A Minto Childhood
By Joan Murphy Extracts from her story, /Omitted sections/
Note: Mrs Joan Murphy, daughter of John Westbury who was Mayor of Campbelltown Municipal Council in 1937 and 1938, provided the following account of life in Minto during the period 1920 to 1938. Mrs Murphy was a member of Campbelltown and Airds Historical Society at the time of writing.
During the period from 1920 when my family came to “Oakleigh” (now called “Merryvale”) in Redfern Road, Minto until 1938 when we left the district, the village of Minto was very small. It might have been 300 miles from Sydney, instead of 30. There were two shops, a post office, railway station, School of Arts, St James Church of England, a small estate agent’s office managed by Mr Cox and, in later times, a butchery run by Mr Barnsley.
The district was mostly used for dairying and poultry farming. A few households lived at Minto and worked in Sydney including that of John C. Rider, the glass engraver.
Most commuters used the Southern Highlands Express, which had few stops and covered the journey in less than one hour. Of course there were other trains during the day and at night, but these were much slower because of the number of stops.
The main shop, near the railway gates in Redfern Road and south-west of the crossing, was run by William J. Harris. It was a two-storey brick building with a cantilever verandah facing Redfern Road.
Bill Harris was a tall bald man with a very cheerful approach and ran an excellent general store. You could buy all groceries including excellent Kameruka block cheese (in rounds covered with cheese cloth) and he could cut with a knife almost exactly the amount required. He used to get some of the best Granny Smith apples ever seen from an orchard at Tallong. When Bill Harris obtained a manual bacon-slicer, it was quite an event!
Mrs McInnes baked hams at Christmas time, covering them with a thick skin of pollard and water while cooking them, and the result was excellent. She also made Christmas cakes.
Janey McInnes was a tiny woman a very tall husband – Donald, who died in 1927. He did not play a large part in running the shop.
The local post office was an attachment on the Redfern Road side of Mrs McInnes’s timber house, about 9 feet wide and 20 feet long.
The postmaster was Jim Williams (who was appointed postmaster in 1916), who lived at East Minto and was a most efficient operator.
Minto Public School
At this time Minto Public School was on the corner of Redfern and Campbelltown Roads. It was an inconvenient site for most people, as the majority of pupils came from the eastern side of the line.
However, it was very convenient for my sister and me, as we lived next door to the school! My father removed four palings from the dividing fence for easy access. I always went home for lunch and could even go home for 11 o’clock recess.
The school was a large timber one-room building, housing all classes from 1st to 6th. There was a large verandah on the eastern side where pupils hung up their hats, coats and lunch-bags.
There were about 44 pupils during my four and a half years there. I did not go to school until I was six and a half, having been taught reading, writing and numbers by my parents. I still have a school prize which states “Class III, Dec. 1925”.
After Hugh Campbell retired in 1927 the next school principal was Mr Oke, who had marvellous specimens in bottles – things like snakes. He also had rock samples and took us on “nature study” excursions. Mrs Oke was an excellent sewing teacher. I remember making by hand (at the age of 10) a yellow voile dress with lace inserts and it was quite wearable.
The only church at Minto was St James Church of England. The Hayes family played a large part in the running of the church, taking up collections and playing the organ. I remember when Mr Rofe was Minister at St Peter’s Church at Campbelltown and occasionally came to visit the Minto Church and Public School, after Mr Armitage retired.
Old Father Dunne from St John’s Catholic Church, Campbelltown had snow-white hair and drove around Minto in a sulky, visiting families.
We had “regular” swagmen who turned up every few months (or years) and, in return for meals and sleeping accommodation on an army stretcher in the harness shed, would chop wood etc.
In the depression (the 1930s) the numbers increased greatly and they were always given food – sandwiches, hard-boiled eggs and a billy of tea, not forgetting the salt and pepper for the eggs, done up in a twist of kitchen paper.
Sleeping rights, however, were only given to those we knew.
There were also bagmen, with regular rounds, who called with horse and dray to collect feed and grain bags from local farmers. One used to come about once a month from Parramatta and there was also a local, Mr Levine, who also collected skins.
(Note: I hope that I have spelt the above names correctly. If not, I apologise for any small inaccuracies.)
Copyright © 2005 Campbelltown & Airds Historical Society Inc. All rights reserved.
(first published in “Grist Mills”, Campbelltown and Airds Historical Society Vols. 1 & 2, 1983 & 1984)