Category Archives: Roads

They call it Shank’s Pony

It’s said that if you’re not careful, waving a red flag could get you a visit from the pointy end of a very angry bull. That’s if you’re unlucky enough to find a member of that bovine species with its horns down and tail up, charging past when you happen to be holding one. Yet in the 19th century a red flag could be the herald of something quite different and in practice, rather more sedate.

The extraordinary 1865 Locomotive Act of Great Britain, sometimes known as the “Red Flag Act”, was an old law that required a man to precede at walking pace all steam powered vehicles on the open road and to carry a red flag or lantern as a warning while doing so. It developed in the middle years of the 19th century after intense lobbying from horse-drawn carriage operators and the railway industry in what was seen even then as a cynical attempt to stifle legitimate competition to their services. The Act gave local authorities unprecedented powers over speed limits which were set between 4 and 2 mph and the authority to specify the hours during which steam vehicles might use the roads, the combined effect of which was to limit the rise of steam powered road transport throughout Britain and her Empire for decades. It was enough to take the puff out of what has otherwise been called, “The Steam Age”.

Towards the end of the century, with motoring innovation and the use of the new-fangled internal combustion engine gathering pace, the Red Flag Act was seen for what it was. A patently absurd anachronism. The Act was amended and in 1896 finally repealed, after which time experimental steam transport was finally free to develop and operate unhindered.

By then it was nearly too late for road steam but all the same there were still some who were willing to try. Thomas Clarkson began producing steam buses at his Moulsham Works in Chelmsford, England at about this time with the company’s prospectus declaring that, “The Chelmsford motor omnibuses are steam propelled, and… are entirely free from smell, noise, and vibration.” The Clarkson vehicles had a two-cylinder horizontal engine with a tubular boiler and a working pressure of between 150 and 250psi and averaged almost 4 miles to a gallon of paraffin fuel.

Victorian Railways No.1 steam charabanc at the Plenty Bridge Hotel, c1905, (Laurie Daniel Collection, Museums Victoria).

At the dawn of the new century A G Webster & Son of Hobart imported a number of these Clarkson omnibuses to Australia and several were adopted by the state railways for use in passenger services on the roads. This photograph of a Clarkson vehicle parked outside the Plenty Bridge Hotel in Lower Plenty opposite Yallambie was taken in 1905, possibly during a proving exercise in that year. Another photograph apparently from the same series shows the same vehicle on a timber covered road, perhaps somewhere in the Upper Yarra or Upper Plenty area, localities the vehicle presumably might have travelled through after leaving the Plenty Bridge. A closer inspection of this photograph appears to show an indigenous member of the party in the middle of the group, looking away from the camera, fourth from the right. Could this photograph have been taken during a visit to the Coranderrk Aboriginal Enterprise near Healesville?

Victorian Railways No.1 steam charabanc stopped beside an up country road, c1905, (Laurie Daniel Collection, Museums Victoria).

In the other picture, the Plenty Bridge picture, Edward Joseph Rigby has been identified seated in the driver’s seat. His son, Edward Jr is standing at the rear of the vehicle along from his mother. Rigby Sr was an engineer and early motoring enthusiast, being a foundation member of the Royal Automobile Club of Victoria. It is believed that he was responsible for the elegant chassis construction of the Clarkson vehicles used in Melbourne.

Six Clarkson vehicles were ordered by the Victorian Railways but they were used for only a short period after proving unreliable in service. Steam transport in Victoria at this time was largely limited to the tried and true uses employed to such good effect by the railways, to which industry it was ideally suited and well established throughout the world.

