Castle Hill RSL Club - Ron Smith OAM


Interviewee: Ron Smith OAM, born 1930

Interviewer: Frank Heimans,
            for The Hills Shire Council

Date of Interview: 24 Feb 2009

Transcription: Glenys Murray, March 2009

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

Give me a little bit of history if you like about your family and their particular habitation at Castle Hill. How far can you take it back?

We can go back to 1810 the original convict (William Smith) was brought out here on the assisted migration programme that the Brits were running at the time. He was sentenced to death for highway robbery but that was commuted and he was sent out here in 1810. He was given to the Reverend Samuel Marsden to work. The Reverend Marsden was known as “the flogging parson” and had quite a history. The original convict worked for the Reverend Marsden for a number of years then in about 1818 he wrote to the government to have his sentence pardoned. Which he did and was given fifty acres of land which was called Thorny Fields the approximate area is at the back of the North Rocks Park at the present time. The son bought forty two acres of the hundred acres that Reverend Marsden had which was at Mount Wilberforce. Which took in all of Mount Wilberforce, what’s now known as Thompson’s Corner, Pennant Hills Golf Course and the area below Thompson’s Corner? Sam Marsden had a hundred acres. It was split up and the convict’s second son James he bought forty two acres for six hundred and forty two pounds. That turned out to be quite a large orchard area. One of his sons I can remember. He was my great grandfather he lived in Boundary Road Pennant Hills. My grandfather lived in Pennant Street Castle Hill. The approximate area where the loading dock for K Mart (Castle) Towers is. My father then moved to Church Street to set up home and our family and then as I said to me Sherwin Avenue and then here.

Pennant Street Castle Hill in middle distance (now Castle Towers) c1967

What was it like growing up in Castle Hill in the days that you did? You were born in 1930?

Yes born in 1930 and of course it was right in the middle of The Depression. I was the fourth of a family of four boys and I had a younger sister who was born in 1932. It was a pretty simple life in Castle Hill at the time. As I’ve often said there were no “silver tails” in Castle Hill. It was a matter of working people. It wasn’t a bad place to grow up in. We were fairly self sufficient. Most people had fruit trees in the back yard, a couple of chooks so we were supplied with eggs. We only ever got chicken twice and that was at Easter time and Christmas time. They were usually a product of your own backyard. You had fruit and vegetables because everyone grew their own. Of course there was a barter system too if you had surplus because no one had too much. We had our own cows so of course we had our own milk and butter. We didn’t go short of a good diet but it was a fairly simple diet.

What was your father’s occupation?

He worked for the Council Baulkham Hills Shire Council. When he retired in about 1972 he was the longest serving member of Baulkham Hills Shire Council staff. He started there during The Depression but because of his work ethic he was taken on as a perm (permanent) and eventually ended up as a foreman when he retired.

Driver George Adey on Baulkham Hills Shire Council's first steam roller 1930

What was his job at the Council?

He was a plant operator he used to drive the grader. During the war my Dad was seconded into the Civil Construction Corps because of his skills on earth moving equipment. He was sent up to Kelso which is just outside of Bathurst and he was building an aerodrome there. When that finished he came back and used to go away for Monday to Friday up to the Central Coast round Wyong where they were building auxiliary strips in that particular area.

I used to go over to Frankish's orchard with my father because it was an outing. We would just go straight down the end of Church Street down through Adey's property. Up the hill we’d come to Darcey Road which is at the end of Crane Road. We’d go down the valley and within half an hour we’d be in Frankish's orchard.

Now your father had a very long career at the Council from 1936 to 1972. That’s thirty six years that’s a hell of a long time. What sort of changes did he see and who are the people that he used to know there?

Hills ANZAC soldiers at a reunion in Parramatta after WWII

Well the big changes were just about on this spot where we are now there was a property the Fishburn’s used to own. Frank Fishburn he used to work on Council. But in those days any earth moving was done by a horse and dray. Frank Fishburn was one of the chaps who had a horse and dray who used to work for the Council. He’d be paid for the horse and dray but if there was any sort of soil to be shifted it was either by hand shovel, pick shovel into the horse and dray and away it went.

