Maroota - Charlie and Carmen Camilleri - Part 2


Interviewees: Charlie Camilleri, born 1946
          and Carmen Camilleri, born 1951

Interviewer: Frank Heimans,
            for Baulkham Hills Shire Council

Date of Interview: 25 Feb 2008

Transcription: Glenys Murray, April 2008

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


So how many children do you have?

We have four children, four children.

How many boys, how many girls?

Two boys, two girls it was hard but it was good for the kids.

Are they also into farming, the children?

No they were at one stage helping us but they’re not in farming anymore. The boys have set up their own business. The girls now help us in the picking season when they can.

How many hours did you spend picking fruit at night and things after having made all those meals for your family? It must have been quite a bit of a job?

A fair bit life was hard, lot of responsibilities. You’re bringing up your own family and I had Charlie’s brothers to look after and cooking meals and working on the farm. So it was very hard actually but it was also good. Everything that’s good is hard.

Let’s talk a bit about your neighbours that you had around when you were living in Maroota? Who were the neighbours and how close were they?

Well they were pretty close actually. At Maroota there was only one Maltese when we were still living at the other property. Actually there was only one and one Australian because the rest of the land used to belong to us around there. They were pretty friendly. After a while there was one Australian started to get a bit nasty. We started going well and he didn’t like it. So he started whingeing and complaining but beside that here they’re all very, very good neighbours. Every single one of them, you can’t say a word against them, put it that way.

Bushfire near first Camilleri property at Maroota Jan 1994

So what are some of the names of the other Maltese families around?

Well there’s Charlie Sciberras across the road and Charlie Portelli and their wives of course and their kids. Next door neighbours Dominello’s they're a family as well.

They grow flowers.

Next door to Dominello’s is another Italian, he’s Tony Pignataro he’s a good friend of ours.

Mike Catard up the road.

Yes that’s on the other farm yeah. That’s like it was him an Australian bloke. But over here there’s three of us and exactly in front of us the one next door. Then there’s another two next door to Dominellos and across the road which is Kevin Hitchcock and he’s a very nice bloke as well.

They’re all very friendly every single one of them, even their families are.

You borrow stuff from each other when you need too?

Yeah, yeah we do if anybody’s got something missing or needs something yeah we borrow and we either pay them back or they just return it or whatever is easiest. If it’s a tractor sometimes it might need a tractor or equipment. Everybody borrows if you need something.

Do you meet the other Maltese families in churches and social functions that sort of thing?

No not much because we go to a different church. They go to Windsor mainly. We used to meet Portellis a bit in Arcadia but we don’t go there anymore. Last year and the year before we used to meet them at Wisemans Ferry there used to be a mass once a month. We used to go to the club together then. Two of us that are Maltese plus ourselves we used to meet at the club once a month.

That was good.

And their kids as well and our kids but these days that mass stopped so we all go our different ways.

Charlie, Carmen and Fiona Camilleri grading peaches c2000

Let’s talk a bit about your yearly calendar of your fruit season. Take me through a whole year and tell me what happens in different months?

At the moment there’s nothing to do except you mow the grass. But once middle of April comes we have to start pruning and that’s about four months pruning. But in the meantime about first of July we start thinning as well. Knock off about eighty percent of the flowers off them. They need spray and fertiliser in between that’s done whenever necessary. The thinning goes on to usually late October even sometimes into November of we’re a bit busy. The fruit starts picking late October till the first week usually in January. We usually always finish in the first week.

Then you’ve got the summer pruning.

Then we do the summer pruning for about a month. There’s two months or three months it’s very light work. Just a bit of slashing, we grow a few tomatoes in between and a bit of pumpkin just to have something to do. Nothing to worry about much. But when the picking is on it is hard.

It’s full on.

How many people would be helping to pick the fruit?

A lot of time there’s only about five of us the maximum. Odd times you have to get a bit more but the majority of the time it’s about five.

How do you know when the peaches are ready to be picked?

Just know.

Semi-trailer load of peaches at Camilleri orchard Maroota c2000

You get used to it you have to know even the way the shape of the fruit is. Because you can tell when it’s a matured fruit or immature. We do if you get someone in a lot of people don’t know and they might just start picking greens and whatever. You can’t help it much.

I believe once it’s ready to be picked it has to be picked within a certain time? How long is that?

The varieties they’ve got these days, you’ve got two days a lot of them. They do keep because you can pick them two, three, four days before. Because the colour is in them and their still very hard. But the early varieties that we used to grow when we first started. They were completely different one day they’re hard and the next day they’re just soft as anything. These days they’re a lot better the fruit. They’re always working on new varieties. Varieties that will keep because if they don’t keep the consumer won’t buy them either then. Once they go in the shop they just go soggy straight away. They’re a bit soft and when you press them it bruises and goes black and that’s the end of the fruit.

