History of Minto Heights
'All at once I saw the flames lash out through the narrow strip right at my home (and) my wife only had time to pick up the baby and run'.
This bushfire which George Mardell described in January 1929 was to become one of the most famous - or infamous - natural disasters ever to hit Campbelltown. It devastated the rural bushland now known as the suburbs of Wedderburn, St Helens Park, Airds, Ruse, Kentlyn and Leumeah. But perhaps the area worst hit was the subject of this [history] - Minto Heights.
As a picturesque riverside locality, Minto Heights has always been dominated by thick bushland - trees and scrub that can be both beautiful and lethal. George Mardell, like dozens of other local battlers, had no insurance against fire and was left with nothing.
'I tried to beat off the flames, but could not...(and) we stayed in the cultivation paddock for some time, and saw we were likely to be hemmed in, so we made a dash for Bendorp's', he told the Campbelltown News. 'Much of my orchard is (now) ruined, as well as every stitch we had belonging to us.'
This hard luck story was repeated a dozen times across the area, but was just one of the natural obstacles faced by selectors who pioneered the area during the late 1800s and early 1900s.
In those days, the area was actually known to everyone as 'East Minto' and life there could be primitive. Although much of the area had been carved up for land grantees in the early 1800s, very little in the way of 'civilisation' could be found 70 years later.
The 'frontier' style of living was evident as late as 1920, when the local press described the doings of a returned World War One digger, Joseph Hall. He had put his deferred pay into a small unimproved farm at East Minto and with his wife had 'plodded on under very hard circumstances.'
'His first job was to erect a place to live in; we can not really say a home, through its crude structure of mud and bark', the newspaper reported. 'That done, a well was sunk to provide water; then with a hoe and pick Mr and Mrs Hall set about to clear the scrub and plant almond trees and passionfruit vines. Being some time for these industries to reap a reward a patch of tomatoes was planted...'
The area's main thoroughfare - Hansens Road - is an old one and recalls early pioneer Jasper Hansen and his wife Johanna, who arrived as Danish migrants in the 1890s. Their mixed farm stood off the roadway, close to its modern intersection with Westmoreland Road.
Myrtle Street was named after the trees which occur so commonly along the aptly named Myrtle Creek. Moreton Road and Newman Road get their titles from early landowners Henry Moreton and G.B Newman.
Derby Street once ran all the way over the hills from its staring point at Derby Street in Minto village.
The exact origins of other roads such as Groves Road, Florence Avenue, Howard Road, Helena Road, Olive Street and Duncan Street are not clear, but were most likely derived from the family names of early settlers or subdividers.
East Minto School stood on the corner of Hereford Place (named after the cattle breed?) and Hansen's Road between 1898 and 1947, when it was burnt to the ground. Because farms had closed down and the population of East Minto had declined since World War Two, the government never saw fit to replace the building.
East Minto's future came under the spotlight in 1961-62 when a landholder on Hansen's Road sought to subdivide his farm into smaller building blocks, to help 're-establish the former East Minto village'.
Campbelltown Council was supportive, but the proposal was blocked by Cumberland County Council (forerunner of the State Planning Authority). It argued that there had never been a 'proper village' there, and had made no provision for one in future planning. In June 1963, a modified subdivision application was also refused, this time by the local Council.
In the 1970s much of East Minto was rezoned for Regional Open Space and was acquired by the State Government. The remaining land was zoned as 'Scenic Protection' to preserve the existing 5 acre (2ha) lots and minimise the impact of human occupation. Many of the old farming clans began to be replaced by a new breed of professional/executive residents who replaced the old slab huts with brick mansions.
But when did 'East Minto' become 'Minto Heights'?
The conversion process began in 1973 when the Council took steps to 'formalise' a suburb name by calling it 'Warby".
This was designed to honour the local pioneer John Warby. As well as his own home farm of Leumeah, it seems Warby was also granted 100 acres (40ha) in the East Minto area.
But 'Warby' met almost total opposition from residents, who demanded to know what was so bad with the old 'East Minto' name. The Geographical Names Board (GNB) explained it no longer approved any suburb titles which utilised 'a cardinal point of the compass'. Disbelief was the major response, and the Campbelltown - Ingleburn News joined the resident campaign. ' Apparently it is of no consequence to the Board that this area has been known as East Minto for over a century,' it argued.
Keen to find a compromise, Campbelltown Council came up with 'Eastminto', but this too was thrown out by the GNB, which in turn, suggested the name 'Myrtlefield', in honour of the creek. Yet it proved just as unpopular with residents as 'Warby'.
In an effort to find a way out of the messy debate, a public meeting chaired by Alderman Guy Thomas offered three alternative suggestions. One was 'Hansen' (to honour the early settler) and another was 'Kyngmount' (recalling the surname of the Earl of Minto).
But the favourite with residents was 'Minto Heights'. Usage of a term like 'Heights' also conflicted with the GNB's guidelines (hence its 1975 rejection of a proposed suburb of Leumeah Heights). But in this case - with so many local tempers at boiling point - the GNB was willing to make an exception. In May 1976, the name 'Minto Heights' became official.
Any brief history of this area would not be complete without reference to the famed 'Minto Monster'. Stories of this beast go back to 1932 when farmers looking for a cow in the moonlight were shocked to see a 'bellowing' unknown creature which seemed to glide above the ground.
Claims that the mysterious creature had been 'terrorising' East Minto residents with its 'blood curdling screams' were widely reported in 1973. One bounty hunter suggested it was a lost species of extinct Tasmanian Tiger. A group of residents conducted an armed search of Myrtle Creek but found nothing.
As recently as 1987, a Derby Street resident reported seeing a strange creature moving through the trees, making a terrible screeching noise. "It had pointed ears and was a rust colour with three dark brown stripes,"the resident told the local newspaper.
Campbelltown's Streets and Suburbs - How and why they got their names" written by Jeff McGill, Verlie Fowler and Keith Richardson, 1995, published by Campbelltown and Airds Historical Society.
Reproduced with permission of the authors.