Charles McKern, son of Irish-born parents, was born in Newtown, Sydney, in 1859 and grew up in that suburb. In 1882 he married Emily White, aged 20, and in 1903 they moved to Beecroft with their children Francis (born 1886), Muriel Joyce (born 1895) and Norah (born 1901). Their sixth child, Charles Jr, was born in Beecroft in 1904, two other sons having died in infancy.
In 1904 Charles and Emily purchased a house at 40 Hannah Street, Beecroft, located on more than half an acre of land. The weatherboard cottage was on brick foundations with a roof of slate and iron. A veranda ran on three sides and the kitchen and laundry were a separate building with a cellar underneath. The McKerns built a tennis court in the large back garden. It was reputed that the cottage had originally been built for the manager of Herring’s orchard, planted in the late 1880s on twelve acres of land nearby.
Charles became Chief Examiner of the Treasury Department where he served for 43 years. His five brothers also had many years in Public Service administration.
Music was a vital part of Charles’s life, both as a tenor with the Sydney Philharmonia Society and as a conductor of light orchestras. When the Beecroft Musical Society was formed in 1907, he was appointed honorary conductor, a post he retained for many years. The society grew to become a musical and dramatic society and with his friend Clement Meadmore, Charles McKern produced many Gilbert and Sullivan operettas and other light musical works. Often rehearsals were held at the McKern home, with Mrs Emily McKern at the piano. When their daughters were old enough they took over the accompanist’s work. In 1914 Muriel and Norah were amongst pupils of a piano teacher, Miss Williams, who gave a recital in the School of Arts.
The Musical and Dramatic Society went into recess during the war years 1914-1918 when patriotic functions were deemed more important. However on 30 November 1918, not long after the Armistice, the local newspaper reported that Charles McKern ‘may revive the Musical and Dramatic Society’. This was done, and it flowered and reached its greatest heights and popularity during the 1920s.
Charles also enjoyed church music and conducted the Beecroft Presbyterian Church choir. The congregation presented him a gold watch and chain as a mark of appreciation in 1911. His sons Frank and Charles helped her father with his musical productions and were able to continue after their marriages, as Frank moved only as far as Thornleigh and Charles to Eastwood. Norah, who married Robert Slingsby of Beecroft, was also talented musically and sang at church functions.