Frere's Vineyard on the Georges River

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Frere's Vineyard on the Georges River

Georges Pierre Frere [media]was a nine year-old boy when he migrated from France with his parents Georges Gaston Leonce Frere (known as Leonce) and Marthe Frere in 1875. They came from the Cognac district in Charent, eighty kilometres from Bordeux. Leonce was a wine-maker from a small town called Barbezieux. The vineyards in the district were used to distil cognac and not for table wine. [1]

Eckersley

After becoming bankrupt in France, Leonce Frere was offered a job at the Murray Valley vineyards in Australia. The family took up residence in Albury and Leonce was employed at Fallon's Albury cellars. Leonce's brother, Jacques Gustave – known as Gustave – also migrated to Australia the following year. He purchased 90 acres (approximately 36.4 hectares) at Thurgoona, near Albury.

Unfortunately, the insect Phylloxera vastatrix had spread from Europe and had started to destroy vineyards throughout Australia. As it was known in France that vines growing in sandy soil were resistant to phylloxera and that land was opening up for sale at Eckersley on the Georges River, the Freres selected a large acreage in the area. [2]

In 1835, the parish of Eckersley was named by Surveyor-General Mitchell after Nathaniel Eckersley, a Quartermaster-General during the Peninsula War, although the first permanent settler did not take up residence until 1889. [3] Early settlers like the Etchells grew fruit and vegetables and raised poultry but they had more success with distilling rum. Others like the Freres chose to plant a vineyard on the land. [4]

Frere's selection

In 1889, Georges was in his early 20s when he selected 1,280 acres (518 hectares) of land adjoining the Georges River and Punchbowl creek. The land was selected in the name of Georges's father Leonce and uncle Gustave. It was extremely rough sandstone country with very poor soil. Frere built two houses: one slab and one weatherboard. He also built a shed and some concrete wine vats. [5]

There are reports that Frere used Pacific Islander labourers in his vineyard. One person from New Caledonia known to have worked for him was referred to as 'Black Sam'. He is buried at St Peter's Campbelltown. [6]

Frere's Crossing

Georges Frere [media]owned a boat that he hooked to a tree by the river's edge. The boat was used to cross the river when the river was up, before the bridge was built at Frere's Crossing. [7]

In 1893–94, the Department of Public Works issued a contract to build a sturdy bridge at Frere's Crossing. George Longhurst laid the stone approaches to the bridge. It had eight piles with four piles in the middle and was probably built by George and Jim Kershler. [8] The bridge was a huge improvement in transport for the settlers, giving them better communication with Campbelltown, Leumeah Railway Station and Sydney.

The Eckersley selections were gradually abandoned after 1906 when the area was proposed for a military reserve. The post office closed in 1912 and the plateau east of the Georges River formally acquired by the army in 1913. Despite the army taking over the whole area east of the George's River in 1914, the bridge remained in use long after this. It was still in good condition in the 1920s. After WWI, the road to the crossing became rough and overgrown, making it inaccessible to vehicles. However, both Frere's Crossing and The Elbow upstream were still popular with people who were prepared to walk down to the river.8

Working on the vineyard

Georges Frere sometimes employed the local Longhurst brothers and their cousins to help pick grapes in the school holidays. In an interview in 1976, Jim Longhurst recalled treading grapes for Frere:

'When we first did it, we thought we'd wash our feet. "What are you doing?" asked Frere. "You do not wash your feet." [9]

Frere was noted for his temper. After a bush carpenter working for Frere was cheeky to him one day, Frere booted him. When he was booted back, Frere sacked the man. Another boy pilfered some eating grapes and snuck down into the bush to eat them. Frere later found the grape skins, much to the boy's horror! [10]

There is another story that Frere used to give the boys a shotgun to frighten the blackbirds off the grapes. He supplied them with powder, which the boys crammed into the barrel along with some pebbles and a wad of paper. [11]

