There’s no need to go any further than your own neighbourhood in the Hills Shire to find a rich history – particularly when it comes to those who shaped our district. From hardship to prosperity and success, there is a story in almost every suburb.
Some of the narratives are well-known, and some not so much, but what makes it so interesting is that our popular – albeit quiet – part of Northwest Sydney has played such an important part in the development of Australia’s largest city.
The Hills: in the beginning
Darug Aborigines are thought to have occupied the region around 40,000 BC, with rock dwellings found around water holes in Darling Mills Creek dating back to 12,000 BC. Living off the land, by hunting and gathering ‘bush tucker’, Aborigines were able to eat a well-balanced diet by just what was provided by nature in The Hills District.
Fast-forward nearly 14,000 years, and Governor Phillip (the first Governor of NSW, who founded the British Penal colony that later became Sydney) journeyed to the Shire in the autumn of 1791. The colony in Port Jackson was struggling to thrive; to support it, Governor Phillip was seeking a new place for settlement and farming.
“The Hills District was seen as an ideal farming district to support the struggling Port Jackson.”
Three years later William Joyce, a pardoned convict and the original settler of the Shire, received the first land grant in the area. By 1811 he was operating the first inn on what is today’s Junction Road and Old Windsor Road, and it was here that the suburb Baulkham Hills was also founded.
The history of Baulkham Hills
Despite Joyce being the first to ‘own’ land in the area, Andrew McDougall was actually responsible for giving the district its name. A settler from Buckholm Hills, County of Roxburgh in Scotland, McDougall said it reminded of his homeland, and the name was officially recognised in 1902. He also called his 150 acres of farming land ‘Roxburgh Place’, a street still on the map today.
Due to its higher elevation, The Hills District has a slightly higher rainfall than the rest of Sydney, leading settlers to decide that the area was well suited to orchards, particularly stone fruit and citrus. In 1807, George Sutter of ‘Chelsea Farm’ in Baulkham Hills, was the first person in the colony to produce oranges commercially.
The history of Castle Hill
There’s no doubt that the ‘second’ Battle of Vinegar Hill (named after a rebellion of the same name in Ireland) was one of the most significant events in the history of Castle Hill. On 4 March 1804 more than 230 convicts, led by Philip Cunningham, escaped from a prison farm with a plan to capture a ship and sail it back to Ireland. A day later, colonial forces captured them atop a hillock that was nicknamed ‘Vinegar Hill’. Nine of the rebel leaders were executed and hundreds of others punished for their part in the uprising.
“The Rebellion of Castle Hill was a significant historical event in the Shire.”
Perhaps less well-known is how the suburb got its name – perhaps because there are two possible scenarios of how it came about. The first one is that Governor Phillip may have been inspired due to the exceptional views from the hills in the district, and he then gave the name Castle Hill to a government farm in 1801. Not long after, a free Frenchman settler, called Baron Vernicourt de Clambe, built his house, ‘The Hermitage’, on a ridge, and it is thought that locals gave it the moniker of ‘The Castle’.
Closer to the present day, Castle Hill was the home of a Nobel Prize-winning writer. Patrick White – Australia’s first recipient of the Nobel Prize for Literature (1973) – bought 6.4 acres of property on what has now been subdivided into Showground Road, Patrick Avenue and Nobel Place. It was previously referred to as ‘The Glen’, but within a year of their purchase in 1948, White and his lifelong partner Manoly Lascaris planted four dogwood trees and renamed it ‘Dogwoods’ ‒ as it is still known today.
The origin of the Winston Hills name
Originally known as ‘Model Farm’, the suburb was part of a plan Governor Macquarie had to develop a farm in which to show settlers the types of crops that could be grown in different seasons. It was subsequently renamed after Britain’s wartime Prime Minister, Winston Churchill, with the name Winston Hills preferred over Churchill Hills. The suburb was officially recognised in 1972.
Other significant stories from our past
In 1799, Joseph Foveaux was granted 300 acres of land, which he then sold to John and Elizabeth Macarthur. The husband and wife pioneered the production of wool in Australia, and are associated with the establishment of Australia’s commercial fine wool industry (worth more than $3.2 billion in exports in 2015-16). Part of this land was later acquired by Matthew Pearce; today, the largest school in the state, Matthew Pearce Public School, is named after him.
“The Hills District lays claim to the foundation of Australia’s commercial wool industry.”
Windsor and Old Windsor Roads are two significant roads in the history of Australia’s colonisation as the second and third roads laid in the colony. (Officially, the first road built was a cleared track from Dawes Point Battery to Governor Phillip’s residence.)
The Hills: Rich in history
It would be difficult to find a street, reserve or park in The Hills Shire without a story behind its name. As residents of The Hills, it’s important learn our history and we continue to pass on the stories about the people who created our past. We are so lucky to live in such an interesting and historically important district.
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