather and inside his house was like a museum, I used to clean the gutters for he used to give me ten shillings or a pound back in 1964 and I’d clean all the gutters and inside was like a museum, he actually had one of the pistols that came out on the First Fleet and he had all these muskets and big guns and all the aboriginal weapons on the walls. Yeah he was a lovely old man and he used to smoke I forget how many ounces of tobacco a week and he had emphysema and he was in his late nineties and he’d take two or three steps and he’d have to stop for a breath and take another two or three and he used to say to me “don’t smoke, whatever you do don’t smoke” you know, which I ignored it completely and I did smoke until I was forty and then I gave up.
What was his first name?
Actually I don’t know, I always called him Mr Roughley I don’t know his first name and his wife died and he died a week later. Loveliest couple yeah he was so distressed after being together for so long.
Was Clive Roughley one of his sons perhaps?
Maybe but the Roughleys was a very common name in the area the Roughleys, the Cranstons, the Bests. You see they were all, generations of them. They were the original settlers into the Hills District.
Half Way House, Old Northern Rd Middle Dural 1960s
So who was on the other side of Roughley, further on?
Well on this side here I forget his name, but he sold the eighteen acres, no he had twenty two acres and he sold it to Catt's Nursery and Catt's Nursery were doing all their growing here and sending all the plants down to Carlingford nursery and then next to that were Frank Ifield’s parents or his cause Frank Ifield was brought up in the area too. I got to be good friends, Frank lives down here in Galston, his mother is still alive, she’s in her late eighties and still drives around and goes to the club. So he was here with his three brothers they lived in the area, across the road was the Halfway House, which then became the Mediterranean Restaurant and now its called Mother India. It used to be called the Halfway House because it was halfway between the GPO in Sydney and Wisemans Ferry. People used to stop especially the skiers on weekends, used to stop and get their afternoon teas and sandwiches and whatever and next door to that where the service station is used to be an old bus and that was the office and there was one bowser of petrol and one of kerosene and it was a dirt driveway and it was all bumpy and hilly and people would pull in and get their petrol and Tony Wildman he was the proprietor and the Bests used to own the Halfway House and all the children played an instrument and they used to have jazz sessions there on a Sunday afternoon. Yeah it brings back lots of memories when you start to talk about it.
Right, were there many Italians in the area?
They were all moving into the area because of North Ryde. There was a lot of Italians, lot of Italians from here to Glenorie into Arcadia into Galston a lot of Italian Farms, like the Italians bought it for farming.
Yeah were they from the same districts that you came from or different parts of Italy?
From all mainly down south - San Giovanni, Martone, Grotteria, Gioiosa (?) - all from that area down south, they had all moved to the Ryde area don’t ask me why, from Ryde they moved to Kellyville, Kenthurst, Dural, Glenorie so there was a lot. But like I said those farmers now they’re all in their late seventies, eighties, they’re all retired and none of the children have followed. In the markets you don’t see any young, so it’s a dying industry because kids don’t want to work seven days a week.
Is it because Dural itself is changing a lot, much of rural Dural is disappearing?
Rural Dural has disappeared just about totally because now you see magnificent homes on five acres, most of the five acres are gardens, you know they’ve got their own gardeners. This is a very elite area this is like The Hamptons out of New York where if you own five acres in Dural now it’s a bit different.
You said when you came to Dural there were citrus trees here. What happened to those did your father take them out?
Took them all out and the soil was so rich, the first few crops, I’ll never forget anything would grow, you didn’t need fertiliser because they were there for fifty, sixty, eighty years, we had to get a bulldozer in to pull some of them out the roots were so deep, but fruit growing was not viable because you got to be on fifty, a hundred acres to grow fruit, you can’t grow fruit on a small property because it just doesn’t pay plus we didn’t know much about fruit growing, but we did about vegetables and flowers, so that’s what we concentrated on.
Were there any other flower growers in the area apart from yourselves?
Yes there was a lot of flower growers in those days. There was Joe Mesterini(?), there was Viney's Lane he was one of the largest carnation growers in the state, the Melito brothers they were in Kenthurst, they were huge in carnations, there was Lynch old Bill Leo Lynch whose son Leo and his grandsons Leo and Peter now own Cloverhill which supplies all the Coles and Woolworths and they’ve got farms in Queensland, farms down here in Quarry Road Dural so they were very big in the flower industry. Mario Vilisano(?) whose two houses up from us, huge in the flower growing industry too, but he’s retired now his sons ones a car dealer and the other ones a real estate agent, so this is what I mean sons of the biggest flower grower no ones followed in his father’s footsteps and the same with Joe Mesterini his son and daughter chose other professions and the Melito boys none of the Melitos are left there’s only Leno Melito but he’s a wholesaler not a grower so this is why they’re going out of the industry and well I mean the industry will continue but unfortunately a lot of imports from overseas.