Now, after World War One there was a big movement by the returning diggers to build memorial halls. Tell me a little bit about that movement and what they actually built here in Castle Hill?

On school holidays I had two casual jobs this was as a kid. One was with the postman poor old Len Best and the other one was for the bakery that used to be on the corner of Cecil Avenue and Old Northern Road. It was run by the Acklings but Don Swallow was the driver. We used to get sixpence a day for going out either delivering mail or delivering bread. One day I was with Len Best down Carrington Road and there were a group of diggers down there and they were talking. That’s when I found out and I got documentation of this later on, but down Carrington Road was where the diggers first had their first meetings to get together and form a club. The Depression was starting to kick in and they started off this Castle Hill and District Sailors and Soldiers Club to assist those diggers who were doing it tough. There was no social security benefits there was not a lot of veteran’s entitlements straight after World War Two (actually World War One). The casualties were horrendous with gassing and amputees.

Memorial Hall built early 1920s now Christadelphian Hall Castle Hill 2008, with closeup of Foundation Stone

Just a second I think you said World War Two it should have been World War One?

Yeah World War One they started in 1922 and they got together. The first memorial hall built in Castle Hill was what is now the Christadelphian’s Church but was the first hall built by St Paul’s Church. But it was built as a memorial hall. If you look at the foundation stone, it is 1924 (Foundation Stone actually laid in Dec 1922) and that’s a memorial hall dedicated to the diggers of the district. When the diggers started to hold their meetings down there because it was a central point, everything was going fine until they decided they would like a drink of “amber liquid” after their meeting.

ANZAC Memorial Hall Castle Hill opening 1935

The church said because it was church property there was to be no alcohol so they found out they were back in the same position as before where they didn’t have anywhere to meet. So they got together by doing raffles house parties dances all of that sort of thing. They raised sufficient money to build an ANZAC memorial hall. Previous to this they needed somewhere to put the hall.

There was one very prominent person on the admin staff of Baulkham Hills Shire Council by the name of Percy Barnett. He was a World War One digger. He was quite educated because if my memory serves me correctly he was in the Instructional Corps. He realised that the surplus land that the railway owned right in the middle of town was no longer in use. The railway which used to go from Rogan’s Hill to Westmead had packed up in 1932. This was 'round about 1934-35 he wrote to the Commissioner of Railways who was an ex digger. He was quite supportive of the proposal that they take over the land.


In a fairly short time the diggers were given access to the land. They carved off a small portion for the ANZAC memorial hall and the rest of it they gave to Council and that eventually became the Arthur Whitling Park. Pre war (World War Two) the only things that were there were a couple of tennis courts. We used to play on those even post World War Two up until about 1948. So that’s how the park came along and that’s how the ANZAC memorial hall came to be in existence. They realised that then they still had a hall. That was a very popular place for dances, weddings. It was the social centre of the district because it was the best hall round it was brand new. They decided that because the stage was about four to five feet high off the floor. They got together with their picks and shovels and they excavated the land underneath the stage and that became their club house. It was known as the dugout and it played a very prominent part of RSL (Returned and Services League) activities. In fact it was their club their meeting room until about 1974 until the club moved down onto the land at the end of Castle Street.

 ANZAC Memorial Hall Castle Hill plaque one 1935

So is the RSL Club the one at Castle Hill did that start also in the dugout?

Yes that’s where the club actually started out. The ANZAC memorial hall then the dugout that was the club then in post World War Two the dugout was still there. But of course with the young diggers coming back it was too small. It would only be I suppose thirty foot long maybe by about twelve foot wide. With a bar at one end and a couple or poker machines and a little raised area for a piano. That was the club.
Now you said that in 1974 they moved again from there where did they go?

Just to go back a bit further. Because the young diggers came back and it wasn’t big enough. The first thing they did was buy an old army hut from the Masonic Schools which was used as an army hospital during the war. They put that out the back of the dugout.

