Keith and Mark Pearce


Bella Vista Farm

Interview 2a

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


Tell me (Keith) a bit about the family that you grew up in?

The family comprised Mum and Dad there was our Aunt Clare and a Miss Oelrich who was a sort of maid and housekeeper. Then I had Ted, Gordon and Norman and Isabel and me we were the children.

Your father, what did he do for a living?

Well he farmed the place.

Where was the family living at the time?

They were all at Bella Vista. Dad (Toby) was born there and he took over the farm when his father died basically.

Now it goes back quite a way doesn’t it the farm and your family? Mark perhaps can you tell me first when you were born so that we have an idea?

Mark Pearce is my name born in nineteen fifty-one lived in Castle Hill up to the time I was married in nineteen seventy-nine then we’ve lived at Kellyville ever since.

Now tell me Mark a little bit about the history of Bella Vista Farm as far as your family is concerned?

The Pearce family bought Bella Vista in eighteen forty- two. It was William Thomas Pearce my great, great grandfather who bought the property. He left it to his second son Edward Henry Pearce. It was Edward Henry Pearce who built the property up to be the largest orange, citrus producing orchard in the colony of NSW. It was at its height for citrus growing in the eighteen nineties, nineteen hundred around then. Edward Henry Pearce built the house up there that we see today. The Bella Vista homestead and he owned it until nineteen twelve. Then as Dad said at his death in nineteen twelve it was passed onto his oldest son my grandfather Toby Pearce.

Bella Vista Farm packing shed Open Day 2007

Now I believe that your great (great) grandfather was Matthew Pearce who grew oranges for a reason? Do you know the reason?

I can tell you that was for scurvy on the boats.

That was a new discovery then was it that oranges would treat scurvy?

No I think that went back to Captain Cook, he was the first one that used some sort of fruit I think to stop the scurvy. I don’t think it was a discovery by the Pearce’s. They just took the opportunity where there’s a market grow it.

What do we know about Matthew Pearce either of you?

Mark: Matthew Pearce he was in fact my great, great, great grandfather arrives in NSW on the second lot of free settlers. On the Surprise in seventeen ninety-four was granted land at Seven Hills in seventeen ninety-five. He called it King’s Langley Farm and his family grew up there. It was his youngest son William Thomas Pearce who inherited King’s Langley Farm and then William Thomas Pearce bought Bella Vista eighteen forty-two like I’ve said. So that’s how the line comes down. Matthew Pearce was a free settler, he was a farmer he cleared the land. By eighteen twenty-eight from his original one hundred and sixty acres he owned eleven hundred acres. But unlike a lot of his neighbours the Pearce’s stayed in the Seven Hills area. They didn’t go into the country. Other families like the Suttor’s and the Best’s took up runs in the country west of the mountains when that country was opened up. By about nineteen hundred various of Matthew’s grandchildren owned all the land. There were about eight or nine Pearce properties and they stretched from Baulkham Hills all the way along the Windsor Road out to Rouse Hill. So all the grandsons basically took up properties in the Hill’s District.

I believe that the Bella Vista Farm goes back as far as Macarthur. Can you tell me about that?

Mark: It in fact goes back earlier than Macarthur. It was land originally given to Joseph Foveaux among others. Foveaux held it just for a few years that was seventeen ninety-nine. He had sheep on it in eighteen hundred and one John Macarthur purchased Foveaux’s stock farm with over twelve hundred sheep that were on it. The Macarthur’s owned it for twenty years and used it along with their other properties in developing their flocks of sheep and early development of the merino. They weren’t alone in developing the merino. Sometimes I think John Macarthur gets too much credit. So it’s a fine balance there are those out there giving the impression that the Seven Hills farm was used exclusively by the Macarthur’s for the development of their merino flocks. That’s certainly not true it was used in conjunction with all their other properties.

Dam at Bella Vista Farm 1980 

It’s interesting though that for the bulk of the period that the Macarthur’s owned it John was overseas. He was sent overseas at one stage for a court martial and for the bulk of that time it was looked after by Elizabeth Macarthur as were all the Macarthur holdings. So she was really the one responsible. She’s the one who described what became Bella Vista as “my Seven Hills farm”. She was the one looking after all the Macarthur interests, their land and their stock while John was overseas for the bulk of that time. Bella Vista their Seven Hills farm property as they called it wasn’t their only property. They had land at Pennant Hills (in the vicinity of Pinetree Drive Reserve, Carlingford), their breeding stud merinos were held down at Elizabeth Farm at Parramatta and they also owned land at Camden. Where they eventually consolidated all their land and the Bella Vista farm site was handed back to the crown in eighteen twenty-one in exchange for land at Camden. Descendants of John Macarthur still live there in Camden Park.

