Keith and Mark Pearce - Bella Vista Farm - Part 2


Bella Vista Farm

Interview 2b

Interviewees: Keith Pearce, born 1922
          and Mark Pearce, born 1951

Interviewer: Frank Heimans,
            for Baulkham Hills Shire Council

Date of Interview: 14 June 2008

Transcription: Glenys Murray, July 2008

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


So how many people were living there when you were there? All your brothers and sisters, of course?

Yeh, all my brothers and sisters. Aunt Clare used to sleep in the room on the front of the house, which was basically used as a bedroom. Miss Oelrich used to sleep in the one that was the maid's room, and the rest of us used to sleep mainly on the verandah, and the mosquitos used to eat you to death if you didn't have a... That was the curse of my life - mosquitoes and flies, and fleas, because of the... most of the sheds had, you know, there was dust in them and the fleas used to breed and you always lived with fleas. Because there was nothing to kill the rotten things in those days.

It must have been very cold in the winter time out on the verandah, sleeping there, was it?

Oh no, we always rugged up pretty well. I never really worried about it. It wasn't something you worried about.

Now with all that milk on the farm, with all the cows and everything, did your mother make her own butter?

Oh you always made your own butter, yes.

How did she make it?

The hard way! Actually, to make butter you have to separate the milk - get the cream out of it. That was done in a separating machine which used centrifugal force to throw the cream out of it. And then you put it in a ... I think it was a churn, a wooden churn. It used to have a big flapper in it. You had no electricity to wind it and it used to make it into butter. You can do it another way... you can put the milk on this wooden stove, on not a very hot place, and pour the milk in and the cream forms on the top in the heat - it sort of gets a scum on it, well that's the cream, and then you make that into butter.

Was it nice butter?

Oh yes, palatable. Sometimes they didn't put enough salt in, and those things, but it was good butter, yes.

Kitchen and Laundry building at Bella Vista Farm 1980

Tell me a little bit about the laundry facilities in the house.

Oh they were good. You had a copper. You bailed the water into it from a tank which was about a couple of yards away. You put a big fire under it. You poured in some soap which they made at home somehow, and then you poked it with a stick. And after it had boiled for about an hour it was supposed to be clean. So you dragged it out and put it into the tubs, bailed the water in on it and rinsed it about three times and then you had a mangle - a mangle was like a torture machine, it had two big wooden rollers about 8 inch radius, I'd say, going together, and a handle on it and you wound it and someone put the clothes through, and squeezed the water out. And it just went on the floor - no... it wasn't as good as they have today. But wash day was a pretty big day. Mum never changed the sheets every week, she changed... pulled the bottom one off, and put the top one on the bottom, so you got two week's wear out of one sheet.

And how did she do the ironing?

With the old Mrs Pott's Irons. Mrs Pott's Irons were an iron - shaped about the same as an electric iron with... they used to hold the heat inside somehow. And it had a handle on it. You'd put it on the stove - the fuel stove - get it hot and then put the handle on it, that clipped on, and then you'd iron. First of all you'd run a piece of candle over it and give it a rub with a rag to get any dirt off it, then you'd iron the clothes. It was a slow process.

Sounds like a heavy process.

Oh well, things were pretty rough for the women in those days. They worked hard.

What about the heating in the winter time? What would you use for that?

Well, we used to eat mainly in the kitchen. We had a wood fire that kept the place warm, also kept it warm in the Summer too, but... Then in the lounge room, which was the one in the front of the house we had a big... we used to put a drum in the fireplace - it was just an open fireplace, and it'd throw out a lot of heat. I mean the days... they didn't put big logs in there, because when you put big logs in, all the heat used to go up the chimney, so you had these drums... there'd be about a 12 gallon drum with a few holes punched in them, and put the fire in there, and the heat came back, then, radiated from the steel.

Bella Vista Farm cottage shop stored items for its many employees c1880 - c1912 

Interesting. Now how did you get your supplies, food, and other stuff that you needed?