ANZAC Memorial Hall Castle Hill plaque two 1935

That became the billiard room and progressively they built up their premises and eventually in 1966 the Public Hall’s Act came into being and the hall did not meet the requirements. Therefore it couldn’t be used as a memorial hall any longer. Then there was a deal done between the sub branch and the club. The club took over and used it as part of the extensions for the RSL Club. However that just bought more people in. They had to buy land in Old Castle Hill Road for the sewage treatment works and also for parking. That’s about where the entrance to D J’s (David Jones) is at the present time. They bought two blocks of land there off the Kentwells and I think both together they were about fifty thousand dollars. When they sold in about 1973 they got six hundred and seventy five thousand dollars for them. They already owned the land about thirteen acres of land down the bottom of Castle Street. That had been developed as a first class cricket oval two tennis courts and barbeque areas. Once again Sunday RSL cricket club competitions were fairly strong. Football was played down there but not by the RSL. It was a beautiful area where people could go down there and play tennis. The tennis club was very strong. The cricket club was very strong and there were big barbeques down there that all you had to do was put a match into them and they were all ready to go.

Annual Christmas Tree at Castle Hill RSL Oval 1973

So that particular club underwent over the years a number of renovations didn’t it?

They got to the stage where Council said “we don’t want you in town” because you’ve outstripped the area. Your parking is causing a problem and the club was sort of forced into moving out of there and building on the land in Castle Street. It opened in about March 1974 because they owned the land the building which is on six half levels. It’s not six storeys high. Its levels to build into the contours of the land eventually cost about one point two million dollars. That officially opened in about March 1974. They had a membership of about two thousand when they went down there. Right now the membership is just on thirty five thousand. Mind you the building has had a lot of money spent onto it and has been improved. So it’s one of the best facilities round.

Are they just finishing an extension on that now?

Yes they’re just finishing… I’ll just go back a little bit further. In 2003 we opened up a new facility called C2K. It’s the fitness centre. It has a membership of just slightly over seven thousand people. It cost us just on fourteen million to build and fit out and that was not counting the cost of the land because we already had the land. It contains three pools. One eight lane half length Olympic. It has a dedicated learner’s pool and it has one of the few dedicated water aerobics pools that is in any fitness centre in NSW. So it is a very first class facility and the last two years they’ve taken off the award as the Best Fitness Centre in NSW.

Castle Hill RSL Club Castle Street c1980 

That immediately caused a rise in our membership to eighteen thousand and in 2005 we spent eighteen million dollars of refurbishing the old gymnasium. The swimming pool and the spas had been moved out and we refurbished the whole eastern end of the club closest to the car park that cost us another eighteen thousand dollars but it did provide a court yard restaurant kids playground another level two area for another type of restaurant. Created some first class facilities for the whole of the area of course as soon as we did that from 2005 to now we’ve got just over thirty five thousand members. I saw the figures for December and our membership increased by nine hundred and fifty three people in the month. Well it is a great social centre. The facilities are first class. We have created a very safe environment for the youngsters of the district. One of the first things that I did when both of our children reached eighteen years of age we gave them membership of Castle Hill RSL Club. We knew that they didn’t have to travel the controls and discipline down there were strict. Bad behaviour and language wasn’t tolerated and they provided the facilities for the younger people. I think that’s why it is one of the successes of the district.

It’s an amazing club isn’t it? How long have you been involved with it on the sub committee and so on?

People must realise that there are two organisations. There’s the Returned Services League which used to be known as the Returned Sailors, Soldiers and Imperial League of Australia. That heading went out in about 1972. The RSL committee and the club committee were all the same people. To be a member of the board of directors of Castle Hill RSL Club you have to be a financial member of the Returned and Services League. However changes to the fiduciary responsibilities of trustees and changes to corporation and company acts. About five years ago the RSL Club and the RSL sub branch had to in simple terms “get a divorce”. There was a conflict of interest.

What do you remember about those (War) years?

War started in 1939 and after growing up with the children of the World War One diggers. Some of them were still my age and a number of them were my brother’s age. So they joined up for World War Two some of them were that keen they put their age back. The army wanted experienced people they took them and some of them were shipped overseas by January 1940. They joined in September 1939. They were known as thirty niners. They were shipped to the Middle East in January of 1940 came back in 1942. By that time age was starting to show on them with the rigors of a couple of years of war in the desert. They were destined to go to New Guinea some of them were less than six weeks after coming back to Australia. They were on their way to New Guinea. Of course the conditions in New Guinea were much harsher than what they were in the desert. The greater majority of them soon found out that physically, mentally it was just too overpowering for them. They did a bit of time there.

