Keck the public man

James Lerk | Bendigo Weekly | 12-Oct-2017

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THE high profile that Herbert Keck had attained, not only locally but also Victoria wide and beyond, has been clearly demonstrated over the months since I started this series.

At the local level Keck’s nursery and orchard was a delight for those who wished to obtain quantities of freshly grown fruit and vegetables. 

Also, the provision of trees for public and private gardens like those at Fortuna, palms at the Ironbark Tennis Club, The Palms at Epsom and many located in suburban

allotments. 

When some of Keck’s land was sold off some five decades ago the estate for housing was appropriately called The Palms.

Keck was very actively involved in the Spring Gully Anglican Church of St Phillip’s, in fact Herbert helped in the late 1890s, to initiate its construction. 

Well-attended garden parties were held at his property to raise money for the building of St Phillips. 

Some of the St Paul’s Sunday school’s windows were incorporated into the weather board building. 

A few years after Keck’s passing in mid 1937, the weatherboard St Phillips was moved to the corner of Sommerville and Hallam streets forming the nucleus of Holy Trinity, now located appropriately in Keck Street, Flora Hill. 

Keck was the choir master at St Phillips for a number of years, later to be followed by Eva Hibberd.

Active support for the Girl Guide and Scouting movement was manifest through the provision on Keck’s land of a large dam that could be used for swimming. 

There were log cabin type structures built for the scouts as well as a stone Girl Guide hut so they had facilities to utilise which were well out of town. 

He was presented with a special badge of recognition by wife of the Governor, Lady Somers, who headed the Girl Guides in Victoria, Keck valued this simple badge above the many splendid trophies that he had been awarded. 

There was also strong and practical support for the YWCA.

Starting in 1898, Keck was elected to the Strathfieldsaye Shire Council, serving on that municipal body for 38 years. Keck was president of the shire in 1903/4, 1912/13, 1918/19, 1927/28 and 1936/37. 

Just before Keck’s passing in June 1937 he introduced the shire secretary Mr RB Brennan to the Minister for Public Works to lobby for funds for a replacement bridge over Mosquito Creek, this was successful.

When the new bridge was completed it was named in Keck’s honour as a memorial. 

Fellow councillors at Strathfieldsaye had a very high opinion of Keck and his commitment and support in parliament for his home area.

The Bendigo Province was the seat that Herbert Keck was elected to represent beginning October 1, 1921, he held the seat up until June 1, 1937. 

During the time as the MLC Keck was a strong advocate and promoter of irrigation, wanting an effective Department of Agriculture where he was always pushing for inspectors particularly to help eliminate pests and diseases. 

Keck was additionally keen on strict quarantine requirements, which was both a state and national responsibility.

It was natural for him to be on the committee and a Life Governor of the Bendigo Agricultural Show Society, his role with the Horticultural Society has previously been noted.

To quote from the Victorian Centenary Book, “One of the outstanding traits of his character is his sincerity. He is not merely a simple and conspicuous Australian, but one of the true Liberal Imperialists…His public life like his private life – irreproachable”.

Keck pioneered the production of tobacco in the north of this state his contribution to the citrus industry has been immeasurable having not only his own orchard but having supplied hundreds of thousands of trees.

One would imagine that such an active public man would have little or no time for himself, however he was a keen lawn bowler, playing for at that time the prestigious Bendigo Club.

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