Illawarra Days By David Laverack

Written in 2009

I think my first recollection of my days at Illawarra Orchard was when I was about 5 and I saw my first snake. I was playing outside when I saw our cat acting strangely and upon closer inspection found it was wondering what to do with the snake. I was a bit frightened so I went inside and my father came out and killed the snake. He used to hang a few pieces of fencing wire, about 4 feet long and with one end bent for a handle, in case we saw a snake. He said it would be hard to hit a snake with a stick but a piece of wire would bend and you could break a snake’s back with it. However, I don’t think we ever used one, as we were not unduly bothered with snakes.

When I was a bit older I used to try and kill “silvereyes” in our fig tree with a shanghai and afterwards progressed to an air gun. For parrots I initially used a rifle which my father had brought from England with him. You could not get the right ammunition for it here but a 380 revolver cartridge fitted it exactly. Later on I bought a 410 shotgun which was a lot better for shooting parrots. The make was Ivor Johnson and I carved the licence number of 11747 on it. I used to get 3 pence each for parrots shot on the orchard – mostly twenty-eights with a few king parrots. Twenty-eights ate the actual fruit but the king parrot ate the buds and therefore did more damage. I lines up each Friday with the men getting their wages, for my small parrot payments.

The native cats – now called Chundich and a protected species, used to attack our chooks that were housed in a special shed a little distance from the house. In the middle of the night we would hear this terrific screeching so my father would get out of bed to investigate. He owned a lovely 6 shot automatic revolver, the same as used by the London Police. He missed a lot more cats than he hit. We used to lie in bed wondering how successful he was. We tanned a couple of skins which were quite attractive with their spots.


When we wanted to go to Perth we had to use a buggy to get to the siding. In the middle of winter this was no joke – wrapped up in scarves and coats, we had to catch the train at 6.30 a.m. and sit in freezing cold “dog boxes” which had been waiting in the cold all night. We proceeded via the Zig Zag from Gooseberry Hill and arrived in Perth at 8.52 a.m. (if the train was on time) and mostly walked across Wellington Street to do our shopping at Boans or Bairds. Or perhaps catch another train to Cottesloe Beach station to visit my grandparents.

Incidently my great uncle (grandfather’s brother) Edward White, a surveyor, surveyed the Zig Zag railway. The railway line originally went only as far as Pickering Brook with a spur line to Canning Mills for the transportation of timber from those mills. However,in 1911 if was extended to Karragullen to cater for the transport of fruit, mainly apples,from the local orchards and also firewood for the metropolitan area. It also provided a facility for the local residents to travel to and from Perth via the scenic Zig Zag from Gooseberry Hill. As a small child I used to get slightly “train sick” but I discovered if I faced the engine instead of having my back to it, I was okay.

We had a crystal set wireless and when someone was listening to it with the headphones on, you dare not make a noise,such as turning a newspaper, as every slightest sound would be heard in the headphones. I remember at one time my father burying a sheet of galvanised iron and soldering a new earth wire on it.

Our first car was a secondhand Dodge 1923 model tourer, which we traded-in for a brand new 1926 model,navy blue and it even had balloon tyres! Its number plate was 11772. In February 1927 we drove to Albany for a holiday and on the way to York we had the “daylights” shaken out of us. So we pulled into a garage to find out what was wrong. The mechanic soon fixed things – he walked around and let about half the air out of each tyre – we had put 56lbs pressure like the 23 model needed but the balloon tyres needed on 35lbs. So we then proceeded smoothly on our way.

With the 1923 model we even had a special wheel puller to help with changing a tyre. There was so much room in the back that we had a special coir mat made for it by the Maylands Blind School. We also had a let down luggage carrier fitted at the rear. My father dug and boarded a pit in the asbestos garage so he could change the oil and do maintenance underneath instead of lying on his back.

I did not learn to ride a horse because all the horses, except one, were draught horses used for pulling ploughs or wagons. Nobody even rode the other one which was used for buggy work. Most other lades in the district worked on a family orchard and used horses for getting around. Once a month Mr. Knuckey from Roleystone, would visit the orchard and shoe all the horses. I was interested in watching him.

