So I might start by just getting some brief biographic information. Glenys, can you tell me what your maiden name is?
Glenys: My name…my maiden name was Palmer.
So, Graham and Glenys, how long have you – – – did you live in the Prospect Hill area, and when did you move away?
Glenys: Well I lived there for fifty years total. Ten years of my lived, we moved down to Point Sturt when we married, and the last seven years, we’ve lived here in McLaren Vale.
And how long did you [Graham] live – – -?
Graham: Oh, thirty years in Oakley Street.
So, where was your house located in the – – -?
Glenys: At Blackfellows Creek.
How big in the Blackfellows Creek area? Is it – – -?
Graham: Oh, it’s just a small collection to houses over an – – – that just follows the Blackfellows Creek.
So, did your property have a name?
Graham: Oh, okay.
So, what was that, sorry?
How do you spell that?
Glenys: I think that’s what Uncle called it.
Oh, that’s alright.
Glenys: There were a – – – the area really is farming properties just joined together. And follows down the Blackfellows Creek Road.
So, starting with you, Glenys: can you tell me about what you did in the community?
Glenys: Well, I was – first of all – I went to school at Prospect Hill. I grew up there, was born there. I went to Brownies, played tennis, netball, table tennis; I went to the Sunday school, later I became a Sunday school teacher, and I was a member of the Community Association later on. And then done thirty years with the CFS [Country Fire Service]. Yep.
And you Graham? What did you get involved in the community?
Graham: I was involved with the Community Association and the CFS, the tennis club, table tennis club. And yeah, just generally involved with the community while we were there for thirty years.
Glenys: We’re both Community Association Life Members and Blackfellows Creek CFS members.
Alright. So a bit more on that: how much involvement did you have in each of those community activities?
Graham: You [Glenys] were Treasurer for – – –
Glenys: I was secretary – – – treasurer of the Community Association for many years. I worked round the museum, and in my really early days, I was very involved with my parents in raising money to actually build the present memorial hall. We’re both – Graham and I – we’re very heavily involved in building the new tennis courts: raising the money and doing the physical work up there – building the tennis courts. CFS, well that was just part of our lifestyle. We worked in the station night and day when required. After Ash Wednesday, we formed a Total Ladies Group which we – – – we did our training that – – – mostly it was radio room, I did, and catering. With the Community Association, I did a lot of catering.
And yourself, Graham?
Graham: I was chairman of the Community Association for a while, particularly through the rebuilding period. I was Captain of Blackfellows Creek Brigade and then went on to be – – –
Graham: Deputy Group Captain of the Strath [Strathalbyn] group.
Can you tell me a bit more about the rebuilding phase? Is that after the Ash Wednesday bushfires?
Graham: Yeah, that was very involved with lots of different things, depending on which building it was. The – – – there was a lot of work involved with cleaning up where we made use of local people with equipment – the tractors, that sort of thing – and a lot of hours given to cleaning up. And then when we started rebuilding, particularly where the Ash Wednesday exhibit is now, and that area, we had to find a lot of stone to get that building started, and then the contactor in the do that actual building work, but there was lot of work with that. The tennis courts, that was a big project that – – – there was a group of people who were very keen on their tennis and the community, and saw the need to get that going again, and we actually organised private funding to get it started, and then a lot of the work was contracted out, but it was a big project to redo that courts and re-fence and set up the lighting, actually. But yeah, it was a big project.
So what kind of things did you rebuild? Was it just the hall at the museum and the tennis courts?
Graham: Well the tennis courts was – – – we put it down: two complete new courts, and repaired the other two. It was completely re-fenced, and the stone wall around there was all done. The other buildings, they were repaired and rebuilt as necessary with each building, depending on how badly it was, and of course then, the community centre was complete rebuilt. But that was all – – –
Glenys: We had fund – – –
Graham: Organised – – – that was all funding from Wollongong council.
So can you tell me a bit more about life in Prospect Hill? What the community like?