Well that's going to surprise you, isn't it? When I was there we got a baker every day - came up on a horse and cart. We got the ice man once a week. We got the fish man once a week. And then the rest came from the store at Seven Hills.

What store was that? Do you remember the name?

Hartley's Store. See, those stores in those days were a bit like the country stores of today. You could buy everything that you wanted, just about. You could buy shotguns, shotgun cartridges. You could buy all the groceries... We used to have a greengrocer too and a butcher, come sometimes. It was just a case that you just had to order a bit ahead. Dad had about an acre of land down Seven Hills station, where you used to put your horse in - let your horse go in the paddock, and the sulky went in the shed down there, and there was always someone going to school, someone going somewhere, and... because the train was the main transport in those days, from Seven Hills. It'd take you into the city in about an hour, which is nearly as good as today!

Did your father have a car of any sort?

Yeh, he had an old Overland. He never really liked it very much, but he drove it. But it didn't seem to... mainly he went on the horses. He always had good horses. My eldest brother used to drive it, but we didn't seem to use it that much. Of course the family didn't really go out much, it was mainly one... you wouldn't take the car out with only one person in it. Even when we went to the Show we went in the sulky down to Seven Hills and off we went...

So you must have had buggies or a cart for the horses then?

We had a buggy but my sister and I were the only ones that used that for fun. Mainly Dad had a couple of sulkies and he used the sulkies. You can get about four into a sulky two adults, two children. Horses they were fairly good, I mean you covered ground and you couldn’t drive a car over… if you wanted to do anything in the cattle you’d have horses drive them from paddock to paddock. Bring one out of the so and so. Motorcars weren’t part of the equation in those days I don’t think. No tractors, no nothing. Motorcars they could be very nasty in those days. You didn’t have a self starter and if you’ve ever cranked a four cylinder engine with a hand. If you didn’t crank them the right way you could break your wrist. They‘d kick back on you. Usually if they wouldn’t start you’d end up putting hot water in the radiator, pushing them. It would be better to stay at home. We used to push.

Gate leading to paddocks at Bella Vista Farm 1980 

Now did the horses also plough the fields?

Yes as I said before old Tom used to do most of it. Dad used to do a fair bit. It’s not only…when you come to ploughing fields you ploughed it. You then had to harrow it, that was to break up the big lumps and then you might have to put a disc harrow over it. That was to chop it up a bit more. Then you had to roll it. I often was given the job of rolling it because I couldn’t kill myself doing that. That means you flattened it all out and then you sowed the seed in it. I mean the method in those days which is not in vogue today was in every sowing turn the land over and go through all the process. Today they go on the basis… well they just have a machine that digs a little hole in the ground and puts the seed in. I think they call it dry sowing or something you don’t cultivate the land every time you put anything in it. Things do better then.

Was it wheat or corn that your father was growing on the farm?

Wheat, corn, sacaline that was about all. The wheat was for hard feed for the horses because a horse on just grass alone can’t work. It’s like putting kerosene in a motor car it won’t work. So you had the green feed for the cattle that was mainly sacaline and corn and the dry feed. See that was the feed you cut that once a year and you put it in big stacks around the place. They were especially built so they didn’t get the rain in them and rot them.

So how did your father harvest those crops?

He had what they call there was two things for the hay. For the wheat he had a reaper and binder which is a machine pulled by three horses. It had a cutter blade on it like a scythe and that would cut the stuff. Then it was picked up in a running belt I suppose you’d call it. It used to throw it at the back and then it would put a piece of string around it and tie a knot and then flick it out the back. Then after he did all that you used to go round, I used to get that job too. You’d put all these in little stacks of about six rolls and they used to sit up there until they dried out. The point was if they didn’t dry out and you put them under the shed or anywhere like that they could burn. They created a fire by heat. Then you’d lose all your feed. Also if the rain came at the wrong time they didn’t cure as well. So it was a hazardous business. Still is today.

Now the transport you said was a train. Was it a steam train? What was the closest station?