The story of the early railways in the Heidelberg district reads as a chequered tale. The lack of regional progress throughout the latter part of the 19th century has been blamed mainly on the lack of an efficient, direct route into the north east, the result of protracted councils’ infighting and disagreement over the form such a railway should take and the route it should follow. Getting a train to Heidelberg in the early days involved a juggling act with timetables and a backwards and forwards movement along spur lines before there was even a chance of getting anywhere. As one wag put it at the time:

“In the old days of buses and coaches, travellers could hope, on starting from Melbourne, to reach the place in about an hour, but with the advancing times and the railway communication they could now do the journey in one hour and a half.”
(The Mercury, May 1888, quoted in Garden)

It seems the visit of a Railways steam omnibus to Lower Plenty might have had its merits.

Detail from early rail map of the north east showing the meandering route the Hurstbridge line takes through the Plenty and Diamond Valleys. Yallambie is roughly about where the “d” is on the name of Macleod Station on this map.
Train at Montmorency Station in the early years of the 20th century. (Source: Madden albums of Australian railways photographs, State Library of Victoria picture).
Greensborough Station, c1910. (Source: Greensborough Historical Society)
Steam engine and train at Eltham Station in the early years of the 20th Century. (Source: Eltham Historical Society picture).

A direct steam engine rail route to Heidelberg was finally established in 1901, extended to Eltham in June, 1902 and reached the end of the line at Hurstbridge in 1926. The route as built performs a vast arc around the Yallambie area with the stations at Rosanna, Watsonia and Montmorency all about an equidistance from the main body of the Yallambie housing estate which is centred on the western banks of the Plenty River. A modern regular bus service from St Helena, the 517, connects Yallambie today to train services at Rosanna and Greensborough Stations, although the route it takes through the back streets can add up to half an hour to a trip. This however is about the same time that it takes to walk to Montmorency Station along the Plenty River Shared Trail from Yallambie, so it’s really a case of whether or not you fancy the exercise when you’re commuting. Other bus routes connect Yallambie to all points of the compass with the 513 along Lower Plenty Rd to Eltham and the 293 from Para Rd in Montmorency to Doncaster and Box Hill being particularly useful.

The State Government’s commitment to public transport is clear with the recent removal of the Lower Plenty Rd level crossing and redevelopment of the Rosanna Station being just one local example of this policy. At the same time though, the Government’s decision to build a North East Link freeway down the western boundary of Yallambie and underground through Heidelberg is evidence of another commitment entirely.

“Sleepy Hollow”, Heidelberg, c1890 as Thomas Wragge would have known it before the building of the rail bridge across Burgundy Street. Village development at this stage was concentrated further down the hill in front of the spire of St John’s Church in the park. (Source: photograph by W H Ferguson, State Library of Victoria picture).

With the use of hybrid cars and Peak Oil giving the roads of the future an unknown prospect, it remains to be seen what shape the future transport needs of Melbourne might take. As Melbourne bursts at its seams and with new development across the city outpacing existing infrastructure, perhaps we need to look back at what happened in Heidelberg in the 19th century to get an idea of where we are going. “Sleepy Hollow” they called the Heidelberg area due to the poor roads and lack of rail access but when the railway finally arrived, in the face of all the infighting that came with it, the route was not necessarily the best that might have been chosen. As for steam transport on the roads, well that one clearly never moved much beyond a walking pace.

A Bills Horse Trough: originally located in Lower Plenty Rd, now outside the Heidelberg Historical Society headquarters in Jika St, Heidelberg, August, 2019.

Outside the old Court House in Jika Street, Heidelberg, now the home of the Heidelberg Historical Society, there stands an old water trough, a local example of what was known in its day as a “Bills Horse Trough”. Bills Horse Troughs, so named after the public benefactor whose financial legacy created them (but not incidentally the same Bill whose poster activities I’ve seen prosecuted so relentlessly around town), were a necessary device in an era when so much was relied upon from horse travel. The Jika Street trough was originally located on the corner of Martins Lane and Lower Plenty Rd near Yallambie, opposite a place now marked by the glowing golden arches of the Yallambie franchise of a certain hamburger restaurant chain. The trough was moved to Heidelberg in the early 1980s after the widening of Lower Plenty Rd in an earlier period and restored with funding from the Australian Bicentennial Authority in1988.

