Ray, could you start by telling me your full name?
My full name is Raymond John Bailey.
And can you tell me how long you’ve lived in the Prospect Hill area? Or how long did you live here?
We came to the area in 1945 after my father got out of the army and he took a position at Kuitpo Colony as Probation Officer to look after some of the more unfortunate people from around Adelaide.
So was it just you and your father who moved to Kuitpo Colony?
It was my mother as well, but yes, eventually, my brother and my sisters were born up here.
So for the time that you lived in the area, did you only live at Kuitpo Colony? Or was it…?
Yes, our first house was a wattle and daub house on Cyril Law’s property. It was a big house, but because of the war, materials were very scarce and eventually, a house was built for us on the colony property. That was around 1948.
So what kind of house was it, sorry?
It was asbestos. Probably, it would never be erected today the way it was erected then.
Okay. Can you tell me what you did in the community?
Well, in those early times, I was simply a student here going to the Prospect Hill school. I suppose in those early times, with my parents being involved with the community – such as doing the tennis courts – I and along with the others just had a good time. It wasn’t until 2009, 2010 when I became involved again with the community, and this time with the museum.
Okay. So when did you move away from the community originally?
I moved away in about 1955 when I started going to high school, and I was boarding in Adelaide.
Okay. So how much involvement have or did you have in community activities?
In those early times?
Well, my parents were members of the Prospect Hill tennis club, which was very active at the time. And again, as kids, we were travelled all through the district having a very good time with the other kids from various tennis clubs: Meadows, Kangarilla, Flaxley, Bull Creek, et cetera. In more recent times, I’ve become involved with restorations at the museum, and I’m usually here every Sunday and occasionally at odd days during the week.
So what kind of restorations are you involved in?
I tackle virtually anything that is made out of steel: engines, old ploughs, grain crushers, chaff cutters, et cetera. But I don’t like seeing anything that is old destroyed, because I think if we don’t do it now, then the people coming up – our children’s children – will have no idea of what our forefathers did. And that’s important to know.
So can you tell me a bit more about life in Prospect Hill? So what was the community like when you lived here as a boy?
The community was – – – mind you, thinking back fifty-odd years ago, there was tremendous involvement with the community. The one thing that I can recall – the building of the new tennis courts, which are behind the new tennis courts – I can remember working bees to – – – up the school to do some concreting up there. My parents became involved with square dancing, and I can remember that they used to have square dance classes in our home back in the fifties. And there were a lot of people that joined in those classes, and then went with my parents down to Adelaide for some of the other square dances that were on at that stage.
So you moved away in 1955 and you got involved again in – – – around 2009, 2010, did you come back to the community at all in that time?
Yes, I did. I can recall coming back here after the fire, there was a community get-together here, I suppose, to raise funds. And sometimes I would drive through the area and I happened to see Keith Griggs around, I would stop and say G’day. And a couple of times, over Easter periods, I would come up and look around and go through the museum.
Okay. Can you tell me what you consider are the most important aspects of Prospect Hill’s history?
The most important aspect with history. Well, one of the things that I can recall as a student was the story of Sarah McHarg and also the stories of the Flag Tree and the Block. I thought some of these were fanciful – as kids we have ideas that Sarah was either taken by bushrangers or Aboriginals, but it wasn’t until 2009 that I learned part of the truth about what happened to Sarah. And because of that, I became much more involved in looking into the McHarg story.
So can you tell me a bit more about the McHarg story?
