Friday, 16 November 2018

Warrimoo Industries (a) Poultry

Warrimoo Industries (a) Poultry

We have already established the prominence of Timbergetting as Warrimoo’s foremost primary industry from the turn of the twentieth century through to the 1920’s and 30’s, but other industries, albeit small, family-run enterprises, sprang up in Warrimoo during the inter-war period, especially the 1930’s.

Lawrence Way’s poultry farm, focussing on egg production, was a prime example. When settling in Warrimoo in 1922 Lawrence’s father, Walter, secured land near the corner of The Avenue and Florabella Street, from which he sought to live in a ‘self-sustaining’ way…

We rented the house near the (current—WH) primary school after paying a deposit on three blocks of land, lot 4 and 5 in Florabella Street (and another block in Albert Street upon which their home was built—WH).[1]

A sketch-map of the Ways' Poultry Farm sheds and the neighbouring properties on Florabella Street.
Walter created a vegetable garden, planted some cereal crops (corn, wheat) and fruit trees, dug up some wells from across the road for water, and built a chicken coop for chooks that could be fed from scraps. It was not unusual for ex-servicemen like Walter to be encouraged to take up poultry-farming by the government, because it was deemed to be a pretty safe bet that demand would continue to grow in both eggs and poultry, and it didn’t take up excessive land-space.

In the event Walter found it necessary to continue his employment as a cook elsewhere—in Sydney and further afield in the Sugar-Cane regions of northern NSW.

A 1930's Egg-Cup. In many ways, the property at the Florabella Street site was ideal for chicken breeding and egg production.
When Lawrence turned 18 in 1938 he secured work on a Mr. Fodder’s poultry farm at Mt. Riverview, starting at 10 shillings a week plus keep, and later rising to 12 shillings. This was Lawrence’s introduction to full-scale poultry farming…

…where you work from sunrise to sunset with an hour or so off for lunch six days a week with a half day off on Sunday.

The general run of things was morning feeding, cleaning out manure from the chicken houses, collecting and packing eggs for market during the afternoon and sometimes all day maintenance jobs.[2]

After WWI, ex-servicemen were encouraged to engage in a wide variety of rural pursuits, but poultry farming was one of the most popular because there was constant demand for both eggs and chickens, and because it required minimal space. Lawrence's father did not persist at Warrimoo, but the young son took up the challenge in 1938.

Lawrence’s father made an offer:

Dad was nearing 60 and was receiving a war pension and still owed a fair amount of mortgage on the land. He told me that, if I undertook to pay it off, he would transfer it into my name…With the money I earned I would take a trip on the bike to Katoomba and pay amounts off the debt periodically. Dad was happy for me to use the Florabella Street land for whatever I wanted and I soon had it paid off.[3]

Lawrence needed little encouragement to set up a poultry farm of his own. He elaborates the steps he took…

I…contacted a chicken hatchery in Liverpool ordering seventy two three week old chickens and enough feed for them for the next six months.

Dad had built a shed about twenty foot by ten foot which was ideal for storing feed and had dug several wells for water for his gardening in the early 1920’s so that was a good start. I needed to build a small shed to raise the first batch of chickens and soon after, a shed for housing them and nests for egg laying. I found a second hand timber yard in Sydney just down from Central railway station. As it was mostly second hand materials I was after, I had it sent to Warrimoo by goods train as I required it from year to year.

Warrimoo PS must stand on top of some kind of aquifer, because several wells and waterholes, a spring, as well as a primitive distillery, have been found on the site. This is a well consisting of corrugated iron and concrete, quite possibly built by Lawrence's father Walter, who passed on the 'Poultry' land to his son, who in turn manually carried the water across Florabella street to water his hens.
In 1939, my first year of poultry farming, we had a very severe heatwave over the eastern states. Sydney temperatures were 113 degrees (45 degrees Celcius)…It involved very heavy poultry losses in the area. I had kept my chickens cool by placing green limbs over the perches sprinkling them periodically with water and keeping pullets locked in their shed. Fodder’s, where I had worked the year before, lost hundreds of fowls as did many others.

The first fowl shed walls were made from wheat bags that I had sewn together which was not an easy thing to do minus my index finger. At times my hand would really ache.

