Memories of growing up on Rocky Hill

MEMORIAL: Standing as a silent sentinel on Rocky Hill above Goulburn, the iconic War Memorial. Photo Don Fuchs.

MEMORIAL: Standing as a silent sentinel on Rocky Hill above Goulburn, the iconic War Memorial. Photo Don Fuchs.

Jenny Scott is the daughter of Eric Keith, who was the Caretaker at Rocky Hill War Memorial Museum from 1935 to 1956. 

VISIT: A photo of Eric Keith, Marjorie Keith and Jenny Scott on a visit to Golspie, the Keith family home.

VISIT: A photo of Eric Keith, Marjorie Keith and Jenny Scott on a visit to Golspie, the Keith family home.

She recently wrote to the Goulburn Post to share some memories of growing up ‘on the hill.’

“In December, 1935 my father accepted the position of caretaker of the War Memorial on Rocky Hill, offered to him because of his war wounds,” Mrs Scott writes. 

CARETAKER: Eric Keith in front of the caretaker's house, the house as it was at the time. This is now the Museum.

CARETAKER: Eric Keith in front of the caretaker's house, the house as it was at the time. This is now the Museum.

Prior to that the family had run a store in Bourke St, Goulburn. 

She writes that times were very hard then for the family.  

“I’m not sure how they survived. Their only income was from the admittance fees of any visitors to the Memorial,” she wrote.  

“As I grew older, I spent many hours manning the entry desk in the Memorial. The earliest price I remember was sixpence for adults and threepence for children.

“Old letters record their weekly income as ranging between 30 and 35 shillings in the winter months of 1936 and ’37. Out of this they were expected to pay 10 shillings rent on the house, electricity and phone bills, and buy water in dry years when the tanks ran dry.

“We had no transport except “shanks’s pony” as my father used to say. He walked to town and back for the shopping, carrying it in a large suitcase. Despite their hardship, I never remember being hungry or going without...my mother was a great manager and no doubt she eked out the little they had to feed us, including her two siblings Heather and John.

She also recalls the ever present threat of snake bite in the bush as she walked to school. 

“My trip through bush meant that the threat of snake bite was ever present and I always carried a snake-bite kit in my school bag. This consisted of a razor blade to cut open the bite, Condy’s Crystals to rub into the wound, and a band of elastic to stop circulation. Luckily I never had to use it,” she wrote. 

She said the caretaker’s cottage (now the Museum) is not that different to how it is today, except there is now a display of rifles in her former bedroom.

“Although I have lived away since I was 17, Goulburn is still very dear to me and I still think of Rocky Hill as home. On return visits, I feel as if I have plugged back into a source, where the entire environment is right for me and a part of me will always miss it.” 

Mrs Scott’s complete memoir can be read here:

My father, Eric Keith was born in Crookwell in 1892, the second son of John and Beatrice Keith, one of five boys and a girl. Four of the boys fought in the Great War and all came home, but my father suffered a wound that plagued him for many years. On return from the war he married Marjorie Bunker, daughter of Crookwell saddler David Bunker and his wife Ada. 

In the depression year of 1935 their small corner shop was failing, their customers could not pay, and my father found it difficult to refuse credit for his customers to buy food. Their financial situation grew worse so in December my father accepted the position of caretaker of the War Memorial on Rocky Hill, offered to him because of his war wounds. This 72 foot high structure had been built out of the stone on the hillside, collected by the citizens of Goulburn, in memory of their armed forces. Construction was completed in 1924 according to one record, but I have never heard of any caretaker before my father, so I don’t know if it was open before then. 

There must have been some form of transport for their household goods during the move to the Memorial, but I have been told stories of being hauled up the hill in my pram as a three month old, over a very rough pathway, most likely with the assistance of my 12 year old sister Heather, and my 8 year old brother John. I think my parents simply walked away from the shop, as in July ’36 my father wrote of still trying to pay accounts from his business. Their address was 69 Clifford Street and I believe it was near the Burke Street school.

Times were very hard and I’m not sure how they survived. Their only income was from the admittance fees of any visitors to the Memorial. This meant that every opportunity to attract paying visitors had to be taken by all of us, so at least one family member was almost always at home, and holidays were very scarce. As I grew older I spent many hours manning the entry desk in the Memorial. The earliest price I remember was sixpence for adults and threepence for children. Old letters record their weekly income as ranging between 30 and 35 shillings in the winter months of 1936 and ’37. Out of this they were expected to pay 10 shillings rent on the house, electricity and phone bills, and buy water in dry years when the tanks ran dry. The Goulburn museum has copies of these letters written by them, asking that the rent be waived in difficult winter months.  They had no transport except “shanks’s pony” as my father used to say. He walked to town and back for the shopping, carrying it in a large suitcase. Despite their hardship I never remember being hungry or going without. I recall saying we used to have meat and peas on Sunday, don’t know what we ate otherwise, but my mother was a great manager and no doubt she eked out the little they had to feed us. 

My sister left school to work as soon as she was old enough, maybe about 13, also doing the trek to town and back on foot, and working long days for a very harsh woman in a dress shop. Scrubbing the footpath outside the shop on hands and knees was one of her duties. She went off to Sydney for work at a fairly young age I think. Another job was sewing in the local chenille factory, but I’m not sure if this was before or after Sydney. Because of the difference in our ages these memories are vague for me.  I have mental pictures of meeting the train at night on her visits home. The huge steam engine would puff and hiss its way into the station, deafening all else and creating clouds of steam in the cold winter air. It looked like an enormous one-eyed monster to me, but these occasions were always happy and exciting.