Commemorative plaque on the HHS Bills Horse Trough.
Probably Will Wragge outside the old Bakewell era stables at Yallambie, c1900, (Source: Bill Bush Collection).

Yallambie’s Thomas Wragge’s love of horses has been well documented and horses were clearly an integral part of life at Yallambie throughout the farming era. Eventually though, horse transport on the roads was to disappear to be replaced by the erstwhile horseless carriages that are so much a part of our lives today. Every one of us relies on our vehicles, whether they be motorised, horse drawn or steam powered but for mine I’ve always liked to think there is an alternative.

It’s ever there and doesn’t need costly road tunnels, rail crossings or even watering troughs.

You’ll find it down below your knees if you stop long enough to take a look.

They call it Shanks’ Pony.

Source: Victoria & Albert Museum
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The Spirit of Yallambie

Listen closely and you might hear it.

A distant rumbling from a place deep beneath your feet.

It’s not the sound of the North East Link tunnel excavating machinery running up against a horned gentleman in his subterranean realm, dressed all in red leotards. Those machines aren’t due to start rolling ’til next year, though by crikey when that time comes, they’d better watch out for that gent’s pitchfork.

No, the sound comes from quite another source. Like a grinding and gnashing of teeth it is the sound of a man turning over quietly in his Heidelberg grave.

Wragge family memorial at Warringal Cemetery, February, 2016.

Thomas Wragge of Yallambie was buried at the Warringal Cemetery at Heidelberg in 1910. As outlined in these pages previously, Wragge was a man “of solid Yeoman stock,” (Calder) who had made a mark in the Australian colonies by following a variety of rural pursuits in Victoria and New South Wales in the second half of the 19th century. He was also a man of some pretty fixed ideas. Although the Wragge farming dynasty would eventually come to rely heavily on motor vehicular transport to administer their distant Riverina properties, in his life time Thomas was known to oppose such machines and various other mechanical devices, dismissing them as modern extravagancies. Horse flesh had been good enough for him and he saw no need for a change.

Thomas and Sarah Ann Wragge and car outside Yallambie Homestead, c1910. (Source: Bill Bush Collection)

By way of illustrating this point, when Thomas’ youngest son, Harry expressed a desire to own a motorcar, Thomas threatened to disinherit him. This perhaps was no idle threat coming as it did from a man who had done just that to a daughter who had opposed him in her choice of partner, but unknown to Thomas, Harry went out and made the purchase anyway, secretly buying an early model Hurtu and keeping it hidden in town and out of his father’s way.

“Many a quiet run he had round and about after doing all possible to find out where his father might be going, so he could go elsewhere. Cars were not registered and carried no identification numbers. During one of these runs, his one-lunger (sic) was snorting south in Nicholson Street a bit north of the Exhibition Building where the road is fairly level. A policeman on a push bike decided he was speeding and called on him to stop. Harry began to panic, visualising his name in the newspapers and his inheritance gone, so he decided to make a run for it. The bobby came pedalling after, and Harry gradually drew away on the level road. Reaching the slight rise to the Exhibition Building, the car slowed up and soon the bobby was right behind breathing heavily and gasping threats. It seemed that capture was imminent, but with a flash of genius, Harry slapped on whatever brakes he had; the bicycle crashed into the rear and the policeman took a fearful toss with a buckled front wheel. Harry and car escaped unhurt, and Harry had saved himself from the loss of perhaps £50,000.”
(Extract from Classing the Wool and Counting the Bales, Winty Calder, Jimaringle Press, 1996).

Harry Wragge, left and the infamous Hurtu, c1910. (Source: Lady Betty Lush collection)

In essence a conservative, Thomas was a God fearing man whom Winty Calder found difficult to categorize, “It is not easy for later generations to summarize the character and career of Thomas Wragge,” (ibid, p200) although Thomas’ namesake eldest son, Tom Wragge did his best, putting it rather more plainly:

“He certainly ruled his family with his cheque book. His reputation was that if he had a dozen watches, he still would not give the time of day away,” (ibid, p200).

