Ku-ring-gai – All in the Family

Posted by on Apr 18, 2014 | 0 comments

Ku-ring-gai – All in the Family

Many, many years ago I grew up in Gordon where I attended the Infants and Public Schools through grades K to 6. The classroom for 6A in the year 1955 is currently where the Ku-ring-gai Historical Society has its office and library. Clearly still a place of learning.   Our family lived on Mt. William St., where Stony Creek ran through the backyard providing concealed access for young boys to the deep lush valley under the old wooden pedestrian Suspension Bridge 300dpisuspension bridge at the end of the road.  Does this photo bring back memories?

My mother was born, raised, and married in Lindfield.  Her childhood home was in Middle Harbour Rd. and St. David’s Presbyterian up on the highway was the marriage church.  For our family this part of the North Shore was where we belonged.  Our home was here, our relatives were here, our schools, church and shops were here. This was the fiefdom of our secure little world.

A big part of life at home involved gardening.  We had a big back yard providing lots of space for Mum and Dad’s passion.  Among all the flowers, carnations and dahlias were the ones I remember best.  They were planted in a special area near the shade of a large, wonderfully smelling mock-orange tree whose scent still permeates my memories.

After the three sons finished High School our parents moved to a flat in Roseville for a while before retiring to the Blue Mountains.  Their home there became a showplace for hundreds of azaleas, rhododendrons, and maiden hair ferns. With her green thumb, mother could solve anyone’s gardening problems, and was eventually made an honorary life member of the Wentworth Falls Garden Club.

So why am I telling you this?  Because in pursuing my hobby of genealogical research I recently came across an ancestor who had a similar love of gardens.  This particular Ku-ring-gai resident was quite conspicuous in his times, and very public in his commitments.  The irony was that no-one in our modern family appreciated his work while he was alive.

I’d flown across the Pacific with the intention of tracing my great great grandfather’s career as a teacher in the NSW countryside.  Joseph Taylor and his wife Emma had arrived in Sydney from London as free settlers in 1846.  Taylor is my father’s mother’s maiden name.  Joseph had transitioned well from his city-boy background to rural teacher.  With successful stints at the new National schools in Camden, and Gosforth, his next appointment was as schoolmaster in Mulbring, where I was now anxious to catch up with him.

Gosforth, north of Maitland, once was a thriving community, but thanks to repeated flooding of the Hunter River, it exists these days only as a rural outpost.   And Mulbring, a village south of Maitland, is hardly much larger now than it was 150 years ago. Originally, in the late 19th century, it was a stopping place for travellers going to and from Sydney to the Maitland and Newcastle areas.  Today, as then, the town lies peacefully in the shadow of Mt. Sugarloaf.

It was a Sunday when I managed to reach the little public school nestled among a grove of ancient Eucalypts.  I wandered through the rear playgrounds to the main building wondering what I’d find.  No-one was around but I peered in every window trying to get a flavour of long ago.  Lo and behold, at the front of the administration building, a hallway ran past the main window, and almost directly opposite was a board with multiple columns recording in historical order the names of Teachers in Charge and School Captains.

There, right in front of me, third from the top, was Joseph Taylor’s name and the dates he was headmaster – June 1855 to November 1862 !

What an amazing find, and what an incredible thrill, to see his name pop up ‘in lights’ so to speak.  It was a shock, completely unexpected, but…, at the same time, wonderfully welcome.Mulbring Teacher Board 300dpi

In an instant I was transformed into a pupil there one hundred and sixty years earlier, nervously trudging up to the principal’s office to enroll for school.  I could imagine the floorboards creaking and the stern look on the master’s face as he asked where I was from and how old I was.  My feelings were real, as I suddenly realized I was in touch with my great great grandfather.  I was mesmerized to think I now trod where he had trodden and that his name was recorded for posterity.  Thousands of pupils over the years had read the name of my ancestor. How awesome was that!

Further research revealed that the previous head teacher, John Oakes, had been dismissed for incompetence, and it had taken nearly a year to find Joseph as his replacement.  Oakes, angry and resentful, made life miserable for Joseph and his family, so they eventually left.  But not before Emma had brought two more sons into the world, Eugene in October 1858, and Victor in May 1861, children numbered six and seven in the Taylor brood.

Joseph moved on to teaching assignments in Bendolba, and Seaham, from where he eventually retired.  The whole family, save for a daughter who married in Seaham, moved to Ashfield in Sydney.  The Taylor boys had always been fascinated by the railways, and both Victor and Eugene eventually found jobs with them.  Eugene married in 1896, living first in Newtown close to the city hub.  At headquarters he worked hard, progressing steadily up through the ranks.