The Pearce’s built all the fences, all the dams I don’t think you could run sheep all the year round because there really wasn’t any permanent water. They’d have to be controlled by shepherds, by dogs. The shepherds would more likely stay with the sheep. The dogs would look after them and that was it I think. I think there was a few Aboriginals around wasn’t there Mark? Wanting a feed now and then knocked the sheep over. I get upset when they say the Macarthur’s built up the farm. They didn’t build up the farm at all. They built nothing they just put a few sheep there like on common land. That’s about all. I don’t think sheep actually… according to my father sheep didn’t do very well in this area because they had to have shepherds because they suffered from footrot and fly strike and it wasn’t good country for sheep. As you’ll find these days there’s no sheep in these areas. You’ve got to go over the mountains.

Well thanks very much Keith for that insight.

Mark: That’s true we need to remember to that this is pre the crossing of the mountains so it. There were sheep here but it was pre eighteen thirteen when west of the Great Dividing Range was opened up. We do need to remember that there is nothing on the site today dating from Macarthur ownership. What Dad says is true all the buildings and all the fences and everything were from post Macarthur ownership. When the property was sold in eighteen thirty-eight there’s an ad in the Sydney Herald and all that was there in eighteen thirty eight was just one cottage on the five hundred acres that comprised Bella Vista. So all the buildings that are there today are post eighteen thirty eight.

Do either of you know how Bella Vista got its name?

Mark: No I assume Edward Henry Pearce named it. Going up there it’s obvious why it got its name and it just has magnificent views and you can on a clear day see all the way to the city and see Centrepoint Tower. It’s a very high point over all the surrounding country. It’s not a name… the first reference we have for it is in the eighteen nineties during Edward Henry Pearce’s ownership.

View of Norbrik looking north west of Bella Vista Farm c1980 

Didn’t it mean beautiful view? Bella Vista Spanish wasn’t it?

Mark: Yes, that’s it.

So in the period between eighteen thirty-nine and the eighteen nineties when Edward Pearce inherited the property or bought the property. What was it used for at that time for those fifty odd years?

Mark: I don’t know and I mean that’s a great frustration that there’s very little written records about this. We have virtually nothing in our family papers that indicate… I mean we know like I say that the eighteen eighties, eighteen nineties the whole of the Hills District I mean Bella Vista wasn’t alone. Was given over to citrus growing and the Pearce’s were one of many. The Suttor family in fact had started… George Suttor I understand and others will know this history better than me. But started with orange growing very early on in the eighteen twenties, eighteen thirties (actually earlier). He certainly I think grew the first commercial orange trees in the district. But over the succeeding time up until the eighteen eighties the whole district became orange orchards as far as the eye could see and there are early photos eighteen eighties, eighteen nineties that show that. The Pearce property was one of many during that period that… The Pearce’s though were instrumental in that they actually shipped oranges to Melbourne. They were one of the first to do that. Also amazingly shipped them to England despite the length of the sea voyage in those days they did export oranges as well.

Quite an amazing thing to do in those days for the long voyage across the water?

Yeah it was way back then they were exporting fruit to Britain.

Edward’s son Toby inherited the property I believe in about nineteen twelve? Now he changed the farm a bit didn’t he? He introduced new things do you know what they were?

Mark: Well I think Dad would be better able to answer this. I think things became difficult I think the Hills District no longer became the fruit bowl of the colony and I think things moved out closer places like the Murrumbidgee Irrigation Area. But Dad would know better than I what was actually done.

Keith, can you tell me?