As neither the cheque books nor receipts for donations have survived, it is not possible to know now whether this was an altogether fair assessment of the old boy, but what is known is that Thomas could be generous when the mood or the inclination struck him.

For many years a staunch member of the Church of England, Thomas is known to have made several substantial donations to that institution during his life time including the purchase of land near the Heidelberg Rail Station for the building of a Church Hall and with his wife, a presentation of a magnificent carved and polished Blackwood altar which remains to this day as a prominent feature in the sanctuary of the Anglican Church of St John’s in Heidelberg.

St John’s Church of England, Heidelberg from the north east before addition of side chapel &, vestry

It follows a pattern then that on his death, a provision in Thomas’ will saw a single acre on the north-west corner of the Yallambie estate, now the south west corner of Yallambie and Greensborough Roads, bequeathed to the Church of England, along with the sum of £500 and a stipulation that a church be erected onto the site.

Planning for the building of the Church of the Holy Spirit on Greensborough Rd commenced in 1912, two years after Thomas’ death. Negotiations between the Parish of St John’s, Heidelberg and the Parish of All Saints’, Greensborough saw an alteration of parish boundaries so that the planned church might fall within the Greensborough Parish. The expectation was that with the coming of the railways the new church would serve a growth in population at Macleod and Watsonia. In deference to its location however, the church would be known as the Holy Spirit, Yallambie.

Progress was delayed by the outbreak of War but a building committee was finally appointed for the Holy Spirit in September, 1924 with a Miss Allen, Miss Elliott, Mrs Rogers, Mrs Watson and a Mr and Mrs Petterson selected, along with a Mr Sparling to serve as Secretary. It was envisaged that the Holy Spirit would be attended initially by the Vicar of Greensborough, at that time The Reverend Frederick Reynolds.

The architect of the Holy Spirit, Louis Williams photographed in his library. (Source: Brian Williams from a MU thesis by Gladys Moore, 2001)

Plans were sought from an architect, Mr Louis Williams a well known ecclesiastical architect based in Queen Street, Melbourne who specialized in buildings inspired by the Arts and Crafts style. Williams was noted for designing churches of a specified capacity within a specified budget and the Holy Spirit would have been one of his earlier designs.

Williams brief was to design a building capable of seating 400 worshippers. By this time Thomas Wragge’s bequest of £500 had, with interest grown to £1000 so a contract was let to Mealy Pty Ltd of Rosanna for £1050. Construction commenced on 18th August, 1926 and the building was dedicated to the Holy Spirit by the Archbishop of Melbourne, The Most Reverend Harrington Lees, appropriately enough on St Thomas’ Day, 1st December, 1926.

The Church Sanctuary and a Chapel to seat 50 people were built first with a large vestry added for Sunday School classes and Parish meetings. The original plans for the building had been conceived along the lines of a mini Romanesque basilica built in the Anglo Saxon style, but with the population of the surrounding district not properly developed, construction soon stalled. By the 1940s the church was nowhere near complete and the original architect, Louis Williams was called in and asked to provide new plans to complete the church, but on a reduced scale. Williams recommended that the height of the existing sanctuary and chancel be reduced and the bricks and timber be reused to finish a much smaller building although in the end, even this plan proved to be impossible.

The Rev Alfred and Mrs Emma Bamford. (Source: Green and Growing, 150 years”, All Saints, 2005)

By 1941 the temporary western wall of the building had begun to deteriorate and possums and birds had taken over the roofing beams inside. The Reverend Alfred Bamford, Th. L, Vicar of the Parochial District of Diamond Creek and Greensborough, conducted fortnightly services of Holy Communion at Yallambie throughout the War years and he would later recall that before each service he would need to brush down the Communion Table and keep the Communion vessels covered throughout the whole service because of falling dust and feathers from flapping birds moving their roosts overhead. A Mrs Joules was remembered as bringing her dog to church services and sitting him down on one of the pews with a piece of newspaper under him but it wasn’t clear if the newspaper was intended to protect the pew from the dog’s bottom, or the dog’s bottom from the pigeon poo covered church seat.