His first major corporate commitment and personal family sacrifice came when he was offered the position of stationmaster at Berry.  Berry was 87 miles south of the Sydney home and relatives, and Eugene’s wife Louisa was pregnant with their second child.  Berry was the second last stop before Bomaderry, near Nowra, on the Illawarra line. One major benefit was the existence of a stationmaster’s weatherboard residence with a simple brick chimney servicing the kitchen.  It stood in a pretty Berry Stationmaster's Residence fullsetting behind the station1.

As expected, Eugene did well in his position.  So well in fact that in 1903 he was awarded the prestigious post of stationmaster at Killara, an emerging, highly desirable Sydney suburb. Killara was an Aboriginal word meaning “Permanent” or “Always there”. Ten years earlier the train line from Hornsby to St. Leonards had been extended all the way to Milson’s Point at the harbour’s edge.  Train passenger numbers were increasing weekly with an average of 103 passengers boarding the 8:10am fast train from Killara by 19052.   It traveled non-stop to the end of the line where its arrival coordinated with the departure of the steam ferry crossing to Dawes Point. The ferry transported horse-drawn vehicles as well as foot passengers. Trams met passengers on the south shore whisking them to their office desks between 8:45am and 9:30am in the city proper.

With only a single train track operating on the North Shore line, passengers south of Killara, to their chagrin, had to travel on earlier or later morning services.  In those days Milson’s Point station was actually located approximately where one of the Harbour Bridge pylons sits today. When construction started on the bridge in 1924 the station was moved to Lavender Bay, just north of Luna Park.

There was no stationmaster’s residence at Killara of course but Eugene and his family lived in Marian St. on the Lindfield-Killara border until 1910.

Several unusual incidents occurred during Eugene’s reign. In May 1904 a passenger on the 5:52pm stepped out of the train on the wrong side. Perhaps a tough day at the office and liquid refreshments had taken their toll?  In any event a lookout was kept on the next train to Milson’s Point, and a man was discovered lying by the line. He was treated at North Sydney Hospital for injuries to one of his shoulders3.

Much later, in March 1909, about 50 caddies congregated at the station as members of the prestigious Killara Golf Club arrived on their way to the links.   The caddies were on strike ! They’d gathered to tell the members that they would have to carry their own clubs unless the caddies’ allowance was raised 50% from a shilling to eighteen pence per round4.  One can only imagine the mayhem that would result were one of today’s unions to ask for a 50% increase in pay !

The clearing of land was a constant need as residential demand for space grew and the North Shore became increasingly attractive as a place to live. Train stations were often surrounded by shopping centres but even if not so, they tended to become community havens, providing the primary source of transportation before motor cars became more prevalent.   Every resident in a suburb knew the shortest route between his house and the train station.

It was no surprise that common space at the stations could be used for public displays. Even of vulgar machinery.   In June 1908 such a demonstration took place when a Mr. Hinds showed how his incredible invention, the ‘improved’ Bunyip5, could efficiently remove stumps left by fallen trees.   Good for clearing forests apparently, if not for finding the mythical Australian creature after which the machine was named. It’s not known how many machines Mr. Hinds sold that day.

An indication of the prosperity, social consciousness, and innovative interests of the high level society patrons living at Killara was evidenced when the local Progress Association decided to beautify the station premises.  Residents donated ornamental trees and shrubs including rose trees, camellias, azaleas, and hibiscus to plant in a prepared space6.  Eugene helped manage an array of gardeners sent by the local patrons to organize the beautification project.  Killara Station

Years later under Eugene’s care the station won second prize in the station garden competition, beaten by Teralba in the Newcastle region7, but ahead of Wingello down south.

So clearly, over decades across disparate branches of the extended family tree, gardening was a common interest.  How little I knew about my Ku-ring-gai relatives at the time I was growing up in the district.  But how glad I am to learn even at this late date of shared interests.

It’s amazing what a little research can reveal…

In this case, it warms my heart to have learned that a distant relative served the local community, and helped start a program of beauty that to this day still makes Killara one of my favorite stations.

Well done Eugene !




  1. http://www.environment.nsw.gov.au/heritageapp/ViewHeritageItemDetails.aspx?ID=4801132
  2. The Sydney Morning Herald, Tuesday 17 October, 1905, p4.
  3. The Sydney Morning Herald, Tuesday 17 May, 1904, p2.
  4. The Sydney Morning Herald, Tuesday 30 March, 1909, p6.
  5. Sunday Times, Sunday 21 June, 1908, p2.
  6. The Sydney Morning Herald, Monday 14 August, 1905, p1.
  7. Newcastle Morning Herald & Miners’ Advocate, Tuesday 10 November, 1908, p4.

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