History

Introduction by Mick Joffe

Aborigines were the beginning of Berowra’s settlement. This is recorded in their rich collection of rock carvings, cave paintings and shell middens. There are more than 100 of these sites in the Berowra district.

The latest evidence from carbon dating remains found below Nepean gravel beds indicate that the aborigines have been in the Hawkesbury area for at least 47,000 years.

The aborigines of the Hawkesbury had a rich source of food for their hunting and gathering. Judging by their rock art, they had a strong attachment to the area and it was a source of inspiration to them. However, history was to roll on and not pause to consider them.

Within weeks of the landing of the First Fleet in 1788, early diarists reported the great incidence of smallpox among the natives. On the north side of the harbour many dead were discovered in caves. The epidemic continued in 1789 and 1790, affecting the Cammeray-gal of the Kimilaroi tribe on the north shore and the Darug and Guringai tribes of this area. Their populations halved, then halved again as the new diseases of influenza and syphilis struck them more severely than white men.

Whenever the natives attacked or frightened the isolated early Hawkesbury settlers, this threatened the insecure hungry colony and retribution was swift. “Punitive Expeditions”, as they were called, were sent forth under Orders by the Governor to kill as many as could be seen “as a terror to the others”. It was reported that many natives were shot or driven over the cliffs, or were drowned in the river while attempting to escape.

During the early 1800s, limeburners, timber-getters, fishermen and hunters used Berowra Creek for their activities. They squatted, sometimes for a few days, sometimes for a few years. Their dwellings were tents, caves or unofficial shacks.

The beginnings of permanent white settlement in Berowra had more to do with the ‘Creek’, as it was accessible and productive, compared to the bush. George Peat, the Crumptons, Crosslands, George Collingridge and Jack Smith were the pioneer settlers (1830s to 1890s). Any account of the village/town/suburb or Berowra, however, must begin in 1879 with Mary Wall, who settled on 60 acres fronting the (now) Pacific Highway (near Waratah Road). For several years she was virtually on her own, struggling with the orchard and rearing and educating her grandchildren.

With the construction of the railway line and station at Berowra in 1887, a focus was formed for a village. The Village of Berowra was proclaimed in 1890.

The 1920s were carefree days in many ways, but there were few of the conveniences enjoyed today. Water was collected in a tank, the telephone was connected for some, but the manual exchange was not always available, a trip to the bathroom meant a trek outside (in all weathers) and there was no refrigeration. Food was kept fresh in a netting safe hung under the trees or on the porch.

Come nightfall, you’d remember the kerosene needed topping up in the lamps. There was always wood needing to be chopped and washing was heavy manual work at the fuel copper, the wash board and the mangle. You walked everywhere you wanted to go and, with the animals to be fed and the kitchen garden to look after, you didn’t stray far from Berowra.

“They were hard times and nobody outdid anybody. Everybody was equal. There was no class distinction. If you had a problem, it belonged to everyone in the street. You shared everything.” (Bill Foster)

The Depression from 1929 accentuated this way of life but in Berowra nobody lost his home. The kids were fed and clothed, even if they weren’t shod. Keeping chooks and citrus had always been a very commonsense thing to do; “everybody did it”. If vegetables from the garden weren’t swapped, they were handed around. It wasn’t a throw-away society. It was very much a hang-onto society. You’d think twice: “How can anyone else use it or can I use it in another way?”

Relief work was organised in Berowra (on roads and culverts). A lot of people found their way to Berowra Waters during the Depression years. They lived in tents, caves and shacks. These times brought out the hunter-gatherer instincts. Fishing, oysters and home-grown vegetables were of great help through these times.

In the 1930s Berowra was a fairly poor area, still feeling the effect of the Depression. From the 1930s people like Rex Jones, Arthur Lubeck, the Windybank family, C.J. Turner and Roy Corrigan fostered tourism in a more professional way. The Berowra Tourist Association was an active body, Berowra’s Golden Age of Tourism was throughout the 1930s and continued during the war. The steam trains brought, not hundreds to Berowra on the weekend, but thousands. Coaches, hire cars, private cars and buses competed for fares.

Boarding houses were numerous in Berowra and along Berowra Waters (a new term then for Berowra Creek). There were kiosks, refreshment rooms, a garage, bus depot, a swimming enclosure, boatsheds, tennis courts and maintained picnic grounds. During the 1930s the Berowra Progress Association achieved better rail and road services, town water and electric light. With churches, a bakery, Foster’s very popular general store and Post Office, good bus and train drivers, home deliveries and a personal style of service, Berowra had everything. Many residents from that time remark that they felt very well looked after for all their needs.

