It seems a hundred years ago when I was first introduced to the Hawkesbury valley. I was told it was the vegie patch and salad bowl for Sydney. Originally from Melbourne, I was intrigued when we drove slowly past paddocks full of every vegetable imaginable.
The many thriving fruit and veg outlets in the Hawkesbury are testament to the maximum growth and goodness provided by the river flats. Although most growers send their produce to the Sydney markets, not so any more for the Schembri and Sciberras families — they feed the local and not so local families with home grown produce that would win at the Royal Show, and they sell them for much less than you’d expect.
I arrived at the fruit and vegie barn to do a story on this hard working family. “No time to stop darling,” said friendly Maria, who loads the boxes for customers, then carries them to the car, all done with a radiant smile and her ever present catch phrase, “Thanks beautiful, see ya next time!”
And why wouldn’t you shop at such a treasure chest of wellbeing
and compliments?
Between customers, Maria told me the story about most Maltese families not having enough opportunities to work on their smaller islands. One such island, Mgarr, off the coast of Malta, gave the neighbouring Schembri and Sciberras families reason to agree to migrate to Australia — the land of plenty. Wise move folks!
In 1975, they had enough money saved to fly to Australia and buy five-acre plots at Schofields. Hard work and determination helped the families succeed to where they are today. But not without drama when they owned another 15 acres on the Pitt Town bottoms. It seemed every time they were just about to harvest the mighty Hawkesbury would send a devastating flood and harvest their crop for them. I think we may have been recipients of their cauliflowers and cabbages which washed up on our farm.
Hard to imagine floods now, with relentless winds drying our paddocks to a crisp and no sign of rain just to keep the dust down!
It pays to keep a growing business in the family. After living next door, picking weeds out of the vegie patch together from age five, Maria Schembri finally grew into a beautiful young woman, and Kevin Sciberras noted the pleasing change in his friend and playmate. At age 16 the bond began to form into marriage, children followed, then combining the growing business with their parents was a winner.
“Our parents grow and we sell,” said Maria, still smiling.
The mighty shed that houses the amazing supply began as a lean-to with an honesty box sitting on a makeshift shelf. I didn’t ask if all customers were as honest as me, when I frequently stopped to buy. This was the year 2010, and now not only do they have a fruit and vegie shed but a large produce barn where they sell canaries, chooks, chickens, guinea pigs and all feed supplies for the same, plus horses, dogs, cats, pigs and cattle.
I asked what they did for recreation. “We just go to church on Sunday then relax at home with the family.”
Maria’s eyes brightened when she said, “Oh, but we look forward to one week off at Christmas. And we each have a rostered week off through the year. I just love the customers, they keep me happy.” I think Maria is blessed with a happy gene!
I also inquired if she had any funny stories to tell me. “No sorry, our life is just one big happy story.” Bless her.
I suspect we could all learn a lot from this industrious family who, to me, feel like they are a major player in keeping the Hawkesbury healthy. I love being part of a community — as we all do, I suspect. It’s a warm feeling when you’re greeted by local shop owners by name and they ask how you are — and they really mean it.
“The Sciberras are here to stay!” says Maria, and I for one would hate to lose their smiling faces. But one day I’d like to visit the enchanting island of Mgarr, where they came from, and I’m sure the only business would be tourism.

Doreen Slinkard is a novelist with four novels and a series of children’s books published. Her great love has always been horses; her “other” job is training race horses on her beloved farm Windermere on the Hawkesbury River.


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