architecture, cement history, Kandos businesses, social life

Cockroach Castle

Buildings have their history and also their mystery. The name alone, Cockroach Castle, is intriguing. When did the reputation of this building sink so low as to acquire that pejorative? I’m relying on you to fill me in, because I certainly haven’t uncovered the whole story about Hillside.

On 26 September 1918 the Mudgee Guardian informed Kandos community (population a little over 1000) of a new accommodation house. It was being built on the corner of Noyes and an unnamed street (it later became Campbell Street) and the reporter enthused it would be “one of the largest and most commodious buildings of its kind ever constructed in a country town”. A fine asset for the town, situated on three quarter acre blocks, with a commanding view of both the town and cement works, it would provide much needed accommodation and conveniently offer a hot dinner for cement workers in the middle of the day. Who knows, it might induce more people into this “prosperous township where work is plentiful”. Readers were informed that Lithgow bricks were being used to construct two buildings that would have 24 bedrooms; and a social and dining room, that could hold 40 to 50 diners. Given that the only substantial buildings in the town at that time were Kandos Hotel, Kandos Stores, Angus Memorial Hall and Walsh Butchers and Bakers, and most of the place was a bagtown, you can understand why the Mudgee Guardian was excited. No doubt too, someone was a good promoter.

There were three people involved in this enterprise. Mr Alex McLachlan, a cordial maker employed by Tooth & Co in Sydney (and brother I believe of Lachlan McLachlan Rylstone) was the investor. He had already come to an arrangement with Mrs Doris May Crook, a widow from Sydney, to run both the accommodation and dining room, which she named Hillside. I gather McLachlan was financing her venture to the sum of £400, though it was later emphasised she was “the sole proprietress” and “no one in Kandos has any financial interest in the concern”. Readers were assured that she had extensive experience catering for large numbers of men in the city. The contractor, at least till Xmas, was Roydon Murray Service. I’m not sure why he was chosen to oversee the building work, given he was a mechanic and proprietor of Kandos Motor Garage. But country people then, as now, had many fingers in many pies.

There was a lot of hype over the next few months about this new beaut board and lodging place which would soon be available in Kandos – clean, comfy, homely, with good meals and moderate prices. Except the building of it seemed to be going far too slowly. In early December prospective lodgers were urged to get in early. In early January Mrs Crook was offering meals but no accommodation – “bedrooms will be ready shortly”. In February she was ill. And then she had to visit her sick mother in Sydney. So it wasn’t till early April that Mrs Crook was offering board and lodging, “cleanliness and civility our motto”.

One cause for the delay can be found in a court case in May 1919 involving Roy Service trying to recover the sum of £37 from Alex McLachlan. We learn about some dodgy, second-hand roof-iron, poorly erected, an overdrawn account and a falling out between the two men on Xmas day. Service walked out of court with compensation of £10.

But that wasn’t the only problem with the new accommodation, which by the way was not finally completed until September 1919 (or later!) and by then had shrunk to 16 rooms. A month after Mrs Crook was inviting “miners and all working men” to take up board and lodging at Hillside, she put Hillside up for sale. According to the ad it was suitable as a private hospital or boarding house “this up-to-date residence is located on the prettiest and healthiest building site in Kandos”.

She chose that word “healthiest” artfully. This was the year of the influenza epidemic and Mrs Crook’s accommodation had been boycotted, apparently because she made a trip to Sydney on business. According to a Labor News reporterboarder after boarder left without explanation. In his assessment the boarding house on the hill was “a monument to the folly and stupidity of a panic-stricken mob”. But why boycott her, asked the reporter, when members of the “capitalistic class” came and went between Sydney and Kandos as they wanted. According to Mrs Crook, the mines manager Fletcher said that he was asked by the miners to issue an order that “they either had to leave my establishment or leave the job”. Yet Mrs Crook was a Labor supporter and her brother a prominent Laborite in Sydney. Was it the boss or the workers to blame? Or others? Labor News blamed the bosses of course. In any case the result was more ads in June for a clearing sale of “the whole of the plant of her boarding house” – linen, crockery, cutlery, kitchenware, meat safes, a few good fowls, verandah blinds, lino and other articles too numerous to mention.

Mrs Crook left town and Hillside was back in the hands of Alex McLachlan. Building work continued but then in December he too had a sale – of the boarding house and all that was in it, including 24 single beds, mattresses, pillows, blankets and sheets, basins, baskets, crockery and articles too numerous to mention. A month later the roof of six rooms was blown away in a storm. That dodgy iron no doubt.

The O’Briens took over Hillside with Mrs O’Brien running it till 1927, when she passed it to her son and daughter-in-law before moving to Sydney. Before the year was out they had offered the business for sale with five years’ lease and good will. The Binghams took over and ran it for twenty years.

Post World War 2, Kandos, with a booming industry and an influx of refugee workers, once again experienced a housing shortage. That’s when O’Briens put Hillside on the market with an advertisement in the Sydney Morning Herald in March 1948:BRICK BOARDING HOUSE 30 beds 24 boarders at £2 £1,450 VP including furniture
C O BRIEN 15 Campbell Street KANDOS.

Another court case in 1951 shows Hillside was purchased by Teodor Maslovarh and Drag Miletic who found themselves in court for trying to throw out a family. The judge told them they could only remove tenants by legal means and ordered an inspection by the Rent Control Office.

That’s all I can tell you about this intriguing Kandos building but I am sure there are many stories out there. Why don’t you post your comments and memories on www.kandoshistory.com

 

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