As well as shooting parrots I used to pick up windfall apples for 2 pence a large dump case. In the winter when there was a heavy frost, this money was well and truly earned!

I remember when Roy Gray opened the first store near the Karragullen Station and he later sold Shell and Mobil petrol from hand pumps. Previous to this you bought your petrol in 4 gallon tins – 2 to a case. And you did not waste the cases which were well made of pine. You made shoe cupboards with them, complete with curtains and a cushion. Every country person had one.

The Post Office was run by Mrs. Saunders in an old weatherboard building opposite the station. At the time of writing this (2009) her youngest daughter Margaret (Peggy at school) is living in a nursing home and her mind is as active as ever at 89 years old.

Bonfire nights were a real treat. For sometime prior to the date we would build a huge bonfire, complete with a Guy Fawkes. When the night arrived everyone would come along and enjoy themselves. I would get up as early as I could the next morning to look for crackers that had not gone off.

My Mother had a fine Ronisch Piano which she had bought from a Mrs. McFarlane from Peppermint Grove. My Mother played a little and my sister Clare (4 years older than me) learnt but I was not interested. Piano playing was a girl’s job – too “cissy” for a boy. Besides I was an outside person (I still am) and would prefer to be shooting parrots or playing.

The only local lad about my own age living at the orchard was Lionel Stinton but he was a couple of years older and I saw much of him after school. He was busy with his homework and his parents were very strict with him.

I bought a new push bike which was an “Armstrong” from a shop in Hay Street in Perth. We chose this as we thought it the best make we saw. It served me very well for many years and of course I then rode it to school.

We had a small plum tree near the house to which my father grafted a variety of other stone fruit. We finished up with about a dozen or more. He did this as more or less a novelty – and also to prove how well he could graft fruit!

We had a magnificent English Lilac bush which used to thrive in the hard gravel. I have tried to grow one at Cottesloe on several occasions but have not yet been successful. Our outside weatherboard pan system was covered in morning glory.

Once a month we used to attend an Anglican Church service in Roleystone Hall and occassionly organise one locally in the Karragullen Hall. One of my interests as a child was playing with hoops (my father made me an iron one at the orchard blacksmith’s shop) and a “billy cart” made from petrol boxes, with wooden wheels, jam tins and candles for lights and steered by ropes.

When my sister left Karragullen School she went to a boarding school called Boonaloo at Gooseberry Hill run by a Miss Whitmarsh. We used to pick her up every Friday night and take her back on Sunday evenings.

My father once owned a very fine block of land at Gooseberry Hill overlooking Perth city but he later sold it as we decided we did not need to build on it. He built our house in Cottesloe in 1924 and leased it until we went to live in it at the end of 1929.

When I was quite young I remember going to His Majesty’s Theatre in Perth to see Anna Pavlova dance in the famous Swan Lake Ballet. I would have gone with my parents.

Before we left Illawarra in 1929, Boans Ltd decided to make deliveries to Karragullen and this was a boon for all the locals. Boans was a very enterprising store and this was a great effort on its part and of course was quite a good advertisement for them.

We used to get our meat sent up by rail from Beecrofts the Butchers of Rockeby Road, Subiaco. On one occasion when we opened the parcel there were sausages everywhere and we can only assume that they misread our order for 1 1/2 pounds for 12 pounds.

My father started work at Illawarra in 1900 for 15 shillings a week,worked from 7a.m. to 5p.m., six days a week, had 2 days holiday a year and found himself, so you could say that by the time I came along, he had a bit of experience in orchard work. He was in charge of the packing shed and helped with the cold store and engine. Illawarra won a lot of major prizes for their apples exported to England and Singapore and the packing was an important part of the preparation.

He was by then a major shareholder in the Company and worked very hard and was very much on call for any emergency.

Saturday night was bath night. We would boil a copper full of water and put it in the old cement bath and take it in turns to have a bath. In the summer time we would save the water to pour on the garden plants. Our water supply was from rainwater tanks.

My mother was very fussy about my dress – but far from being expensive. She always made me wear a hat when necessary and I rarely went bare footed. I always wore boots and not shoes, to school as boots were supposed to give more support to your feet. She also cooked tasty meals, especially delicious apple pies. Our milk was shared with the Price family and came direct from the cow. I have always been a great drinker.