Seven Hills, no they were old steam trains. They were only little engines. I don’t know what you'd call them. But they weren’t the big engines that you see on the Flying Scotsmen I think it used to be. But they were suburban engines, they used to have water, often they used to have to stop at Seven Hills to put on water. They coaled up at night. They were very efficient not as quick as an electric train off the mark but once they got wound up… the train that used to go from the city to the mountains, it used to go through Seven Hill’s station. They didn’t stop they stopped at Penrith and Strathfield. That used to go through the station at Seven Hills when we were waiting for the other train to come and it would rock the station. They used to be travelling about sixty miles an hour.

Wool from Bella Vista Farm being carted to Seven Hills Railway Station 1920 

Did your father still grow wool on the property?

Yeah until the day he died he had wool. He only used to have about one hundred and fifty sheep. The problem was …sheep became a problem up there because you had to….Well that used to be part of my job. You had to round them up and put them in a small paddock over night so you could watch them because of the dogs. The dogs were bad in those days they used to get amongst the flock and kill about ten or so. Many a dog got shot by my father hounding his sheep.

Did you father send the wool to market by steam train as well?

I know there’s a photograph. Before my time they used to take it down to…they used to put it into the big wool bales. They used to press it into that and they used to take it down to the station. Seven Hills had a freight line and so did Blacktown. They used to put the bales on that. But that was taken down in a big dray with two horses in it and stacked up. To get down to Seven Hills Station, they only walked, take you about two, two and a half hours then they’d load it on that and come back. The trains in those days… we used to sometimes pick mushrooms. There was a lot of mushrooms on Bella Vista, for the family, the extended family and the relations. They used to send them in a box from Seven Hills Station and they’d get there. Some people lived in Hurstville. You could send anything in those days I don’t think you can do it now. But parcel post on the trains was pretty effective in those days.

Now going back to the sheep. Were they shorn on the property?

Yeah we had the stand, I told you about the shed, we had two stands on there. Mainly Dad used to get shearers in. Well one shearer mainly. Two shearers would knock it over in a day. They used to have the shed. They had the wool press in the packing shed. They used to press it and sew it up and you’d stencil your name on it who it was from and off it went and it was sold. It’s a specialised job today I mean Merino wools, if you want to get a good price for wool you have to grade it about eight times and get the best wool in one bale. They used to put mostly all the wool in one bale and I don’t think it was very effective price wise. But in those days it was a pretty good seller. Today it wouldn’t sell.

Old Windsor Road Bella Vista 1989 

What was Windsor Road like in those days?

Windsor Road as far as I can remember was pretty good. I was only telling Mark the other day even before we sold the place and I was going to work. We used to get a call from the neighbour that some motorcar had gone through the fence up there and you had to go and repair it at night. It was a fairly good road. The Old Windsor Road I won’t say about that. But the new Windsor Road well that was the main highway. It was a tarred road a good tarred road. That’s why I brought up about the fence because you have to have a bit of speed up to knock fences down.

Keith, what form of communication with the outside world did you have?

We had the only telephone there was one in Blacktown and one at Bella Vista UW8500.

Was it a party line?

No the only direct line. I think it must have gone back a long way. Blacktown was party line, no not party line. Blacktown was an exchange line when that opened. There was an estate agent Jim Simpson in Blacktown he had the only phone in Blacktown and we had the only one… oh there was one at the station, a public phone. But we had the only one in a residence in Seven Hills.

That’s pretty historic isn’t it?

I even remember the number.

Did you ever use it yourself?

Oh yes, I could used the phone. I was pretty smart! I don’t think it takes much…

How about mail was that delivered to the house?

No that was delivered on the Old Windsor Road, Meurant’s Lane. You had to go and get that. It was put in a box on the Meurant’s Lane. They didn’t deliver.

So how far was that from the house?

About a mile.

So you used to ride your horse there?

Sometimes ride, walk sometimes. I was pretty healthy in those days not like I am today.

I’m interested in your schooling too, Keith. What school did you go to? Kellyville wasn’t it?

