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Rediscovering Ginninderra:
Keith Kilby

Born: 1898; Died: 1976; Married: Eunice Smith

The brothers Kilby

Athol and Keith Kilby were born less than 18 months apart at The Falls, close to the Ginninderra Falls, now West Belconnen in the ACT. They were the first two of eight children born to James Kilby and Beatrice Kilby (nee Southwell). Keith was the elder brother, born on the 31st January 1898 and Athol was born on the 28th May 1899.

They moved to Hall village in 1905 after a disastrous bushfire and lived at Eneagh Hill on the edge of the Village opposite St Francis Xavier church. When Hall School opened in 1911 they both attended and completed their primary school education there.

They both enlisted in 1918 and embarked as reinforcements for the 12th Light Regiment in Egypt, October 1918. An article, 'Honouring Our Soldier Boys', in the Queanbeyan Age and Observer 1 October 1918 noted that:

A large and representative gathering from all parts of the district assembled at Kinlyside's Hall, on Monday night to show their esteem and admiration for the two youngest soldiers who have left our neighbourhood so far for the Front. Troopers K and A Kilby were reared in the vicinity of hall and are universal favourites with all ages and classes. Their popularity is evidenced by the fact that no less than four presentations were made prior to their departure from the district: Methodist Church, Hall School and two public presentations.
Keith and Athol thanked the people for their honour they had done them and said 'they would endeavour to do their bit, and live up to the great reputation made by the boys at the Front. Athol remarked that they had now been in camp a good while [ ed. they had enlisted in June] and they found it not a bad place and could recommend it to other young chaps who would like to have a try.

The brothers sailed for Suez, Egypt on the SS Malta on 16th October, arriving less than two weeks later on 22 November. By then the Armistice having been signed and the war declared over, they returned to Australia the following August. Although they didn't see action, it was an experience they shared and both returned to Australia in 1919. A welcome home party was hosted for the soldier brothers in October 1919 at the Wattle Park Methodist Church.

On their return they both worked as an assistant to the surveyors setting out the new capital – Canberra - and assisted their father James at Parkwood with the seasonal harvest - developing farming skills that would stand them in good stead in later years.

During the Great War state governments realised the importance of providing an income for returning soldiers & recognised the personal & family sacrifices made by them. In 1916 the New South Wales Legislative Council & Assembly passed the Returned Soldiers Settlement Act. Soldiers were eligible to apply for Crown Land if they had served overseas with Australian Imperial Forces or the British Defence Force.

In 1923 Athol, and then Keith, applied for Soldier Settlement leases and within months of each other signed their leases, ready to become farmers and graziers. Their lives remained closely intertwined and they came to operate a very successful business enterprise together as A.C. & K.K. Kilby.

Athol Kilby was the first to apply for land, describing himself in January 1923 as a surveyor's chainman who was reared on the land and with a good knowledge of sheep and farming. He listed Belconnen Blocks 2, 2A and 3, a total area of 395 acres (160 hectares), as his first preferences. Although owned by the Commonwealth, Belconnen Block 2A was on the NSW side of the border while Belconnen Block 2 was a triangle of land within the Federal Capital Territory (FCT) near Hall Cemetery. Athol Kilby signed a lease for 25 years from the 14th June 1923 at an annual rent of £39/6/6. He later built a house on his land that he called Homeleigh.

Keith Kilby applied for land a month after Athol listing Belconnen Block 1 of 390 acres (158 hectares) as his first preference. Like Athol, he described himself as a surveyor's chainman who was reared on the land. Presumably they worked together, something which they would do as graziers. Belconnen Block 1, previously Portion 122 in the Parish of Ginninderra, was actually in NSW and leased to Kilby for 25 years from the 14th June 1923. He built a two bedroom house on the land which he called Lochleigh.

Through hard work, the brothers prospered and they would become two of the foremost wool producers in the district. However, when they began they only held 770 acres (312 hectares) between them and like other rural lessees they were looking for additional land to make a decent living. In 1927, they acquired the 535 acre (217 hectares) Belconnen Block 13 (on the ACT/NSW border near Parkwood) from Harold Bingley, another returned soldier.
Both brothers got married around this time, Athol marrying Eunice Smith in June 1927 and Keith marrying Ruth Smart in September 1928.

In 1935, they paid £1200 for the 259 acre (105 hectare) Belconnen Block 7. This block was originally leased to another returned serviceman, Eric Bondfield, in 1923. Then in 1931, the Kilby brothers acquired Belconnen Blocks 28 and 28A of around 580 acres (235 hectares) north of Ginninderra Creek. This area is now covered by the suburbs of Evatt and McKellar. These blocks were not part of the Soldier Settlement Scheme.

The Depression of the 1930s hurt all rural lessees around the FCT but the Kilbys were able to meet their rental obligations on time. As a result they were given a temporary rebate of 1.69% per annum on the total amount of rent paid from the 1st January 1930 to the 30th June 1933 which was credited to their account annually. They were prosperous enough in 1935 to make an offer to the Commonwealth for the freehold title of lands they leased which were in New South Wales (Belconnen Blocks 1, 2A and 3). The offer was rejected, and again in 1937. They eventually prevailed paying £2372/10 for the three blocks in February 1940. The remaining land was leased through to the 30th June 1958. However, in 1956 the brothers were advised that Belconnen Blocks 28 and 28A would be resumed for use by the CSIRO.

The Kilby brothers became well known in the district as successful farmers and graziers. In earlier times the brothers would employ a contractor who supplied the shearers and a cook. The men would live in the shearers' quarters and were supplied with food from the Hall village shop owned at the time by Ross H. Brown. Athol Kilby was a qualified wool classer and the wool was rolled and pressed on location and baled up ready for market at Goulburn, where record prices were offered for the fine Merino wool.

Their breeding success started early. Athol was 'a good judge of an animal' and he experimented with flock rams from the Eshcol Stud owned by T Starr and Sons which produced 'ideal ewes for the Ginninderra District: large-framed cutting dense, bright wool.' Their stock of ewes was supplemented with purchases from Merryville. By 1936 they were shearing 2,400 Merino sheep and winning the Farmer & Settler Merino Ewe competition.

In September 1950 the Kilby Brothers won the ACT Merino Ewe Competition with '2 tooth and 4 tooth ewes that had nice open faces, were well grown, with good conformation and fairly deep frames'.

The brothers were very active in village life: committed to the Wattle Park Church, committeemen who organised the first Hall Show in 1925, the forerunner to the Royal Canberra Show, Life members of the National Capital Agricultural Society, volunteers with the Bush Fire brigade and the National Sheep Dog Trials. Athol Kilby died on the 2nd September 1962. Keith Kilby retired to suburban Hackett and died on the 28th March 1976 in Canberra.

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