Glenys: It – – – well, like a family. We were concerned for each other. It was our life – our social life. You’d pack a basket of goodies and you’d pull your food, and it was just a way of life. There was no boundaries, you went to help each other if there was a problem, or just visiting – social visiting – and having a cuppa and get-together and helping each other out whichever way they could. It was like a big family. And you were caring – you cared for each other in those days.
Why do you think people were like that in Prospect Hill?
Glenys: Why? I think – – – well I grew up knowing no other way. I think it’s been brought down through the generations. My – – – I do know from my mother and my father, both used to say that’s how they grew up. You all dobbed in and helped each other, and it’s just been – – – it’s been born and raised in me, really and truly speaking. It’s part of life. And your respect for people – you respected people.
So, Graham, from your perspective, can you tell me a bit more about life in Prospect Hill? What was the community like?
Graham: Well, it was sort of similar background to Glenys in – – – grew up in Bull Creek where it was. If you didn’t work with the community, the community didn’t survive. So that part sort of expanded as we got older and both moved back to Prospect Hill, it was just part of it. We just became part of the community and did what you could. And it’s the only way small communities survive.
So can you tell me what you consider to be the most important aspects of Prospect Hill’s history?
Graham: That’s a hard one.
Glenys: It is a hard one.
Glenys: Well the – – – I think Prospect Hill’s history is really like a baggage of things. You had your own farms to run, whatever you did, whether it be the dairying or whatever. Sundays were always church days and we always joined in the congregation at church. It was just a complete package. Yeah. What about you, Graham?
Graham: Well, it was always, I suppose, a core of families that were around seemed to be forever, and then their families were there. But then there was the all those people that were coming and going through the community that became part of the community while they were there, and that sort of kept it moving and brought fresh interest into the place and kept things moving.
Okay. Do you know much about the history of Prospect Hill before European settlement, such as the Aboriginal history of the area?
Glenys: I can’t tell you much about that. It’s only what I read in the books and the history books, really, speaking. Yeah, and just the general stories that were – – – I can’t tell you a lot on that one.
Graham: I’ve never heard or read of there being large communities there. There’s not the obvious signs of it, not like when were down at Point Sturt up on the sand ridges. You could – – – there was the middens of mussel shells, you know, metres deep where obviously they’d been there for a long time. But I would have thought it would have been more as they were wandering through from these areas through the hills to the sea, which was part of their trade routes in those days. And it would have been more – – – well, if they had any sense, summer hunting and keeping out of the place in winter when it was so cold.
So can you tell me a bit about the early days of Prospect Hill? So from, European settlement?
Glenys: Not a lot. Only the stories my father used to tell me, and there were a lot of woodcutters. My own father worked in the cutting pines, brought in extra money ‘cause – – – to supplement the dairy side of things of the farm. But you – – – yeah, no, not a lot really. Real early days, I’m – – – it was just hard work milking by hand. My mother used to milk the cows for her parents by hand, and keep household for her brothers. I don’t – – – really can’t tell you a lot on that one.
Graham: No, pretty much the same. Though, I guess it was sorta – – – Dad used to tell stories for going with his father from Meadows to Adelaide with the horse and cart, so I suppose that was very much of the pattern that they go take produce to market in Adelaide and come back whether it was a two day trip – two or three day trip to do that. But, no, we had – – – luckily, we’re a bit beyond that.
So what are some of your favourite heritage stories about Prospect Hill? For example, some people like to talk about Sarah McHarg, Thomas Burr and the Flagtree?
Glenys: I don’t know ether I’ve any sort of favourite ones. I’ve got lots of little stories, sorta thing. It was a – – – I think we led a simple type life around, like – – – I look down in – – – I think of – – – you’ve interviewed I think Brenda Nesbitt, who was Brenda Moore, they used to be our neighbours, and her father – we used to call him ‘Spinker’. And I remember the days of him going past along the Blackfellows Creek Road with them all in the horse and buggy, taking them up to church, oh and to Meadows to do their shopping. Things like that – they’re the sort of things that I can remember ‘cause, remember I was only born in 1947 so I don’t go back that far, so. So that’s the sort of things that I can remember. What about you, Graham?