So tell me about your business what kind of flowers do you grow? How do you nurture them and so on?
Well the company is called Nati Brothers Roses we’d have probably about 300,000 rose bushes we’ve got about seven or eight acres under hothouse conditions like controlled temperature so they’re all heated so we produce 52 weeks of the year from those and then we’d have about twelve acres outside that produce for about eight months, nine months of the year, then we prune them get them ready for the Spring so we supply probably two hundred florist shops around Sydney, Wollongong, Newcastle, Tamworth all country areas.
Nati glasshouses 2006
And initially where were your markets?
The old Haymarket originally when I got my licence in 1967 I used to drive to next to Darling Harbour, the old Haymarket and we had an agency in there through Dad. Dad handed it down to us then the markets moved to Flemington and we’ve got an agency in there. We’ve got a stand we unload all our produce onto trollies, take the truck out of the markets and then all the florists come in at five o’clock in the morning and pick up their orders and away we go.
Now I believe you’ve done quite a bit to expand the business from the time you joined your father. What sort of things did you initiate to make it more viable?
Oh well Dad never grew in hothouses, he just always used to grow out in the open, then if you had a week of rain or you had a hail storm it would put you so far behind because then you had to wait until your next crop came in. Whereas now we’ve got the back five acres covered with hail netting in case of hail storms so we still produce, then you’ve got another seven acres with hot houses where if you’ve got just an ordinary hail stone they’ll just bounce off. Unless you get a really vicious storm like that of 1993 with high velocity winds and jagged hail stones they will do damage, but if its just an ordinary hail storm no. But this is where we differ from Dad because Dad never had that sort of protection.
Right, He believed in growing them the natural way I suppose?
Just the natural way, but Mother Nature can be cruel.
Did you study any rose growing techniques overseas or other parts of Australia?
My brother went to South Africa with our foreman and studied their ways of growing, because the Dutch have all moved to South Africa, because land is such a premium in Holland right now they're not growing much in Holland now because land just too dear. But most of the big growers have moved to South Africa because the land was cheap, labor is cheap and they can grow for fifty two weeks of the year because you haven’t got the cold temperatures in other parts.
Right so did you go overseas yourself?
No my brother did and my foreman, they went together. Actually my foreman is leaving next Friday for Holland because we’ve just purchased all the equipment for this new farm at Peat’s Ridge in Holland cause Holland is one of the main suppliers of machinery. The machine you saw up there for roses that grades all their sizes, bunches them in tens and all that, that came from Holland and all the furnaces that we’re buying and the piping come from Holland, so that’s why they’re off to Holland next week.
Oh right. Tell me a bit about the Baulkham Hills Shire Centennial rose I believe you know a bit about that one?
We came up with that, actually we helped produce it I think it’s ready for the market this year and my brother was the main one that was involved with that, with my foreman Anthony Booth. Those two together came up with this rose, the centenary rose, yeah.
What colour is the rose?
Like a light apricot, like a floribunda, makes clusters of roses and its got a lovely fragrance too, so I think it will be very, very popular.
Was it difficult to grow that particular one?
No, very hardy, very hardy grower similar to the Iceberg, it doesn’t need much spraying and it produces a lot of flowers, a lot of blooms.
You celebrated the council’s hundredth anniversary in March 2006 with that rose. Tell me how was it used the rose?
How was it used? In what way do you mean how was it used?
Baulkham Hills Shire Council Centenary Rose
Did they publicise it and did you have displays of it?
They did and we had so many enquiries about how can they purchase it, but we haven’t made enough plants from it, because you need the cuttings and the eyes and to graft them on so this is why I said this year we’ve done so many of them they’ll be ready for the markets you know to sell but there wasn’t enough at the time although people knew of it and people were ringing up enquiring about it but they weren’t ready for sale, it more just for the council themselves.
Has it been a success for you, that rose?
Oh yeah definitely and I think it will be a very successful rose, a very popular rose, that people will want to plant in their gardens, admire them.