The Rev Leo and Mrs Norma Ball in 1955. (Source: Green and Growing, 150 years”, All Saints, 2005)
The Rev Leo Ball’s Parish paper from May, 1954 describing an issue very much of concern to the world in that year.

With the boarded up ends of the church clearly a home for possibly more pigeons than parishioners, services at the Holy Spirit were suspended from 1945 until 1950. In 1951 The Reverend Leopold Ball, MA, the Vicar of Diamond Creek and Greensborough was the minister responsible for the Holy Spirit when an attempt was made to reinvigorate it as a place of Christian worship. Services were scheduled for Sunday afternoons at the church but these were never well attended. In 1955, Bill Chamberlain who was a parochial and Diocesan Lay Reader and who assisted the Rev Ball at several churches in the Parish, arranged with the Vicar to start an afternoon Sunday School at Yallambie. Bill had a new, 1955 Ford tray truck onto the back of which he built a cabin which he stocked with Sunday School literature and a travelling pipe organ. This vehicle, known locally as “The Jesus Car” and “Little Toot”, the later name due to the sound it made upon its approach, became a familiar sight in the area as it drove about Watsonia on Sunday afternoons picking up children to take them to the Sunday School. During this “Baby Boom” era Sunday School attendances throughout the Parish grew exponentially. Some of the events associated with the Sunday Schools of the area were an annual dance night and an annual picnic at the Tourrourong Reservoir located on the head waters of the Plenty River.

The Jesus Car, AKA “Little Toot”, c1955. (Source: “The Origins of the Church of the Holy Spirit in Yallambie and Watsonia”, Omond and Haustorfer, 1990)

After Bill’s death his wife, Norma continued the work of the Sunday School with the help of some dedicated teachers. A young Keith Luxford, whose father played an old pump organ at the Holy Spirit, was one and the accompanying photograph sourced from his sister, Jean is a representation of the building as it appeared at this time. In this picture a little lean to weather board shack at the front can be seen. This was added to the unfinished west side of the building and is a sign perhaps of an intention to repurpose the building within its existing design limitations but also is an indication of post war building austerities. The lack of steps up to the door are however not further evidence of these building austerities but of the desperately poor situation of the homeless people temporarily housed at the nearby Watsonia Military Camp, (now Simpson Barracks) after the War. The Army Camp was used as Post War emergency accommodation in this era and the Church steps disappeared and needed to be replaced on what seemed like a semi regular basis, taken it was believed by nearby residents to be used as firewood.

The Church of the Holy Spirit, Yallambie showing its unfinished west side, a home for “possibly more pigeons than parishioners”, c1955. (Source: Jean Luxford)

Other than as a make shift source of kindling, the Church of the Holy Spirit found a variety of other uses throughout the 1950s as one of the few publically scaled buildings in the district. From 1953 it was used as the first meeting room of the Watsonia sub branch of the Returned Services League and on Friday nights that institution used it as a screening house for black and white movies of World War II, a subject still raw in peoples’ minds. On Saturday nights, dances and other social events were sometimes arranged and on week days Macleod State School used the building as an overflow classroom for the School’s Grades 3 and 4 in an attempt to cope with a Baby Boom surge in student numbers. On at least one occasion the Church was used as a venue for a fund raising fete in aid of a planned local kindergarten.

In spite of this activity, with housing development in the district concentrated around Macleod and Watsonia, by the end of the 1950s it had become apparent that the Church of the Holy Spirit, Yallambie was situated in the wrong location. The Reverend Richmond McCall, Th. L, Vicar of Diamond Creek and Greensborough arranged to vary the Deed of Trust and in 1959 the property was sold to the Neptune Oil Company. The proceeds of the sale allowed the Diocese to purchase a church site closer to the population centre of Watsonia near the rail station and construction of a new church, the Holy Spirit, Watsonia commenced.