Graham: No, as an even later comer to the district, I was sorta – – – haven’t got any recollection or even heard many stories of the very early days.
Okay, so another dimension of that is: can you tell me a little bit about the historical figures that you consider to be important to the heritage of Prospect Hill?
Glenys: Well, of course the Griggs family because they were centre – – – the centre of Prospect Hill, really speaking, stemming from the Spencers there. No, I really can’t tell you a lot on that one. No. Not a lot.
Do you have anything to add, Graham?
Graham: No, it was always the Griggs. Tom? Keith’s father.
Graham: Will. Will Griggs, and that was about as back – – – as far as I go, I was – – – I did come into the area occasionally as a young teenager, and it was all around the centre of Prospect Hill which was the Griggs: Keith and his father, and – – – yeah.
Okay. So I’d like to talk about the Ash Wednesday bushfires now. Can you tell me where you were when the bushfires occurred?
Glenys: We were feeding and fighting the fires ourselves. We were feeding the firefighters – we were actually in the fire station. Yeah. We were. What about you [Graham]?
Graham: Yeah, we’d been involved for two days with the fire in the forest beforehand. And then when we woke up on the morning of that Ash Wednesday, it was a shocker. It was already blowing again. It was hot. And we knew we were going to be in problems even to hold the area we were looking after, and then when it started down at McLaren Flat, we knew we were in trouble. We spent all that day around the area pretty much inside the middle of that fire, we were pretty much the only brigade that was there all day because the others were all around the outskirts, out on the range, and then back around Ashbourne, Meadows and – – – and we were pretty much until late in the day – late, very late in the day when after things had gone through, there was brigades from all around started coming through the district to help mop up and clean up, and that went on for the next fortnight.
So you’d been fighting fires since the Monday before, which would have been the 14th of February?
So and they were just smaller fires in the – – -?
Graham: It was a fire that started in the forest directly west of Blackfellows Creek station, and we knocked it – we were able to knock it down and then it was just a matter of – – – we were still mopping. Mopping up.
Glenys: We had spot fires from that one that were close to home. Come out and – – – yeah.
So can you tell me a little bit about – – – a little bit more about your experience with the fire?
Glenys: Well there’s lots to tell about the experiences with the fire. You really – – – it – – – in a small thing – – – there was a lot of confusion, frustration, it was frightening, you sort of had to pull yourself together and have a plan of what you’re going to do. And – – – because you didn’t know what the fire was going to do. It was very confusing, really speaking. And all you worried about was to keeping your own family and everybody safe. And that’s all. We didn’t want loss of lives, which did happen. Yes. What about you [Graham], mate?
Graham: Well I sort of became very involved over the – – – an extended period with it, both fighting it and in the aftermath. And – – – but to isolate things is a bit hard. The fire was, itself, was probably something – – – we’d never even imagined the intensity of it, and it broke all existing fire behaviour knowledge that we knew at the time. It was only afterwards that you sort of put together: ‘Well, yeah, that was understandable’ for instance, out on the road along the top down towards Mount Magnificent; there was small stoned embedded in the bark of trees on the eastern side of the road. And until you sort of realised that it was a firestorm that as it went through, it actually created a vacuum that actually sucked those stones off the road and then embedded them into the saplings and trees on the other side of the road. Normally, fire behaviour is that will roar up one side, and then when it goes down the other side, it slows down. But this fire was so intense that when it became over the hill onto the eastern side of the range, that all area already preheated, so it just exploded. The whole thing just went bang, because it was all scrub. And then the southerly wind just swept it right along the range to Pros – – – to the back of Meadows. And this was sort of contrary to what we’d understood on all smaller fires, but because this was such an intense fire that it made its own conditions to – – – where we were on the farm, we were actually that close on the edge of it, it actually – – – virtually just sucked the corner out of the hay shed, because as the – – – it came out of Kyeema and across the Oakley block of pines and that was a rolling crown fire. And the amount of air it disturbed was just amazing.
So, Glenys, earlier you were telling me a story about what happened when you were trying to get to the school, or for the kids or something – could you tell me that story again if you’re up to it?