So you have to pick peaches within two or three days of when they’re going to be eaten?

Oh you have to.

It must be frantic?

It is its very frantic.

That’s why when we do pick them you sort of pick them a bit hard. They’re called hard that means they need a few more days. But you’ve still got to pick them because you can’t go through them every day. Because you’ve got so many, you might go over them twice a week. You usually get about three or four picks and then you’ve got a different variety coming. Sometimes you got varieties in together they overlap and you have to pick both of them at the same time.

How many pieces of fruit can a fruit picker pick in one day?

A fair bit, six seven thousand pieces of fruit.

In three days you get them all off the trees do you?

No, no when you do pick them you only pick the ones that are matured. You might have to go over them after three or four days again. Pick the next lot and go over them again another time.

Till the trees are empty?

Yeah because they’re not all matured together.

Sand mining at Maroota c1993

Now let’s talk a bit about the changes that you might have witnessed here in Maroota? What changes they’ve been since you moved in 1972 or so? What have been the big changes here do you think?

All the citrus are nearly all gone and it’s mainly vegetables and a bit of stone fruit. A lot of sand mining, there’s a lot of sand mining going on in the last twenty years. There’s three different companies doing it but some companies have got six or seven pits. Like six or seven different places where they take from. That’s a big change to Maroota a very big change.

I think another big change is when we first came out here most of the people that owned property actually worked their land. Whereas these days there’s a lot of people living in the area work in town or away from the area.

A lot of farmers sold out and city people bought. They just bought a place in the country as a lot of people find it is in the country here and they just go out to work. But the better properties are all worked.

So if somebody comes from the city and buys a forty or fifty acre property what are they going to do with it?

They won’t buy a good property because they’re not available. If they do buy it’s only bush. You can’t find a property for sale which is arable land.

So it’s all native….?

It’s all bushland where it’s rocky and it’s unworkable.

You had to clear your land didn’t you when you first came here?

Yes we did. Most people did. Ours was mainly bush trees they weren’t citrus. We only had about ten acres of citrus on the first property we bought. This one was vacant.

Did you clear most of the bush trees away?

All of it, those days you could do what you wanted with it. Not like these days you’ve got to have permits to clear you land now. But those days there wasn’t. We’re talking mid sixties or late sixties anyway. The farms across the road they were only citrus. Fruit trees you could pull out without permits. You’re allowed to pull citrus trees and stone fruit without permit and you’re allowed to burn them without permit because of disease.

Now these new people that have moved in I believe they don’t like some of the smells around the place? Tell me about that?

There’s poultry manure that’s one thing. I mean on a strong windy day you could get a very strong smell but it only lasts a few hours. It has to be done, but there are people that do complain a lot. Even when we had the factory that was a different kind of smell but you can’t do much about it. You try to control it with pollution…

Pollution control.

There are still people that complain.

Rendering factory c1994 located on Camilleri's first Maroota property

Tell me about your factory. What kind of factory was it that you had?

It was a rendering, we used to do by-products. We used to do mainly chicken by- products which is the offal and the feathers and the blood. We used to get fish from the fish market like the frames. That’s all we used to do its still doing the same thing that’s all they do.

What do you turn that into?

High protein feed most of it goes for pet food and fish farming in Tasmania. A lot of it goes into Tasmania these days. Also good for cattle and pigs but it’s mainly for pet food and fish. I think one third of it goes for the fish farms. One third goes for the pet food and the rest distributed a bit here and there.

What happened with that business?

We sold it two and a half years ago and it’s still doing the same products. They do buy a lot of material in. They blend it and they send a lot overseas.

Are there more or less farms now at Maroota than when you first came here in 1972?

No there would be less but there’s more product being grown on the few that’s left than was grown then. It’s producing more.

The farms are bigger now are they?

No, not bigger they’re the same but they produce more because they’re growing quick crops. Like lettuce and cabbages, cauliflowers not like citrus where it is only picked once a year. It was completely different citrus. When we first came here there was only one market garden in Maroota which was the Zorellis.

Charlie Camilleri with cauliflower crop c1972

Now you’re growing nectarines, peaches and avocadoes and the occasional vegetable still is that right? Is it difficult to make a living out of farming these days?

If you work hard it isn’t no you can do a good living. But you have to be prepared to work.

Work long hours.

You can’t be prepared to sit down and get someone else to do your work. You can’t make a good living like that.

If we were to project forward ten years from now, say in the year 2018 how do you think farming will be then? What about your farm particularly do you think you’ll still be working it? What future do you think there is for this farm?

I don’t think I’ll be working much more than that long. If my health keeps me going from now to ten years I’ll keep working it.

