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Rediscovering Ginninderra:
Catherine 'Kitty' Rolfe

Born: 1867; Died: 1952; Married: Robert Corkhill

Catherine 'Kitty' Rolfe was the last of the four children born (in 1867) to Edmund Rolfe and his first wife, Margaret [Logue], who died after giving birth to Catherine.

Robert Corkhill was born in 1863 on the Isle of Man in the Irish Sea. In 1883 at age 20 he sailed to Australia and travelled to the Limestone Plains now known as Canberra. He was employed as a groom for the Campbell estate of Duntroon where he remained for many years. His wage was 10 shillings for a six-day working week, and amongst his chores was the collection of rations for Duntroon from Queanbeyan.

In 1893 Corkhill married Catherine (Kitty) Rolfe and moved to a cottage, on the site of the present day National Library of Australia. This property on the south side of the Molonglo River was originally acquired by Sydney merchant, pastoralist and politician Robert Campbell in 1830. The northern tip of this land was leased to Catherine's grandparents Bryan and Margaret Logue who had managed the Duntroon dairy since 1845. In 1857 the Logues and their family moved to the cottage. It was a small, lime-washed, four-room slab house with corrugated iron roof. Adjacent was a two-room detached slab kitchen and an open-sided slab cart shed. Bryan died in 1860 and Margaret remarried John Crinigan in 1863. When Catherine Corkhill (nee Rolfe) was born at Springbank in 1867, her 24 year-old mother died soon after the birth, and Catherine was brought up at the slab cottage by her grandmother, Margaret Crinigan.

In a 1900 directory, Corkhill was listed as a grazier, dairyman and wheat grower. Over 10 years, he and his wife raised 10 children at the cottage that was also home of Margaret and John Crinigan till their deaths in 1899 and 1904.

Commonwealth acquisition of the Duntroon estate in 1913 prompted the family to move downstream into the Yarralumla dairy on land formerly leased from Frederick Campbell as part of the Yarralumla estate. There they occupied a two storey home built in 1889 that they renamed Riverview. For nearly 50 years the Corkhill Dairy supplied milk to Canberra until the herd of 175 cattle were auctioned in 1961. Both properties occupied by the Corkhills were eventually covered with water when Lake Burley Griffin was formed in 1964.

Catherine Corkhill died in Canberra in 1952 at the age of 85 and was buried at Queanbeyan. Aged 91 years, Robert Corkhill died in Sydney in 1954 and was buried at Queanbeyan. They were a distinct feature of Catholic life in Canberra by helping to raise funds for church buildings in Queanbeyan and the new parish of Canberra in 1928. They were also renowned for charity in offering work and feeding the needy during the years of the Great Depression.

Many Corkhill descendants are still prominent in the Canberra community. Corkhill Street is located 300 metres north of pasture occupied by the Corkhills 1893-1913.

Corkhill Bros a proud Canberra business for 65 years

The Canberra Business Chamber is looking for the national capital's oldest surviving businesses and among those recognised so far is Corkhill Bros, born from necessity when it became clear the family dairy farm would eventually be covered by Lake Burley Griffin. Brothers Brian and Patrick Corkhill started Corkhill Bros in 1954, the same year a young Queen Elizabeth visited Australia, Marilyn Monroe married baseball player Joe DiMaggio and Bill Haley and His Comets recorded Rock Around the Clock.

Sixty-five years later, Brian Corkhill, 84, is still a daily fixture at the Hume office, the business busy with its original work of earthmoving but also small subdivision projects and, in more recent years, the processing of green waste. The business now has 48 employees, including three generations of the Corkhill family. Patrick very sadly died on June 18 this year aged 81, still working until his death on the family's other rural holdings around the region, including Gundaroo.

Brian Corkhill said the family had a dairy farm originally near the current location of the National Library. It later moved to Westridge aka Yarralumla, between the current sites of the Albert Hall and National Museum. The Corkhill dairy supplied Canberra with milk for nearly 50 years, until work started on Lake Burley Griffin in 1962. But Brian and Patrick, seeing the writing on the wall, went ahead with Corkhill Bros in 1954, with just one truck. "We knew we had a limited life on the farm," Mr Corkhill said. "We had one truck and we couldn't get enough work." They went as far afield as Gundagai to look for work and eventually brought a front-end loader back to Canberra where the growing national capital eventually provided steady business.

"We've done very well," Mr Corkhill said. "We've had good times and bad times. It's a very competitive business. We use some very expensive equipment but we've battled through for 65-odd years. "Canberra has been very good to us." Since 1973, Corkhill Bros have owned and operated Corkhill Bros Landscaping Supplies from the Mugga Lane recycling plant, a business that turns green waste into compost and mulch. "We end up with about 70 per cent of Canberra's green waste," he said, including that from the new green bins. "The biggest thing is contamination [of the green bins]. One plastic bag causes an enormous amount of trouble. But people have been very good."

The Canberra Business Chamber is celebrating its 70th birthday this year and wants to celebrate the city's longest running businesses. Chamber CEO Dr Michael Schaper said there were businesses still trading even before the national capital existed. "Some of our existing Chamber members have particularly long life spans. These include Corkhill Brothers (established 1954), WR Engineering (1967), and Watson Blinds & Awnings (founded 1969)," he said. "These survivors have made it against the odds. Most businesses only have a relatively short lifespan. The average life expectancy of a business based in Canberra is still only about five years. "But we also know many businesses thrive and grow. We want to find the oldest surviving businesses." The oldest businesses will be celebrated at the Chamber's annual gala dinner, to be held on November 7 at the National Museum

[Canberra Times, 30 Sept 2019]

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