SINCE the idea of transforming the abandoned Racecourse Road quarry into a residential housing estate was first floated, several residents have recalled their past memories of the site, but Miroslava Novotny is one of the few who can say she used to live there.
For three and half years, in the early 1950s, Mrs Novotny and her husband Ilbin lived rent-free in a one-room mud house in exchange for working on the four-acre cherry orchard, later overtaken by the quarry.
Nestled between the working quarry and just a few hundred metres from the busy railway track, Mrs Novotny recalls the house, and even the dishes on the table, regularly rattling with vibrations from the blasting and the heavy freight trains.
But at a time when new immigrants struggled to find accommodation in Orange, the Czechoslovakians were just happy to have a roof over their heads for themselves and their young son Romak, Mrs Novotny said.
“We were very lucky, it was not luxury ... but we never paid anything,” she said.
“When you are young you don’t care.
“You get used to it, it was a lovely clean place with clear air ... and a beautiful open fire.”
The couple only had a pushbike for Mr Novotny to ride to work at either the Email factory, now Electrolux, or the railway.
Like most residents at the time, the couple lived with no electricity or running water, but had a well nearby.
It was a far cry from the couple’s life in Czechoslovakia where Mr Novotny worked as a police officer until the communist government took over and the couple joined 400,000 of their countrymen who fled the country.
“He didn’t want to work for them,” she said.
“They would arrest people for no reason ... it was so bad and there were so many people killed.”
In 1948 the couple’s first child was born in an Italian migrant camp.
As soon as he was old enough, in late 1949, the family moved to Australia, first settling at Kelso and later they were forced to separate when Mr Novotny lived in a hostel and worked in Sydney and Mrs Novotny and her son lived in a camp in Parkes. Mr Novotny had to travel on the train from Sydney for 24 hours to visit his young family.
But eventually the couple was able to reunite and move to Orange, first to a cottage at a nursery on Pinnacle Road, then the mud house.
Finally several years later the couple hit the jackpot when Mrs Novotny picked a ton, 1016 kilograms, of blackberries in just six weeks and sold them for 250 pounds - equivalent to 25 weeks’ pay and enough to buy a block of land in Collwood Crescent where they built a two-bedroom home
Mrs Novotny said the mud house was still standing until at least the 1960s.
She hopes the owners of the quarry will revive the site with new houses.