One old resident, Keith Cornford, explains it this way, “Most of the colourful history (the striving) happened up till the war days, 1939. That’s just my idea. You see, the building of Berowra was sort of just added onto after that (with the estate developments, growth of existing services and turning tracks into roads). Tennis courts have always been here, cricket, the school, the community hall. We’ve always had our shop, our buses, and train, a church, postal and telephone services. Electricity and water were newly laid on by 1939. They sort of completed the picture. The Grammar School was built then. A lot of things happened here around 1939.”

Particularly during the war, fewer and fewer people were gaining their livelihood in and from Berowra for, as today, many residents began to travel out of Berowra to work. They had less free time in the community. The Berowra working locals were the ones that tended to form committees and get things done, e.g. roads made, telephone and postal services extended and tourism fostered. They were presidents, secretaries, committee members and treasurers.

Entertainment was family-group picnics, ‘Younger Set’ outings, singsongs round the piano, houseboat parties (the less said … !), an outdoor cinema (in the 1950s], fancy dress balls, dancing at the Cabaret, card nights in the school hall (with sherry), tennis, fishing, footy matches (from 1947). The kids spent a lot of time doing their own thing in the bush and the creeks. Everybody knew each other, particularly so amongst Berowra Waters residents and everyone was of modest means or less and joked about it. There were ‘Younger Set’ Balls, Hospital Balls, Ambulance Balls and Fire Brigade Balls. People raised money through dances and Balls, whereas today it tends to be more through fetes.

A lot of families came to Berowra between 1946 and 1951/52. They got out of the services and needed somewhere to live and were all offered choice blocks for 1.45. War service loans were 2-1/2%, paid off over 45 years. Berowra was one place they could afford.

A 1947 aerial photograph shows all of Berowra as large paddocks, bush and farmhouses. There were about 600 people. You could stand quite happily in the middle of Berowra Waters Road and have a chat. The paddocks and the bush belonged to the kids.

The first of the modern subdivisions around 1950 (e.g. Eureka, near the crossroads) heralded the transformation of the rambling quaint farming township into a suburb. The 1950s in Berowra was when you lived in your garage while you built your house, bit by bit, as money and material became available.

The new residents would get off the railmotor and push prams and wheelbarrows full of old tools to their blocks. The houses went up piecemeal and very slowly. “At least you didn’t have the worries about bank loans and so, by the time you finished your house, it was paid for.” (K.E.)

During the 1950s, many home owners acquired a motor car for the first time. This was to have a big impact on (Berowra) society as people walked less and bumped into each other less. There were unregistered ‘bomb’ cars hidden around for local use. Chooks and a kitchen garden were still part of daily life. Free-range kids grazed amongst the fruit trees. In 1959 (the old) Fosters Store, the symbol of Berowra as a country town, closed its doors for the last time.

The older residents were becoming aware of a change on the railway platform. There were faces that they didn’t recognise. An old resident (D.H.) remarked, “The electrification of the railway line about 1959 was just before the big influx. That’s when Berowra really jumped, although it had been sneaking up for some time.” Several residents calculated that it was from 1963 to 1965 that they became aware of large numbers of new people.

The building boom years were on. Construction companies were called up to Berowra from all over Sydney (although it wasn’t easy). In the mid-1960s Eddie Long (developer) built a large number of project homes. To the amazement of nearby residents, the rolling pastures of Holmes’ Dairy became suburban blocks and streets of homes. The incoming people were naturally excited. Both old and new residents had to make the adjustment. Between the developers and the council, roads were put through (later, gradually sealed) and the people wore their own footpaths. The Wideview St. school was built in 1969 to accommodate the new waves of kids.

In 1970 a survey recorded 1,331 occupied houses and a great many under construction. Also in 1970 the Village Shopping Centre and the Hotel were built to receive their business/serve their needs. The streets became less bushy and were lined with gardens and lawns. The traffic in Berowra and on the highway seemed to grow noticeably from year to year. In 1975 traffic lights became necessary on the highway to get in and out of Berowra. In 1980 the Berowra Community Centre was funded largely by the residents themselves from a levy on their rates.

In the 1970s and 80s Berowra was very much a suburb for young families; a beautiful and health environment in which to bring up children. It is a suburb that incoming residents quickly get an attachment to.

