Kellyville - Flo and Dennis Willcox


Interviewees: Flo Willcox, born 1920

          and Dennis Willcox, born 1951

Interviewer: Frank Heimans,
            for Baulkham Hills Shire Council

Date of Interview: 30 June 2006

Transcription: Glenys Murray, Nov 2006

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


So, Flo could I start with you could you tell me your full name as you were born and where that was?

Florence Cassie Garner.

When were you born Flo?

First of May 1921.

Where was that Flo?


What about you Dennis?

I was born on thirty first August 1951 at Denistone.

What was the earliest date of settlement of the Willcox family in this district in Kellyville?

Well my husband came here in 1938. I didn’t come until 1949. He had a dairy a little further up the road (actually Burns Road). It was entirely different dairying then he had to do a lot of silage he used to go into Alexandria for feed for them. Different to when I came on the scene in 1949 it was much more advanced in a way.

So you married him in 1949, what was his name?

Hector Thomas Willcox commonly called Dick known quite well in this area. We started off with fifteen cows bought the place from a family called Brunner and they moved up north. It was all hand milking started with fifteen and gradually built it up till we were milking eighty cows by hand. My stepson was only a child of fifteen and he was also working with us then we built up more and more.

You were Hector’s second wife, tell me what you know about his first wife and children?

I don’t know much about his first wife (Mary or Molly). I have met her family but she died in childbirth (in 1941) and Graydon was only three when she died. I met Dick, through cousins of his when I was in the army and that’s how I come to get to know him and eventually we got married and came up here.

So you were working in the army during the war?

I was in the army in the AWAS I was a stenographer used to do secretarial duties for different brigadiers and what not that we worked for quite an interesting time actually.

Flo tell me what sort of a man was Hector? What do you remember of him?

Very good dairy farmer I can say that for him. He was about five foot ten very broad, very strong man when he was working for his first wife’s father (Hodder) he was only a young fellow then and they used to go into the paddocks and one of the jobs he was given was to pick up all the stones and heap them so they could plough. He also hefted bags of potatoes, they used to dig potatoes and pick peas and all that sort of thing and it made him very, very strong all this hard work.

Did you and Hector buy the dairy farm here together or did he have it before you came on the scene?

Oh no I was with him in this one yes.

So when did you buy the farm here?

Seventh May 1949.

Original farm buildings at Severn Vale 1949

Can you describe where it is exactly for those people who don’t know where it is located?

It was located in those days, it’s fifty acres, and it started in Memorial Avenue Kellyville the adjoining property was Kellyville Park and from there it went up Balmoral Road to the top of the first hill. It was quite a distance to walk.

Flo what was the name of the farm?

Severn Vale Friesian Stud. That was named after the River Severn in Gloucestershire in England where Dad came from.

Was he born there?

Yes. Born in Chepstow in Wales actually.

Do you know how much Hector and you paid for the land Flo?

Three thousand pound was the amount the government put on it to be sold at, but of course the owners wanted a bit more so we had to find another thousand, which we had to borrow of course.

Must have been tough was it?

Oh it was tough all right.

Do you know something of the history of the land that the farm is on, some of the older history?

Well I believe it was vintners here. The lay of the land was more orchards. I understood that it was grapes, where I got that from I don’t know but that’s the first that I can remember of it. The first title holder was a Thomas Bolton in 1804 as shown on the title deeds, which is not long after the First Fleet arrived here, sixteen years isn’t it.

Old dairy at Severn Vale 1949

Flo what was it like in those early days on the farm during the 1950’s? Can you describe what was here then in terms of buildings and facilities?

Very small dairy lots of mud, we had a small shed alongside where we used to grow Sudax and chop it up but it was nothing like it is now. It was very small as we got more cows we grew and had to replace the dairy and the feeding lots too.

You used to make your own chaff here, had a chaff cutter to chop the feed up for the cattle.

So what was actually on the land here when you came Flo?

Very small house two rooms and a verandah, practically nothing else, of course it didn’t have these modern toilets we had the night soil people who came around which I hated as I came from a suburban environment. We just started to grow a few crops whatever Dick could grow but it was very, very busy. Besides that we had to renovate all the fences and as we got along a bit further we had to put in concrete. I’ve seen mud up to the knees trying to bring cows in when it had been raining for some time certainly nothing like it is today.

Old feeding lot and chaff cutter at Severn Vale 1949

How many buildings or sheds were there on the property?

Only the dairy and a small feed shed that’s all.

You were able to get one hundred and thirty cows to milk them?

It took us a while to get up to one hundred and thirty cows we just had to keep adding until as we got bigger the Milk Board became interested and they said you’ve got to do this and you’ve got to concrete that and you’ve got to have somewhere where the cows walk in and so it goes on.

The Milk Board was the government regulator for the industry.

