Keck on the council

James Lerk | Bendigo Weekly | 24-Aug-2017

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Even before Herbert Keck had sufficient spare time, independent financial means and had become a well known public figure, he was thinking about the myriad ways in which he could serve the public.

At different times ratepayers in the Shire of Strathfieldsaye had broached the subject of Keck making himself available to serve on their council. 

It was not until the middle of June 1898 that he announced publicly that he was intending to stand as a candidate for the Mandurang Ward. 

He was going to oppose the sitting member for the ward, councillor John Young, who had been on the council for 14 years.

In the early 1880s Young was among the group from Strathfieldsaye that challenged the claim of the Huntly Shire to secure all the water held in the two Grassy Flat reservoirs. 

The shire lobbied Charles Young, Minister for Water Supply putting forward a Water Trust Scheme that would provide more irrigation water in their municipal area. 

The few years before 1882 had been extremely dry bringing drought conditions and so anything to do with water for the farmers, vignerons and horticulturalists was of grave importance. 

The drought broke, but arguments remained about the potential cost to ratepayers of the shire running a Water Trust on their own.

Campaigning for the seat of Mandurang, Keck chose the same methods that were common in 1898 period by using the meeting rooms of hotels. 

In one instance in August he addressed about 40 ratepayers at the One Tree Hill Hotel. Only property owners were eligible to stand for council and it was a purely honorary role. 

However this did not prevent Keck from stating some very democratic ideas about anyone with the necessary qualifications should be able to stand as a candidate.

Among the policies that Keck was espousing was to do all the works in the shire by contractors and contract labour.

He mentioned that it frequently happened that the clerk of works drew up specifications for particular works, and as the work was being undertaken, along would come a councillor to change the way the work was being done. Often this type of interference was to be of advantage to the particular councillor.

Keck also gave an address at Catherine Hall’s Specimen Hill Hotel. 

This too was a well attended meeting of predominantly miners, they listened attentively to his proposition of road surface improvement by using quartz, he arguing that it was far better lasting as a road metal than gravel. 

The miners knew that he was right, for the cart tracks taking stone to the crushing batteries was always strewn with quartz by the mining companies. 

Voting was on Thursday, August 25 1898, with Louis Samuels the returning officer for the riding, co-incidentally he also held one of the seats on council. 

At the declaration of the poll by Samuels the following figures were read out, there were 243 eligible voters, of them 201 cast a vote. It was observed that there was a large proportion of women that had voted.

At the Diamond Hill booth, Keck polled 54 votes and Young 32, at the Mandurang booth 106 votes were cast, Keck, 50 and Young 56. Keck had received a total of 113 votes and Young 88 which was a sizeable margin.

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