I find it interesting to wander around the ruins of old buildings and better still, old military or industrial installations. I had lived in Sydney’s west for just over 13 years when I happened upon a photograph of a derelict building said to be an army barracks in a national park called Scheyville on Sydney’s fringe. A quick Google later, I find that it’s only a twenty minute drive down the road and readily accessible to the public. I set off to explore this enticing piece of history.
Scheyville is just near Pitt Town, one of the five towns declared by Governor Lachlan Macquarie in 1810 when he toured the region. These became known as the Macquarie towns: Windsor, Richmond, Pitt Town, Castlereagh and Wilberforce. Scheyville was originally a grazing common for the settlers of Pitt Town. In 1893 the government resumed part of the common to establish an experimental agricultural settlement. The aim of the settlement was to ease the high levels of unemployment experienced during the depression of the 1890s. Settlers were selected from the ranks of the unemployed and consisted of carpenters, gardeners, wharf hands, storekeepers and seamen, and their families. It was highly controversial at the time because it was run according to Socialist principles.
In 1895 William Francis Schey, a member of the NSW Parliament, initiated the establishment of a different type of government funded farm on the site. It became a short-term refuge and workplace for men who were victims of unemployment and sickness. The men were paid a small wage for their farm work while they recovered their health or found employment. From 1896 to 1905 the farm was improved with the addition of a dairy, piggery and silo which made the farm self-supporting. Between 1905 and 1910 the farm became more of an agricultural training facility, and city boys who had been trained at the farm quickly found work on the land. The contribution of William Schey was recognised by area being renamed Scheyville.
1911 saw the commencement of the Dreadnought Scheme, a program designed to promote and assist the migration of British youths willing to become farm workers in Australia. The interesting name for the scheme arose because it used funds that had been raised by public subscription to purchase a Dreadnought class Battleship in response to fears that Australia might be attacked by the Germans. The funds became available as a result on the new Commonwealth deciding to establish an Australian Navy. During World War One, the farm was used to detain 87 German citizens who had been taken from boats moored in Sydney Harbour. The farm was also used to train women while the men folk were away at the war. The scheme resumed in 1921 but stopped in 1930 with due to the Great Depression. The training reverted to Australian city boys. The Scheyville Training Farm era ended in 1940 when World War Two saw the farm was requisitioned for use as a military school. The 73rd Anti-Aircraft Searchlight Company was formed until relocating to Brisbane in 1942. The 1st Parachute Battalion occupied the farm from late 1943 until late 1944.
In 1949 the Australian Government announced that Scheyville Farm would be converted into a migrant accommodation centre. Scheyville became one of dozens of migrant camps and hostels housing the new arrivals until they were able to find their own accommodation. The centre was greatly expanded to accommodate over 1,000 migrants. Fibro huts were built with partitions creating three rooms with sleeping space for up to five people. The migrants dined in two large semi-circular Nissen huts, recycled from a wartime airfield in the Pacific. New buildings housed communal bathrooms and laundries. A school and a Catholic church were also constructed during the 1950s. The hostel operated until 1964.
In 1965, the Scheyville complex was again taken over by the military for Army training. This time it was used as an Officer Training Unit to provide a concentrated six-month course specifically designed to graduate National Servicemen capable of leading a platoon in Vietnam. National Service was abolished further late 1972 and the Officer Training Unit disbanded in 1973. Hawkesbury Agricultural College opened a campus at Scheyville in 1973 under a five year lease but did not renew it upon expiry.
In 1996 the Scheyville National Park was created. The National Parks and Wildlife Service has restored and continues to restore the remaining buildings for reuse. Visitors can visit the park and wander around the various buildings and remnants. The park office is located in the old Officer Training Unit Headquarters building and is open 8:30 am to 4:30pm, Monday to Friday. Checkout the park website for more information and directions.
This is my second writing submission on RedBubble. I stumbled upon an image by Rosalie Dale which inspired me to check out Scheyville for myself. I was surprised that such an important historical site was right under my nose and decided to share what I learnt.
Featured by Destination Australia – Aug 2011