Soon after that they were sent back to Australia because of the active service they had, they were put into training rolls to train the new people who were then going to take over the reigns from them. Like most people in Castle Hill we had to have an air raid shelter and we dug one out in our…everyone had a backyard in Castle Hill. We dug our air raid shelter and tried as far as possible to cover it over to make it water proof which we weren’t always successful. All the windows not only of the private houses but of the shops they had paper glued across them crisscrossed with paper so that in the event of a bomb blast then the glass wouldn’t shatter. The people who stopped behind, the male members of the district, if they were World War One they formed the Volunteer Defence Corps. Mr Cattell who was a World War One digger he used to drill all the old diggers in the school grounds. Then of course the army moved into the showground at Castle Hill in early 1942 to about 1944 (actually November 1943). Then the army took over the Masonic Schools with the 103rd Australian General Hospital (from 1942 to 1946). That eventually became a twelve hundred bed orthopaedic ward. With RAF Richmond being so close we reckoned we could nearly hit a Wirraway or an Avro Anson coming into land at Richmond with a catapult but we never tried.

Yes war time was with us all the time. The youth of the area coming home on leave. It was all in uniform. From nine to fifteen I lived with the war every day. The air raid sirens were going off. The ARP wardens were coming round with blackout practice. The women were in Red Cross. The girls were in Red Cross. I got into the school cadets.

Castle Hill Showground c.1942 with army truck and tents

I believe they used the showground for a purpose during the war what was that?

The Castle Hill showground was offered to the military in about January 1942 and by the 9th of February the army had responded to the offer of the showground by the Agricultural Society who were running the showground. They were the ones that offered it. On the 9th of February they got a letter back to say yes that they would take up the offer. I think it was about the 23rd of February 1942 that they took over the showground. It was used basically as a staging camp for mainly Victorian units. That is they were on their way to or back from New Guinea. Apart from knowing this by the numbers their numbers were always VX which meant they were Victorian and X meant World War Two. They married a number of the young eighteen to twenty year old girls around the town. When war finished a lot of them went to Victoria. Some returned I know of a couple who did return. I was only talking to one of the local girls who is still living in Victoria. I wanted to ask some questions about her husband’s tenure at the showground but unfortunately he had died about two months ago. The showground then the Masonic Schools hospital.

(During World War II the Castle Hill Showground was home to various Australian Army units from 9 February 1942 to 26 November 1943. Occupants included the Headquarters 1st Cavalry Division Army Service Corps Motor Transport Division (explaining the large number of military vehicles seen in the town exercising convoy practices); 1st Supply Personnel Company and 1st Corps Troops Ammunition Supply (area suitable for tents to accommodate 500 personnel); and 1st Australian Army Medical Corps including 7th Australian Mobile Ambulance unit.
Acknowledgement: Derived from searching documents at using search term "Castle Hill Showground")

What do you recall about that?

Well that was the Masonic Schools. The Masonic Lodge is a Benevolent Society so they bought all of that land at Baulkham Hills and started up their school in 1922. It carried on increasing its size until it was taken over by the army in 1942.

(A letter dated 26 January 1942 from the Deputy Director of Medical Services Eastern Command to the Grand Lodge requested the use of the Masonic School at Baulkham Hills for the purpose of establishing a Military Hospital. This was agreed to and two days after Singapore surrendered on February 15 1942 the Army started occupancy as the 103rd General Hospital. First patients from the battlefields of New Guinea were flown direct to RAAF Richmond and there to Baulkham Hills. Some patients also came from the Middle East. After August 1943 the Army commenced major construction work and sewerage construction without the Lodge’s permission and by 1944 the hospital was an Orthopaedic Hospital with recreational facilities and many more patients. Soldiers from Japanese Prisoner of War Camps were sent to Baulkham Hills after the war ended in August 1945. The Army finally vacated the site in January 1946 and the Masonic School reopened in November 1947 after repairs and alterations were made.
Acknowledgement: Derived from searching documents at using search term "Baulkham Hills Hospital", and from Beverley Earnshaw "A Start in Life: the History of the William Thompson Masonic School 1922-1988")

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