Well, the McHargs came from a little place in Scotland in the valley of Inch, which is very close to the border of England. And they came out in 1839, arrived in Adelaide around about December of 1839 and the – – – John McHarg brought his family up to what eventually became known as Prospect Hill and settled in a little valley behind the museum. The hill where we now have our engine house was known as McHarg Hill. Anyway, in 1841 the Governor-Surveyor, Henry Burr, came into the area with his team of surveyors and his wife, and started surveying. The McHargs who had no title to the land that they were settled on – or they had built their camp on – moved out to a place which eventually became known as McHarg’s Creek. Mrs Burr didn’t like being left alone because of the Aboriginals that were wandering around the district at the time, and it was arranged for Sarah, who was working for a Mrs Boach in Hindley Street, to come back to her parents’ camp, and whenever Mrs Burr was going to be left alone, it was arranged for Sarah to come across and spend time with her. Now the distance between the two camps was only about five kilometres, but she was escorted through the scrub, but one day, Sarah, for some reason, decided she wanted to go back to her parents’ camp and left the camp on the 3rd of June, 1841, and she simply disappeared. Her remains were not found for some two years at Currency Creek, and it was a very sad business because she had built herself a little wurley, she made a bed out of reeds, and she had left a message to her mother and her sister.
What was the message?
I cannot recall all the words, but one of it was more-or-less her last will and testament where she had asked that her effects to be left to – – – originally to her mother, but then to one of her sisters, and to one of her sisters she had left a message: “Grieve not for me, as I am resigned to my fate.”
Do you know much about the Prospect Hill area before European settlement? Such as the Aboriginal history of the area?
I know, regrettably, none – except we had a belief that the Aboriginals were moving between this area, Meadows – they would go down along Blackfellas Creek through Kuitpo Colony, and then on down towards Mount Compass and Encounter Bay. That’s the only recalling – – – the only thing that I can record – recall, I’m sorry – about the Aboriginals. But I believe that in various parts of the hills here, there are mounds of – – – or there were mounds of sea shells found, so obviously they were bringing some shells with them, probably mussels et cetera to eat on the way.
Can you tell me about the early days of Prospect Hill, from European settlement?
That would be a good question. The early days would have been very, very tough. You know, to clear the scrub. If you drive down Milligan Road now you can see the remnants of the scrub that the settlers were facing. They had to clear it. And they had to provide food for the families as well, so to go out, cut down trees, scrub out roots, build fences – and at the same time, try and find something for their family to eat at night, or during the day. It would have been very, very tough.
What are some of your favourite heritage stories about Prospect Hill? So you’ve already told me about Sarah McHarg, but you mentioned before about Thomas Burr, the Flagtree and the Block.
Well, to me, I – – -the story of the Flagtree, or what we knew of the Flagtree, was – – – I found that very interesting. And for those that don’t know, the Flagtree was a large tree which had, as far as I can ascertain, a flagpole on the top of it to make it look a bit higher, from which a Semaphore system would operate to alert the various settlers of the district of the movement of ships. And this line of communication extended from Adelaide right through to Encounter Bay or Victor Harbour. So if ships were seen leaving Adelaide, flags would be run up to notify people, but if ships were seen coming through the backstairs passage, or through the west and turning into the gulf, a system of flags would again go up to alert the travellers, or to alert the farmers that a new ship was heading into Port Adelaide. And the other item that I mentioned is the Block. Now, the Block is a large block of wood that sits out from the original shop here in Prospect Hill, and the shopkeeper, Mr Griggs, would leave various items that people wanted on this block to be picked up either by a traveller going through or by the people that wanted the goods. But if it was a traveller, he would stop by and see that the parcel was for a Mrs Jones, or Mr Shepherd, or Mr Palmer or someone like that, and he’d think, ‘Well, I’m going down past there, I’ll take it with me.’ And it’s a system which would be wonderful to have today, but I’m sure it wouldn’t get to the recipients.
Are there any other heritage stories that you want to tell about Prospect Hill?
No, I’m afraid I can’t recall anything else.
So we’ve already spoken about a few people, but can you tell me a little bit more about some of the historical figures that you consider to be important to the heritage of Prospect Hill??