So what sort of association have you had with the council in your working life?
I get on very well with Sonya Phillips, Sonya is the Mayor of Baulkham Hills and I also get on very well with Nick Berman. Nick is part of our family just about, so with both councils the Hornsby Council and the Baulkham Hills we get on very well, very, very well.
Pat you’ve spent more than forty years living in Dural, what would you say are the biggest changes that you’ve seen in those forty years to the suburb?
The biggest changes is now that the farming is lost to the area like I said when we moved here there was all these farms, lettuce and parsley and tomatoes and every third farm would have a little stall out the front selling tomatoes and cucumbers and marrows. That’s all going, that all just about gone now and you notice the houses that are being built in the area they’re magnificent homes but people that own businesses in the city they might own businesses in the Hills District but farming is not for them to make a living off, for them its just to be out in the rural area put their couple of horses, so yeah we’ve lost farming to the area it’s gone.
And that’s because I guess modern times catching up and land becoming more valuable do you think? What’s been the main reason for the decline in farming do you think?
Because the children haven’t followed their father’s footsteps.
That’s the only reason.
You feel sad about that, obviously?
I do in a way but I can understand because I’ve had three daughters and two of them have got a law degree and the other ones a housewife, none of them were interested in the farm. They all worked during the days of university, pocket money, you know it was always they wanted a day’s work they just came straight up there and worked. But they wouldn’t choose that as a profession and most of the farmers in the area their children have not followed the father’s footsteps.
So it seems logical the children seem to have got more education of course. Would you say the people of the sixties were more ignorant as a community then?
Well see back in the sixties the opportunity was for all of us to continue our schooling, but the thought of leaving school at a young age and making your own money was very appealing. I used to look at my brother-in-law Trevor Porter and he was going to university to become an accountant and he was working at Scarfe’s Brothers on a Saturday morning, he used to earn ten dollars and I’m thinking jeez Trevor only earns ten dollars. At the time I was earning hundreds of dollars a week, now Trevor earns thousands of dollars because he’s a chartered accountant, got his own firm and I’m thinking maybe I should have chosen his profession. He’s always away, holidays and he charges three hundred dollars an hour.
Rose packing shed 2006
Still you can’t be too unhappy about the cards that you were dealt?
No but what I’m saying is if you get an education and get a degree behind you, you’re gonna be a lot better off than the farmer down the road in the long run. But in those days there we never thought like that. The produce, this is why there was more money to made in the sixties, because in the sixties a case of lettuce or a bunch of flowers was say in 1960 would have been eight shillings, ten shillings a bunch, 1964. The average wage in those days probably would have been about ten pound a week. A bunch of flowers would have been about a twentieth of your wages. So if you put that in today’s money terms the bunch of flowers should be fifty dollars in the markets but it’s not. It’s still only two or three dollars, it has not gone along with inflation, neither has vegetables or fruit. People think sometimes fruit is dear and vegetables, it was dearer back in the fifties and sixties and even poultry, a chicken was one pound. To buy a chicken in the fifties was one pound and the wage was five pound a week.
It was a fifth of your wages.
So today a chicken would be two hundred dollars. We’re in the only industry that has not moved with inflation, that’s the only thing wrong with this game and everything else has gone up but not flowers, vegetables, fruit and poultry, they have stayed right down there.
So talking about changes to the suburb, what sort of changes in social life have occurred in those forty years for the citizens of Dural do you think?
Very little on the social scene. The good thing about Dural is that everyone knows everyone, you go down to the club, the big Dural Country Club or Galston Club or Glenorie RSL you walk in and everyone knows you. Whereas you go into a larger club say Fairfield you might know a few people, but in the Hills, everyone knows everyone and everyone is very friendly to everyone. “Let me buy you a beer” or “come and sit down” that’s what I like about it, it’s a wonderful community. If any of our friends or neighbours are in trouble the community get behind them. Like I said two weeks ago Alf Babagillo(?)’s son has got cancer of the pancreas and we rallied, we filled up Dural Country Club without any effort, there was close to three hundred people, we raised close on sixty thousand dollars for research into that disease and because of Rotary the government gave us a dollar fifty for every dollar raised so it was one hundred and fifty thousand. It’s a wonderful community, that way there if ever anyone’s in trouble if you have fund raising night they’re all there
So this sixty thousand dollars was raised just from the Dural com
Just from the Dural community yeah.
Was it always like that?