Glenys: Oh, yeah. Well, yeah. Do you want me start where I had the friend come through the paddock?
Glenys: Well, my friend – – –
Graham: You’d better start back where she’d actually taken the kids in to school with … …
Glenys: An- – – one of the girls that worked with us – Angie – took our kids to the primary – – – ‘cause we’d all get our kids home from school that day – she took the kids into the school ‘cause we felt that they’d be safer at the school. They had a pool at the school and such like. So when the fire – – – she was on her way back from Meadows, and she got caught. And so she went up the fire station, and it was coming at her, and she ran down and jumped in Pat Connor’s dam and pulled the tarp over her head, and that’s where she was. Well, when it had gone over, she came out of the dam, and then she jumped in her car and she came over, and she was – – – she just wanted to be with us. Wanted to be with people. And she drove her car through the paddocks – no fences left, in low little flames – and she came through and drove over to be with us, and she was wet through. And we decided then that we wanted to get our kids back with us. We didn’t feel safe – – – we just wanted our kids for some reason. Anyway while we were having a cuppa and such like this, a gentleman from Strathalbyn came through – our cousin, Ross Stone came through and he’d rallied around the shops and got bread and filling for sandwiches to come through and give us a feed so we had some food. But then he did – – – he came with Angie and I, and we took off through the property down to the Blackfellows Creek Road and we had another young lad from – – – that was on the fire truck with us. And Ross had thrown an axe in the boot of the car, and – well, the back of the wagon – and we get down to the Blackfellows Creek Road and – ‘cause it’s all covered in fallen trees, so out the fellows hop. And Ross removes it – – – starts chopping up to remove this tree and the young lad, Michael, he grabbed the tree and burnt his hand [hands?], so we had to get him back to Meadows.
But we got a clearance enough to get ourselves through to the forest break, and we drove up the forest break and just drove to get our kids, and we’re – – – we got ourselves out onto the bitumen road and got through, winding around these trees all down along the road. One section was still burning overhead when we drove through, heading towards the Michelmore property, which … – – – the police blockages in Meadows, said that we wanted to get to our kids and they were asking us if it was safe. But we said, ‘Well we just come from there, so we just wanted to get our kids’ and that was just a driving force behind us to do this, so that’s what we did. And Meadows was in chaos. Meadows was chaotic. The whole of the oval was covered in cars, animals, horse floats, whatever you could name – people with stuff just piled up high, and then getting to the school to get our kids, and they just looked at us with this – – – they were all asking us questions like, ‘Do you know whether our houses are standing, Mrs Usher?’ and this and that, and I couldn’t – – – I just could not tell them whether their houses – – – kids were all panicking. They just wanted to know whether their families were safe and this, and you just could not tell them, because you didn’t know what was going on other than your little patch. And then the – – – we found, probably – – – it was more devastating for the kids to be away from us, and see – – – and go through it with us. Sorta thing.
So how much do you think the fires impacted on Prospect Hill’s built heritage, so its historic buildings and structures?
Glenys: Well it’s been devastating, because we’ve lost a lot of history. One that I can really see that sticks out … is when the CWA [Country Women’s Association] Hall went up in smoke. We had the Burman lending library in there. Well, that was part of the history of the district – that’s been lost. You can’t ever replace things like that. But I think we’ve lost quite a bit of – – –
So what kind of material was in the lending library?
Graham: Well it was all books, I suppose.
Glenys: Well, it was just books. We had – – – when – – – I’m just trying to think back now. When was it? Primary school. They had the library – was a library in the primary school and they moved that into the CWA Hall when the school closed. And they were in there: those books. They were original copies of all your old – – – well, heritage books. And other – – – anything that – – – and they were back in the old original bound books that you just don’t see today. Yeah, and they all just went up in smoke … … … .
And, Graham, how do you think the fires impacted of Prospect Hill’s built heritage?