No I went to school at the St Andrews Church I don’t know why I went there. Isabel and I went there. They had a governess Miss Button for the church children. She knew the Hordens. I went up there for… when I first started off school because I used to go. Isabel went first and then I went with her in the end. We used to double bank on a horse. I used to sit on the back which was the worst spot. An old white pony and that’s where we went. Then I was transferred to Parramatta followed the lady in when the Hordens left the hall up there. Then I think in the depression I was sent to Kellyville because they couldn’t afford anything else. So I went to Kellyville. I used to ride there and leave my horse in the stable.

Kellyville Public School building erected 1898

How did you do your homework?

By candlelight.

Did you have any other light at home?

Yeah we had the Gloria Light in the kitchen, the Gloria Light in the lounge room.

What’s a Gloria Light?

A Gloria Light is a petrol light. You have a drum you fill up with petrol and it has a gauge on it. You put a pump on it and pump it up to a certain pressure then it’s transhipped through a very thin wire into the lamp in the required room. It has a mantle on it, do you know a mantle? A mantle which are very brittle and also it has I suppose you’d call them a valve. It was a long thing you used to heat up, tube, then it would vaporise the fluid and then it would go into the lamp and you would light it with a match. It took about five minutes to get it started. It was very effective though, a good light. They used to use them in halls and churches in those days. It was very effective except one time… Dad had put a wire around the front fence because it was sagging. I don’t know if it was white ants or dry rot. That got struck by lightning the wire and it jumped up to the telephone line and when it hit in the house it hit the petrol from the line into the lounge room. Put a hole in it and it was burning. I think it was my brother grabbed it and put… he shouldn’t have done it. He pulled the drum off and everything cut the wire but it stopped the fire. But there was for a long time, there was a black mark above the bedroom where the flame had taken hold. If no one had been there the house would have burnt down because it’s a good starter, petrol.

Back of Bella Vista Farm homestead Open Day 2007

The Friends of Bella Vista (Farm) is the organisation that you said you were part of. What’s their aim?

Mark: We’re working with the Council. We’ve been appointed by Council to look into the site. The Council has the Conservation Management Plan and they’ve just approved their Draft Plan of Management. So it’s the committee appointed by Council. All of us have a deep interest in the site and a deep desire to see it preserved and so we’re working with Council. Council will be appointing also a management committee and all of that is happening now. We have regular working bees up there, we’ve done a lot of gardening work. We work up there in conjunction with the Council’s parks and gardens people. At the present time cleaning up the site. We run the open days and we are looking at ways of having more public access to the site.

Now you’ve got so many fond memories of the place Keith?

Oh yes I loved the place. When we grew up and it wasn’t running my brother and I had to look after it was murder. You never had any time. Isabella and I and Ted I think it was mainly. They used to take stock on agistment and that was always work.

Sorting fruit outside the packing shed at Bella Vista Farm c1890

You had to get the stock up for the people who had them. I remember once a fella had some trotters up there and one horse fell in the well near the coach house and I was the sucker that had to go down in the water and put the harness round it to lift him out with a block and tackle. Because I was the littlest I didn’t take up much room. I often thought maybe because I was dispensable, because a horse in water is not a happy thing. You have to calm them down. When it’s running as a farm it’s a much happier life. I don’t think my brother and I could keep on top of it. You had to repair fences and everything like that. That’s really one of the reasons it was sold. It was just too much.

So how do you look back at your time at Bella Vista Farm, Keith?

I actually look at it as a happy time really. I mean we didn’t have much time to ourselves and we worked. We were a happy family. See the Pearces are a happy lot I always think. I’ve got a happy family grandchildren and everything. It was a happy time you all worked together. Saw the relations. Mum and Dad had a good relationship with all their family. They used to come up there cripes I don’t know how they would come in. When you think about it on a fuel stove Mum often used to have twenty, thirty people there. Different times, they all used to come up there. They were always fed and looked after and they were happy times. There was a good relationship between us all.