With the announcement of the return of the “Orange Blossom Festival” to the district, perhaps it is time to look at the citrus industry and how it has influenced the district.
A juicy time for growing citrus trees in the Hills and Hawkesbury district during past decades brought a number of benefits to the district. The industry supported the growing population with employment in harvesting, packing and transporting the fruit. Horse drawn wagons would carry fruit to market or to the Parramatta River before motor transport became popular and common place. Rail was introduced also to the district with trains running from Rogans Hill, Castle Hill, Baulkham Hills, Northmead (Model Farms) and Carlingford carrying the fruit down to the Parramatta River for transport to the markets in Sydney.
The earliest settlers who established the citrus industry included George Suttor of Chelsea Farm at Baulkham Hills and William Mobbs of Mobbs Hill, Carlingford in the very early 1800s. But by the turn of the century (1900) Edward Pearce of Bella Vista Farm who was called “The Squire of Seven Hills” (Bella Vista at that time was considered part of Seven Hills) became the owner of “the largest orchard in the colony”. At one time it was reported that about 100 people were employed at Bella Vista Farm as a sizable number of employees were Chinese.
Edward Pearce kept a diary of his time at Bella Vista in which he often noted his employees, a few by name and some by description. (Edward Pearce’s diary is still kept at Bella Vista Farm and is available for viewing during guided tours of the homestead). Having a sizable number of Chinese living and working on the property Bella Vista was chosen for the local celebration of Chinese New Year. Chinese migrants from around the district would gather to celebrate the event with fireworks display to frighten off the bad or evil spirits. Is it any wonder why the Hills Shire Council has chosen Bella Vista Farm Park in which to stage many celebrations today with its high elevation in the shire and an early history of being a site for celebration?
Pearce’s citrus crops were commented on in the local press of the nation when in 1884 the “Cumberland Argus” reported that an Adelaide buyer purchased 40,000 cases of Oranges at 1/6d to 3/- per case. Thomas Lawless, a Sydney fruit buyer who had consistently purchased Pearce’s crop, contradicted the claim by announcing that he had purchased the crop.
In 1889 the “Parramatta and Districts Illustrated” acknowledged “Bella Vista’ as a leader in orcharding when they wrote “at the orchards of Messrs Pearce, citrus culture is scientifically carried out upon the most extensive and successful scale and Edward Pearce is perhaps the largest producer of oranges and lemons in these colonies”.
Further in 1896 William Davis broke a record when his packing contract to Edward Pearce saw about 119 truckloads of oranges sent away, enough to make up three good sized freight trains. With about six tons a truck it represented around 700 tons of oranges. The original packing shed still stands at Bella Vista Farm and is open to the public during Open Days at the farm on the 1st Sunday of the month between 9am to 2pm.
As mentioned earlier in this article early orchardists in the district were Suttor and Mobbs who found the soil along the ridges highly suitable for citrus and stone fruits. Other notable orchardist families who farmed for more than a 100 years in the district were the Gilbert and Shore families. Orchards could be found throughout the district in Dural, Glenorie, Galston and Wisemans Ferry.
The citrus industry in the district also eventually led to the many garden nurseries being established which made the Hills Shire become known as “The Garden Shire” and the surrounding districts or localities (Galston, Winston Hills, North Rocks, Pennant Hills etc.) as “The Hills District”.