From Lochaber Farm to Al Siraat College

8 September 2023

Last week, we welcomed two very special guests from the family that once owned the lands upon which Al Siraat College now resides, Mr Ken Turnbull Smith and his daughter Norma.

Ken explained that he was born in the heritage listed cottage that the College has preserved, alongside the bluestone barn, which was once used for hand milking cows, twenty at a time. The barn has since been extended, renovated and transformed into the College Musalla (Islamic prayer space) for the students and school community. Ken explained that he used to play in the creek behind the cottage as a child and remembered doing many chores, like feeding the cows, as a child on Lochaber farm.

Ken, now 90 years old, explained that the farm was purchased as 100 acres by his grandfather, Robert Smith in 1884, who had named it "Lochaber Farm". It was named after the scenic Lochaber Hills in Inverness, Scotland, that it reminded him of, reflecting the family's Scottish heritage.

Robert himself was born near the Lochaber Hills in Scotland, and his family's journey to Australia aboard the Oliver Lang in 1854 marked the beginning of a remarkable chapter. The Smiths initially settled at Rosehill in Mernda in 1869 before relocating to Lochaber. Robert's early years at Lochaber were marked by hard work as he cut and sold red gum firewood to fund the farm's development. Over time, the farm diversified, venturing into dairying and hay cropping. Robert's hay was a sought-after commodity, making its way to the Haymarket at Flemington Road and Royal Parade in Carlton. The farm also cultivated maize and mangles.

The heart of Lochaber was its dairy operations, where cows were hand-milked in the bluestone barn, capable of accommodating twenty cows at a time, two on either side. The dairy farm sustained the family.

Ken explained that Robert was one of the first advocates to introduce electricity to Epping and remembers the times when gas lamps used to light the streets and the post office.

The Smith family's dedication extended beyond the farm. Roy Smith, one of Robert's sons, served as a Councillor for the Shire of Whittlesea from 1930 to 1943. The Smith family's influence extended beyond their immediate circle. Robert’s tenth child, Hazel, grew up to marry George Sinclair of Sydney. Their son, Ian Sinclair, went on to become Deputy Prime Minister of Australia.

While Lochaber Farm has undergone changes over the years, its historical significance remains undeniably strong. The design and construction of the house and barn hint at a German influence, leaving us curious about the property's origins before the Smith family's acquisition in 1884.

Al Siraat College today is a thriving school community, first founded by husband-and-wife team Mr Fazeel and Ms Rahat Arain in 2009. Al Siraat College is a co-educational independent school offering classes from Foundation to Year 12 and takes pride in offering students an educational environment based on Islamic ethos and values.