2010 – Celebrating 200 Years of Riverstone History

by Judith Lewis

Planning for Riverstone’s Bicentennial Year began at the May 2009 Riverstone Festival following a discussion between Historical Society members and Blacktown City Council’s Events Co-ordinator, Peter Filmer, whose late mother, Margaret Steele, was a former Riverstone girl. Margaret’s father, Peter, was foreman of the Stores at Riverstone Meatworks from 1939 to c.1973. The Steele family was listed as residents of no. 29 Richards Ave., (Butchers’ Row) from 1939-1966.

Peter Filmer wasted no time. At Council’s meeting of 27th May it was resolved “that Council establish a Sub-Committee, as soon as possible, of Historical Societies, Interested Community Groups, Schools and Business Community to organise the Bicentennial celebrations for Riverstone which was established following a land grant on the 7th May 1810”.

The meeting took place at Riverstone Community Hall on Monday 31st August, with Councillor Alan Pendleton in the chair. Amongst the 30+ in attendance were Councillors Allan Green and Nick Tyrell, representatives from the Riverstone Dolphins Swimming Club, Historical Society, Lions Club, Neighbourhood Centre, St. John’s School, Families Connect, Senior Citizens, Chamber of Commerce, Uniting and Anglican Churches, the Memorial Club and Rouse Hill Farm.

Decisions made at this first meeting included:-
Events should celebrate all of the first 200 years and, as such, the Motto should be, “Riverstone – The First 200 Years”.

A Poster Competition to be run in local schools. – Families Connect’s Tricia Young and Stacey Crowley volunteered to promote this with the schools in Term 4. The Uniting Church, through Ernie Benz, would work towards having their Christmas tree lights resurrected as an iconic start to the year of celebrations.

Whilst a Bicentennial Committee was formed it was agreed that meetings would remain open to the public. The Committee included Peter Filmer, Councillors Pendleton, Green and Tyrell, Phyllis McAlpine – Festival Committee, Vikki Durrant – Neighbourhood Centre, Wal Smith – Lions’ Club, Tricia Young – Families Connect, Judith Lewis, Rosemary Phillis and Cheryl Ramsden – Historical Society and Glenn Hunter – Memorial Club. Regular attendees at future meeting were also to include Beryl Pendleton, Cathy Downey, Doreen Ross (until her sad death in March 2010), Margaret Mills, Lorraine Smith, Ernie Benz, Dennis Greenwood and Cathy Cummings.

Monthly meetings ensued. By the October meeting Alisha Cousins from Blacktown City Council’s Events Team had set up a website for the Bicentennial within Council’s website. Tricia and Stacey were now actively promoting the Poster Competition within the schools and a Poster Judging Committee was formed which, with Tricia and Stacey, also included Alan, Judith and Ernie. Judith made enquiries about the availability of the bell from St. Paul’s, originally from Riverston Farm (this proved to be too difficult to remove from its position at the church). This meeting also confirmed that Council’s Events Team would take over the Festival Street Parade and monthly activities would centre around the Museum to coincide with its Open Day, the first Sunday of each month. By the November meeting a draft programme was underway and enquiries were being made about replacing the use of the bell with the use of a Meatwork’s siren.

On Monday, 7th December the Poster competition was judged. Tricia and Stacey had been able to involve 140 students from four local Primary schools – Riverstone, St. John’s, Marsden Park and Vineyard and 27 from Riverstone High School. Each of the 167 students was to receive a Certificate of Appreciation. Winners were chosen from each school and those entries were to be framed and presented to the students at the launch of the Bicentennial Celebrations on 7th February. The two overall winners, Emily Pender from St. John’s and Jayme Ross from Riverstone High were to have their designs transferred to banners which were to be unveiled outside the Lions’ Park on that day.

At that evening’s meeting the Chair introduced Jenny Bissett, Manager of Council’s Arts and Cultural Development Department. Jenny talked about organising the painting of a Mural by a preferably local artist. A Committee, comprising Alan Pendleton, Vikki Durrant, Rosemary Phillis, Doreen Ross and Ernie Benz, was formed to liaise with her. (Later, it was deemed that the cost and viability of using a local artist would be unworkable and Tricia and Stacey were to volunteer to work with the Art Department at Riverstone High on this project.)

Memorabilia to be sold for the Bicentennial Year was decided. It would include badges, bookmarks, ’fridge magnets and pens (to be purchased by Council). Coffee mugs were suggested and later donated by Ernie Benz who also donated commemorative beer and wine glasses. Later that December, with the assistance of a local lumberjack, Ernie Benz was true to his promise and the Uniting Church’s Christmas tree lights once more shone over the town.

2010 arrived. Council, proudly supported by Riverstone Schofields Memorial Club, produced and distributed “Riverstone Bicentenary 2010 Events Program” containing a history and photographs and listing events from February to July.

Sunday 7th February officially began the celebrations with Blacktown City Mayor Charlie Lowles opening the Museum’s extension where the Historical Society members had mounted a most impressive 1950’s display. Jayme Ross and Emily Pender were presented with framed copies of their artwork at the celebrations. Wet weather meant the cancellation of the proposed Lions’ Park picnic but it did not deter locals, and people travelling from farther afield, who attended in droves.

Some of the crowd at the Official opening of the Museum extension.
Photo: Rosemary Phillis
Jayme Ross from Riverstone High and Emily Pender from St. John’s were presented with framed copies of their artwork by Alan Pendleton and Charlie Lowles. Photo: Rosemary Phillis

On 7th March the weather was kinder as visitors were welcomed to “Back to Riverstone Morning Tea” at the Museum. Likewise on April 4th, when a “Combined Churches Easter Service” was held in the Lions’ Park and on 11th April, when the Park and Museum hosted National Trust Heritage Festival Celebrations.

The weekend of 13th to 16th May was one not experienced in Riverstone since the “Back to Riverstone” in 1934, which celebrated the arrival of water and electricity to the town. Riverstone Neighbourhood Centre began, on the Friday evening, with its first ever three day Art Show in the Community Hall.

The 10th annual Riverstone Festival on Saturday 15th May began with the releasing, at 9:00am, of hundreds of homing pigeons. At 11:00am the meatworks siren heralded the start of he Street Parade, which was led by the Historical Society depicting events of the past 200 years. 600 bicycle riders took part in the Ride to Riverstone Bike Ride organised by the Lions’ Club. A Masters’ Rugby League game was played on the Basil Andrews’ Field and that evening a large crowd attended the Riverstone Junior Rugby League Football Club’s 95th Anniversary dinner at the Bowling Club.

Pigeon Club members release pigeons at the start of the Riverstone Festival.
The Riverstone and District Historical Society led the 2010 Riverstone Festival Parade.  Photo: Rosemary Phillis

At the June meeting Stacey was able to provide a sketch of the proposed mural being undertaken by Art students from Riverstone High School. Council would be covering the cost of the paint and the boards on which the mural was to be painted. June and July also meant busy days at the Museum Open Days with two new initiatives from the Bicentennial Committee – a Commemorative Paving and a Time Capsule Project. Each would involve community participation with Paving Project application forms due to be lodged by 31st July and Time Capsule items to be left at the Museum. The 2nd Edition Program came out in July and on 18th July the Riverstone Bicentenary Tree Planting Day was held at Knudsen Reserve.

At the August meeting Kevin Polly from the Events Team at Council spoke of the difficulties they had encountered in obtaining a suitable Time Capsule in Australia and he was now looking overseas. (The Time Capsule was finally purchased by Council from the USA.) Paving Project applications orders were received for 102 single, 97 double and 2 image logo pavers and enquiries were still being received. With orders still coming in Peter suggested a second lot of pavers might be ordered in 2011. Alan visited local schools during Education Week to present the Certificates to all the students who had entered the Poster project. He also left bookmarks to be presented to all students and badges for the staff.

The Lions’ Club showed a free movie, “Avatar” at the Basil Andrews Field in September. On the October Weekend, 2nd and 4th, Riverstone Bowling Club hosted a Bowls Tournament with prizes of $5,000, attracting bowlers from around the state. The winning pair on the Saturday was local and Historical Society member, Graham Britton, and former local, Barry Drayton. On Saturday 23rd October Historical Society’s Vice- President Clarrie Neal organised a School Reunion for those who attended Riverstone Public School prior to 1960. Over 100 people attended, many coming from the country or interstate.

The Bicentennial Finale on 7th November proved to be one of the most successful events. A large crowd was present for the unveiling of the Pavers and the putting down of the Time Capsule. Another busy Museum Open Day and Picnic in the Park with free rides and activities for children, displays and stalls and stage entertainment followed these ceremonies. In his speech Chair of the Bicentennial Committee and now Mayor Alan Pendleton congratulated the Committee on their work over the past 16 months, commenting that it was the best Committee with which he had ever been involved.

