Some of you might have noticed the horse trough on Johnston Street, Annandale just outside Annandale North Public School. You may even have wondered about its story or stopped to have a closer look. If you have done the latter you would have noticed on the inside the words George & Annis Bills Australia. But what is the meaning behind these words? Who were these people? And why are their names there?
This is the story
It begins in 1859 when George Bills was born in Brighton England. He came to Australia as a young man and he and his brother established a wire mattress manufacturing business in Kent St Sydney, which operated successfully over many years.
During his lifetime George was a philanthropist, who took a keen interest in seeking out cases of human need and gave many thousands of pounds anonymously to assist needy people.
George Bills died 14th Dec, 1927 and his wife Annis died on the 20th June 1910. After providing some personal bequests, his will directed the income from the residue of his estate to be used to provide troughs for horses, and for the purpose of preventing cruelty, and the alleviating the suffering of animals in any country.
More than 500 troughs were erected in Australia, mostly in NSW and Victoria and some in overseas countries – England, Ireland, Switzerland (for donkeys) and Japan.In the early stages of trough supply, each was individually designed and constructed. One of the first was a granite Memorial trough, hewn in one piece as a memorial to Mr Bills. It was situated in Barton St, Hawthorne, Melbourne; the trough has long since been removed.
Later a standard design was adopted, and Rocla concrete products supplied many hundred of the troughs in Victoria and NSW. Troughs were supplied on application to the Bills Trust by local councils and truckloads of ten would often leave the factory for installation by a team of workmen. Most of the troughs were made and supplied in the 1930’s in Victoria.
The cumbersome steel & concrete moulds were later transferred to the Rocla factory in Junee NSW, where about 20 troughs were made in 1938. The moulds were then taken to Sydney where about 200 were made and supplied to various areas. However the growing use of motor vehicles caused a halt in demand and none were installed after World War 2.
A large number of troughs were erected in the streets of Sydney, but have been removed over the years. There is a growing interest in the restoration of those that remain. Annandale resident and long time campaigner for the protection of Annandale’s built heritage Betty Mason told me recently that Council had planned to remove the trough in Johnston St in the 1970’s but a strong campaign by the Annandale Association saved it. Several attempts have been made to grow flowers in the trough over the years and thankfully the ones there now seem to have taken and are surviving, which is a great improvement on the weeds & refuse which gathered in the past.
David Lawrence, Annandale.
Further info. on Bills troughs can be found at:
Bills Trough, Johnston Street, Annandale, 2008