Graham: Oh, it was a big impact, because it destroyed the facility of the tennis court, it destroyed several of the – – –
Glenys: The scout – – –
Graham: The outbuildings, the scout hall, the old school. Prospect Hill probably copped – – – as being a … from the fire, as any other little district involved. Because we were smack in the middle of it. And there was several houses, there was lives lost; it was a really big whack on a little community. And it was – – – it took a while for the news really to get out; that it had been. Other areas – – – Ashbourne copped damage on the eastern side. Prospect Hill was probably only – – – the other town in the area, or village in the area that was really impacted because it was right in the middle of the fire. Meadows copped a little bit on the edge, and that was about it. Right down along that Blackfellows Creek Road, right down to Kuitpo Colony, there was a lot of damage.
So without the CFS, it would have been a hell of a lot more damage.
Graham: Oh, we did manage to save some, but – – – and then when the other brigades came through, they were able to put stuff out, but by that time, any damage was – – – some of the houses would have gone in minutes. They were just hit with balls of gas coming out of the pines. There was areas of the forest that were that intense that it took the top twenty or thirty feet out of some of the pines tree, and then that just created gas balls that then went out ahead of the fire, and looked like one or two of them directly impacted on houses and it was just bang. It was just no – – – nothing anybody could do.
Glenys: Well the fire was probably too quick to be – – – for the CFS to actually keep up with. You would have had to – – –
Graham: I would think we would have had – – – if the particularly – – – there was the CFS brigades in there that didn’t know the area, we could have lost people in that – in the centre of that. It was just a … … . And you just had to get out of it. Let it go – – – let it go over the top, and follow it behind, which they did later on in the day and then the next few days. But yeah, the damage had been done.
So do you think following the Ash Wednesday bushfires, more efforts have been put into protecting and preserving the built heritage of Prospect Hill?
Glenys: I think it certainly has, in a word. They’re more aware. Until you experience something like Ash Wednesday, you’re not aware about the impact that some of this devas[tation] – – – these fires can have on you. And I think, certainly since Ash Wedensday, there’s been a lot of effort going at Prospect Hill to try and preserve what we’ve got left. Don’t you [Graham]?
Graham: Yeah, well part of my follow-up was to get somebody from CFS headquarters to come in and actually design a system of – – – to – – – so that we could make a decent fire fighting effort if we did have something impact on the buildings, and – – – through a system of tanks and pipes and – – –
Glenys: Sprinklers on the roofs.
Graham: Sprinklers on roofs and that sort of thing. And there was a trailer pump put in the shed up there to pressurise lines so that to – – – even if the truck hadn’t got there, you could actually make a fire fighting effort on one of the buildings with just a few lengths of canvas and the pump from – – – and you had twenty-thousand gallons of water to start with, but water was always a problem in the area, because it just – – – you had dams, but they were always a long way away; you’d have had to push water a long way to go and everything, so we did set up that system. But it’s – – – what is it? Thirty years ago now that – – – and people do forget a bit. So how conscious they are now of keeping the pumps started and keeping all that thing going on, I’m not real sure, but the infrastructure was certainly there to make a difference.
So do you think Prospect Hill’s built heritage and heritage stories helped residents to recover from the bushfires?
Glenys: Yeah, I think our little bushfire display that’s there in the museum: it’s helping people, because when we did that display – and I was part of that display – – – we all vented our feelings. We thought they were all buried and gone, but we vented them again, and I think this is part of your healing process type of thing, you know. And I think it’s certainly has helped people. And it’s there for other people to see. Yeah.
Graham: While – – – because of the circumstances, we lost some every good people in that they had to move out, because they couldn’t, sort of, recover from – – – I think one group in particular that it – – – they started up a little market garden business and then it was destroyed. And they couldn’t – – – they sort of had to just move on. We lost them. But the – – – there was a – – – pretty well straight afterwards, there was a night on the old courts. We cleared up all the lights and just put on an open night for people to come in and have a night out with music and probably the only two-keg night Prospect Hill’s ever had, I think. [laughs] It was a good night, and that started it. And then when we started rebuilding, it really give people time to put efforts in, and there was a big recovery: mentally, physically, and monetarily I think around the district. It did take time. And it was a big – certainly a big effort that – – – with a lot of people putting in a lot of time. But it did have a big healing effect, yeah.