Mayor Alan Pendleton and President of the Historical Society, Judith Lewis unveil the pavers in the Lions Club Park. Photo: Rosemary Phillis
Councillor Allan Green, Mayor Alan Pendleton, Judith Lewis and Councillor Jess Diaz at the unveiling of the pavers in the Lions Club Park. Photo: Rosemary Phillis
Lowering the Time Capsule into place next to the Museum building. Photo: Rosemary Phillis

On Saturday 4th December Mayor Pendleton once again officiated, at the unveiling of the mural on the alcove at the southern end of Marketown, calling the mural “a piece of artwork the community can reflect on now and for many years to come”. The striking mural was supervised by High School Principal, Alistair Yates and teachers Alison Lamb and Keryn Lambert and was painted by a total of 38 students from Years 8 and 9 with all students from Year 7 and the Support Unit also getting the opportunity to paint a small part of the mural. Jayme Ross, Cassandra Burke, Mikayla Tabone, Kim Tabasa, Shiraz Costello, Natalie Johnston, Gemma Douglas and Claudia Reed were the students who contributed most to the completed artwork.

The newly erected mural in position on the side wall at Marketown. Photo: Rosemary Phillis
Some of the members of the Bicentennial Committee
Back: Phyllis McAlpine, Cheryl Ramsden, Judith Lewis, Rosemary Phillis, Peter Filmer, Dennis Greenwood, Ernie Benz, Stacey Crowley, Tricia Young and Vicki Durrant.
Front: Lorraine Smith, Beryl Pendleton, Margaret Mills, Mayor Alan Pendleton, Councillor Allan Green, Wally Smith and Cathy Cummings. Photo: Rosemary Phillis

On Australia Day 2011 the Bicentennial Committee was awarded Blacktown Council’s Australia Day Award for Community Event of the Year and Historical Society Secretary Rosemary Phillis was named as Blacktown’s Citizen of the Year for 2010, a truly fitting finale for such a special year.

Blacktown City Council Australia Day Awards
Representatives from the Bicentennial Committee present at the awards pose for a photo. Mayor Alan Pendleton, Beryl Pendleton, Rosemary Phillis, Judith Lewis, Peter Filmer, Councillor Allan Green, Cheryl Ramsden. Photo: Beverley Phillis

AP Motors

by Clarrie Neal

Wally Wood had closed his business in Railway Terrace. Penfolds used the shop to sell their wines for a short period before it was taken over by H G Palmer Electrical Appliances. When they moved it was used as a Dry Cleaning business.

Charley Persak, now looking for larger premises, leased the building from Wally Wood for $300-00 per month. Charley bought the building for $17,000 in the early 1970’s and has never looked back. He opened an Auto Spares shop in Cowra in 1982, then opened another in Bathurst in 1985. He further expanded the business by opening a shop in North Richmond in 1989.

Charley worked hard to build up his chain of stores and never had time to take holidays, but one holiday he did do was a trip to China, a prize won from one of his suppliers for being their best customer. Finding the task of operating the four stores too demanding he sold his Cowra and North Richmond shops and now operates the Riverstone and Bathurst shops only. Charley, along with his wife Gwenda and son Adam, can still be found behind the counter in Riverstone, seven days a week, eight to ten hours a day.

His wife Gwenda writes – “His story is a gentle reminder that you can be anything you want to be, you just have to ‘make it happen’. Everyone in Riverstone knows Charley and he has a reputation for being a bit of a grump. But he has the stock and everyone knows it, he loves his stock, he loves his business, and he loves Riverstone.”

He is proud of the fact that the shop is a part of the early history of Riverstone. It was built in 1892 as a general store for brothers Charles and Thomas Davis, with Charles being granted a Colonial Wine licence in 1905.The store has continually served the community of Riverstone ever since.

AP Motors in 2006.                                                                  Photo: Clarrie Neal

Erica Persak

by Clarrie Neal

Erica Persak was born in Creek Street, Riverstone in 1955 to parents Stanislaw and Tatjana who had arrived from Europe in 1949. Riverstone is a small town in the Hawkesbury district, an area rich in the history of early Australian settlement, yet in the 1950s and 1960s the existence of museums in this area was limited. Erica attended the Riverstone Public School for her primary education and completed her secondary education at the Riverstone High School. Erica, a good scholar, always displayed a keen interest in history and in particular ancient history.

She left home to attend the Australian National University in Canberra, ACT where she pursued her interests in classics and history and graduated with an Honours Degree in history in 1977. Her major at University was on the US anti-slavery movement between 1830 -1836.

During her university career she developed a keen interest in research and decided to take up studies in the field of librarianship. She undertook a course in children’s librarianship where she developed an interest in children’s books; she recalled her most challenging and most humorous tutorial presentation was on the story of Goldilocks and the Three Bears, and how this simple fairy tale was re-interpreted in the late 19th and early 20th century.

It was during this time that the National Gallery of Australia was being built in Canberra and she watched its construction with interest. When Erica completed her graduate diploma in librarianship in 1979, she was offered positions at both the National Library of Australia and the National Gallery. For reasons she cannot explain she accepted the position at the National Gallery. Her first duties were to catalogue the Gallery’s collection of illustrated and artist’s books.

In 1980 she transferred to the Registry Department to work on a computerised collections management system. She recalls how nervous she felt the first time she handled an extremely valuable piece of art, it was the Henri Matisse painting of ‘The Abduction of Europa’.

On a private trip to America in 1981 she visited a number of US art museums to investigate their computerised collections’ management systems. She resigned from the Gallery in 1982 and went to America to work in the Arizona State Art Museum. While there she developed an interest in native Indian culture and spent every opportunity she could learning about and visiting cultural sites.

She returned to Australia in 1984 to accept the position of Registrar at the Art Gallery of Western Australia. This was an exciting and turbulent period for Erica, as besides working with Elizabeth Churcher, she had contact with the entrepreneurs Alan Bond and Robert Holmes A’Court who at the time had both established significant art collections.

Erica returned to Canberra in 1993 to take up the position of Registrar of the National Museum of Australia. In 1996 Erica received her Graduate Certificate of Management Studies from the University of Canberra.

In 1997 after an absence of 15 years she returned to the National Gallery to take up the position of Registrar of Collections. In 1999 she was appointed General Manager of Collections Services, embracing the fields of Registrations, Conservation, Library Research and Photographic Studies. She is also responsible for programs that enable state and regional galleries to borrow items from the National Gallery for their own exhibitions.

On the 16th December, 2006, Erica was presented with her Diploma of Fine Arts certificate and intends to continue studying for her Doctorate degree.

Clarrie Neal 2006

PS. Erica has returned to Western Australia and is now the Curator for business magnate Kerry Stokes’ private art collection.

Clarrie Neal 2007

2000. Betty Churcher, Erica Persak and Margaret Whitlam at the National Art Gallery.
Photo: Erica Persak Collection

Charley Persak

by Charley Persak

I was born Volodymyr Demeczyk on the 11th January 1943 in Dombrowa, Poland. My father Stanislaw was Polish and my mother Tatjana was Ukrainian, I was the first of their three children. My brother Josef was born in 1950 and sister Erica was born in 1955, both were born in Riverstone.

My mother’s family were quite wealthy share-farmers in the Ukraine and lived off the land, growing all their food and meat in the few short months of their summer. With no electricity or refrigerators they used to bury their food in the snow and use it as required through the long winters.

When the Russians invaded Ukraine they confiscated all their land and farms; my mother aged 18 fled to Poland where she met and married Stanislaw. The family were to experience all the horrors of World War 2. I recall my mother saying when I was born she was afraid to put me down, she carried me everywhere for the first two years of my life. It was sad, but people losing their babies would actually steal other people’s babies and children to replace their lost ones.

Barely three years old at the time, I still have memories of the bombs dropping, the blackouts, the snow drifts, and the day I got lost in the snow. I recall the day the Americans made us drop everything and rushed everybody outside from their buildings, prior to the area being bombed.

I remember the day I found all this paper money in a garbage bin; money in times of war becomes valueless, but I didn’t realise this at the time. Leaning into the bin to get the money for my mother I fell in, dad found me with my feet sticking out and very grubby from the garbage. I got into big trouble that day as I had just had a bath and was dressed in my good clothes. It was a lot of work keeping a kid clean in those days, there was no running hot water and the water had to be boiled in a kettle; you washed in a round tub on the floor with an inch or two of water, no matter how cold the weather was.

Another time I was sent to get some rations from the store and took so long my father came looking for me. He found me waiting to cross the road, watching a huge convoy of American Army trucks and tanks come rolling into town, a show of might so big it seemed to take ages to pass.

As the war ended our family was sent to a refugee camp for an unknown period – maybe a year or two, while awaiting transport to Australia or Canada.