When I was born it was a dairy farm and they grew their own crops. They had working horses, horses for other things. They had a few cattle a few sheep but it was mainly a dairy farm which I think in those days was a paupers game. I really believe that because I don’t think Dad ever had much money and he worked like a slave from four o’clock in the morning to eight at night I think. It wasn’t an easy job because it depended so much on rain and all those sort of things. You had to grow your crops, you had to collect when it grew, you had to put it through the chaff cutter or you put it into haystacks. That would be dry feed for the horses and cattle when there was nothing else. It was a pretty hard racket. Now days as far as dairy farms go, people run the dairy farm, they but the feed but you had to do the whole lot yourself. Every morning the truck came and picked up the milk and every night it came and picked up the milk because they had no refrigeration. As I said before there was not very much profit in it I don’t think.

Fenced paddocks at Bella Vista Farm 1980

Now did Toby Pearce also introduce pig farming to the property?

No. The answer is yes but it wasn’t pig farming. He only grew pigs for his own use. We used to knock a lot of pigs over at Christmas time.

In converting the property to more of a dairy use did he actually have to destroy the orchard?

When I was there, there was only one orchard down near Meurants Lane on the Old Windsor Road. There was no other orchards there they’d all gone and they mainly went into growing crops for the horses and cattle for feed. When my father died (in 1933) Mum put in a manager to run the dairy farm and it just kept on going like that for a while. Then after I don’t know when it was it must have been when I was about fourteen that would be nineteen thirty-six. Mum leased it then and we went to Homebush to Homebush to live. Then the, see I’m no good on dates, I think about five years, six years later the fellow couldn’t make a living and Mum went back and started the dairy farm again. I don’t think that was very good. See the people that leased it had a dairy farm I think and then we just went back into it. Mum went on, in the end she was… she died (in 1941) and then it had to be sold basically (1950).

Toby Pearce was your father was he?

Yes that’s right.

And your mother’s name was Nellie?

That’s right. Nellie Hedges.

That was her maiden name? Tell me a bit about them what were they like?

They were just ordinary people, Mum and Dad and they looked after me. What qualities Dad had I don’t really think I would know because he was always working, he never stopped. That’s why he died young.

Mark: You were only just very young when your father died too?

Mmm see Mum she was a good mother but I don’t think there was a relationship between my Mum and my Dad as there is today. I mean the main thing is to make a crust as far as I could see and feed the family. You didn’t really go out much we used to go to the Royal Show for about a day Mum used to take us but you didn’t have much entertainment or anything. We used to go to church on Sunday like good boys and girls. I don’t really know that I really knew much about my Mum and Dad. They were good people and they did the best they could for us I think. We learnt all the good manners, how to behave and if you didn’t you got cropped. That was about it. I think you respected them. I mean I respected them all. Mum and Dad I think when you talked about the pig farm. I think Dad used to kill about six pigs, porkers I think he called them at Christmas time. He used to take them round to all Mum’s relations and his relations. He had ducks that he used to kill at Christmas. When his father was there, I never saw any Chinese, but they had a few Chinese. They used to live in the little houses around the place. They were working on the farm I think mainly for the oranges. Dad used to take a trip every year at Christmas in the old motor car and drop off ducks and pigs to the Chinese and he’d pick up a great stack of vegetables. He got on well with the Chinese.

Keith and his siblings played in the Moreton Bay Fig Trees 

Keith, tell me a little bit about your childhood?

When I got old enough to ride a horse you became part of the work force. That’s basically what it was. I used to have to get up at about four thirty I think when I was about twelve I had my sister there too. Our main job was you’d get up at about four thirty in the morning you’d get a horse which was close by, then you brought up the working horses. They went into their stable to be fed before they could work. Then if the cattle didn’t come up to feed and be milked you had to bring those up. You sort of went off to school after that. In the weekend they used to cut all the feed out of the paddocks put it through the chaff cutter and then they’d have enough feed for the whole week for the cattle and the horses. That’s about basically what you did. Went to Sunday school on Sunday we used to go down to Parklea there was a little church down there. It’s not there anymore I think someone pinched it. The land just seemed to vanish and the church went, it was a little one on stilts, wooden stilts. That was about what life was all about.

Who fed the horses, Keith?

Dad used to put that out every night. They were in a stable with a box, the same with the cattle. When he was first there they used to have a cow the cow would come in and have a box in front of it. They used to eat and then you’d milk them. After a while they put up feeders which made it quicker, you didn’t have to wait for the cow to finish eating the feed. They’d go into the feeder first be fed and then they’d come into the dairy to be milked. There was no milking machine it was all done by hand. The bails weren’t very flash nothing was very flash. I don’t know. I suppose they only milked about thirty five cows which is not a lot of cows. They’re talking seven hundred, eight hundred today, that’s why I think it was just a scratch living there wasn’t much money in it.