So can you tell me your thoughts on Prospect Hill today? What are the strengths of the community and what struggles does it face?
Glenys: Well I jotted a few things down, because I feel the influx of the young people who are taking on the interests and the caring for what’s left of the history, for example, caring and maintaining the buildings and the restoring of the old engines is wonderful. I think that’s what it’s all about. That sort of thing. So – – – The struggles that I can see them with the things – – – it’s always going to be the money side of things. It’s always going to be a problem, and to get the next generation to be interested in to carrying on: this is going to be the biggest thing, because some of them – we’ve got a lot of population that’s coming and going these days, and they don’t stay. But we seem to got some – – – at the moment, we’ve got some young ones there that are staying and having a go. And that’s what it’s all about, I think. And it seems to be, well, they’ve just come through a month of where the museum’s been open every day of the week, virtually. And this sort of thing, so that – – – in my days of working on the community centre – was unheard of. But, so, I can see that it’s coming along okay at the moment. And I’m quite please to think that it is, you know.
So do you think the Prospect Hill community is different to when – – – to what it was when you grew up there, or when you lived there?
Glenys: I think it is. I’m just trying to put the words to why I think it is. It’s probably because people are very, very busy with their own lives these days, and in our days, the community was part of our lives; whereas, today, you’ve got to make the extra effort to put it into it, and it’s got to be part of your life if you want to do it, but – – – it’s just an extra thing for people to do these days. But, whereas, we – it was just part of our lives, because we went – in our days, we went to the post office; there was other things happening at the post office; Keith Griggs running a little store … … … We went up – – – if you wanted to do anything, like when I was in Brownies, it was held at the – – – in the building which is now the Annie Russell home, and such like. It was all linked together in the days gone by, whereas today, it’s – – – you’ve got to make the effort to go, and go up to the museum and be part of it, or – – – I don’t know whether that’s making sense, what I’m saying, but in our day, it was just part of life. Growing up in the – – – yeah.
So, Graham, do you have any thoughts on Prospect Hill today?
Graham: Yeah, well, the big difference now, that – – – the early days, it was agricultural based. And now there’s very, very little. It’s virtually become a dormitory – – –
Glenys: Because people are going out of the district to work, so while we were working in the district.
Graham: Like it’s happened everywhere else: the outlying areas are just becoming dormitory villages and suburbs. And that brings a total change where you haven’t got people with perhaps time available during the day like you have on the – – – like you used to have on the farms. You could put things off, and go and do these jobs that had to done around the community, whereas now it means weekends and – – – Individuals just haven’t quite got the time that they had. It’s just part of the pace of life, and part of the change of life unfortunately. It’s not as good a life as it used to be, and [laughs] and we still talk about the ‘good ol’ days’ – why, things have improved a lot in lots of ways, people have become very time-poor, and small communities suffer because of that, and that’s going to be hard, but the museum area has become – – – they’re getting to the stage where it’s being – – – it’s the museum that’s the heart of Prospect Hill now, because it’s gotten to the stage where it is bringing people through all the time to see it, because they’re managed to keep it up – keep the heritage, and people are coming to see that. Which, when you travel yourself, that it is probably the biggest industry of the future is tourism.
So do you have any closing comments to make about Prospect Hill, or anything that we’ve spoken about today?
Glenys: I just hope the gang that’s in on the community centre at the moment can keep up their good work, because they seem to be going through leaps and bounds at the moment. And it’s, for me, it’s quite exciting to see it happening, because I’d been on that committee where we were trying to make it happen for years, and it just didn’t happen. And I think they’ve come a long way.
Graham: Yeah, it’s quite exciting that it’s children of some of the older families that are coming back into the district to keep it going, and that’s along with other sort of coming in to – – – it does give it a chance to survive, and we wish them well with that, because at the moment it seems to be going quite well, and you can see the – – – some of the areas are getting up a bit, which actually brings more people in, so you’ve got a better chance of it surviving.
Alright, well, thank you, Glenys and Graham for being part of the project. That concludes the interview. Thank you.