I became very sick in Naples and for a time it was thought I would be unable to travel with my parents. Mother put hot poultices on my chest and nursed me day and night back to good health. The problem had been caused by eating too many tomatoes and peanuts, produce that I had never seen before in my life until I came to Italy.

Dad chose Australia and we sailed from Naples in July 1949 on the converted American troopship, ‘General W. M. Black.’ As with other migrant ships, the men and women lived in different parts of the ship. As the youngest child on the ship I felt I had the run of the ship, the crew spoiling me with a never ending supply of chocolates and ice-cream. The family arrived in Australia on the 29th November, 1949.

We disembarked in Sydney and were transferred by bus to the migrant camp at Parkes in western NSW which had been an Army camp during the war. We were housed in what they called ‘Nissan Huts’, big round topped buildings about 100 feet long and capable of holding lots of families. My father was given a job on the railways so we returned to Sydney and lived in tents located adjacent to the railway yards at Clyde. My father had money deducted from his wages to pay back the cost of bringing our family out from Europe (unlike today).

When Dad had saved enough money he bought a small block of land in Creek Street, Riverstone and began building a shack made of wooden shipping cases. The wooden cases were bought from Knight’s Garage and had been used to bring cars into Australia from overseas. We lived in this shack until Dad bought another house on the opposite side of Creek Street. Dad left the railways after a few years and got a job at Max Gosden’s saw mill in Edward Street, where he worked till he retired.

I was now seven, could speak German, Polish and Ukrainian, and had to start school to learn English. My Mum changed my name to Arnold Persak, because it was easier for the teachers and children to remember and might help me integrate more quickly. I went to the Catholic Primary School in Riverstone and with no knowledge of English found it very difficult at first. One day I walked all the way home (two kilometres) in the middle of lessons to go to the toilet, because no one had told me there were toilets at the school. When I had learnt a little English I did better at school and got quite good grades, especially for neat work.

At about age eight my school had a baptism day and they asked me if I had been baptised; I said no, so they baptised me. The priest asked me my name; I had a best friend called Charley so I told the priest my name was Charley. And that is what my mother, father and everyone called me from that day on. Though my mother’s pet name for me became ‘Chalka’.

Growing up in Riverstone was great; it was a small country town on the outskirts of Sydney and we still had dirt streets. A railway line ran through the town and steam trains, both passenger and stock trains, were a common sight. At the railway gates there was a big water tank about 30 feet in the air on a stand so the trains could pull under and fill up with water to make the steam. There was a meatworks and a textile factory in town and they employed most of the townsfolk. I used to walk while I was at primary school and later at high school in Richmond I had to take the steam train.

We had to bathe twice a week in a tin tub on the floor with the water heated on two primus stoves. At times I remember Mum taking the clothes to the creek to wash them. The creek often flooded, in 1956 there was over four feet of water in our house and we were billeted in the Masonic Hall in Garfield Road, now used as the Museum.

I was expected to do lots of chores around the house even when I was quite young. We had a huge vegie garden where Mum grew most of our food, my job was to help weed and chip it. We had a jersey cow and we all just loved the still warm fresh milk, Mum made all our butter and cheese. Once when I was age eight and my Mum was in hospital having my little brother Josef, it was my job to milk the cow. The cow didn’t really know me, and no matter how hard I tried I couldn’t catch her. So I went inside and got one of mum’s dresses and put it on. I walked back down the paddock with my bucket, and the cow just stood there and let me milk her.

Charley and Erica Persak with Peter Notaris.
Photo: Charlie Persak Collection

We, my friends and I, used to play around in the creek down the back of our house. We would swim, build cubby houses and swing out of the trees on a rope and fall into the water. We spent all our time outside, I don’t think we ever wore shoes. There was no television in Australia in those days. My friends used to ask me to ask my Mum to make us ‘platzky’ or ‘pirogi’. ‘Platzky’ are either potato pancakes or flour pancakes. ‘Pirogi’ are little pillows of dough filled with mashed potatoes and cheese and fried with butter and onions. Delicious!!!.

Mum would cook for a week just before Easter and we would go to church on Good Friday. On Saturday Mum would spend all day in the kitchen again cooking. We had schnitzels, we had sauerkraut, potatoes, pirogi, platzky, mushroom sauces and trifles. We had bowls of everything and we would take it to church on Saturday night to be blessed. Sunday was the day for the feasts of all feasts, family and friends would all get together to eat and eat. There were a lot of European families in Riverstone and it was a lovely community spirit. We never had any chocolate or candy Easter eggs. It was more traditional for Europeans to paint pretty pictures and patterns on boiled eggs for the children, so that’s what we got. Plus the feast of course, which was most important.

Christmas was another fun time for all the families to get together to eat and meet; it was the same then. Mum would cook for days and we would eat it all in one day. We didn’t get any Christmas presents either, as most of the money went towards food and education for us. Although I do remember when I was 12 getting a push bike for Christmas, but as it turned out I could only ride it on weekends because Dad rode it to work every week day. We didn’t really mind though, because we always had a full tummy and a warm bed.

Some days after school I recall playing near the station and receiving a shilling to run down to open and close the railway gates. When Mr Murray owned the Olympia theatre I would chip and clear away the weeds behind the theatre and the meeting room, just to get free admission to the Saturday afternoon pictures. To get pocket money as a lad I remember helping deliver bottles of Noon’s soft drinks, also getting up early to help the iceman with his deliveries to the homes in our area. I recall the day the Vocational Guidance Officer came to the school and really put me down when he suggested I was more suited to being a garbage collector than a mechanic.

Although most of the old people have passed on, lots of their children and grandchildren still live in the area. We don’t have the big celebrations that we used to but when we get together, we still have a lot of fun and good memories. The spirit is still there.

I left school when I was 15 and worked as an offsider on one of A J Bush’s bone trucks before getting a job in the Textile plant where I worked for seven years until it closed. My next job was with Parramatta Spare parts in their wrecking yard.

I decided the spare parts business was the way to go, so started buying in spare parts and storing them in a wardrobe in a chook shed in our backyard. I then went into business at the Creek Street address, the year was 1967.Some of my first customers were the Riverstone footballers who on training nights would leave their cars with me to change tyres or carry out repairs.

2006. Brother and sister Erica and Charley Persak celebrate Erica’s graduation.
Photo: Erica Persak

Maisie Gillespie’s Memories of McCall

by Maisie Gillespie

Maisie and Jim Gillespie migrated from Scotland in 1948 and lived in Riverstone till they moved to a retirement village in Canberra 25 years ago. Maisie was the first ever, clerical assistant at Riverstone Primary School for many years and, after the Villawool Textile Factory closed at the Meatworks in 1978 Jim became the General Assistant at the school. Their daughter, Mary, after graduation, came to the school as a Special Education Teacher. When Maisie sent Judith Lewis information on the McCall Garden Colony, she enclosed the following:

“I was wondering if the Historical Society would like the enclosed booklets about the McCall Garden Colony. The reference to the Presbyterian minister is ME. I just loved those boys, and they gave so much love to me…

Just to give you a few insights of their innocence, here are a couple.

George’s favourite chorus, when asked, was “Jesus Wants Me For a Sardine” (meaning “Sunbeam”)!

One Easter, one of the boys was very upset because bad men had killed Jesus. Trying to explain the Resurrection, I told him that Jesus was not dead but was with His father in Heaven and that all those who loved Him would go to Heaven to be with Him one day.

“Will it be today, Mrs. Lesky?”
“Only God knows when that will be,” says I.
“Will I get my dinner before I go?” says he. Got his priorities right, eh?

Another time we were talking about Calvary. One boy asked where that was. Before I got time to answer, another boy said, “Don’t be stupid, it’s in Chinatown.” It was hard to keep a straight face sometimes.

Two years ago, the warden of our village asked us to share our special memories of Christmas and I have enclosed my contribution.

-that special time of the year when we not only ponder its true meaning, but also a time when the whole family gets together, though sometimes circumstances do not always allow this to happen. We especially ponder the special memories of loved ones gone before, who shared this time with us, and who now dwell in God’s haven of rest. I have fond memories of another “family” and our Christmases together.

For 25 years, before we came to Canberra, I had the privilege of ministering to a group of “boys” who lived in a residential home near where we lived. I say “boys” because that is what they were intellectually – some were physically as well – but ages ranged from 20 years to over 60 years. Our daughter, Mary, came with me as she played the piano.

What joy they greeted us with each time. Christmas time, singing the carols (in their own special way), made me think, “What much more pleasure they would have if we had the carols by candlelight!” For safety reasons the boys handicaps had to be considered. I might say here that the setting was ideal, for the home was set on a hill with fields all around.