I can recall at one time a few Italians were employed to build a charcoal kiln and they produced charcoal for the orchard but I cannot remember exactly what it was used for. In the very early years it was used to make gas to drive the engine for the refrigeration system but it may have been used for insulation purposes instead of sawdust. The kiln was made by lying a stack of jarrah logs together and lighting them and then covering them all with soil. After some weeks they would into good charcoal.

All our “neighbours” were miles away. They were mostly apple orchardists but there were also a few wood cutters who sent split dried logs to Perth for firewood and also sleeper-cutters who skillfully cut green jarrah sleepers for railways, some being exported to South Africa.

There were no market gardens which have become very popular since the end of the war and which are mostly owned by Italian Families. When tractors became available the company purchased a new Fordson in 1927. This was the early model with steel cleats on the wheels instead of large tyres which were later used. It was not easy to start and I am not sure how successful it was as it was not very suitable for use on wet grounds. Horses had always been used with success up to this stage.

Hector Price was in charge of all the work in the orchard, assisted by his younger brother Wilfred. I did not see Mr. Tom Price as much as I saw his sons as I think he worked in his office and did administration work although he probably did outside work as well.

Harold Stinton was in charge of the horses and some years later Mr. Harry Lewis was employed to look after the engine room.

The varieties of apples were Jonathan, Cleopatra, Granny Smith, Yates and Doherty with Bartlett pears on a smaller scale. Dump packing cases were assembled on the premises from thin jarrah boards. Each packer slightly overfilled the case so when the lids were nailed on there would be a slight downwards pressure to stop any shaking which would cause bruising.

Orchard work including thinning ( removing the buds to allow for the development of larger fruit), pruning, ploughing, fertilising and eventually picking. All these jobs entailed a lot of hard manual labour, with a lot of large step ladders being used, but certain modern devices have now been invented to make things quicker and easier. In early days all the cases of fruit had to be taken to rail by horse drawn wagons.

Knowledge of refrigeration was necessary as temperatures had to be continually checked and apples were never to be frozen. We thought the climate at Karragullen was fairly severe. It seemed very hot in summer and very cold in winter. Of course we lived in a weatherboard house with an iron roof with no insulation or fans. My mother made good use of her hand fan and we just had to put up with the hot nights. We could keep warm in the winter with big log fires (no trouble getting firewood) but outside there were hard frosts on a lot of the coldest days. My father said hr felt the cold more at Illawarra than he felt in his native Yorkshire. Of course motor cars had no air conditioning and the hot or cold air would easily get in the side curtains of a tourer. Not many families owned motor cars in these days. Times were pretty tough and perhaps some orchardists had a utility vehicle or truck for both orchard work and personal use.

Harold Stinton bought a new Fiat car and you had to change gears frequently. Our ’26 model Dodge could get up Kalamunda hill in top gear which was quite something in those days. A lot of gravel roads were quite rough with deep wheel ruts and trees and bushes were very close to the sides of the roads.

This is just a little after thought to add to my story.

One day I shot a rabbit so my school friend and neighbour, Lionel Stinton and I decided to have it for our lunch. Our parents were not at home and I have no idea why, but let’s get on with the story.

As we were not used to cooking rabbits we sought the advice from one of our neighbours and she suggested we cut it up and put it in a saucepan with some potatoes, also cut up. Then bring it to the boil and let it simmer for an hour – then it will be ready to eat. The morning was by then well advanced so we thought if we boiled it furiously for half an hour, that would work out about the same. So this we did and looked forward to a pleasant meal when the time was up.

Lo and behold, when we took it out of the saucepan all the meat just fell off the bones and the potatoes had disappeared altogether!!! I am not sure if the times I stated were correct but they were near enough. So if you decide to cook a rabbit you will know just what not to do.

Another small addition – Clare had piano lessons from Mrs. Pine, the schoolmistress. I think she must have had them after school as I don’t recall my father picking up Mrs. Pine at the school and bringing her home. Of course Clare could have easily walked home by herself or I may have waited for her. In either case it would have been a completely safe walk.


References: Article: David Laverack 2009

Images: 1 Tom Price
2 David Laverack