Well, the most important would be Keith Griggs, and Keith – when I can recall – he was the post office – – – he ran the post office, and he had the telephone exchange there. He also was a dairy farmer and he taught music. And he taught me for a number of years, but I probably didn’t appreciate it very much. In regards to others, I suppose Pat Connor, who was another name – dairy farmer down towards Blackfellas Creek; the Reverend Neil Usher – – – no, I’m sorry, it wasn’t Neil, it was – – – yes, it was, I’m sorry. Neil Usher, who was the manager of Kuitpo Colony; he had the main connections between the colony and the people in Adelaide, the Reverend Samuel Forsythe. There are other people down in that area: Jim Clooney ran the dairy at Kuitpo Colony, and he was the one that started the engines up about 4 o’clock in the morning to produce the power for the colony and the milking; Bernie Wenner, a timber cutter and farmer; and I suppose Cyril Law of where we originally stayed on his property – he was a fairy farmer; and, of course, the Oakleys, I’m sorry, yeah. Again, dairy farmers that moved up about half a kilometre from where we had our house on Cyril Law’s property. But there are many others that, whilst I didn’t know them, we knew them as names, we knew them to say, ‘G’day, Mr Palmer’ or ‘Hello, Mr Code’, et cetera. But deep down, we’d all – – –
So I’d like for you tell me a bit more about Kuitpo Colony, if you could?
Ah. Kuitpo Colony was originally founded by the Reverend Samuel Forsythe who started to establish it around about 1927, at the beginning of the Depression Era. It was established so people who were down on their luck and feeling pretty hopeless could go there and get work, and get a sense of belonging to a community. And it was more or less carved out of the bush: they built three separate camps there – number one, two, three, and eventually number four, but number four was a sister – – – a collection of railway carriages deep into the scrub. And they used to raise chooks down there, and the eggs would be taken to Adelaide every week in the truck. When my father went there in 1945, he was the probation officer, so that he was responsible for the minor court offenders, bearing in mind in this era, public drunkenness was a gaolable offence. And rather than fill up the – – – Yatala, or even Kyeema with drunks, they would send them to Kuitpo where they were not allowed to have any alcohol. And my father was then responsible for them to serve out the period that they were sent there by the courts, but it wasn’t a gaol. They were allowed to go to Adelaide weekly – not every week, but people would go every – – – down to Adelaide on the truck on Fridays. They had to be back at the central mission, which was next 5KA by the time the truck went. The truck would not wait for them. So if they missed it, then they had to get on the Meadows bus, come back up to Meadows, and then walk from Meadows back to Kuitpo, which was around about ten miles. Eventually, in the late forties, they established a pottery there and initially produced agricultural pipes, and then as there was a huge demand for flower pots from the nurseries, they started producing flower pots from 50mm up to around about 250mm in diameter. And they would take a load of flower pots to Adelaide maybe once or twice a week. But the injection moulding of plastics finished that in the fifties.
Okay. I’d like to talk now about the Ash Wednesday bushfires. Can you tell me where you were when the bushfires occurred?
Yes, I was a meeting with the management of Ennis[?]-McLeod and the people from Michelin discussing progress with sales. Various phone calls started coming into that office by worried wives, and gradually, the meeting became lessened as people excused themselves and say ‘I’ve got to go home’. Eventually, my wife rang to say, ‘Can you come home?’. By this time, when I left Adelaide, I couldn’t get up the freeway; I had to go up through Blackwood and Upper Sturt, and I can recall driving up the Upper Sturt Road, and looking to the north and seeing the huge pall of smoke. I got onto the freeway and was heading back towards Mount Barker and I was probably doing 140-plus kilometres an hour, and a police car came down onto me – came up behind me, gave me a couple of toots on the horn, where he wound the window – his passenger wound down the window down and said, ‘Be careful, driver. Good luck.’ And then he sped off. Anyway, at home, by the time I got there, the worst of it was over. The fire that was heading towards us on a huge frontage had been stopped by a farmer who had put out a line of sprinklers across his property and stopped that section of the fire that was coming through. We then – my wife and I – headed back to my wife’s father property, which was at Ashton, and found her father pretty distressed, although he’d stopped the fire from crossing the property, but at a great cost. He had a heart attack about three months later, and we believe it was to the stresses of that fire.
So where was your house located?