Having gained permission from the matron in charge, who was delighted with the idea, I decided to “give it a go”. Here Jim came into the picture. He made 100 special masonite holders for the candles. That was to begin with! The Matron thought it would be an idea to invite the parents and families, hence more candle holders, Jim!

Jim became an integral part of the evening and he had such a lot of “help” setting up the sound system. That first night grew over the years. We included hand-held instruments, tambourines, triangles and shakers (made from sauce bottles). The boys were not able to read, but they all had to have a carol sheet.

Never will I forget the gusto when we sang! “We Three Kings” and “Oh, Star of Wonder, Star of Light” could be heard all over the valley.

Mrs Lesky, as they called me, will never forget the love these boys gave, and I know, in their own special way, they knew why we celebrate Christmas!

It’s Loving and Giving That Makes Life Worth Living.”

The McCall Garden Colony, Box Hill

by Judith Lewis

Photo from a 1975 booklet The McCall Garden Colony Box Hill, Via Riverstone N.S.W.

Earliest History
The earliest mention of Box Hill has been traced to 1811. Samuel Terry, a successful emancipist had been transported, in 1801, for stealing stockings. Having served his full sentence he became very successful and established “Box Hill Farm” on 1,700 acres that he purchased in 1819. In 1831 his son, John Terry, married Eleanor Rouse, the third daughter of Richard Rouse. They came to live at Box Hill Farm where, between 1831 and 1834 he had 10 assigned servants. John died on 25th November 1842 as a result of a fall from his horse. The Box Hill property was inherited by John’s son, Samuel Henry Terry.

John’s grandson, George Terry, married Nina Rouse on 24th April, 1895. They lived at Rouse House for about a year whilst the house at Box Hill was being renovated. George was declared bankrupt in 1921, the Box Hill land was subdivided and the homestead block of 212 acres was transferred to Nina, who had to borrow to buy it. By 1924 George and Nina were both bankrupt. The remaining 212 acres was sold and the Terry family moved to Rouse House, which Nina and her sister Kathleen had inherited from their mother, Bessie.

The Handicapped Children’s After-care Co-operative Society
Foundation and Aims
Hazel Nelson, a founding member of the Sub-Normal Children’s Welfare Association (now known as The Challenge Foundation), organised the establishment of the Handicapped Children’s After-care Co-operative Society, which was registered in July,1954. The Society’s aim was to establish Garden Colonies where handicapped persons over 16 years of age could live, for the rest of their lives, in pleasant surroundings.

Enter W.V. McCall
Hazel found Box Hill Farm, then owned by Mr (later “Sir”) William V. McCall, for sale through a Windsor Real Estate Agent. Hazel rang Mr McCall to make an appointment to see the inside of the house. Hazel spoke to Mr McCall’s son Bill who told her his father was “at the pictures”. Mr McCall rang Hazel at 10:45pm that night and he and Hazel spoke till 2am the next morning.

Photo from 1987 booklet The McCall Gardens Story

An appointment was made for the following Monday. They met on several subsequent occasions and Mr McCall nicknamed Hazel “Dynamite”. Mr McCall’s sister was a cripple and he told her he remembered his father saying, “Bad as it is, it’s a blessing she’s not sub-normal”. Hazel also remembered Mr McCall saying, “I’ve never been known to give more than a pound to charity. If you give too generously they don’t feel they have to work for it”.

The Acquisition
In 1956 a joint meeting of the HCACS and SCWA supported the acquisition of Box Hill Farm. Four representatives, including Hazel, then met Mr McCall at his Martin Place office to pay the deposit on the purchase. When the Secretary produced the cheque book Mr McCall said, “There’s no need for that. I’m giving it to the Association through Mrs. Nelson. You have no money, but I admire your spirit”.

Mr McCall’s donation comprised the original 43 acres and building. Shortly after this the Association purchased 10 acres to give more frontage to Terry Road and better access to the home.

A Branch is Formed
A meeting of Association members who were parents or relatives of older boys was called and the Box Hill Branch of the Association was formed. The Association handed control of the property to the Branch for development as a residential home for boys over 16 years. The initial finance of the Branch was donated by members attending this meeting. The founding committee was:
President: Mr Tom Ross,  Vice President: Mr Vic. Milesky, Secretary: Miss Betty Willis, Treasurer: Mr Frank Georgeson, Committee: Mr Harry Street, Mrs. Molly Laird, Mr Eric Hutchins, Mrs. Netta Dickinson, Mr George Bryer, Mrs. Joan Potter, Mrs. Marjorie Hambly

The homestead was structurally sound but, as it had not been occupied for some time, was not suitable as a residential home. Fund raising began to raise the finance needed to renovate the buildings and provide the facilities and furnishings. As money had to be raised quickly a series of Art Unions was planned. A professional promoter was engaged to sell the tickets by telephone. A flat was rented at Milsons Point, the Branch members voluntarily did clerical work and the promoter set about selling and what a seller he proved to be! He sold the tickets in one prize, a Holden car, with 1,000 tickets selling at £5 ($10) a ticket, in a very short time. The Branch was on its way!

The Work Begins
Altogether 13 Art Unions were run, raising about £17,000 ($34,000). The monies raised enabled the Branch to buy an additional 35 acres to bring the area of the property to 88 acres (36.2 ha) and to keep the home going.

Although some specialist labour had to be employed, most of the renovations of the buildings was undertaken by Branch members and their friends. Notable assistance came from the Bankstown Lions and Apex Clubs. Don Sinclair, a friend of President, Tom Ross, and a retired plumber with the Railways Dept. volunteered to stay at The Home and do the required plumbing work, donating his wages back to the Branch on the completion of the work.

The First Residents Move In
By August, 1957 the renovations and alterations made it possible to start with six boys in residence. At first, the staff consisted of a married couple, Mr and Mrs Sterry, with the assistance of parents, particularly mothers, who organised a voluntary roster and stayed at the Home for short periods.

Photo from 1987 booklet The McCall Gardens Story

Official Opening
The Home was officially opened, by the Hon. W.F. Sheahan, Minister for Health, on 27th September, 1958, when there were 14 boys in residence. On that occasion Mr McCall officially handed over the property to Tom Ross, President of the Branch. Hazel Nelson was made Patron of the Home, Betty Willis was still Secretary and Harry Street was Treasurer and there were 48 members listed as Branch members. As the original intention of the first committee had always been that the land would provide occupational therapy and be used to grow food for the Home use it was named “The McCall Garden Colony”.

Early Days
The 11 member Branch Committee, elected annually, helped keep administrative costs to a minimum. The Treasurer provided monthly up-to-date financial statements. The Committee appointed and employed the Manager and, in the early days, engaged all staff. On many occasions managers complained of the choice of staff so the Manager became responsible for engaging medical and domestic staff.

Early in 1961, when there were 12 boys in residence, the Committee applied to the NSW Health department for a licence as a private hospital. This was finally granted. Then, in November, the Home was approved as a Convalescent Home by the Commonwealth Department of Health. The grant of hospital benefits lightened the financial burden and enabled the Branch to carry on.

Terry House and Nelson House
Considerable renovations to Terry House, the main building, were required to meet both the regulations of the Health department and the needs of a much larger family than the house had originally catered for. One verandah was glassed in to make a larger ward and another to create office space. With Terry House full, the upper floor of the barn was converted into a ward for seven and the ground level was partitioned and converted into three rooms for living quarters for staff. The building was named “Nelson House” after Branch Patron, Hazel Nelson.

Photo from 1987 booklet The MCall Gardens Story

The Ross Wing
The number of boys grew steadily to 29. In 1963 the roof of the homestead was renewed and the Ross Wing was started, by obtaining a number of huts from the RAAF Base at Richmond. Parents dismantled these huts that were transported by Baulkham Hills Lions’ Club and Branch member, Arthur Joel. With considerable additional material, and the help of Lakemba Services Club, these huts made the “Ross Wing”, named after the Branch’s first President, Tom Ross.

The Vic Milesky Dining Hall
In 1963 city water was connected. And in 1964 a swimming pool was installed to cater for the 40 boys now in residence. As the number of boys and staff increased more office space was needed and, in 1967, an office was built onto a corner of the homestead. In the same year a long low building, a kitchen and dining hall was also added to the homestead. The dining hall was named the “Vic Milesky Dining Hall”, after the President who had kept the Branch together through four difficult years.

The First Handicrafts Centre
The first Handicrafts Centre was two trams (obtained at no cost) and lifted into place (at some cost) onto brick piers 20 feet apart. A floor was laid between the trams and the whole was covered with roof and walls. A house for the Resident Manager was completed, on Terry Road, in May 1969. Prior to this the early managers had occupied the master suite of the main house.

