Back to where it all began...
The First Nations
“It’s all about the flowers”, says Hills Flower Market owner, Rudi Caristo. And, it has been that way for 100 years! Or is it even more?!
To put the story in context we need to go back before “Hills” gifted his surname to what would become “Terrey Hills”. We need to go back to the time when the First Nations People lived in the area.
The area of Terrey Hills, and to its east and north, were home to the Garigal clan, (or Caregal) people. They lived in family groups and moved around the area. For tens of thousands of years they were living off the land and were the true experts when it came to having an intimate knowledge of the local flowers, fruits, leaves, roots, berries and nuts. These they harvested for medicinal, nutritional and technological use. Aboriginal people held a strong spiritual connection to this land, and it was an essential part of their day-to-day life, cultural practices, and identity.
Artefacts have been discovered in the area, providing insight into the historical, cultural, and spiritual lives of the Garigal people. This includes hand stencils, stone and shell tools and middens, which remain important cultural heritage sites. Terrey Hills, along with many other suburbs in the Northern Beaches, also features extraordinary rock engravings.
The arrival of the First Fleet in 1788 devastated the local Aboriginal people, who battled disease, particularly smallpox, and a calculated scheme of dislocation. Despite years of resistance, and survival of many descendants, most of the traditional custodians of the Sydney Basin at that time were killed and their societies ripped apart.
To learn more about the intricate details of the indigenous history and the enduring culture of the Garigal people of Terrey Hills and its surrounds, local Aboriginal groups, historical societies, libraries and educational institutions can provide more comprehensive information.
Terrey Hills takes its name from two European settlers, James Terrey and Samuel Hills. Formerly known simply as ‘Terreys and Hills’, the shorter name was adopted by the newly formed Progress Association in 1932.
James Terrey and Samuel Hills
Although the district was visited by George Caley in 1805 and surveyed by William Govett and James Larmer in 1829 and 1832 respectively, few people settled here until the latter part of the 19th century.
The first person to be granted land was the timber getter Peter Duffy who, in 1857, received 100 acres in the area known as Duffys Forest. He and other timber getters transported their logs to Sydney from Duffys Wharf on Cowan Creek or took them by bullock team along the Pittwater-to-Gordon road (in 1956 it became known as Mona Vale Rd) to Fiddens Wharf, down the Lane Cove River and onto Sydney Harbour.
In the same year that Peter Duffy was receiving land to supply the timber market, Samuel Hills, with his brother John, set sail from England to Australia. Samuel Hills married Charlotte Stacy in 1862.
In 1881 Samuel Hills was granted 40ha on conditional purchase, and a further 73ha in two lots in 1882, bringing his total holding in the area to 113ha. The Hills property was on the eastern side of Mona Vale Rd and was immediately adjacent to the northern boundary of James Terrey’s land. Hills built a home (a shack) for himself on his own land, in what is now the centre of J.J Hills Memorial reserve, which he called Mt Pleasant Estate.
By 1888, the population of Terrey Hills was about 60 people. The land of Samuel Hills was referred to as ‘Narrabeen Heights’, and commanded “extensive and pretty views of the ocean and Narrabeen Lake…[with] about 100 acres of cleared land, 10 acres of which is under cultivation as an orchard and garden, which are well watered from a spring and a dam on the property”. (Sydney Morning Herald, April 23, 1888). Ultimately most of the holdings of both Terrey and Hills were resumed as part of Garigal National Park - between the current business park in the south and Kimbriki tip in the north.
In 1907, the son of Samuel and Charlotte, Joseph John (JJ) Melbourne Hills, purchased land on the opposite side of Mona Vale Rd from the land his father had owned and established a nursery distributing ferns and wildflowers from the surrounding bushland. He would take them in his horse and cart to the Queen Victoria Building in the city, which was at that time an open marketplace.
In 1923, JJ Melbourne Hills, along with his brother Edward, bought more land in the area and established a flower nursery. This was the birth of the present day “Hills - the Flower Market”, now 100 years old. They opened a store, called the Pioneer Store. It was described as “a shack on the side of the road” (Northern Beaches Weekender July 6, 1999). The Hills Brothers were the only ones on that side of the road for 5 years.
Son, ‘Mel’ (Melbourne Samuel, born 1917), recalls going by horse and cart into the Sydney markets to assist his father: “we’d leave Terrey Hills at 11p.m. arriving at the markets next morning about 5, depending on how the horse felt….” (Market Industries News, 1964).
For further reading check out, “The Story of Terrey Hills & Duffys Forest”, by Gay Halstead and “Roads To Pittwater: The Mona Vale Road” on website: pittwateronlinenews.com
With the death of JJ Melbourne Hills in 1942, his son Mel (Melbourne Samuel) moved onto his father’s estate and expanded the roadside stall. It became “not only a roadside stall but a general store and a lifeline to the people of Terrey Hills” (Mel’s Eulogy, delivered by Don Wark in 1983). Mel became a well known identity. His personal trademark was the old battered hat he used to wear, well known and written up in many books in the Markets and the wholesale flower trade.
