In 1923, when Stanley “Sammy” Seaberg arrived at Barker College to fill the position of Assistant Master, Barker College had both a vegetable garden and dairy herd. Located and housed were the Senior School and David Gamson Physical Education Centre now stand, Seaberg’s memoirs provide an insight into the functioning of these agricultural pursuits.
“A feature of the school at the time was the vegetable garden and herd of cows. Hornsby was still semi-rural and the fact that milk and vegetables were home grown was used as an added attraction for both country and city boys…
The vegetable garden…was under the charge of a Chinaman who had a hut right in the middle of the garden. When I first arrived, he was just of the usual gardening type producing quite a variety of very good and varied products.
One of his successors, however, was a very shrewd person who had a very well kept garden but did very little work himself. At weekends though, the garden was a hive activity with probably two or three of his compatriots vigorously working. It appeared that he was responsible for getting them into Australia, and that they repaid him by weekend work.
Perhaps the best story of him concerns the school horse Billy. Billy was a well-known character with a sense of humour. As sure as there was a function on the oval with a large crowds watching Billy (by the way, she was a mare) would proceed to round up all the cows and give a display of yarding that would have done credit to any stockman. However, one morning, the groundsman Matheson, could not find Billy and presumed that she had wandered out the gate…The gardener offered his assistance in the search and suggested that Matheson should go in one direction and he would go in another. Search failed to find Billy and it was not until some weeks later the Billy was found on the gardener’s property at Hurstville. In the meanwhile a horse had been brought to the school and Matheson had identified it as Billy but when he put on the leather shoes that were worn by Billy for rolling the wicket, they would not fit. Much puzzled, Matheson discovered the new horse had his white foot on the wrong side…
An arrangement in regard to the garden was that in addition to his wage, the gardener had the right to sell any produce not required for the school. Of the proceeds he received 75% and the school 25%. In theory this was a good idea, but in practice the gardener worked in such a way that the best paying products tomatoes, leek, melon etc., ripened when the school was on vacation.
In later years, the gardener was an Italian, Rocco Triumfo. He carried on for some time, but the war labour shortage led to the project being abandoned. Two land army girls kept the dairy herd going until it, too, was disposed of. Surplus produce, both of dairy and poultry, during the holidays went to the Children’s Home at Normanhurst.”