Ross House
When Fire Commissioners insisted on changes, including fireproofing to the Ross Wing it was decided, in 1971, to replace the Ross Wing with a new building which would include wards, a centrally situated treatment room and ablutions facility and, on the lower ground floor, a recreation room, boiler room and new laundry. The original laundry, built by parents to cater for 30 patients, was inadequate to cater for the now 49 patients. On 14th September 1975 Ross House was formally opened by NSW Governor, Sir Roden Cutler VC, KCMG, KCVO, CBE, Patron of the Subnormal Children’s Welfare Association. This provided 44 beds with greatly improved conditions.

The overall cost of the new buildings and alterations to Terry House was $454,000 of which the Branch received $308,00 from the Federal Government. The Branch, with about 100 members, raised the remaining $146,000.

Activity, Sports and Recreation Centres
In 1977, in line with conditions in Ross House, central heating and new lighting was installed in Terry House and the seven residents of Nelson House were transferred there. The upper room of Nelson House became the Activity Centre with the large room on the ground floor of Ross House becoming the sports and recreation room. This meant all residents had covered access to recreation rooms, meals and ablutions and administration could be both eased and improved with 22 accommodated in Terry House and 44 in Ross House.

Acceptance into the Home
Parents or guardians of boys admitted to the Home had always been expected to work to help the Home, either physically or in fund raising, or in both ways. Once a boy had been accepted into the Home he should be kept there for the rest of his life provided that his mental or physical health did not deteriorate to the extent that the Home could not provide for his welfare. The first three months of residency was regarded as probationary. Before final acceptance, consideration was given as to what was best for all the residents, not only the boy concerned.

For a brief period, in the 1960s and early 70s, parents were asked to pay £600 ($1,200) to endow a bed. In January 1973 an official notice re Convalescent Homes stated, “No extra charge will be payable by, or on behalf of a qualified nursing home patient except in respect to the matter not relating to nursing home care.” Since then no endowment was sought. Four beds had been endowed by the Subnormal Orphans Trust Fund. Two were occupied, two kept for temporary admissions.

Home Life
A distinctive feature of the Home was that no locks or keys, bars or bolts were used to confine the patients. A regular routine of life among their peers tended to bring contentment and, in the first twenty-one years only two had temporarily run away. All residents were encouraged to be self-sufficient. They would wash and dress themselves, make their own beds and keep the space round them tidy. They helped in the dining room, cleaning away after meals and stacking the dishwasher.

A daily programme saw three groups alternate between working in the handicraft centre, the house or on the farm. All took part in recreational therapy, swimming etc. The activities were important forms of occupational therapy, developing character and ability. Care was taken to fit the task to the individual. Handicrafts were exhibited in local shows and 25 boys were engaged in active farm work, in the dairy, caring for pigs or working on the 2 acres of fruit and vegetable gardens.

As well as regular bus outings boys may have 28 days leave of absence, which was arranged between the parents and the Resident Manager. Parents and guardians were encouraged to visit the boys every other Sunday. An Annual Fete was held, organised by the Ladies Auxiliary, consisting of the mothers of the boys and a few friends. In the late 1970s Lakemba Services Club, Perry Park Social Club and the Riverstone and District Lions’ Club were acknowledged for their financial support.

Staff and Health
In early years distance from Sydney made it difficult to attract and keep staff. In 1968 Mr John O’Brien, who had both psychiatric and general nursing certificates, came as Resident Manager, with Mrs. Etta O’Brien, his wife, as a certificated nurse. They cherished and developed a family atmosphere at the Home. Regulations at that time required one nurse to ten patients and two nursing aides for each nurse. Local doctors co-operated willingly.

During the 1960s Chaplains from Richmond RAAF Base used to come and talk to the boys. When this arrangement lapsed, Mrs Maisie Gillespie, assisted by her husband, Jim, and daughter, Mary, from Riverstone’s Presbyterian (later Uniting) Church, held a monthly service. The Gillespies carried out this important ministry for 25 years, until they moved from the district. A Franciscan brother visited weekly.

By working for the health of those who depended on them the parents, guardians and friends who made up the Branch created and nurtured an oasis of security, happiness and certainty. In doing so they produced a solution to the problem that had brought them together, “Who will look after these handicapped people when their parents are no longer here?”

The First Twenty-one Years of the Box Hill Branch of the Subnormal Children’s Welfare Association; 1978
The McCall Gardens Story; Box Hill Branch of the Challenge Foundation of NSW, 1987

Photo from cover of the 1987 booklet The McCall Gardens Story

Williams Produce and Hardware Store, Schofields

by Nell Moody (nee Williams)

My mother Lillian Rothwell, who was born in Junction Road had bought into a partnership with Mr Coleman, a grocer of Railway Terrace, for 40 pounds in the 1920’s. She and my father met when Dad and his little truck were employed by the Rothwell and Coleman shop to deliver the grocery orders. They married in 1932.

My mother loved “business.” She said she had learned the “hard way” bargaining at De Luca’s greengrocery shop in King Street, Sydney before World War 1 when she was a child. She and her brother would pick mushrooms at dawn after rain in the paddocks of Schofields, out as far as the Rouse Hill she said. They would pack them in hand made boxes and take them by train to Central. (The service was faster then in the steam train).

She did all the negotiations for the Williams family with the Australian and English solicitors in regard to the inheritance. She too had great faith in Schofields and built two shops with flats above, next to the hardware shop. Rothwell Crescent at the back of them was named for her mother.

As I wrote this, memories of the 1940’s and 1950’s came flooding back.

    • Getting stung by a wasp while playing on the floor of the Post Office in the front of the shop. My mother ran the Post Office with my cousin Gwen Rothwell in the 1940’s.
    • Being doubled on the bar of Sid Bye’s bike from Schofields Public to the shop after school. This was great fun!
    • Hanging on the tabletop of one of the trucks while holding my bike as Vic, Charlie, Sid or Dad seemed to hit every corrugation.
    • Watching my Grandmother Martha Rothwell, carefully going through the World War 2 casualty lists in the S. M. Herald, with a magnifying glass in case someone’s son was mentioned. Schofields, in those days, seemed more like a family than a district.
    • My grandmother’s second handbag full of recipes, ‘cures’, newspaper cuttings and bible tracts which she loved to pass on. She could add the columns of pounds, shillings and pence, keeping a running total in her head until she wrote down the final total, and she was never wrong.
    • My mother always on the phone, in the shop and at home, making appointments for customers and neighbours at doctors, hospitals and solicitors etc. and helping with problems. Not many people had phones then and a number of New Australians were not confident in English.
    • Cleaning what seemed to be the biggest glass plate windows with scrunched up newspaper and water.
    • Learning to pump petrol by hand.
    • Morning and afternoon teas and lunches. My grandmother or mother would make tea in the big enamel pot and Dad, Vic, Sid and Charlie would cross the road and join Gran, Mum, Alan and I. Even dear old Charlie from over the line would come. I remember it being a time of jokes and laughs, cricket stories, a little bit of gentle teasing for me and constant good humour. I think I was very lucky to have those years in the shop. Schofields was a lovely place in which to grow up.

My parents sold the business to Joan and Laurie Rothwell in 1972. They owned it for 10 years, selling it to Mal and Phil Holland (MJ H Products P/L) in late 1982.

The produce store (on the Railway land) fell into disrepair, (I remember my parents going to a lot of trouble to get Oregon flooring), and was demolished in 2009.

Walter Williams
In December 1937 my father Walter Williams and his five brothers and sisters each received 700 pounds (Aust) from an inheritance from his mothers’ family in the English Midlands. Each bought real estate in various parts of Australia and England. My father spent his share in Schofields. He bought land in Railway Terrace where he built a produce shop, a large bulk storage opposite on land leased from the N.S.W. Railways, and a number of blocks of land in Station Street which he later donated to Blacktown Council for a park so that “the children at Schofields Public School will have somewhere to play cricket”.

My father had previously run a produce business from a shed in St. Albans Road. He would order a truck of wheat, then wheel one or two bags at a time on a barrow up Railway Terrace to the shed. He had a small one ton truck which he used for deliveries but he could save on petrol with the barrow. When he had sold most of the wheat from the railway truck he would have sufficient money to order another truck. The inheritance made a tremendous difference.

The enclosed photo is of my father, Wally Williams, standing beside his brand new 1928 Chevrolet car on his way to cricket. He said that when he first got the car people used to stand beside the road to watch and wave, but that by the 1950’s they were laughing.

I learned to drive on it amongst the stumps in the paddock, as did many others. It was truly a mighty car – 3 or 4 people could stand on its running boards, some with their bikes, it could go through deep water without missing a beat so long as one kept the engine at an even pace and it could pull a loaded truck out of a bog.

Cricket was my father’s great love. He believed it was “character building”. I was a grave disappointment to him. An only child, I was given the best of bats and balls. I was bowled to endlessly and all I could say was “how much longer Dad?”

