A tale of one persons dedication.
Keith was born in Moss Vale in 1933 and, aged 14 months, became a resident at Rosslyn Hall, Rockdale. This Home was a link in a chain of charities forged by George Edward Ardill, MBE.
The first half of the nineteenth century had produced anxious social problems which the Government of the day was not yet sufficiently organised to cope with. This task fell to the more public spirited Christian citizens of the State. Ardill was one such person and at the tender age of 17 began an evangelical crusade which, for over 60 years, involved him passionately and tirelessly in “good works”. Some of these works bore titles which fall quaintly on today’s ears: The Home for Friendless and Fallen Women; The Jubilee Home for Domestic Servants of Respectable Character; The Bethseda Home for Waiting Mothers; The Discharged Prisoners Mission; and one with a poignancy that reaches out to touch the hardest heart – the Society for Providing Homes for Neglected Children – Waifs and Strays.
It was this Society that provided Keith’s first home at Rockdale. It nurtured the little boy until 1941, when he was transferred to join the other children in Our Children’s Home in Davidson Avenue. You would know it now as Ardill House – and its original name was “Clermont”.
It was built for Henry David Bray, third Mayor of Concord (his brother Alfred was the first Mayor). Yes, the Brays were pretty big in Concord (Brays Bay, etc.) and Henry David was a prosperous merchant in the burgeoning Sydney town. As a business and civic leader he required a spacious residence to entertain, and so Clermont was conceived.
In 1918 the home, together with some extra adjoining land, was bought by Mr. F.K. Oliver who donated it, in the same year, to the society with the poignant name.
So that is how a house became a Home – a refuge for children, mainly the victims of broken homes.
This was no Dickensian horror institution and Keith Elliott was well cared for there until he reached the age of 10. In Keith’s words: “On reaching the double figures I was ready for the Society’s farm at Camden. It was like a Boys’ Town/Boys’ Farm – wonderful experience – great training.
Keith remained down on the farm until it closed in 1945 and he returned to the North Strathfield Home.
At 16 the Society found him a good job as a farm hand on a mixed property near Yeoval. You learn a lot of skills working on the land, including cooking, which turned out to be a handy ability for him in later life.
One time he took a holiday from the farm and came to the city to visit his old home in Davidson Avenue. By then George Edward Ardill, Jnr., had taken over as Director of Ardill House following the retirement of his father in 1943. He invited Keith to return to the Home, not as an inmate to be cared for, but as a successful graduate to help care for those who were inmates. He was offered a job on the staff.
So, Keith returned to Yeoval to collect his gear, say farewell to his farmer friends and resume his association with Ardill House, this time as a young handyman about the Home. He also kept the grounds in perfect order, which is evident by the plaque in the Home, won some years back in the Concord Garden Club’s Garden Competition.
In May 1987 a new joint project between the Commonwealth of Australia, Department of Community Services and the Society for Providing Services for Neglected and Needy Children (note the reference to Waifs and Strays has mercifully been deleted) began. It was an extended day childcare centre, catering for 53 children between the ages of 0-5 and Keith became the cook cum live-in caretaker, and his culinary skills learned in the country were being put to good use.
But Keith had other interests outside of the Home. He was a dedicated historian with a wealth of knowledge, both in his head and on his trusty computer.
He was a dedicated member of the Concord Historical Society, a keeper and cataloguer of its archives and editor of its newsletter. His own section of the Home was constantly strewn with papers, photographs, newspapers, notes and bits and pieces awaiting sorting and cataloguing.
He was a “bower bird” in many ways, never throwing anything away “just in case”. On one occasion this proved very beneficial for the Home when a fence around the property was being replaced. Council would not approve the type wanted as it was not, so they said, “in keeping with the historical appearance of the building”. However, Keith was able to produce a piece of the original fence and, lo and behold, they now have a fence very similar to the original and the one they were asking Council to approve.
Keith was very active in many local organisations including the Concord Bowling Club (where he often catered for functions and acted as their general handyman), the RSL, the Rugby Union Club and Masonic Lodge to mention a few. Here he formed many lasting friendships.
One time, when asked if he had ever considered marriage and children and a home of his own, he replied: “I’m too busy to look for the ladies, and (he chuckled) they’re not looking for me. As for a home, this has always been a happy place for me. I belong here. And children – I’ve got 53 to love now. All the ones old enough to talk call me Keith and they all know who cooks their dinners.”
Apart from those early days at Rockdale and that brief break as a country boy, Keith Elliott had been “at home” at 132 Davidson Avenue for all his life.
So, although Keith had no known family of his own, his life was filled with friends who knew and loved him and he will live long in their memories. He lived a rich and happy life in a grand and historic home that he loved, surrounded by life-long friends and sustained by his interest in all around him.
This was Keith Elliott's Obituary as published in Nurungi. He was a dedicated and hard worker for our Society for many years.