Until World War 2 or thereabouts, the most significant distinguishing differences to describe children in Beecroft and Cheltenham was to look at the economic status of children and then, only once that distinction was made, is it important to look at differences between boys and girls.

The children of most families in the district went to primary school from the earliest of days after Beecroft became a Village. However it was only the children of the wealthier families who went on to high school or further learning. For those children attending post-primary education in the district then this was provided by the various dame and similar small schools. With no high school in the immediate area the children of the elite families often went to a private school or government schools at Burwood, Sydney and North Sydney. Children of the non-elite families went to work.

Even when at primary school the children of the non-elite were expected to contribute to the wellbeing of the family by undertaking chores including collecting coal from the railway line. They wore clothes that were cut down adult clothes – except for their shoes which could not be cut down and so many went bare foot [1]. However, of the photographs of pupils of Beecroft Public School in its early years there are a few showing students in bare feet [2]. Few of these families had pets. Most slept with their siblings inside a small home, with dirt floors, a single open fireplace and with no privacy. 

In 1906, when Mr Tye massacred people near Pennant Hills Railway Station those killed were two children because they were the ones out working – these were Gordon Pettett (only a 9 year old) who was delivering milk from the family dairy and Tos Aitken doing grocery deliveries [3]. In 1917 Master Brown, a primary school aged child, was killed by a draught horse that he was seeking to control while helping his brother at the Beecroft saw mill [4].

All children played cricket and swam in local swimming holes of Devlins Creek. All Protestant children attended Sunday School.

As noted above, the children of elite families (whether boys or girls) invariably went on to secondary school – some (like Crawford) with scholarships. They often had tuition in music or attended groups. In 1898 the local paper reported: “For some time past, Mr Dobbie, who is very popular in the District, has been giving boys in the neighbourhood gratuitous tuition in singing, and provided general recreation for them at his house. The result of these efforts has been so gratifying and successful that the ‘subjects’ of them determined to mark their appreciation of his good offices. Accordingly, Mr Dobbie found himself a guest at Mr Melbourne Green’s residence on Saturday night, and was made the recipient of a case of pipes, an expression of regard which he suitably acknowledged. A very pleasant evening was afterwards spent” [5].

All of these children were taught to play a variety of sports, to ride and to shoot. Most houses had their own tennis court. They often slept on an open verandah (as this was the healthier option) but had rooms inside for reading or playing a piano. They had birthday parties, picnicked and even went to the movies: between 1900 and 1910 Esme Bowman (nee Connell) remembered (with terror and amusement) that she had been tied to the railway line by her four older brothers about the time the silent movies came into vogue and in line with the hero and heroine themes of those movies [6].

As these children grew older, girls concentrated on languages and the arts and invariably attended smaller schools where this was the emphasis. The boys had schools chosen to assist with building a group of friends who would advance their careers in commerce. A smaller (but not inconsiderable group in Beecroft and Cheltenham, like Blackwood, Crawford or Lawrie) went on to university.

Adolescence became generally identifiable in Sydney life from the 1880s until 1914. With this, for boys, came the arrival of the larrikin and the ‘Push’ – even to Beecroft:

   “Constable Kelly’s presence and reputation are having a wholesome effect upon the Beecroft talent. His sudden and unexpected appearance at the railway station on Saturday night had rather an amusing result. “The push” had arrived “back home” in various stages of jubilation – one of their number was so “jubilant” that he had to be partially carried out of the train by his comrades. They were so electrified by Constable Kelly’s sudden appearance and business-like air that they were sobered in a moment.  Even the man who was being carried found that he could walk and behave “like a toff” “[7].

The police response to juvenile crime even led to charges of police brutality:

   “Police Inspector Latimer visited Thornleigh on Tuesday in connection with the investigation into the complaint lodged against Constable Wade, who succeeded Constable Kelly at Beecroft. Some short time ago    two youths were arrested by Constable Wade upon the charge of having stolen a watermelon, and pending the arrival of the train by which he intended to convoy them to the Ryde lock-up, he handcuffed them and chained them up to a log at the Beecroft Police Station” [8].

For girls and young women, this was not the time to be an unmarried mother:

“In 1917 a car was heard entering Welham Street early one Sunday morning and later a new born baby was found by a couple walking to church. It was a little girl who had been recently born but did not appear to have been attended by a doctor at the time of birth. She was admitted to Waitara Foundling Hospital at Hornsby” [9]. 

Following World War 2, life for all children became more uniform in this district. Primary school attendance was more regular and continued to be nearby. The number of small schools going on to secondary education (with exceptions like Arden or Beecroft Grammar, the latter of which survived until the mid 1960s) had declined resulting in most children of the same age attending a smaller range of schools and so most knew each other at school. Everyone was also now attending secondary school. Before the late 1950s with the opening of Cheltenham Girls, Epping and Normanhurst Boys, there were high schools at Hornsby and Homebush. Sports like tennis, football (mostly league and soccer) and cricket were played formally or informally at home. The Bush was always close at hand and this led to swimming in pools, tree houses and games in the Bush.