Cow bails at Bella Vista Farm 1980 

They have milking machines of course. Did your father milk all the cows?

No he had a man there Cornwall his name was. Two Cornwall’s used to work there, there was the father of the one that used to milk the cows and he used to do all the ploughing. You had a old board plough with two furrows, three horses and you used to plod behind them all day long. That was actually the labour force.

Mark: One of the Cornwall’s had a large family and lived in a very small hut didn’t he?

They all had large families the Cornwell’s. They used to, now wait a minute. One used to live over on the Windsor Road side. The extremities of the property not the Windsor Road part of it but it sort of came back like that. They used to call it McHugh’s(?) it was on the Chapel Lane property there used to be a little cottage halfway between that… there were only two, three bedrooms would be most. But they were luxurious the three bedroom ones. The other ones on the property that I knew…no there was another one down on the Old Windsor Road side that was the same. But the little ones for the Chinese that I knew they had a chimney. There was an old fellow Sid they used call him he used to get drunk every week. He was just stopped there he was a pensioner or something. He had a little cottage it had a fireplace and a bed that was about it. It was worse than Mowll Village.

Was this all part of the farm?

Yes it was all in there.

So how big was the farm actually how many acres or hectares?

Eleven hundred acres.

How did you get to school Keith?

Ride a horse.

Would you tie it up outside the school?

No when I went to Kellyville I used to some neighbour lent us a stable that I used to put it in. You wouldn’t tie a horse up all day. They’re animals they don’t like that. He used to be in a stable with a bit of a yard. You never kept your horse saddled or harnessed. You took them out you had to look after them they were valuable property.

Now Keith, what would have been a typical day for you as a boy? What sort of things would you do in an average day?

If it was an ordinary week day I used to usually get up when I was workable get the horses in as I said before. Get some of the cattle in if necessary then I had to come in. I had to pump up the…they had a pump on the well and a forty-four gallon drum outside the kitchen door and you used to pump the water into that. I think they call them snake handled pumps. You pump them up and down. Used to pump the forty four gallons and that was the kitchen water supply that was the bath water supply. Then I’d go to school I don’t think I ever did much at home. Oh yes I also often had to go and get the wood for the fire. That was usually chopped by someone I was too small to be trusted with an axe. You’d bring that up and put it in the kitchen box so the fire could run all day and run in the morning. That was about it then you did your homework and went to bed.

Can you give me a description of Bella Vista Farm? What was there when you were growing up? How many buildings, stables, the homestead etc? What was actually there Keith?

Well there was the homestead, then we go round there was a shed. I think they call it the coach house now. It was a place where all the buggies and sulkies used to go. Then there was a little place there that had a fireplace in it. Then you went a bit further down and then there was another shed and it used to have… there were two coppers in that I think that they were for making grog but I’m not too sure. I think they used to make grog in them. You went a bit further down they had the old blacksmith’s shop that was on the right and it would be the side of the house pointing towards the Windsor Road. Not very down that had a lean on it. Every Saturday or every fortnight old Swaggert(?) used to come along. He used to come from Auburn in a sulky and he'd shoe all the horses. See the blacksmith in those days he did all the sharpening of things and repairing of things. They used to weld, they'd weld by getting things red hot and bashing them together. He had no electric welding or anything like that. We go a bit further up towards the dairy, there was a little pig shed there and that’s where Dad used to run his pigs with about half an acre of land and they used to live on anything, slops they used to do well. Then we went a bit further up there was a little shed where they used to put implements in. Then they had the big… that was the feed shed. That’s the big one it’s still there. That’s where they had the chaff cutter they used to store any supplements that they bought for the horses and cattle. Next door to that in the same sort of building was the engine shed. That’s where they had the engine that used to drive the chaff cutter. Then we go sort of up from that there was the stable the stables had two ends in them. One had the working horses on the right, on the left the riding horses and they used to have in the middle of that the feed shed where all the feed was. It’s hard to explain but it was a big bin that used to run all the length of the horses. All the feed used to be put through a little hole in each stable on either side and then that was that.