Always, always, always cause I’ve been in fund raising for twenty odd years, I’m the chairman of the fund raising committee for the Special Olympics, for the intellectually handicapped, I’m also on the board of the Starlight Foundation for kids with cancer. I’ve raised millions of dollars, millions in my twenty years of fund raising and it’s good. I find it gives you self satisfaction.
L to R: Antoinette, Sam, Guiseppe, Pat and Joe Nati (front)
How do you enjoy living in Dural, do you like it?
It’s wonderful, absolutely, as soon as I get off Castle Hill Road and turn right into Boundary Road (actually New Line Road) you feel like your just about home. Away from the rat race and you come up New Line Road and you start seeing the acreage and the trees and you think I am home and finally when you do arrive here and it’s like a resort, it is it’s like living in a resort in Dural.
You’ve certainly got very nice gardens, you’ve done a lot there with the gardens.
Love my gardens, love my gardens.
So how would you like to be remembered later on, when people talk about you in twenty or thirty years time?
What would you like people to say about Pat Nati?
He was a very generous, giving man, gave a lot of his time to charities and made a difference in some people’s lives, that’s it.
That’s pretty good isn’t it what’s the largest amount of money you’ve ever raised do you think?
In one night four hundred and sixty thousand.
That’s incredible, what was that for?
The Waddell family when the two boys got burnt in that fire, the house fire and the next door neighbour the Coroneos family he dived into help and then he died the following day because of the fumes he inhaled and I was doing a fund raiser for Westmead Intensive Care and Alan Jones was my guest, because my nephew was involved in an horrific car accident and my brother said to the doctors “pull him through this and I’ll raise you a lot of money, I’ll do a big fund raising night”. Miraculously he was in a coma for twenty eight days and he survived and actually back at university, so I did a night at The Burning Log and in one night there I raised one hundred and thirty eight thousand that night and I bought a simulator for Westmead. I bought a simulator which cost one hundred and twenty five thousand and Alan Jones was my guest and that week there was the week that these two boys had got burnt in a fire and I said to Alan that night “we should do something for the two boys and the next door neighbour” and he said “oh Pat no I’ve got too much on my plate” so I said “ok”. So anyway a few days later he rings me up about a quarter past six in the morning and I was on air and he said “Pat on the other line I’ve got Mr Waddell whose boys got killed” and they had no house, nothing, just the clothes that they escaped the fire with and Alan said “look I’ve got one of the best fund raisers in Sydney on the other end of the phone, he said “what do you think Pat can we buy them a house?” I said “of course we can buy them a house”. So we organised a night with Alan Jones and we raised four hundred and sixty thousand in one night. We bought them a house, they wanted to move to Mudgee and the Coroneos family were half way through building a house, he was the bread earner and we finished off the house for him and put money in trust for the kids. Yeah so that was one night.
Pat you are a hell of a fundraiser.
Not too bad, not too bad, the last three weeks between the Special Olympics and that I raised just over two hundred thousand in the last three weeks.
OK I’m sure you’ll be eagerly wanted by other firms.
Oh so many people yeah.
So that’s good, any final thoughts on the Baulkham Hills Shire and Dural in particular before we close the interview?
Well I’d like to see this area kept, like I said it’s the jewel of the crown of the area. I wouldn’t like to see it spoilt but we’ve got to progress, we can’t say we’ll leave it the way it is because we got to go forward, but to have one acre blocks would just be perfect for this area, would just be perfect. Let people enjoy the Hills District too not just the elite and those that have their five, ten or twenty acres but if you did one acre blocks a lot more people could come here and we’re so close to the city, it’s only a thirty five minute run, you’re on the M2 and you’re into the city. So it’s so close to the city yet it’s like living in the country.
Nati family Dural property 2006
What about the charms of the Hills District?
That’s true and that’s where your superannuation comes in for the farmer, and now these farmers you look at Mario, he’s in his seventies on five acres, too much but he still would like to live here. Even if you did two and a half acre blocks you could sell two and a half, right and two and a half acres would be the same as a five acre block to purchase, be the same price and if you could do in two and a half acre blocks all these people who have worked on the farm all their lives can still live where they are and sell two and a half acres and that would be their nest egg and still live in the area.
OK so that’s something that you might send a message to the council?
Oh well I’m sure the council know that, but we’ll see what happens in the years to come.
Thank you very much Pat.
Thank you Frank.
Thanks for the interview, so I’ll just end it. That’s the end of the interview with Pat Nati.