In 1928, Australian Newspapers published a news item with a rather strange title, which read, “A FREAKISH WILL”. On those days, unlike today, it was not yet usual for Crazy millionaires to leave Millions of their dollars for their pets in their will. So most found the Will left by George Bills of Camberwell in Melbourne – a freakish one. Apart from giving away his money to his loyal friends and employees, he provided that interest in his partnership share in the business of Bills Bros, should be computed and paid to his trustees to construct, and erect, and pay for Horse troughs. The relevant part of the Will in this regard goes as follows,
“A trust fund be formed to construct, and erect, and pay for Horse troughs, wherever they may be of opinion. That such horse troughs are necessary, or desirable for the relief of horses or other such dumb animals either in Australasia in the British Isles or in any part of the world subject to the consent of the proper authorities being obtained. To pay such sums or sums of money as they in absolute discretion think fit. To any Society or Societies for the protection of Animals, or for the alleviation of cruelty to Animals either in Australia or the British Islands or any other part of the World and for the purposes aforesaid. I empower my said Trustees at the expense of my estate to have each of such Horse Troughs wherever erected suitably inscribe with the name of Annis and George Bills.’’
The troughs not only supplied water to the horses, but at one end there is a small trough for thirsty dogs. By the mid 1930’s, horses were gradually disappearing from Australian cities with the advent of Motor cars, but their numbers were increasing in Australian country towns. So the trust began concentrating on rural towns. A reasonable charge was made for railway freight and the local councils were supposed to make necessary water connections and prepare bases for the troughs to avail this gift.
George’s sister Daisy Clara Crook and her husband William Henry Crook, of Auburn. Victoria were the trustees, to whom is left the selection of the sites for the horse troughs, in Australia or in any other part of the world.
Initially the troughs were individually designed and constructed by nephew of George, Jack Phillips, but in later years a standard registered design was used for the troughs, made with precast concrete. The troughs were made at Phillip’s work site at Hawthorn. In 1938, Rocla, established in 1922, began manufacturing the troughs at their site in Junee, NSW. The demand for horse troughs became non-existent after the world War II, and the trust moved its focus on other areas of animal welfare. The trust money was used to erect the George Bills RSPCA Rescue Centre at Burwood in 1964.
Brief Biography of George Bills
George was born on 11th March 1859 at Brighton, England as the fourth son of Richard and Elizabeth Bills. Richard Bills was in the business of exporting birds to New Zealand and eventually migrated with family to New Zealand when George was ten years old.
In 1873, the family moved to Echuca in Victoria. In 1882, George started a bird dealership at the Corner of Queen and Edward Street, in Brisbane. In 1884 George moved to Sydney and got involved in a wire mattress business at Liverpool street, with his brother Henry. In 1885, George married Annis Swan, a migrant from Sheffield, whom he met in Brisbane. In the 1890’s the business was moved to a better equipped worksite at 60-62 Harbour Street in Sydney.
In 1893, the brothers patented their own mattress wire weaving machine. In 1898, the mattress business changed name from Henry Bills to Bills Brothers. In 1908, George retired and two years later moved to Hawthorn in Melbourne to a house named ‘Ingleburn’. In 1910, Annis and George went on a holiday to England where Annis died on 20th June 1910. The couple did not have any children. In 1924 George was made a life Governor of RSPCA. On 14th December 1927, George died at his home in Camberwell and was cremated at Fawkner Cemetery.
The one believed to be the first horse trough donated by Annie and George Bills Trust was erected at Barton Street in Hawthorn in 1929.