…The next year I ordered two hundred day-old chickens. I reared them using a jar with a tin lid. I cut a slit in the lid for the wick to be in the oil in the jar with an ordinary hurricane burner with the globe to protect the flame. This kept the chickens warm under the brooder. This principle served for a few seasons. There was now a need to build more fowl houses and yards. To do this, I needed more round poles for the houses. This meant selecting large turpentine trees. I chose trees that were straight and would give me the most split poles for fences. The poles would have to be at least eight foot long or a little longer. Once I got a tree that yielded forty two of these eight foot poles. All these poles had to be carried on my shoulder out of the surrounding gully. Three foot rolls of wire netting, fifty yards long, would cost ten shillings those days and were bought from “Grace Brothers” who delivered them to the site…[4]

A Grocery store in Katoomba bought Lawrence’s thirty dozen (360) eggs daily. They were shipped by rail in a case carried to Warrimoo station on his bicycle…

The kind of arrangement used by Lawrence to deliver his eggs to Warrimoo Station, where they were transported by train to a Katoomba grocery store. In Lawrence's case there were 300-400 eggs stacked on the front handlebars, however.
Delivering eggs to the railway station was by means of my push bike by placing them on the front of the handle bars. I only had one mishap over the years. We had about 5 inches of rain the previous day and overnight and, as all our roads were dirt pre-war, one section had a washout and the front wheel dropped into a deep little gutter across the road. The case of thirty dozen eggs went over the handle bars. Only five dozen were cracked and broken and half of them were able to be used for cooking etc.[5]

Lawrence was conscripted in December 1940 and did three months training at Singleton, but poultry farming was designated a ‘vital industry’ for the war effort and he was discharged to continue his business.

This continued to grow despite the fact that his basic chook feeds, pollard and bran, were now unavailable. He adapted to soaked wheat and lucerne feeding…

…When I cleaned out the fowl houses, I would fill a barrow with manure and then put on top of it a tin that would hold about twice as much again and push it up the rise to the block near the street that was used for lucerne cultivation. The lucerne was cut up in a chaff cutter and was used mostly for green feed. As egg production increased, I had to look for another buyer. Small eggs went to the Producers’ Distribution Society (PDS) and the people I was supplying at Katoomba were bought out by “Goodlands” groceries and when they took over, they were happy to be supplied by me. Now I needed a way of taking, not one case, but three at a time. I then built a trailer to take an extra sixty dozen, making a total of ninety dozen (1,080) eggs. [6]

Making a success of his small farm required the youthful dedication that Lawrence clearly had. However, towards the end of the war his interests began to drift towards missionary ideals—he was frequently attending bible studies and religious conventions in Katoomba, and after his sister Nell lost her city job, he included her in the running of the farm to enable his spiritual pursuits.

One winter’s night in 1944, Nell accidentally knocked over a kerosene lantern in one of the sheds—within minutes she had burnt her hand trying to put out the resultant fire and five hundred chickens were burnt to death. 

Lawrence's Wedding Day in 1948--he is third from left. By now Lawrence's interests were in his wife, Noreen, and Mission work across NSW. Increasingly he left the farm work to his sister Nell and her new husband, and the Poultry Farm progressively ran down until it ceased in 1950.

This failed to discourage Lawrence, who upgraded the lighting and watering systems in the sheds and modernised their construction to accommodate more hens. Yet he was still being drawn away from Warrimoo, marrying his wife to be, Noreen, in 1948, and joining the ‘United Aborigines Mission’ at La Perouse in 1950, in the process handing management of the poultry farm over to Nell and her new husband Jack, as well as his brother Harold.

According to Lawrence, for whatever reason thereafter, the poultry farm ‘ended up going to ruin’…[7]

[1] WAY, L. W., My Story, Cliff Lewis Printing, Caringbah, 2011, p. 9
[2] Ibid, p. 47
[3] Ibid, p. 47
[4] Ibid, p.49
[5] Ibid, p.49
[6] Ibid, p.51

[7] Ibid, p.52


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  5. Hello. I am researching the connections to Warrimoo between Sir Arthur Rickard and George Duckles and family who ran the Warrimoo store around 1930s-40s. George's daughter Florence and her husband William Johnson also lived in Warrimoo in Western Rd. I was wondering if you have any further information about them or their store and especially the fire mentioned in your Blog? Thankyou to the team who have undertaken this Blog. It was a wonderful find for me.