ACT News


Winning the fight for Hall

Jimmy Rochford, OAM, of Hall is 99 and so, like Canberra, will reach his centenary this year. This columnist had the privilege of interviewing him. Most of the resulting yarn was in Tuesday's paper but here is just a little more about Mr Rochford and his times.

He was born on August 10, 1913, at his family's ''Forest View'' property at Jeir near Hall, and is so venerable that the world and the Australia he was born into are almost unrecognisable to us today.

When he was born, Australia's population wasn't yet 5 million and George V, born in 1865, was king.

The Great War of 1914-1918 that was to shape and transform Australia wasn't imagined and no Australians, other than perhaps an occasional geography teacher, had ever heard the word Gallipoli.

In 1913 in George V's Britain, women still didn't have the vote.

About nine weeks before Mr Rochford's birth, the suffragette Emily Davison died under the hooves of the king's horse at the Epsom Derby on June 4, 1913. Meanwhile, in British prisons, hunger-striking suffragettes were being force-fed.


Mr Rochford's long life has been achieved despite the fact that, in 1913, the average life expectancy for men was less than 60 years.

He was born into sickly times and in the week of his birth the largest issue under discussion in Australia was whether or not the controversial, experimental vaccination of children would save them from smallpox.

Even his family's local paper, Queanbeyan Age incorporating the Bungendore Mirror and Captain's Flat Miner, was discussing the smallpox matter, although it was giving more space to excited discussion, under the banner headline ''Another wild beast scare - the Jerrabomberra lion'', of the latest monster to emerge from the bush and leave citizens ashen-faced.

The leonine monstrosity had confronted a wholly sober and reliable witness, Mr Brook, at Jerrabomberra near Queanbeyan.

In that same week the Age, very Canberra-conscious (just a few weeks earlier Lady Denman had announced the city's name) reported the opinion of London's Pall Mall Gazette that Australia's proposed city was ''far too grandiose, for Canberra will never be much more than a minor township invested with a false importance''. Has the Gazette been proven right?

Another thing one notices from the Age of 1913 is that little James Rochford was born into a horse-powered world in which the newfangled motor car seemed hardly, yet, to be leaving a tyre print.

Every second advertisement in the Age was for blacksmiths, wheelwrights and coach builders and others engaged in horsey work.

A 1911 census of the human and animal contents of the Federal Territory had shown that there were more horses (1785) than folk (1714).

While reminiscing about early Hall, Mr Rochford said: ''They were horse-and-buggy days.

''I was part of the transition away from horses, part of the change over, because I started to sell motor cars [from his garage] after [World War II] and we sold trucks and repaired engines and so forth.''

Some of Rochford's greatest achievements in his long life in our district have been deeds done for the village of Hall.

He had always lived there (in our conversation he fancied, smiling at the thought, that if he could start all over again he'd go to live somewhere ''not so damn cold'') and after returning from the war started to fight the good fight for Hall.

Hall belonged to the Territory but, somehow, being ''out of sight and out of mind'', was being denied all the boons of civilisation, things such as electricity and mains water.

History shows that his principled persistence worked wonders.

''Jim Fraser [1908-1970 and federal Labor member for the Capital Territory from 1951 to 1970] was our main help,'' Mr Rochford said. ''He was a good man for Hall, and a good man for every battler, for every underdog.''

Yes, there's another good Canberran (remembered in the electorate of Fraser and the suburb of Fraser) who will deserve some limelight in this year in which Jimmy Rochford will be awarded his deserved centenary medallion.