The vineyard fails

When Georges Frere, his father Leonce and Uncle Jacques Gustave, selected the land in their names in 1889, sight-unseen, they failed to check the suitability of the soil for grape vines. An adverse report from the Department of Agriculture should have been a warning. The report gave the condition of the soil as 'poor' and recommended that large (and costly) amounts of manure and fertilisers be used to bring it up to a reasonable standard. Both the lime and phosphoric acid content general value were described as 'bad'. Unsurprisingly, the soil became weak and unhealthy and the vineyard failed. [12]

Return to Albury and later life

When Georges and his wife returned to the St Hilaire Vineyard near Albury to work with his father, Frere's block was transferred and eventually converted to freehold in 1912. In 1946, aged 80, Georges Frere sold St Hilaire, later moving to Manly where he died in 1951. [13]

Ironically, about two miles (3.22 kilometres) north-east of Frere's failed vineyard, Isaac Himmelhoch established a successful vineyard. The Government citicultural expert described Himmelhoch's vineyard soil as rich and porous – very suitable for grape-growing. [14]

References

Notes on Frere's Crossing from an interview with Keith and James Longhurst, held at Local Studies section, HJ Daley Library, Campbelltown, 12 June 1976

Andrew Kelso, A Failed Vineyard: Near Campbelltown, east of the Georges River, New South Wales, A Kelso, Narrabundah, ACT, 1994

Carol Liston, Campbelltown: The Bicentennial History, Allen and Unwin, Sydney, 1988

Keith Longhurst, 'The Road to Frere's Crossing', Grist Mills: Journal of Campbelltown and Airds Historical Society Inc, vol 8, no 4, October 1995

Notes

[1] Keith Longhurst, 'The Road to Frere's Crossing', Grist Mills: Journal of Campbelltown and Airds Historical Society Inc, vol 8, no 4, October 1995, pp 70–92

[2] Keith Longhurst, 'The Road to Frere's Crossing', Grist Mills: Journal of Campbelltown and Airds Historical Society Inc, vol 8, no 4, October 1995, pp 70–92

[3] Carol Liston, Campbelltown: The Bicentennial History, Allen and Unwin, Sydney, 1988

[4] Carol Liston, Campbelltown: The Bicentennial History, Allen and Unwin, Sydney, 1988

[5] Keith Longhurst, 'The Road to Frere's Crossing', In Grist Mills: Journal of Campbelltown and Airds Historical Society Inc vol 8, no 4, October 1995, pp 70–92

[6] Andrew Kelso, A Failed Vineyard: Near Campbelltown, East of the Georges River, New South Wales, A Kelso, Narrabundah, ACT, 1994

[7] Notes on Frere's Crossing from an interview with Keith and James Longhurst, held at Local Studies section, HJ Daley Library, Campbelltown, 12 June 1976

[8] Notes on Frere's Crossing from an interview with Keith and James Longhurst, held at Local Studies section, HJ Daley Library, Campbelltown, 12 June 1976

[9] Notes on Frere's Crossing from an interview with Keith and James Longhurst, held at Local Studies section, HJ Daley Library, Campbelltown, 12 June 1976

[10] Keith Longhurst, 'The Road to Frere's Crossing', Grist Mills: Journal of Campbelltown and Airds Historical Society Inc, vol 8, no 4, October 1995, pp 70–92

[11] Keith Longhurst, 'The Road to Frere's Crossing', Grist Mills: Journal of Campbelltown and Airds Historical Society Inc, vol 8, no 4, October 1995, pp 70–92

[12] Andrew Kelso, A Failed Vineyard: Near Campbelltown, East of the Georges River, New South Wales, A Kelso, Narrabundah, ACT, 1994

[13] Keith Longhurst, 'The Road to Frere's Crossing', Grist Mills: Journal of Campbelltown and Airds Historical Society Inc, vol 8, no 4, October 1995, pp 70–92

[14] Andrew Kelso, A Failed Vineyard: Near Campbelltown, East of the Georges River, New South Wales, A Kelso, Narrabundah, ACT, 1994

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