After World War 2, Mel’s brothers returned from war and extended the roadside business into a major flower farm. “Supplying leading florists throughout Australia” was their catch cry. Hills Bros (The Flower People), together with nephew John Hills, were also doing repairs to agricultural machinery . “Hills” grew into a huge wholesale retailer, flower supplier and grower on 15 acres, including mixed business and a famous milker on the old Mona Vale Rd (NBW 1999).
Mel and his brother Cec, branched out into cut flowers in addition to maintaining the farm and roadside stall (Eulogy, 1983). Other siblings of Mel, their partners, and nephews and nieces would also get involved at various times in what had become a thriving business enterprise. In 1957 they began fulfilling orders that came in from across the country.
During these developing years, ‘Hills Bros - the Flower People’, at the request of Reg Ansett, became innovators in the packing and sending of flowers by air. The flowers sent by Hills Bros used to adorn places like Parliament House in Canberra (even for the queen's reception on her first visit to Australia) and stores like David Jones in the city when extensive flower displays were the order of the day.
Mel was always customer-focused: “When a person rings me up at two or three o’clock in the morning with an order, I don’t complain about being pulled out of bed. If they didn’t need the order desperately they would not have rung me, is the way I look at it” (Market Industries News, January 1964).
In 1960 Mel married Joan Boddy, and their only son Terrey was born in 1964. Together, Mel and Joan became a formidable business partnership. Joan had trained in floral arrangements and assisted the business by making bridal bouquets and every week would design a fresh arrangement on the sideboard! Together, Mel and Joan were active and generous contributors to the community development of Terrey Hills. Councillor Frank Beckman remarked, “Mel has given more donations to worthy causes than any other resident in the area.”
In January 1979, Mel was faced with a Department of Main Roads eviction order from his General Store because of the planned widening of Mona Vale Rd. It would involve moving the store further back onto his land. Mel was worried that he, and his customer base, would be denied access from Mona Vale Road.
In 1982 the roadside store was demolished and the following year, aged 65, Mel Hills died. The Terrey Hills Progress Association remarked:
“Mel was born and bred at Terrey Hills and no other person was so completely identified with the district he loved. Terrey Hills will not be the same without this kind, generous, hard working man.” (‘Progress’, June 83)
His eulogy concluded with these words:
“Although never enjoying good health, having suffered from asthma since early childhood, and having very little formal education, he still became a prominent businessman and a leading citizen of the District.”
For further reading check out, “The Story of Terrey Hills and Duffys Forest”, by Gay Halstead and “Roads To Pittwater: The Mona Vale Road” on website: pittwateronlinenews.com
In 1969, a young Rudi Caristo, started work picking violets, for Mel Hills. He was 8 years old. His mother, Maria, recently widowed, had moved the family into the home of her brother who lived in Terrey Hills. She got a job picking flowers that Mel would then take to the City Markets for sale. Every afternoon after school, from 3rd grade onwards, Rudi, with his brother Tony and sister Anna, would meet their mother and go out into the fields to pick flowers; contributing to the small wage their mother made.
At 12, Rudi decided he’d had enough of picking flowers and wanted to work in Mel’s milk bar. At 16 he graduated to selling flowers by the side of the road, which supported him and his family through his university years.
Then and Now
After Mel’s death in 1983, Joan Hills, continued to run the business with her nephew John, but a few years later she invited her long-time employee, and passionate flower man, Rudi, to run the flower shop on her behalf.
In 1994 Joan, and her son Terrey, decided to sell the business and Rudi, together with his wife Leanne, and members of Rudi’s family became the owners. It was called, “Hills - the Flower Market”. Their aim was to continue the Hills tradition of providing “fresh flowers at wholesale prices and service with a smile”.
After working out of the existing Hills store for 5 years, Rudi and Leanne completed major renovations and in 1999 a new and expanded premises was opened. (See pics below)
In 2009 the Flower Market site was extended to incorporate a number of complimentary businesses. Also added was the wonderful ‘Tastebuds’ restaurant cafe serving quality breakfast and lunch menus with sit down and takeaway options. In 2017, "Hills Marketplace" was born when Ray Balcomb and his family became 50% owners in the extended business precinct, becoming partners with Rudi and his family. Together they have a long-term view to honour the rich history of the site while continuing to evolve to ensure they continue to meet the changing community needs.
And now in 2023, 100 years after it all began, there is a vision for an even wider impact. Hills Marketplace have plans to revitalise the property and create an iconic village destination that Terrey Hills and the local community can be proud of. The idea is to improve what we already have, further develop and extend it to create a more beautiful and functional garden centre that has a village-like atmosphere. Flowers will continue to remain at the core of the properties offering, with fresh flowers being grown and sold onsite. We also hope to expand the food options, with an aim to be a family friendly meeting place that offers breakfast, lunch and dinner in our rural setting.
Pic Below: Aerial views of site 1976 and 2021
You are part of our History!
We wouldn't be celebrating 100 years without YOU!
Were our flowers part of your wedding day or special event? Do you have an early memory of "Hills"?
We are creating a memory board for our November 26 Celebration, so please send us your fondest memories of Hills, we really would love to hear from you!
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02 9450 1743