Bella Vista Farm stables and feed shed 

Now where did we go then? We went over a bit further this is still there that was the implement where all the implements were kept. That had a well on one end of it. They had a lean to running into the shed used to put timber in there off the ground. Then on the end of that shed were two more horse stables for they were the sulky horses. In the other one I was talking about before they had the stallion stable. He was kept separate on his own. But he was on the end so he didn’t mix with the other lot. Then we go a bit further up towards the house, that's where the ducks (were). There wasn’t actually a shed but a bit of a lean-to for the ducks and the chooks. Then we came into the actual dairy. There was another sort of a shed there a lean to sort of a shed. When I say lean to they’re open to the weather on the sides. They use to have more equipment. They used to have the feeders in there they used to run onto that. On the right of that was the dairy where they had a dairy to milk the cows in. They had a milk shed where they used to separate and cool the milk with water. In the end of that they had a calf shed where the calves used to be put every day. Then they used to be fed off their mother at night. Then we came to the packing shed which was there before for packing the oranges and those sorts of things shipping them off. In my time it was used as a shearing shed. They had a two stand shearing shed. Where do we go now? There was a couple of wells there too and that’s about the lot of them I think. You’d be better with a plan oh you can’t talk in a plan can you.

Great description there Keith. Lovely word pictures there.

Talking about the homestead itself, can you take me for an imaginary walk through that all the rooms where everything was?

Well if we go from the back entrance you went in there was a bedroom where Miss Oelrich used to sleep. Then we came onto the kitchen. The kitchen when I was very young it had the big baker’s oven which I never saw used. It had the big stove. It had a dirt floor but Dad put a wood floor when I was about thirteen I think. Then if you went through the kitchen you came into the laundry and as soon as you came out of the kitchen door down a couple of steps you went into the actual… they called it the curing shed.

I never saw it done but they used to put ham and make bacon in there. They used to have a bit of a smoking fire and it used to smoke the bacon over about a week. That had two tubs a copper they use to have a tank beside it where you had to bail the water out with a bucket and pour it in the copper. Which was the way they washed the clothes and any other water you wanted in there then you came back to the kitchen next in line was the pantry. It was a big pantry where they had everything in. I think that was more for the days when you didn’t buy every day at the supermarket you bought every month if you were lucky. That had all the stores in it. Then you came into a big verandah which had doors on it. The doors used to face the road coming up from the front and then we came into the main door of the house which was that was the one that you used to lock up when you went out. On that the stairs went up at the left but on the bottom floor there was a bedroom and another bedroom then you came into the lounge room which was on the left of those bedrooms. The actual front door was there but we never used it. When you went into the lounge room there was another bedroom on the left which faced the other front door.

Bella Vista Farm buildings viewed from back of house 1980

Then you came into Mum and Dad’s room which was a huge room and that was about the end of the house there. Upstairs it was never used when I was there but it was basically they had a place that they called it the schoolroom. I never had a school but they did tell me that was where they taught people. When you went into the school room you’d go in over the kitchen. There was a sort of a loft which was never used there was only junk up there. Then you came back into the schoolroom facing the loft room on the right there was a balcony which ran the whole distance of the bottom floor. Where are we? Now we go back there was another room coming out of the schoolroom on the right, that was one, then there was another one that went a bit further along the hallway. In there, there was doors and they took out to the balcony on the front of the house. Then you came back into that other room and on the left there was another room which I never understood. That went into a big room about as big as Mum and Dad’s room in fact the duplicate of it. But you had to enter it through the other room. From what I can gather according to what they told me someone was very strict with their family. I think it was the ones before and they used to want to know what they all did. They could watch them night and day. That was the about the extent of the cottage on the top. Then they had a flash white fence around it in the front. It was basically, not in my time, but I think it was like Queen Mary. You had to come up in your carriage and be dropped at the front door. They had gravel paths and you could drive your carriage right through the gates. I never saw that we were too poor. That’s about it. Oh no wait a minute going back to the crude part. At the back of the kitchen and the laundry we had two toilets. Both double holers and they were both pit ones. Which means you dig a hole about eight foot down and you just keep using it til it fills up. That’s about it.

Mark: You and your brothers didn’t sleep in the house did you? You slept outside on the verandah is that right?

That’s right, yes, there wasn’t enough room.

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