Janine Schultz, (front) and friend Jeanette Saunders in 1961 in the garden of the house that Janine’s father Fred built on the corner of Laings (now Yallambie) Road and Greensborough Road. The Church of the Holy Spirit, Yallambie visible over the fence. (Source: Glenis Henderson, née Schultz)

This photograph shows a young Janine Schultz and her friend Janette on the lawn of the home Janine’s father built on the north corner of Yallambie and Greensborough Roads. The picture was taken in 1961, the year the Holy Spirit was torn down and the broken and empty windows of the building are just visible beyond their shoulders.

In 1948 Janine’s father, Fred Schultz had brought his wife and three children (later four) to live in a simple two room house he began building opposite the church. Fred became the Sunday School Superintendent at the Holy Spirit, (this task later superseded by John Andrews) and Fred’s intention had been to extend and develop his nearby home as the inclination took him and as post War materials and building resources became available. It wasn’t long however before the Melbourne and Metropolitan Board of Works announced plans to widen Greensborough Rd into a six lane highway and this rather took the wind out of the sails of his building ambitions. In 2019 the house Fred created still stands on the corner of Yallambie and Greensborough Roads, although given the threat posed by the conceived widening of Greensborough Rd, it was never completed on the planned scale.

Banyule Homestead, February, 2015

70 years after this road threat was first posed and 60 years after the loss of the Church of the Holy Spirit, the building of the North East Link at last will see the final chapter played out. Chapter 19 of the North East Link’s Environmental Effects Statement features a whole section dedicated to identifying heritage sites impacted by the planned route. Many places are named including Aldermaston inside the Simpson Barracks, Banyule Homestead at Heidelberg, Heide, Clarendon Eyre and even the gate posts of the old Fairlea Women’s Prison. They all rate a mention. However the site of Yallambie’s first and only church, the foundations of which are still partly visible on open ground back from the Yallambie Rd corner, does not. Wragge probably believed that his bequest would lead to a church building that would still be standing at Yallambie in a hundred years but today most people have forgotten  now that it ever even existed.

Aldermaston Manor inside the Simpson Barracks.

A Neptune Service Station occupied part of the site of the Church in the early 1960s before this was later replaced by the Shell Station that can be found there today. It is an irony that, given Thomas Wragge’s opposition to such machinery, it was a petrol station for motor vehicular transport that replaced his ambitiously conceived church and that it is a road for motor vehicle transport that will now replace the station.

What Thomas would have made of this story is anybody’s guess but my vote is for a bit of turning over in the grave.

Select sources:
“The Origins of the Church of the Holy Spirit in Yallambie and Watsonia, 1926 – 1990”, Peter Omond and Max Haustorfer, 1990

“Green and Growing, 150 years – Historical Snapshots of All Saints’ Anglican Church, Greensbough”, All Saints, 2005

Conversations and correspondence with Glenis Henderson, (née Schultz), Janine Wood, (née Schultz), Noel Withers, (GHS), Beth Jones, Jean Luxford.

An explanation of the NEL for those who can’t see the wood for the impending tree stumps

“Formulating policy means making choices. Once you do that you please the people that you favour, but infuriate everybody else. One vote gained, ten lost. If you give the job to the road services, the rail board and unions will scream. Give it to the railways, the road lobby will massacre you.”
Sir Humphrey Appleby spelling out the fractious world of transport policy, Episode 5, Series 3, Yes Minister, “The Bed of Nails”, 1982.

The release of a little light reading in the form of a voluminous, Environmental Effects Statement by the North East Link Authority last month has been received with interested concern by some, derided by others, while yet proving the truth of that old adage, “When you try to please everybody, you end up pleasing no one.”