My memories of my brother John are also very faint until he began work. I can’t picture his younger years or see him as part of family activities. Again the age difference of eight years took its toll. He gained an apprenticeship as a motor mechanic when he was 15, rode his bike to work, and when the family acquired a car he became more and more responsible for its upkeep. This may have been quite a burden for him when money was so scarce, and he also went to Sydney on completion of his apprenticeship.

As the ‘baby’ of the family most of my memories are of being home alone with my parents, trailing after my Dad as he traipsed around the bush collecting wood for our stove and open fires, or with my mother, playing with the very basic toys she could invent. One variety of these was to dress up the glass stoppers out of sauce bottles in scraps of dress material. The type of material decided the daily activities of these little ‘people’, whether they were going shopping or maybe dressed for a ball. As I grew older the whole hill was my playground and I spent many hours in the bush creating my own entertainment. 

Because of the long walk through bush land to the school, I didn’t start until I was 6, and I had rarely mixed with other children. As far as I can remember my mother walked through the bush about two thirds of the way to school with me, and then met me again on the way home. At some point I began to collect the milk from the dairy at the bottom of the hill in Eastgrove. My mother came most of the way in the morning while I went ahead with the billy-can into the dairy for the milk, and then carried it back up the hill to where she was waiting to take it home, while I went back down to school. This might sound very simple but, although they only ever looked at me, I was terrified of the cows, and this was quite an ordeal for me

My trip through bush meant that the threat of snake bite was ever present and I always carried a snake-bite kit in my school bag. This consisted of a razor blade to cut open the bite, Condy’s Crystals to rub into the wound, and a band of elastic to stop circulation. Luckily I never had to use it, and don’t know if I would have cut into myself, although it seems likely, so sure were we then that this was the correct procedure. The cold weather was another ever present hazard, chilblains were a possibility, and I remember stinging legs after being caught sometimes in rain or hail. 

After primary school I rode my bike to the High School, pushing it back up the hill in the afternoon. I became expert at speeding down the rough dirt road in the mornings and only remember falling off once. 

There was a large army training camp in Goulburn during the war, and Rocky Hill was the perfect destination for a route march. We would hear the tramp of feet coming, and my mother would immediately stoke up the wood stove and start baking scones, so that on arrival each soldier was allowed to break for tea and scones. I suppose they must have paid for them, but they were always very grateful.  I have no idea how my mother did all this so quickly , nor any  idea of the numbers, just an impression of being fairly small and engulfed in khaki uniforms., Visitors were always made welcome, and both my father and my sister were good at bringing home lonely strays about to go off to war.

Although too old for active service in World War 2 Dad joined up again and served doing night duty in the local ‘drill hall’. I imagine this must have been some sort of communication centre. He walked off at night, down the hill in the dark, and arrived back each morning. His war service record says he enlisted in the 5B Brigade area in September 1941 and was discharged in April 1947, two years after the war ended. These were times of real fear when there were rumours of a pending invasion, Japanese submarines had been seen in Sydney Harbour, and some people were sending their children into the country. My mother said she had a plan to hide us in the top of a large cupboard if the Japanese came over the hill. 

I do remember the end of the war, when I was ten. I think the news must have come through in the morning while my father was still on duty at the drill hall. My mother was out in the front yard banging a tin tray or a saucepan, laughing and crying. I don’t know if my brother was home or came home from work, but he took my mother to town over the very rough road on the back of his motorbike, which only had a wire luggage rack for her to sit on. He must have taken me too because I remember being with Mum and Dad in town, making our way through the crowds. Dad was still in uniform and received a lot of happy pats on the back and ‘good on yer digger’ greetings from many of the men who’d had the odd tipple. It was certainly a day of anything goes after those many long years of the tensions of a country at war. 

From my earliest memories a very special time for us was each Anzac Day. A Dawn Service has traditionally been held at the Memorial, so the task for us was to be up before people arrived and for someone to fly the flag from the flagpole, which was on top of the building, and accessed only by an upright ladder through a man-hole onto the roof. My father or brother carried out the flag raising, usually fortified with rum and hot milk before-hand, as April mornings can be bitterly cold. . I remember going up there with my brother once, but then freezing at the sight of the descent. He had to carry me down the iron ladder, about a twenty feet vertical drop!

The house was not very different to how it is today, except there is now a display of rifles in what was my bedroom. The stove in the kitchen was lit every morning and evenings were spent in the ‘dining room’ by the fire listening to the radio. We called the large room the ‘tearoom’ and at some point my mother had begun to offer afternoon teas, and we also sold lollies and soft drinks. There was no refrigeration so we relied on a ‘cool safe’, a metal cabinet with a tray of water on the top and netting down the sides, so that the water filtered down the sides and kept the contents cool. .

Our financial situation gradually improved, and by 1948 my father was able to write to the committee, thanking them for earlier assistance, advising them that through his own efforts he had attracted the trade of Pioneer Coaches, and should this continue he would be able to cope. Visits of the Pioneer coaches usually consisted of a tour group on the last night of their trip before returning to Sydney. They would look through the War Memorial and then come to the house for supper and a farewell party. My father would organize games for them, such as pass the parcel, spin the bottle, or passing lifesavers mouth to mouth with toothpicks, my mother would play the piano for singing and dancing, and a great time was mostly had by all. Business increased when Fogg’s Newcastle Touring Company also began calling.  As the daughter of the house I had a sort of parallel existence, mixing in the adult world while helping out on these nights and then returning back to school next day. 

Although I have lived away since I was 17, and in a very different climate, Goulburn is still very dear to me and I still think of Rocky Hill as home. On return visits I feel as if I have plugged back into a source, where the entire environment is right for me, and a part of me will always miss it.”

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