Bill Gay at the Guildford market garden, c.1940s. He is shown filling watering cans from one of the water holes dug on the property (image provided by Nancy Lee)
In the early 1920s George Louis Gay (1870-1946) bought 23 acres of scrubland at Guildford, six kilometres south of Parramatta, to create a market garden which operated up until 1950.
Louie Gay (Louie was his original family name) was born in Du Tou village in Zhongshan and left there for Australia in 1890. In the first decade of the 20th century he managed a banana plantation in Fiji for the Wing On company (based in Sydney’s Haymarket). On his return to Australia, and after marrying Ada Hong (a Chinese-Australian woman from Goulburn), he leased land at Rose Bay, on Sydney Harbour, to establish a market garden. When the local council resumed this land in the 1920s, for what would become the Royal Sydney Golf Club), he bought the land at Guildford by which time he and Ada had five children. The 24 acres at Guildford had a timber bungalow on it which had French a surrounding veranda with French doors opening onto it. But much of the land was bush-covered and had to be cleared before the market garden could become a reality. The family grew lettuce, potatoes and other vegetables. They shared a stall at the fruit and vegetable market in Sydney’s Haymarket, taking their produce there by horse and cart and later in a truck which they purchased. In 1938 they still used kerosene lamps for lighting – electricity was not installed until the early 1940s.
Ada Gay with four of her children and the family’s truck, at Guildford. The words ‘Geo Gay’ (for George Gay) are painted above the windscreen (image provided by Nancy Lee)
The market garden at Guildford stretched from Boundary Road in the south to Everley Street in the north. Another Chinese family, the Longs, had a market garden on the north side of Everley Street. During the Great Depression of the 1930s the Gay family lived largely off the land, eating vegetables from their gardens and eggs from their hens.
The old house at the Guildford market garden showing the veranda that surrounded it on three sides.
George Louie Gay at the market garden, date unknown (image provided by Nancy Lee)
Louie Gay and Ada Hong had eight children: four boys and four girls. They sent their son Bill to Zhongshan to go to school in Shekki when he was 14. Before returning to Sydney when he was 17, he married a Zhongshan girl, Rosina, bringing her with him to Sydney where they lived on the market garden and helped to work it. World War II broke out in 1939, market gardening was deemed by the government to be an essential industry, meaning that Bill Gay and his brothers were exempt from military service. Bill’s older brother, George, worked the northern part of the market garden, near Everley Street.
The site of the former market garden, now Everley Park, in 2019
Later in life, Bill Gay (born c.1920) recalled how he had ploughed the garden with a horse and how he had watered the vegetable beds with watering cans suspended on either end of a carrying pole. The water was scooped up out of water holes that had been dug into the ground (see photo). He remembered how he and the other children gathered the blackberries that grew wild along the edge of the creek that ran alongside their land. In the mornings, Bill Gay drove the family’s truck in to the markets loaded with produce from the gardens. Some of the buyers of their vegetables were men from Zhongshan who had fruit-and-vegetable shops in Sydney – for example, Stanley Hunt, who used a truck to bring produce back from the market to the shops he and his family operated in the Parramatta area. Bill Gay also remembers taking their truck to Botany to get cinders to repair their road (Boundary Road) which in those days, prior to World War II, was unsealed.
The cover image from The Life and Times of William “Bill” Gay, 1988
A sign erected on the site of the former market garden by Parramatta Council.
Bill Gay operated the market garden up until the 1950s. The land was bought by Parramatta Council which turned into a park. Bill later worked in an engineering factory in Granville. He and his wife built a house on the other side of Boundary Road from the market garden and lived their till late in their lives. In his garden at the house, Bill constructed a sculpture of taps which he salvaged from the market garden.
Doris Gay (left) with Bill and Rose Gay and their sons at their house on Boundary Road, Guildford, Sydney (image provided by Nancy Lee)
A photo of Bill Gay and his sculpture made of taps salvaged from the market garden (photo by William Yang, reproduced in The Life and Times of William “Bill” Gay, 1988).
In 1932, Bill’s older sister, Doris (1915-2013), married Wah Hook Lee (1911-1972) who was born in Zhongshan (see ‘William Lee’ – People) and sailed for Sydney in 1923 to help in his father’s grocery store in the Haymarket.
Information for the above came from Nancy Lee and from a 1988 unpublished document by Bill Gay: ‘The Life and Times of William “Bill” Gay’.
For more information about Chinese market gardening in New South Wales see Barry McGowan. 2005. ‘Chinese market gardens in south and western New South Wales’, Australian Humanities Review http://australianhumanitiesreview.org/2005/07/01/chinese-market-gardens-in-southern-and-western-new-south-wales/