Yes definitely.

How long would it take to milk those cows if you had one hundred and thirty cows at one stage?

Three and a half hours, when the farm had built up to one hundred and thirty milking cattle that would have been about the mid to late sixties because the quota had been increased and it used to take you’d get up at four o’clock in the morning, go and bring the cows down, they were always willing participants because they had udders full of milk that they wanted to relieve themselves of and you start milking at four thirty and you’d be finished by seven thirty.

What would be your next task at seven thirty what would you have to do then?

Unloading hay at Severn Vale mid-late 1950s

Then I’d get kids ready for school and breakfast, sometimes we’d have two or three truckloads of hay in because we’d built a whole different set up by then. We had a special place for feeding cows and we had big barns for putting the hay in and they’d come in with two men to each truck and instead of eight of us there’d suddenly be an influx to be fed.

What would happen at lunch time and in the afternoon for you Flo?

Lunchtime get lunch then two o’clock you’d be out getting cows ready to be milked again.

Lunch was 2.00pm in the latter stages because getting up early in the morning and working you’d have two or three hours sleep it was a broken shift so to speak and you’d have a sleep during the middle of the day and you’d get up at two o’clock and the whole thing recommenced again. Prepare the feed for the cattle, get the cows down from the paddock.

Feed them.

Then you’d start milking in the afternoons at 3.00pm and you’d finish about 5.30 to 6.00pm, that’s finishing washing up and everything.

That’s a pretty long day isn’t it? It’s already fifteen hours now?

Very long day.

That’s why you had to sleep during the middle of the day.

That’s incredible dedication that people showed just to supply the milk.

Most dairy farmers do, you can’t get away from it, that’s how long it takes and then in between times it’s not a matter of, the men maybe could sleep in between but the owners don’t because you’ve got cows calving and calves to be fed and there’s always something going on all the time, meal to be mixed to be given to cows in their feed.

It was a wonderful way of life really it was. Like I said before we didn’t know any different but we didn’t want for anything because you were totally engrossed in what you were doing.

That’s right.

Hay shed at Severn Vale early-mid 1960s

How many people actually worked on the farm, how many workers did you have?

Had the two workers.

Not including Mum who was doing domestic type stuff, there was Dad, Graydon, myself and two employees, two outside employees.

So four family and two employees. The overheads for labour would have been fairly high even in those days would you say?

Well you didn’t have superannuation and all those things years ago.

Award wages yes oh we always paid a bit better than award wages, I don’t know that it was a good thing to do because if they could more money off someone else they left you at a drop of a hat. They didn’t even bother to say they just didn’t turn up next morning for work, that’s the workers. The kids couldn’t get out of it.

But in the main the non family employees were English or were European.

Barnardo and Big Brother boys we took a lot of.

As employees?


Flo and Dennis, how many dairy farmers like yourselves were there in the Kellyville area?

Oh lots.

Probably seven to nine just off the top of my head.

Well they’ve disappeared now, every one of them, because as the suburbs came closer and closer and the land was being subdivided which is happening right here right now.

Well even before that the government decided that we had to go in 1975 and that was it.

Tell me a bit more about that government decision and how it happened.

As far as we’re concerned they just said they were closing down the Cumberland area which was our area and it was principally started because up the north coast and down the south coast the dairy farmers had a session of about three months round about Christmas time they shut up shop and didn’t supply milk. But we supplied milk seven days a week.

All the year round.

Yes, all the year round, we never stopped and I would suggest that as some of the people with more money found out what was going on they decided that they wanted part of the market and eventually they just said we’ll pay you for your quota. If you don’t want your quota by such and such a date you’ve got to go and that’s it.

It was all political Frank, it was under the Wran government at the time and you got paid X amount for your quota milk. That was your quota you were allowed to produce. Anything over and above that quota was termed surplus milk and you got a smaller price per unit for it.

Half of it.

Inside new feeding lot at Severn Vale 1970s

That was what it was all over, the government really redistributed those quotas and they took them from the metropolitan area farmers and handed them without compensation to the north and south coast farmers.

That’s thirty years ago.

It was all political, the milk industry has just been through another upheaval in the last two or three years which has seen many, many farmers walk off their farms.

So how did you both feel about your livelihood being having been stopped really by a government decision?

I wasn’t happy.

Well at that time there was a number of factors, the distribution of quota milk had occurred and Dad had passed away in 1975 and I wasn’t working on the farm then I’d joined the police force. There was really only Mum and Graydon left to run the farm.

Graydon bought another property.

He eventually went into crops and beef rather than dairy and all those factors contributed to the farm closing down and the cattle being sold off.

They didn’t suggest any alternative livelihood for you when they said you couldn’t be a milk producer anymore?

No, not at all

They didn’t suggest anything?

No they just tell.

