Early Memories of Minto
By D. J. Hall, MBE
The Minto I can first remember was one of the major milk suppliers to the Sydney market; its orchards and vineyards famed throughout the State for the quality of their products, especially wine-making grapes.
Vegetable growing was another widely followed activity and “fats”, both sheep and cattle, tipped the Flemington markets, while later poultry farming was a major source of income for many farmers. It was a truly rural area with none of the “pocket handkerchief” building allotments of the present era.
I can think of no better way to mirror a district’s activities, than to spotlight the local railway station, for in those early days rail transport was the only way of getting produce to markets. It was not so much a “horse and buggy” era; rather a spring cart and dray district, with the sulky and a sturdy farm horse in the shafts for taking the family out.
The first stationmaster I remember was James King, a rather short but sturdy Scot, with an energy and thoroughness that would put present-day transport employees to shame. He had one assistant – a junior porter who was usually a raw recruit sent to Minto for training, for James King was just as assiduous in his teaching as he was in his other duties.
The stationmaster came on duty any time after 5.30 am and he worked through until 10.30 pm, with meal breaks arranged to fit in with train arrivals. The manual signal system was operated and his section was between Ingleburn and Campbelltown. In addition he worked the cross-over points about 200 yards towards Campbelltown, for the loop line serving the goods yard where shunting of trucks, both up and down, was carried on each week day.
In addition to his normal office duties involving passenger and freight traffic, James King also operated the local post office covering postal notes, money orders and telegraphic business. The last mail came from the city by the “6.30” – the main business train. As soon as the mail was sorted, up went the ticket window and you could collect your mail till closing time – 10.30 pm!
When the goods train from Sydney arrived in the morning, vast quantities of goods were unloaded at the platform and trucks shunted off to the goods siding. On the return journey in the evening (from Picton) the loaded trucks would be picked up first, then the train moved to the platform where, in season, hundreds of cases of fruit would be loaded into empty trucks always provided for this purpose. The “Minto truck”, ex Sydney, would hold a miscellaneous collection of goods loaded at Darling Harbour and this would be unloaded into a commodious goods shed.
In association with the railway station activities, the event of the day was the arrival of the milk train from Picton to Sydney, affectionately known as the “Milk Pot”. All the milk was then consigned in cans and loaded into 2-tier louvred vans. The train might have six to ten such vans and they were all consigned right through to Sydney for the Dairy Farmers and the Fresh Food & Ice Companies. Cans for conveyance to intermediate stations were loaded in the brake van.
As many as 40 carts would back up to unload milk and some had to pull out to let late arrivals unload. Farmers always stayed and helped load. The train carried passengers too, and had a leisurely journey to Sydney taking 1 to 2 hours, according to loadings. The milk vans were uncoupled at Sydney and then shunted off to the Harbour goods yard.
Adjoining the goods yard was an enormous saw mill and every day two or three trucks of block wood were consigned to the city market, block wood being sold by auction at Alexandria if not consigned to a private buyer. Every day strings of dray teams brought the long wood to the yard, the main sources being from along St Andrews Road. The saw mill and its associated timber cutting and cartage provided work for quite a large number of local residents. But more of the saw mill later.
Adjoining the wood yard was the stock loading dock. During World War II a large shed was erected beside the goods shed and was used by the Department of the Army. Many rumours were current as to its contents etc, but in actual fact it was only to store biscuits!
Over the process of years, as the district changed, the goods yard and trucking facilities grew redundant, as motor lorries took over practically all types of stock and produce cartage. With the final elimination of the daily goods train, the goods yard was dismantled – shed and tracks – and the signalling points removed.
James King, promoted to Ryde, was followed by Mr Penrose who stayed on until retirement. He was followed by Mr Hartigan, then by Mr Ned Wilson. Ned held the job until the boom gates were installed, automatic electric signalling between Ingleburn and Campbelltown operated, and the station passed on to a team of junior male assistants. These proved so unreliable that the present women assistants were appointed.
When passenger traffic grew in the Penrose-Hartigan era, the station also had assistant station masters for a full 24-hour service. This was later cut down to one officer, with the local signalling “cutting-out” when the station was unattended.
It seems almost impossible that the once busy station should be relegated to its present status.
The fire at the saw mill mentioned earlier started on a very windy night and two reasons were advanced – a spark from a passing train or from a swaggie’s fire, – for there were plenty of men-on-the-track in those days. With almost an acre of long wood heavily stacked, all efforts to stop the fire failed and it burnt for weeks through the old heap of sawdust. The Campbelltown fire engine – a manually operated horse-drawn unit – could only operate with water brought from Campbelltown in “light” engines. Control was under a fire officer from Sydney. This blaze saw the end of the saw milling operations.
The School of Arts was built in James King’s time; he was mainly responsible for its erection. It boasted a particularly good library. Prior to that, concerts and entertainments were held in Brial’s wood shed (now Stockall’s).
The Brial family were French wool and skin buyers – Brial Freres et Cie – and did processing and baling at Minto.
The old hotel on the main road has had a chequered career over the years and has been used as a private dwelling as well as a poultry farm by George Connolly.
The old race meetings were held in the paddock adjoining (just below the present dog track) and were organised by the licensee. The starting point was the group of stately gun trees still standing. The grass-fed nags, from plough horses to hacks, were ridden by local owners, the horses? speed being accelerated by all the dogs in the district pursuing the horses down the track.
The Porter brickworks were a feature of the early years and the output, made from local clay, were always readily cleared.
One outstanding identity was “Dirty Dick”, a hawker who used pack horses and travelled from the back of Liverpool to Cobbitty. He sold merchandise of all sorts and filled the demand from housewives for sewing needs, materials and “ready mades”. He bought hides, sheep and rabbit skins and it was from this rather high smelling loading that he apparently earned the soubriquet. His pack horses had, after many years and heavy loads, almost U-shaped backs. In later years he graduated to a spring cart.
Two dairy farmers stand out in my memory – Sandy Crammond, a rather diminutive Scot who always rode on the dashboard with his feet on the step. The other was Mr Murray (Claude?s father) who only boasted one can of milk, centred in the body of his spring cart on which he sat, and in rain and heat held an umbrella up as his old creamy pony jogged along from the old Redfern home (Campbellfield) on the hill to the railway station.
Some of the older families that I remember in the early part of my boyhood included the Sherack family, who were early pioneers of the district, of German descent, were expert vignerons, wine makers and orchardists. The family lived in the main homestead and when two of the sons married (Jack and Phil), cottages were built for them on the estate. The older son Charlie and his sister Kate continued to live in the old home. Kate eventually married a Mr New and Charles lived on alone till his death.
The Boyers, of French descent, were also orchardists and vignerons and ran a guest house, famed for its cuisine, the husband Jean being chef. When he died his wife carried on with the help of their one son John.
[Note: Douglas James Hall passed away in July 1973 aged 80 years.]
Copyright © 2005 Campbelltown & Airds Historical Society Inc. All rights reserved.
(published in “Grist Mills” Vol. 1 No. 1, 2 & 3; 1982-83)