Standing outside the shop in the 1950’s. Left to right Vic McWilliam, Charlie McInnes, Sid Bye, Alan Coulter, Lillian Williams, Martha Rothwell, Walter Williams and Mrs. Rutter, a customer.
Photo: Nell Moody (nee Williams) Collection

Mavis Lane & Doreen Ross OAM

by Judith Lewis OAM

Foreword: In 1998 the second annual Journal produced by the Historical Society contained articles on Sam Lane and the Riverstone Bicycle Club, formed in 1901, of which Sam’s father, George, was the first Captain. Much of the remainder of the Journal was devoted to some 20 extracts from the letters Sam wrote for the local papers, the “Riverstone Press” and the “Blacktown Guardian”.

Sam’s love of Riverstone and its history was infectious and his community minded spirit was mirrored by his wife, Mavis, and daughter, Doreen, who both, sadly, passed away in 2010. With information kindly supplied by Laurie and Carmel Lane, Trevor Ross and Wendy Graham we would like to pay tribute to these two special ladies.

Mavis Lane seated, with daughters Doreen and Ruth at the Museum in 2001.
Photo: Rosemary Phillis

Mavis Lane
Mavis Butterworth was born in Rockdale on 17th December, 1911 into “a united happy family”. (Mavis’s memories of living through the Depression make good reading so the Historical Society has made a booklet containing hers, Doreen’s and Sam’s fuller stories). Mavis began her schooling at St. Joseph’s Catholic School in Rockdale. In those days Protestant children could attend a Catholic school but did not need to attend religious instruction classes. She and her younger brother, Owen, later transferred to Rockdale Public School, which was much closer to home and did not require a walk through town and across the railway line.

From Rockdale, when Mavis was about 11 years of age, the family moved from their rented home (not many people in those days owned their own homes) to Kogarah and Arncliffe. She later attended Kogarah Domestic School to do a Commercial Course which also involved cooking. The main subjects of her final year were shorthand, typing, business principles and bookkeeping. She passed her final exams after three years and went to work in the city, firstly in the office of J. M. Dempster Retail Jewellers, later as a steno/typist at R. G. Dun & Co. Mercantile Agents and Debt Collectors. By this time the Depression had really set in and R.G. Dun “rationalised” and Mavis was one of many who had to go.

In 1934 Mavis, as a member of the St. George Ambulance Rockdale Division Social Group, was a candidate in a queen competition. A friend of Mavis was engaged to a chap who worked with Cecil Rhodes (Sam) Lane. Sam was invited to one of the group’s fund-raising dances. Mavis and Sam met and some weeks later at the competition crowning Sam turned up again “and that’s how things started”!

In August 1935 Mavis and Sam married and came to live in Schofields. They had two acres of land in Station (now Bridge) Street and £200 and were determined not to go into debt. With their two hundred pounds they paid their building fees and, with the paid assistance of two carpenter friends, doing only weekend work, they built a two roomed house with a part-enclosed verandah and bathroom. Second-hand furniture (from Old Ark Furniture Store on Broadway, Sydney, near Grace Bros.) and Conoleum Lino squares on the floor made Mavis’s move from “the City Lights to Schofields” complete and she commented, “I have no recollection of being bored with my new life”. Sam left for work in the city on the 5:40am train and returned on the 6:45pm train. Mavis played tennis through the week and they both played at weekends.

George, their first child was born in July 1936 at Ennisluan Private Hospital (Sister Barnes’) in Garfield Road, Riverstone (now Drs. Dixon and Longworth’s surgeries). When Sam’s work in the city closed down he found work at the Meatworks being able to do so because he “knew” somebody and was willing to take any sort of work. Their children to follow George were Ruth 1938, Doreen 1941, Miriam 1943, Lyn 1946 and Laurie 1948. Mavis’s community life began with the Schofields Public School’s P & C, its Committee and Canteen and many fund-raising groups.

In 1948, at age 12, George was stricken with Rheumatoid Arthritis and was admitted to the Children’s Hospital at Camperdown where he was to spend the remaining nine years of his life. With visits only allowed on Sundays, and children not allowed at all, Mavis and Sam spent their Sundays travelling by steam train and then by tram to visit George. On special occasions they would take their other children to see George from the lawn outside his window. Later George was moved to a small room of his own so they could visit during the week.

George must have inherited his mother’s strength of character. He endured times of great suffering but was only once heard to complain. Professor Lorimor Dodds was his doctor, but also his friend. He made many friends from all walks of life, the sporting fraternity especially. His 21st birthday party in his special bed saw people coming and going all day and telegrams galore. Eventually he lost his sight and hearing. Before his hearing went he learned Braille. Therapists gave George lessons whereby the family could communicate with him by writing on his chest or hands. The family read books to him in this way, including Douglas Bader’s “Reach to the Sky”.

With George’s passing and her children growing, Mavis was able to do something she had vowed never to do, become a white leghorn, as Lady Bowlers were known at that time. Mavis was eventually to become a Life Member of the Riverstone Bowling Club, an honour she cherished dearly. Mavis also was made a Life Member of the Riverstone Senior Citizens’ and had much pride when the Sam Lane Community Centre, incorporating the Senior Citizens hall, opened in 1982.

After Sam’s death in 1986 Mavis continued her community involvement. Amongst the Awards she was to receive for her community service were the Blacktown Council Senior Citizen of the Year Award and the NSW Premier’s Award. In 1997, when the Riverstone & District Historical Society was reformed, Mavis, at the age of 86, became its most senior member.

Riverstone Women’s Bowls group. Mavis Lane is second from the left.
Photo: Mary Buerkner collection.

About five years before her death, on 23rd October, 2010 aged 98, Mavis decided it was time she gave thought to living in an aged care facility. The opportunity came along for her to go into the Fitzgerald Aged Care facility at Windsor. Laurie recalls, “from the first information night with the Fitzgerald staff Mum was like a duck to water and for the next five years she had a wonderful life in their care.”

The celebration of Mavis’s life at an overflowing Senior Citizens’ hall heard Laurie’s comment “her best achievement was that of being Mother, Grandmother and Great Grandmother” and his son Nicholas’s “We thank Grandma for instilling so much love, wisdom and inspiration into our lives that we may pass this on to our children”.

Doreen Ross
Doreen, the third child of Sam and Mavis Lane was born on 24th March 1941 at Sister Barnes’ Private Hospital, Riverstone. She attended Schofields Primary School and completed her schooling at Richmond Rural (now High) School. Childhood days were simple but happy ones, typical of that era, playing with the local kids, hopscotch, skipping, cricket, lots of walking, sometimes as far as the creek, which was frowned on by Mavis and Sam who were afraid they might fall in. The Schofields area in those days was mostly farming, mainly poultry and dairy.

With a dairy close by when Doreen was about ten, the dairy began to give her baby calves the mothers had abandoned to take home and feed. The calves would be returned to the dairy when they were ready. Opposite the Lane’s property lived a widow, Jessie Poeffer, whose husband had been killed in WWII. Behind her place was a fellow living in a caravan. He worked Sam’s land, growing beans and turnips. Doreen helped by pulling up turnips. After George went into hospital Doreen took his place as Sam’s helper, doing tasks such as concreting and fencing. These factors may have been the catalyst for her wish to be a farmer when she left school. It did not become a reality.

At 15 she completed a typing course at Sydney’s Metropolitan Business College and then went to work in the city at H. Rowe and Co. Going to work by steam train had its advantages. The box carriages made the nightly return trip seem like party night, travelling with kids with whom you had gone to school and meeting up with other teenagers from Quakers Hill.

Teenage years were happy ones. Tennis at Brownings’ Argowan Road court on Saturdays and Sundays was a regular pastime. Brownings were poultry farmers. They turned one of their brooder sheds into a hall, fitted it out with table tennis and billiard tables so Saturday nights would be party nights there. Saturday night visits to the pictures in Riverstone were also popular, with a group walking home together. A really special night would be a train trip to the Richmond theatre. Riding push bikes to Quakers Hill, where the boys flew model airplanes that had to be kick started by the propeller and held by a piece of string, usually meant lots of fun and also a cut finger or two from the sharp propeller. There was also some motorbike riding on an old poultry farm at Quakers Hill (at first unbeknownst to Sam and Mavis). Doreen was later to own an AJS motorbike.

It was at H. Rowe & Co. that she met her future husband, Ernie Ross. Ernie lived at Mascot and it soon became obvious to him that, as Doreen recalled, “…it was cheaper to marry me than to visit, as coming to Schofields was the pits”. Doreen and Ernie married in 1959 and also settled in Bridge Street Schofields where they raised three children, Wendy, 1960, Trevor 1962 and Glenn 1965. Sadly Glenn was killed in an accident in 1983. Trevor married and has four sons, twins Adam and Aaron, Dean and Mark and Wendy married and has one son, Kieren.