We’re about seven kilometres out from Mount Barker, out towards the summit.
Okay. So when you were driving through Blackwood and Upper Sturt and you saw all that smoke, what was going through your head then?
I simply had a great fear of what I was going to find, and whether, in fact, I was actually heading right into the fire. Because, as I say, I couldn’t get up the – – – the police stopped me from going up the freeway, and I believe my wife, when she left, was one of the last cars that actually got up the freeway. And coming up on that road from Upper Sturt, you couldn’t see any flame or anything like that. It was just incredibly thick smoke – of course, it was burning all those houses up along the ridge up towards Mount Lofty.
Okay. So we’ll just focus on Prospect Hill now: how much did the fire impact on Prospect Hill’s built heritage?
Oh, look, it impacted a tremendous amount. Regrettably, there were two people that died in that fire, just down the road. Joyce Smart, our curator, had a very narrow escape, but of course she would have covered that in her – – – what she told you. The museum, I feel very sad that I don’t – – – when I see what we’ve got at the museum, and then realise what was destroyed in that fire, it makes me very sad. But of course, there were some miracles: the fact the fire got into the museum itself, but was able to be put out by a fire truck that went through the area. So let’s hope we never see anything like that again. Perhaps we are a little bit better prepared for it as well.
So the next question is: do you think following the Ash Wednesday bushfires, more efforts have been put into protecting and preserving the built heritage of Prospect Hill?
I think so. I think there’s – – – there is now underground piping, there is a large pump in the shed up the top of the hill connected to various tanks, et cetera, and I think – oh yeah, and the museum itself has got sprinklers across the roof. And overall, it’s much clearer – cleaner than what it was those thirty-odd years ago.
Do you think Prospect Hill’s built heritage ad heritage stories have helped residents to recover from the bushfires?
I think – – – I suppose, initially, it would have helped people to discuss the fire and how it affected them, and it would have been easier for them to maybe not dwell on their own problems, but thank the Lord, George – – -you know, ‘I was pretty lucky. Poor old George lost all his stock’ et cetera. So I think it’s also important for newcomers to learn and go through the Ash Wednesday exhibit and see the devastation, because people who want a lifestyle change and they’ve got to come out to the country from the city, and then they don’t really appreciate what, or how bad a fire can be. And it’s – – – they become complacent. I ca recall on that, or just a few months before that fire, a fellow had built a timber house up from Yarrabee Street, on Greenhill Road, and he was [asked], ‘Aren’t you afraid of fire?’ and he said, ‘No, this is special timber, and it won’t burn.’ Well that place simply exploded. It was sheer ignorance. So it is important that people – – – when they come into he area, they should come to our museum and they should see what he devastation was. So – – –
So last question: Can you tell me your thoughts on Prospect Hill today? What are the strengths of the community, and what struggles does it face or is it facing?
The community faces a big change. There are some very willing and able people here that do their utmost for the community, but we need younger people to come on and pick up the tools and help in the work that’s necessary. The buildings here don’t – – – [they] require maintenance constantly – it’s the same as anyone’s house. And if people are just sitting back and they go, ‘Oh, well somebody else can do it’ – that’s not on. So I suppose the community, like many organisations, face the problem of lack of willing helpers. Of course. Everyone’s got their problems; they’ve got kids at school, they’ve football, et cetera, et cetera. But you can’t leave it all to a few people. And that’s the big challenge – is to get more people to get involved in this wonderful community, and make it even better from their input as well as those people that have gone before them and put in their input.
So, do you have any comments about Prospect Hill or anything we’ve spoken about today?
[laughs] No, I think I’ve pretty well covered what I feel, Jordan. People say: why do you do that? Why do you go to – – – every weekend to Prospect Hill and sometimes the meetings in the evening, and sometimes if the Scouts want a late or an evening through the museum, we’ll open it up. I think because I had such a wonderful childhood here, I’d like to put a little bit more of me back into the community. That’s why I do it.
No worries. Well thank you for being involved in the project, Ray.