But then our kids won’t carry on our business.

The boys are in transport and all the girls are different. One’s a chef and the other one does a bit of work here and there.

So if your kids aren’t going to take it on would you be selling the farm?

We don’t know we’ll see when the time comes.

That’s in the future.

That’s right definitely. I wanted to ask you about some of the voluntary community activities you’ve been involved in? What would they be Carmen?

I’ve been involved with Maroota School ever since our kids started there in 1979, I think, David started school. So I’ve basically been involved with Maroota School nearly thirty years.

What sort of things do you do for the school?

When the kids were there I was on the P&C and fundraising. I did my first fruit and veggie stall when Fiona was just a baby, just after I had Fiona. That’s twenty five years ago I did my first fruit and vegetable stall. Then I continued doing that because that’s the area I felt comfortable in. I helped with all sorts of areas of fundraising at the school. I was also a scripture teacher.

Which you still are.

Yes I’m still a scripture teacher and also I help with reading at the school these days. We still help them out with fundraising. The Maroota Muster and all that sort of thing. We are very active with the school still.

Maroota Public School children re-enacting the Last Supper c1998

You also have an involvement with the church?

Yes we have we’ve had a long involvement with fund raising at St Benedict’s Church at Arcadia. Charlie organised the fete was coordinator for sixteen years. He’s not coordinator any more but we’re still very active in both the church fete and also the monastery fete which is coming up in two weeks time. Apart from that I’m also involved with some other smaller charities.


CareFlight we’re active in the CareFlight golf auction day which is held in November down at Wisemans Ferry. And the Fire Brigade of course one of our sons is in the Fire Brigade. So we do like to keep active in the community and be part of the community and give to the community and the church.

The CareFlight we put up two marquees for them each year and give them the tables and chairs. We’ve got a hundred chairs and thirty tables that they always borrow so that they won’t have to at least hire them, which helps them out a lot.

Over the last three years I’ve been running they have a chocolate wheel on the day. Another friend of mine and myself we organise.

Well you’re part of a community aren’t you really?

Well yeah we are part of the community. But I think that you’re part of the community but you’ve got to be contributing to a community. You can’t just live there we feel. We’d like for our kids to have the same feelings about the community which they do.

I know kids have to do their own thing but are you sad in a way that they didn’t take on the farming business?

Oh I would have liked to see them but it is a hard game. It’s getting harder each year. It’s very hard and their heart wasn’t in it. Michael was until six, seven years ago but when things started going a bit bad he just lost interest completely and that was it.

It’s also like you don’t have a guaranteed income when you’re in farming and I don’t think that’s a good thing these days. Year ago people who had farming in their blood basically they took the risk. Whereas these days I think you have to have a guaranteed income to survive the way our lifestyle is these days.

You're dependant on fluctuating prices aren’t you?

That’s how farming is. Always was and always will be.

It’s a matter of supply and demand.

That will never change.

Sharon, David and Fiona Camilleri with rockmelon crop c1983

The price at the moment paid for fruit, is it reasonable?

Certain fruit is yes. You get a lot of damage not long ago they had a bad storm in Batlow. They lost seventy percent of their apples which is a lot. That’s because the majority of the apples from NSW come from Batlow. They lost seventy percent of it through a hail storm so prices have to pick up. These days they’ve got all these controlled atmospheres, cool rooms, they gas them and they keep them there for a full year. Not like years ago when they used to grow the apples they’d have them for three months while they are picking and that’s it. Then there’s hardly any around. Now they got them all the year round all at the same time so they keep the price pretty even all the year round. They don’t put a glut into the market.

They try and control the supply?

Something like that. Grapes and apples they do control it and pears a lot. Not like stone fruit, stone fruit won’t keep in controlled atmosphere room.

It won’t?

No it won’t.

You have to get it to market and eat it?

It will keep for two, three weeks but not for six, seven months or a year. Apples will keep for a year in a cool room.

Yes we’ve heard stories about all the apples that have been in storage for ten months before you eat them.

That’s right

That’s how they are. You only pick apples from the twentieth of February till about late April. It’s only a couple of months and that’s it there’s no more apples on the trees.

Yet there’s apples in the shops all year round.


Tractor pull at Maroota Muster c2006

So how do you feel about living in the Maroota area?

I feel good.

It’s good it’s a good area to live. It’s been a good area to bring up our kids in. Because they grow up in a family atmosphere. Because we live so far from cities they don’t have the risk of getting involved in a lot of the things that happen in towns. Like drugs and all the dangers that can happen to young people. So we feel it’s been a good life for our kids.

We’ve got two of our kids who’ve bought properties in the area so they’ll stay in the area. So we would like to continue to see our kids growing in the area because we feel it’s a good life for our family.