Doreen’s community work, apart from working for her children’s schools on canteen and P. & Cs., began when she joined the Schofields’ Bushfire Brigade in the 1960s and persuaded Ernie to also join. Ernie was to have many roles with the Brigade, including a time as Captain, whilst Doreen was Secretary on a number of occasions. She was awarded the National Medal with two clasps for Diligent Service to Schofields Bushfire Brigade and was posthumously awarded a Long Service Medal for 40 years service by the NSW Rural Fire Service.

1972 Photograph from the Blacktown Advocate of Lennie Taber (standing) and Doreen Ross.
1978 Schofields Bushfire brigade. Sam Lane, Doreen and Ernie Ross are in the front row.
Photo: Doreen Ross Collection.

In the 1970s, with help from fellow Brigade members, she instigated the Christmas Eve Santa drive. To Doreen’s delight in 2009 the Brigade constructed two sleighs to transport Santa and his helpers around the town. One was named after Doreen and the other after Ernie.

The first Riverstone Swimming Pool opened in 1972. Trevor and Wendy recall, “Mum only learned to swim when in her 20s, and from that day on, she was hooked. Once she found the joy of Learn to Swim, she decided that she would begin to teach swimming. …During her 40 years of teaching she would have taught well over 4000 people. …She not only taught kids and adults to swim, she also taught instructors. …At times she was teaching second and third generation children”. Doreen was made a Life Member of both Riverstone Swimming Clubs. She also participated as a Volunteer at the Sydney 2000 Olympic Games.

When the Sam Lane Community Complex opened in 1982 Doreen became a voluntary worker for the Riverstone Neighbourhood Centre and continued in that capacity for 30 years. Also in 1982 Doreen began working, as a Library Clerical Assistant, at St. John’s Primary School. This was a part-time position that depended on Government funding being available, which was not always the case, but Doreen was still working there at the time of her death.

She and Ernie became members of the Riverstone & District Historical Society when it reformed in the mid 1990s and Doreen was a valuable source of information about Schofields for the Society. The Society held Doreen in such esteem that it joined others in recommending to Blacktown City Council, following her death in 2010, that the Riverstone Swimming Pool be renamed the “Doreen Ross OAM Memorial Pool”. Blacktown sent the application to the NSW State Names Board, but no more was heard of the suggestion. Doreen was also a Life member of the Friends of Knudsen Reserve.

Her community work was to see her contributions to the community recognised when she was awarded an OAM in January 2001. Her comments were, “ …to be recognised by your peers, well, it’s a great honour. I’m pretty chuffed about it. …Helping the community is just something you do, you know. …I really enjoy it…and, if someone benefits out of it – well, terrific.”

At an interview Doreen did with Rosemary Phillis, in 2006, she was looking to the future for Schofields when she commented, “What concerns me most is that the beautiful stands of trees will go. Where the pole depot is, there is a natural spring runs where all those little trees are. I hope that they don’t go. It would make a nice little park. There are some lovely she oaks that should be preserved”.

After an illness, which saw him confined to a wheelchair in the later years, Ernie passed away in February 2007. At the time of her death on 17th March 2010 Doreen was an active member of the Riverstone Bicentennial Committee. She and Mavis attended the first Bicentennial celebration, the Official Opening of the Museum’s Extensions, on 7th February that year. Doreen’s funeral was attended by a massive crowd of people who had come to honour and thank a lady who did so much in her lifetime for the Schofields/Riverstone community.

At the 2010 Sports Awards at the Riverstone/ Schofields Memorial Club in May that year Trevor and Wendy were invited to present the Junior Sportsperson of the Year Award, which had been renamed the Doreen Ross Award. They commented, “We can honestly tell you that was she here tonight, she would be asking what she had done to deserve this recognition. But we know that she would be extremely proud and humbled to be recognised in this manner.”

2001. Doreen wearing her Order of Australia medal with some of her family at the Riverstone Festival. Photo: Rosemary Phillis

Quakers Hill Station Fire

Windsor Gazette 27th July 1930

Shortly before 10 o’clock on Wednesday the Quakers Hill station was destroyed by fire. The buildings burnt were the booking office, the waiting room, a small office and portion of the platform.

When the outbreak was reported to Riverstone the fire bell was rung and within three minutes three firemen were at the fire station. It was discovered however, that the fire was outside the Riverstone area, but after Parramatta and Blacktown had been advised, the Riverstone brigade was given orders to proceed to the scene. A motor lorry was acquisitioned and the fire unit was attached, and soon Captain Weaver and his men were speeding over the rough roads to Quakers Hill. They arrived in record time, but the station was well alight.

Seven lengths of hose were run from the nearest dam to the station and a powerful stream was played onto the flames which were soon extinguished. An effort was made to save the books and documents in the office, but the officials were driven back by the flames. Just as the Riverstone brigade had the outbreak under control, a motor fire engine arrived from Blacktown, followed by the District Officer from Parramatta. All were surprised to see the Riverstone firemen on the scene and congratulated them on their promptitude.

The cause of the outbreak is unknown.

Teddy and Steve Infield on Quakers Hill station in 1937.
This building must have replaced the one that burnt down in 1930.
Photo: Eva Weaver

Bushfires at Riverstone

by Shirley Seale

As we look around our area today, with many new houses in the township and land development surging forward around us, it is easy to forget, or never to have known, that once the people of Riverstone, Schofields and Vineyard lived in fear of bushfires. Surrounded by bush, with remnants of the Cumberland State Forest on all sides, our pioneer settlers faced this threat many times and saw their houses and those of friends and neighbours burned to the ground.

Today, when we see the summer fires raging in communities, we know that there are trained fire fighters, modern trucks and even water carrying helicopters and planes ready to douse the flames. When even these fail to stop a fire in full force, how much more frightening to be fighting the fires near your home with only a wet hessian bag, no town water supply and the help of willing friends. The older residents of Riverstone bravely faced the danger and lived to tell about it.

The pages of the Windsor and Richmond Gazette record some of the details. The earliest I found was in January 1900 after Sunday 3rd and Monday 4th had been days of extreme heat. In fact on Monday 4th January 1900, the temperature record had been broken when the Fahrenheit thermometer reached 119.9 degrees, (approximately 48 degrees Celsius.) Several properties on Blacktown Road near South Creek were alight and Mr Young’s bush burnt furiously. Timber, glass and fencing were destroyed. The fire extended to Riverstone Meatworks “Jericho” estate, once the property of the Rouse family of Rouse Hill House. For two days the whole district was enveloped in smoke and hot winds blew, carrying the smell of fire with them.

On October 16th 1936 a fire started at the railway line at Mulgrave and burnt over 1000 acres. Groves Tea Gardens were only just saved.

In January, 1939, we were experiencing a heatwave. On 4th January, Riverstone Fire Brigade made an urgent call to Vineyard when fire threatened a number of houses. A large area of bush burned.

On the thirteenth of that month, the temperature rose to 122 degrees Fahrenheit, close to 50 degrees Celsius, the highest ever recorded in the district. Poultry farmers were worst hit with many birds dying. Workers at the Riverstone Meatworks had to be sent home because they could not work in the heat. The whole area was so dry after many days of intense heat that sporadic fires broke out, but it was on Saturday, 14th that tragedy struck. According to the report in the Gazette, “many unfortunate settlers……..saw all of their cherished belongings swept away in the path of ravening (sic) bush fires which, fanned by a strong breeze and aided by tinder dry vegetation as a result of a week of record heat, roared over properties in an overwhelming wall of flame which left blackened ruin and desolation in its wake”.

The Gazette records that the most disastrous of the fires originated near Mr Gross’ property at Bandon Road in Vineyard, and spread with ferocious speed through Box Hill and Rouse Hill districts leaving behind desolation and ruin. The fire went from Gross’ to Stacey’s then Whyt’s and Schoffel’s where it completely destroyed their home. It then passed on through the whole of Box Hill and continued on to Castle Hill, destroying many homes on the way.

1939. The ruins of the Schoffel family home. Photo: Schoffel family

Another arm of the fire went North East, jumping Boundary Road into Andrew’s and then continuing into the Nelson district where more homes were lost. It burned through well known identities, Hession’s and Mason’s properties, before it was finally extinguished in the Castle Hill/Kenthurst vicinity. However a strong southerly sprang up during the night and it flared up again near Rouse Hill, where homes were in danger until it was finally contained.

After the fire had passed, the remains of two men, Messrs Davis and Metcalfe, were found near a shack they were occupying in the Box Hill Estate near Nelson Road. They had returned from a trip to Moree and it is thought they were asleep or died attempting to start their truck to escape the flames.

