The swinging social life of Beecroft and Cheltenham – past & present by Catherine Bartho
Many residents of Beecroft Cheltenham live their lives here going to and coming from their daily work, very content to spend the remaining hours quite isolated from the community. However for those wanting enrichment from the amazing range of activities which are available locally, the area is provided with a diversity of activities. And so it has been since the 1890s when the suburb took shape from the farming community – when city dwellers came up the train line looking for a more pleasant domain in which to raise their families.
The gentry of the time soon commenced tennis and croquet clubs, debating and drama societies and musical groups for choirs and instrumental players. There were dances in the School of Arts, smoking socials, and snooker by night, and garden club and charities fund raising committee activities by day. One resident complained to the local paper that life was too busy here –and that was in the 1890s.
For over a hundred years, social life here has provided pleasure and relaxation for young and old.
Many of the groups are largely unchanged, such as tennis, croquet, bowls and the garden club. Others have come and gone as popular appeal has altered. Squash courts such as the complex at Midson Road have disappeared and yet the sport flourished in the 1960s and 70s. Decades ago there was a boxing club and a rifle club.
During the first and second world wars, social life frequently revolved around fund raising for the war effort, drilling of local volunteers for various duties and huge efforts by local women to knit or make camouflage netting in the School of Arts which also housed a lending library for many years. The war years also produced the Beecroft Children’s Library, which was a major part of the Beecroft scene until it closed in 1998.
The children through to teens have been well catered for by Boy Scouts and Girl Guides which remain popular. Churches have active women’s groups, youth fellowships, Girls Friendly Society groups, and boys’ groups. The Beecroft Sports Club covers a range of sports – netball, soccer, tennis and cricket. Little Athletics and swimming clubs are available locally and martial arts are taught at the Community Centre, which was once called the School of Arts. After school programmes at Beecroft Primary School cater for a range of interests such as pottery, leatherwork, Chinese brush painting and languages. Today is a far cry from the 1890s when attending Band of Hope meetings (temperance groups) and Sunday school was about the most exciting activity for the young, and they were quite content with that. Young mothers pushed prams and strollers around the streets to the shops (few women had a car until the 1960s), forming friendships with other pram-pushing mothers. Now, mothers’ groups can be seen meeting in local coffee shops, enjoying their shared experience of child-raising. These women frequently return to work, but the social network has been formed and it continues when their children are enrolled in the long day-care centres and kindergartens. Mothers form babysitting groups and socialising, involving husbands, often results. Life-long friendships regularly commence. There is a group of mothers of girls involved in Girl Guides in the 1970s and 1980s who regularly meet just for the pleasure of friendship and shared memories of fetes, fund-raising and helping to support pack leaders.
Arts and craft groups have provided a way for skilled people to meet. Art teachers have pupils, young and old meeting to receive tuition, with the Cheltenham Art Show providing an opportunity for many to exhibit work. There are several quilting groups, the Malton Road Quilters having met together for many years. The Embroiderers’ Guild meets in a church hall regularly. A Cheltenham lady, Miss Abell, had a sewing and knitting group for many years. These women made garments for Anglicare. Detailed lists were kept to show the annual output, which always seemed to exceed the previous year.
In more recent years, hand workers often linked to church groups have supported ‘Wrapped with Love’ (knitted rugs), trauma teddy bears, and singlets for African babies and garments for premature babies. A particularly outstanding effort has been that of the women who used their creative talents to have an annual Jacaranda Fair in November .The high standards set by the committee ensured such a following for this event that it was known you had to be early or miss out. Now, after seventeen years, and over $40,000 having been donated to charity, the group has decided to have a break from their activities.
Discussion groups and book clubs have been popular for many years. Originally, Workers’ Educational Association discussion groups provided a way for women who sought cerebral stimulation after a day of domestic duties. Reference books and notes were provided by the WEA for a modest fee. A comprehensive range of topics was available and tutors paid visits to groups. Many local women, stimulated by adult education, enrolled at Macquarie University when it opened in 1967. In the 1970s there were more than seven Beecroft discussion groups. Book clubs are usually organised by the members who may all read the same book at the same time, using notes now available on the internet. Another local book club operates by members contributing several books each year, providing a diverse lending library for one another. There is also a book club attached to the local bookshop.
Four or five times a year, the Beecroft Forum meets over dinner at Pennant Hills Golf Club. This originated from the Presbyterian Church but is now under the auspices of MIAT (Major Issues in Australian Theology). The purpose of these dinners, very moderately priced, with a speaker of national standing, is to provoke thought and discussion about issues of ethics and modern life. They are open to anyone to attend.
The Beecroft-Cheltenham district has long been rich in musical talent. Local schools, both primary and secondary, have reputations for high standards in choral and orchestral music. The Beecroft Music Club flourished during the 1960s, but faded with the arrival of television and new opportunities to hear world standard musicians at the Sydney Opera House which opened in 1973. Choirs are generally linked to churches, though there was the Linnet Girls Choir for many years, and a smaller group called the Northside Singers. For over thirty years, a devoted group met each Friday morning for musical appreciation. Each member was expected to research and present at least one session annually, though the strength of the group was the founder who devoted endless time to sourcing recordings of rare works and presenting her research. The Beecroft Orchestra continues to provide for its audience.
Groups for outdoor leisure activities such as walking, bush regeneration and gardening meet regularly. The Civic Trust has a regular spring and autumn walk, usually attended by between fifty and seventy people. The Lapidary Club has long been established at the Community Centre Churches have home Bible study groups and strong networks of caring. Gardens are maintained by rosters of volunteers and occasional working bees to tackle larger tasks. One street has had an
ecumenical Lenten group for twenty years. Catholic, Anglican, and Presbyterian neighbours meet together weekly during Lent to pray and this provides great unity in the street. Annual Christmas street parties are popular, some being on a grand scale. The street which has the Lenten group also had an annual pantomime as part of the Christmas celebrations. This has now ceased but the residents still delight in memories of home-made entertainment.
The Leisure Learning Centre at Beecroft Uniting Church has been a boon for many years, particularly for retirees who have a choice of bridge, Australian History, art appreciation, creative embroidery and mah-jong. Other subjects have been offered when tutors have been available.
Neighbourhood Watch has been active for many years, though at the moment is in recess due to lack of volunteers. The Civic Trust is another very worthwhile group which amongst other interests, lobbies with Hornsby Shire Council and parliamentarians when local interests are at stake. The Civic Trust has achieved a large amount for the district in almost fifty years of service.
With clubs such as Rotary, Probus, View and Lions, the residents of Beecroft and Cheltenham are wonderfully provided for. These groups also provide the ‘social glue’ which keeps the area so focused on retaining all that is good here. Values are maintained and strong family links and friendships through mutual interest groups provide support for residents of all ages.