Because of Berowra’s growth in size, and so many things were happening, the people needed to communicate more. Cardboard on telegraph poles and street signs announced garage sales and lost animals. Supermarket cards have been handy for advertising and banners have told a percentage of passers-by about fetes and Jumble sales on time.

In 1986 a group of housewives took this a step further when they established “The Bush Telegraph”. The fetes, meetings, garage sales, clubs, businesses, charities and events have since been given a boost. Not many localities have such a wonderful newspaper. The Bush Telegraph has always reflected the friendliness, the caring and the very personality of Berowra. Many new groups/clubs actually began from a thought, then a few words in The Bush Telegraph. Now Berowra Puppy Pre-School says it all (i.e. Berowra has it all)!

From about 1970 to 1988 I recorded approximately 223 local families. I was fortunate to meet and record the grandchildren of Mary Wall, our first settler. They spoke in great detail about her and for her. I was also fortunate in that I recorded the oldest people in the right order.

So Berowra is unique in Sydney as having a full set of its pioneers on tape and published. Plus, the National Library has also stated that Berowra has the most lavishly produced history book in the whole of Australia (‘Yarns and Photos’). One copy of every book and magazine must be donated to the National Library, so they have them all.

In March 1996 in the Community Centre, my second book was launched, one I consider to be of national importance. It contains caricatures and oral histories of 120 of Australia’s greatest living characters, whom I met and researched on the Joffe family’s 2-year trip around Australia in 1993/94. Since I couldn’t bear the titles True Blue Aussies’, or ‘Dinkum Aussies’, or ‘My Fellow Australians’, I penned my own original phrase for the title: it’s called Endangered Characters of Australia.

I make three very big claims for this book: this is the essence of the Australian people; this has not been done in a book before; and finally, this is going to have a major impact on the way we lay down contemporary history in Australia.

Since I subtitled ‘Yarns and Photos’ “Hornsby to the Hawkesbury” in 1987, I’ve always felt that Berowra is one of the best places in Sydney. No other suburb has the following combination: surrounded on all sides by bush; its own natural boundaries of water valleys and ridges; National Parks and many walking trails; its own Freeway, railway and Pacific Highway; the optimum 700 feet above sea level for good health; the right distance to get the sea air and the mountain air; its own modern shopping centre; plus Hornsby, plus only one hour from the Opera House Car Park, plus the Hawkesbury River.

I’ve travelled round Australia for two years and it’s still “Hornsby to the Hawkesbury” for me. Berowra always was a funny, friendly ol’ place but in the end, Berowra is what we all make it. The people are the place. As my ol’ dad Lou Joffe used to say, “Australia is a land of milk and honey, but you’ve got to bring your own cows and bees.”

It’s taken a while to say it – I do go on about Berowra – but I should like to say to everyone, “WELCOME TO BEROWRA.

Council Resources

The Local History Collection at Hornsby Shire Library provides information about the whole of Hornsby Shire from Epping to Wisemans Ferry, from Dural to Brooklyn. This includes material on the history of the Shire’s community, geography, and natural environment.

The Collection is located at the Local Studies Reading Room at Hornsby Library. It is a reference collection and its resources cannot be borrowed, but some of the books are also available in the borrowing section.

Access is also provided to community and council archives and other items of a fragile nature under the supervision of the Local Studies staff.

Local Studies staff are available to assist with your enquiries Monday to Friday. To make an appointment, please call the local studies staff on 9847 6807.

Resources in the Local History Collection include:

    • Books covering a range of local topics
    • Newspapers, periodicals, and newsletters published locally
    • Pamphlet files on a number of subjects, containing clippings from local newspapers, brochures, and other material
    • Maps and plans on a miscellaneous range of subjects, including local subdivisions, early parish maps, and local projects
    • Council reports on environmental, planning and administration issues from all sections of Hornsby Shire Council
    • Archives, including annual reports, newsletters, minutes, and letters, donated by local organisations such as schools, sporting clubs, and community associations
    • Microfilm resources including local newspapers, Council Rate Books, phonebooks, and the Sands street directory going back a century
    • Street and Place Name Database which gives historical origins of local streets and localities in the Shire
    • Photographs and prints of locations around the Shire, including Epping, Hornsby, and the Hawkesbury River, which show the way the area has changed over time
    • The Library also provides a Family History Reference Collection which is adjacent to the Local Studies Reading Room. This Collection includes handbooks, reference works, and historical records on CD-ROM, microfiche, and microfilm