Thousands of fowls were incinerated in the fire and no property in Box Hill escaped damage. Men and women fought the fire side by side and escaped death by luck in many instances.

Another fire that started near the Railway line at Mulgrave spread into Schofield’s property, then into Cunneen’s, Morley’s, Cotterell’s and Hanahan’s. It then spread through the outskirts of Riverstone, destroying fences, sheds and outhouses. It totally destroyed the homes of Messers Clout and Freeman in the Riverstone bush. Many of the residents in the vicinity were ordered to evacuate by the police.

Considerable damage was caused by a fire that started at the back of Vineyard School, and burned through the Riverstone bush for some distance before it was stopped at Garfield Road, near Mr Andrew’s property. It menaced the homes of the Swift, Burden, Hanahan, Newton and Mason families, with all the residents losing many fowls.

The fourth outbreak of the day travelled through Windsor Common on to the land owned by the Riverstone Meat Company, where it destroyed the house and outbuildings of Mr Horrex, the family only just escaping with their lives.

The first call to the fires came at 11am and Windsor Fire Brigade attended. As the threat became more widespread, Riverstone Brigade was also in the thick of the fight. Even the Mayor, Alderman J. McLeod, and other council members rolled up their sleeves and worked side by side with the locals.

So many people were left destitute that the paper thought Government help would be necessary to help them. As is often the case, ironically, the Sunday and Monday after the fire were cool and rainy.

The worst fire to hit the district, though, arrived in the midst of another conflagration, World War 2. It was December, and was “one of the most tragic and calamitous days in Hawkesbury history”.(Windsor and Richmond Gazette,13.12.44). As early as 9.30 am the fire was so bad at Kurrajong, that Miss B. Pittman was badly burned as she rushed into her home to save valuables. Sadly she died later that night. By 12.30 pm the whole of North Richmond was threatened. The gales reached 75 miles per hour, (120 kms), and pushed the flames through all obstacles.

About midday a fire started at Clarendon. Eventually the fire came down Blacktown Road and burned out No 4 Dairy owned by Mr Jones. It then jumped South Creek and destroyed all outhouses and a new car and 60 tons of hay at Mr Christey’s. He was dragged out from the shed with the car just as it caught fire.

On the southern side of Blacktown Road it burned out “Berkshire Park”, a large home originally built by Richard Rouse of Rouse Hill House for his daughter, Mrs Jonathon Hassall in the early 1800s, but at that time owned by Mr Edmunds. At the rear of “Clydesdale”, 80 head of cattle were crazed with fear and tried to race ahead of the flames, some crashed through the fence, but others were caught on the wire and the road was littered with burnt carcases. The fire then burned across the Riverstone Meatworks’ paddocks towards Riverstone. At least 20 houses were in danger of destruction, but a squad of volunteers managed to save them.

Mr J W Ryan’s six roomed weatherboard cottage and contents were completely destroyed. Mr Phillips, who also occupied the house with his wife and two children, lost 35 pounds in notes.

Houses occupied by Mrs Woodlands (Walker St], Mr R W Armstrong (Lamb St) and Mrs Onslow (Ben St) were totally destroyed. When an outhouse at Mr Tom Griffin’s property caught alight both he and his wife were badly burned in making a successful effort to save the house. The flames jumped Carnarvon Road and burnt fiercely in the direction of Schofields where properties owned by the Buss and Dawson families narrowly escaped.

By an almost superhuman effort Mr Dawson managed to save his property which he had only recently acquired. The flames were actually licking the verandah posts. Mr Dawson was burnt about the hands, feet and face.

A squad of volunteers led by Constable Baker made a good save at Jim Higgins’ house where the flames had swept underneath. Mr Voysey raced into the laundry and carried out a heap of blazing material.

In 2003, I spoke with Ron Shields about his memories of the fire. He was 10 years old at the time of the fire and staying at his grandparents’ house at 180 Garfield Road, Marsden Park. His grandfather was lying down on the verandah, when he smelled smoke. The fire came from Windsor Downs and burned through to Schofields. There was no mains water supply, but they had a dam and a well, so they filled a 44 gallon drum and went around the property with it on a billy cart, as well as using buckets of water to put out spot fires. He recalled that the wind stirred by the fire was like a tornado. He was very scared, and his grandfather let him have a sip of brandy to keep him going.

They had two acres at the back of the property which was planted with green corn and Jim Craven’s family and Bob Tate and his wife and baby hid in there, lying on the ground between the rows and were safe, as the green corn did not burn. He said no photographs were taken as they were all too busy fighting the fires and saving what property they could.

He recalled, when speaking to Clarrie Neal, that his mother doused their fowls with water to revive them and that other families were sitting in the middle of Garfield Road with their possessions. The families who lost their homes to the bushfire that day, he said, were the Ryans, Woodlands, Armstrongs and Chathams.

With the arrival of 100 servicemen at 8.30 pm the fire was gradually brought under control. Under the direction of Bob Clifford the servicemen burnt a large tract of Bliss’ Bush as a firebreak. Constable Baker and the volunteers narrowly escaped when a lorry taking them to Jones’ Dairy caught fire. Both sides of the road were alight and Jock Simpson, owner and driver of the lorry, was desperately trying to break through the smoke and flames when Tom Robbins leapt to the road and shouted that the lorry was on fire. The seat with the petrol tank underneath it was on fire. It was ripped out and extinguished with the contents of the water bag.

Mulgrave was the seat of another fire which raced towards Vineyard. The wind carried it across the railway line just to the west of Mr West’s home which was encircled by flames, but survived.

Fire raced towards the heavily grassed land of Mr Brown. The Brown girls showed great courage and succeeded in stopping it from spreading to heavily timbered and grassed lands. The fire spread towards Bandon Rd and straight for Vineyard village which includes the Rivoli Hall, Rannard’s Store, the Public School, Church Hall and many homes.

Buildings in the “Vineyard Village” The shop on the right was at one stage Rannard’s store.
Photo: Shirley Henry Collection.

It looked as if they would all go – but Mr Harry Budd arrived with a tanker of water to assist the local teacher and his wife who tackled the racing flames and stopped them from reaching the area. The church hall was seriously threatened until the Riverstone Fire Brigade arrived.

The Vineyard Bush Brigade of which Harry Budd was President arrived with Jack Kell, T. Asher, Jim Wilkinson, Dun Mann and son, Private Phipps and Mr Howitt and with great effort stopped the fire just yards from the school and residence, Rivoli Hall and store. Cinders set fire to a palm tree in front of the store and burnt holes in the mosquito nets on the beds on the verandah of the residence.

Fire raced across part of Bandon Road, through the school playground, putting the homes of Messers McLean and Alcorn in danger and burning fowls in their pens near these houses. The fire went across Windsor Road and spread towards Box Hill. Towards nightfall, Vineyard Bush fire Brigade spent time extinguishing stumps and burning fences to ensure safety.

During the early stages Sgt Newell of Windsor Police, and the Windsor Fire Brigade, which had been early on the scene, left for Marsden Park, where a serious outbreak had occurred, leaving Vineyard Brigade to take charge.

On Monday fires were still burning. The eastern portion of the State Forest on Blacktown Road caught fire. Flames jumped the road and South Windsor was threatened.

On Tuesday Mr Frank Finnan MLA, accompanied by officers of the Department of Labour and Industry and Social Services visited the burnt out areas in the district and assisted in supplying the homeless with food, clothing, bedding and money. As it was wartime, he hoped to have present at a public meeting, members of relevant Government Departments to release barbed wire, fodder, fencing posts and building materials, which were in short supply and taken for war use. He arranged to increase the petrol rations to cover the extra that had been needed to carry water.

A public meeting was held at Riverstone on Monday, 18th December 1944 and a committee was appointed comprising townspeople and employees from the Riverstone Meat Company to raise and distribute funds to those devastated by the fires. Business people in town were asked to display subscription lists and Meatworks’ employees levied themselves from their wages.

Another fire started on Wednesday, 27th December at 11pm and swept through Vineyard, before it was turned towards Pitt Town by a southerly “buster”. It was thought to have started from sparks from a train, which were all steam powered in this area at that time, at the rear of Mr Schofield’s property, which was the first in danger. Firefighters saved the house, but poultry sheds, cow bails and fencing were destroyed. The fire continued to burn through Oakville in following days.

The Prime Minister, Mr Chifley, who had apologized for not being able to come earlier, visited the district on 28th December and was at Riverstone Post Office at 10.30 am.

1944 had been a drought year, with a record low rainfall of only 1230 points. But on 10th January 1945, five inches, (12 ½ cms) of rain fell.

In the summers now, as we sit in our air-conditioned homes, or swim in our pools and complain about the heat wave, spare a thought for the early residents of our town, who battled so bravely, endured such losses but rallied to help each other through the disasters to make the Riverstone area the community it is.