From the 1940s Alan Tierney remembers:

“At the start of the bushland when entered from Welham Street, there was a sandstone rock shelf and cliff and a few metres in front of the cliff a large tree with a horizontal branch parallel to the cliff edge. Someone had secured a thick rope to the branch and at its free end there was a knot tied to form a seat. A swing was operated by holding the rope just above the knot and as one jumped off the cliff bringing one’s legs either side of the rope above the seat. The boy, mostly, but sometime girl, could swing as long as they liked and conclude the adventure by easing off the knot when the rope was sufficiently over the rock shelf to do so” [10].

From the 1950s Peter Stace remembers mostly his dog Jip, but also:

“Elephant rock is a lump of sandstone that looked like a baby elephant with the trunk hidden; its eye looking up the hill to the bush’s entrance from Austral Avenue. This edifice was often the command centre for all sorts of games and the lookout for the Martins, the gang from across the creek.

Council rock is near the Second Beecroft scout hut where we could look over a small clearing and hold discussions and other important meetings. It was also a great place to just sit and enjoy the spirit of the place, as it was away from the tracks and other people walking through the bush.

The dry stone circles were useful as forts. However the stone circles are now gone under the toll way.

Another important feature was the network of tracks where we could run and ride our bikes.

The creek itself was an important place but we didn’t swim in it [11], as everyone’s septic tank ran into it and it stank.

Beecroft bush also had “The Martins” another gang. The Martins lived somewhere on Murray Farm Road, on the other side of the Bush. We were forever having wars with the Martins. I am sure that they were fun-loving young people, just as we were, but they lived on the other side of the creek and we were a little uncertain of them” [12].

Youth clubs were common following World War 1 up until the 1960s. Mr Lesley George Drewitt (Squire) Nathan (1883-1966) established the St Johns Boys Club in about 1915 and a girls club in 1920. It met in the old Presbyterian Church Hall. It had physical culture – marching, exercises, mats, vaulting, boxing and games. During the 1950s almost 100 regular attendances would be there each week. Mrs O Seale would play (until the late 1950s) the piano while the boys did exercises. The boys club closed in 1960. Mr Nathan was awarded an OBE for his endeavours [13].

In the 1960s and 1970s Louise Baur of Mary Street Beecroft remembers having fights with other children in the street by throwing cotoneaster berries at each other. They also marked out in chalky (or soft sandstone) hop scotch squares on concrete footpaths. While David Hope remembers flying down Hannah Street in a home made billycart heading west from his family home at 50 Hannah Street “racing across Hull Road hoping no cars would come – you had about two seconds to look and bail out”[14].

The 1960s and 1970s saw the growth of new housing estates in Beecroft and West Pennant Hills and this in turn led to a growth of children in the area. While Beecroft had a milkbar there was little other evidence of the commercialisation of teen culture deriving from the arrival of rock’n roll in the 1950s. Some years later, recognising the need to support local youth, The Student Nook was opened by Corinne McBurney. This catered for a revived interest in music, before expanding into books, instruments and other items and generally providing a place to gather: and much guitar strumming. Her husband Jack later recalled that there was little demand for heavy metal [15]!


[1]        J Kociumbas, Australian Childhood: a history (Allen & Unwin, St Leonards, 1997) p 113.

[2]        One example is Beecroft and Cheltenham History Group, Beecroft and Cheltenham: The Shaping of a Sydney Community to 1914 (Beecroft Cheltenham History Group, Beecroft, 1995) p 157.

[3]        For more information on this incident see elsewhere on this website under Police.

[4]        Cumberland Argus and Fruitgrowers Advocate, 21 February 1917 p. 2

[5]        Cumberland Argus and Fruitgrowers Advocate, 12 November 1898

[6]        “Together again 71 years on” Northern District Times, 1 June 1988 p17.

[7]        Cumberland Argus and Fruitgrowers Advocate, 14 May 1898

[8]        Cumberland Argus and Fruitgrowers Advocate, 28 April 1900

[9]        Cumberland Argus and Fruitgrowers Advocate, 10 January 1917 p.3.   

[10]      A Tierney, A Beecroft Childhood, memories of the 1940s (self published, 2011) pp65-66

[11]      The last regular child swimming in Devlins Creek appears to have been in the early 1940s. The Byles and other families remember swimming in it decades before: A Tierney A Beecroft Childhood, memories of the 1940s (self published, 2011) p. 92.

[12]      P Stace, That fabulous dog called Jip (self published, undated c 2018) p. 10

[13]      Northern District Times 19 January 1966 “Death of Beecroft Youth Worker”; Correspondence of Don B Stubbin to Alan Tierney February 1987.

[14]      Northern District Times, 7 November 2018.

[15]      See the separate articles on this web site on Music and McBurney’s The Student Nook under Particular Stores.