So what happened. How did you survive?

Sold off land as I had to, to survive until I’ve only got a very small portion left I was very fortunate that I had the land I guess I’d have been out in the workforce wondering where to get some money from, because I don’t think I could have gone back to being a stenographer again too long ago.

Dennis what do you remember about the milk production stopping?

I wasn’t involved in the running of the farm at that time I had joined the police force but I was well aware of what was going on although I didn’t have that honed in interest because I wasn’t on the farm anymore. Times were bitter any increase in your quota you had to purchase it and you paid dearly for that. If you wanted to produce an extra twenty gallons per day you had to purchase that twenty gallons off another farmer who was prepared to sell and you paid dearly for that and the bitterness crept in when there was no compensation for that when they took it from you. No compensation whatsoever.

Dennis Willcox milking cow in new dairy 1967

Dennis what was the production of the farm in terms of daily milk production?

When we were milking a hundred and thirty cattle which was right near the end of the life of the dairy it was about two and a half thousand litres per day. That was thirty years ago now so I’m racking my brain to think about it. I know all the milk used to go into a big refrigerated stainless steel vat, that used to be pumped out every day and the United Dairies tanker would come out here and collect it daily every morning.

Was it a profitable business being a dairy farmer?

Not for the farmer definitely not, didn’t get anything for your cows when you had to sell them. That was part of the problem the government created because the whole of the Cumberland was put out at the same time. Everybody’s trying to sell their cattle all at the same time.

So what kept you going all this time in terms of finance?


From then until now you mean?

I mean it was a tough life you didn’t make much money so what was the motivation for producing milk?

I don’t know that you made a lot of money but you were comfortable it was just a way of life, just a good way of life.

There were other dairy farmers in the district were they in a similar situation to yours?

There was a couple of bigger players in the district the Peels which are now Perfection Dairies or part of the Perfection Dairies group, they used to own two farms around here. One in Meurants Lane and one up here at Stanhope Park Gardens, Stanhope Park the suburb is named after one of their dairies and there was another down here between where Windsor Road and Old Windsor Road converge used to be Glenmore Dairy that was a big concern, I don’t know what sort of cattle they used to milk (Friesians) but I think it was profitable for them due to the vast numbers that they had.

Looking back on the dairy farmers life would you say it was a good life?

Yes I would say so.

Yes definitely the only drawbacks from it were three hundred and sixty five days a year seven days a week. You didn’t get RDOs or Sundays off, you just had to do it.

Looking south, with cows in sorghum paddock at Severn Vale 1966

Now Dennis what was Kellyville like as a place in the late 1950’s early 60’s?

It was a sparsely populated area houses were few and far between the roads in the main were dirt roads, no curb and gutter, shoulders and all that, that you’ve got today. Most of the landholders at the time would have either been dairy farmers, market gardeners or poultry farmers or they may have had horses. That was land holders people who lived in the little village, there wasn’t too many houses up there in the village either but they obviously had employment elsewhere. Most people used to catch a bus or drive into Parramatta to work.

So mainly farming communities?

Yes very much so.

Were they mostly Australian or were there any people from other countries?

Dad was a Pom, Jack Hailes up the road used to be a poultry farmer he was English. The market gardeners of course were all of ethnic background, I don’t know at the time that I called them that, but they were all wops or dagos that’s what’s they were referred to that’s just the way it was, people who had come from Europe after the war were different. I think Australia was mainly English type values and everything you learnt at school was the English way, that’s just the way it was.

What about shops run by Italians or Greek or Maltese, were there any shops around the place?

Well there was always Comitos general store up here on the Windsor Road that was there as long as I can recall. Its only closed down in the last few years, that was the main shop in Kellyville, then Italians by the name of Vasta opened up another shopping centre with half a dozen shops, that must have been mid to late sixties. I remember when Kellyville got a barber shop I thought whoosh we’re moving ahead here. Then it wasn’t until the late ‘70’s possibly 1980 when the newsagency was built next to the BP garage. We always had the BP garage, there used to be a Golden Fleece garage down there on the corner of Windsor Road and Poole Road owned by the Rayer family. I can only recall the post office in Acres Road, corner of Acres and Windsor, there used to be an Esso garage and a Shell garage, so we had plenty of service stations. Well catered for in the fuel I can remember all the trucks, being a young boy I was interested in trucks, all the trucks that used to come from the country, they’d either come down via Singleton to Windsor or from Bathurst to North Richmond, they’d come through Kellyville on their way into Sydney or Parramatta and I can always recall them dragging up the big hill here because it was always quiet and you could hear a pin drop, then you’d hear these trucks going back through the gears and they were dragging up the hill. Actually used to ride skate boards on that same part of Windsor Road from Acres Road down towards Poole Road because the traffic was very scarce.

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