The $16 billion Link, which in effect will extirpate the western end of the Yallambie estate with a sunken surface road parallel to the Greensborough Hwy, is due to open in 2027 and is projected to funnel an extra 100,000 cars a day onto an expanded Eastern Freeway by 2036, up to a total of 135,000 with traffic experts rightly summing it up as:

“…a short-sighted solution to population growth and would only increase the city’s dependence on cars.” (Clay Lucas, The Age, April 25, 2019).

Looking south along Greensborough Rd towards Blamey Rd from a point near to the Yallambie Rd intersection. The current view presented alongside a NELA artist’s impression of the proposed changes. The EES gives this change of view a low to medium rating “due to the low sensitivity of road users”. In other words, the view is already plug ugly. (Source: NELA, EES)

While reaching any agreement on Melbourne roads is about as easy it seems as reaching nuclear agreement on the Korean Peninsula, there seems to be a consensus in some quarters that the north east of Melbourne is already an unsustainably car dependent side of town and a suspicion that the creation of a Link will simply encourage thousands more commuters to leave the existing train networks in favour of roads.

Thomas and Sarah Ann Wragge outside Yallambie Homestead, c1910, Thomas was one of the first owners of a motor car in the Heidelberg district. (Source: Bill Bush Collection).

Short sections of the Eastern Freeway are expected to expand to up to 20 lanes to accommodate the project but as has been proved time again all around the world, as a general rule of thumb the building of major road projects increases traffic volumes without a commensurate decrease in congestion. After those 20 lanes narrow back to six or eight further along the way, what will happen to the extra traffic? Jago Dodson, a professor of urban policy at RMIT University, summed this up by saying that when it comes to NEL, Melbourne is fast heading “towards the failed situation of Sydney where they try to reconcile the incoherence of planning by building large mega projects.” With Melbourne already predicted to outstrip Sydney in size by 2026, it’s not rocket science.

Detail of a display board at NELA Community Hub information office.

As an environmental report, the North East Link Authority’s 10,000 page Environmental Effects Statement I must say is a daunting prospect. I don’t suppose there are many who will manage to read it in its entirety. I certainly haven’t done so, but then maybe that’s just the point. As Sir Humphrey would tell you, if you want to make sure some awkward truths stay ignored, try hiding them away in plain sight inside the detail.

NELA Community Hub office in Watsonia Rd, Watsonia.

You can look at the report locally at an information office that the NELA has opened at 17 Watsonia Rd, Watsonia but for what it’s worth, here is the hard reality of just a little bit of that detail, spelled out here before the first bulldozer rolls past your door next year.

It will be no use saying afterwards we weren’t warned.

The North East Link project will require the permanent acquisition of a combined total of 182,300 square metres of open territory and recreational areas. This is the equivalent of nine MCGs spread across the municipalities of Whitehorse, Yarra, Boroondara, Manningham and Banyule. Dual 3 lane road tunnels will be built under Heidelberg and Bulleen with 12-storey ventilation stacks being needed at either end, including one inside the Simpson Barracks at Yallambie south of  Blamey Rd. Three temporary construction compounds will be developed at the Barracks, one at the north west corner of Yallambie and Greensborough roads, a second on the south side of Blamey Road extending south and a third extending further south along the western flank of Greensborough Rd.

The Banyule creek at Borlase Reserve, May, 2019.

About three kilometres of water flowing through two separate creeks will need to be diverted and turned into drains, including the Banyule Creek which has its source within the south western boundary of Yallambie and which in turn feeds the magnificent wetlands environment of the Banyule Flats Reserve over in Viewbank.

Up to 26,000 trees will be removed by the project with open space at Koonung Reserve, Koonung Creek Reserve, Watsonia Station Carpark Reserve and Watsonia Rd Reserve all being lost.

Borlase Reserve woodland, May, 2019.
The northern end of the Borlase Reserve, May, 2019. Already heavily scarred from its use as a construction zone during the recent redevelopment of Rosanna Station, it is the only part of the Reserve that will be returned to the community after NEL opens.

Borlase Reserve in the south western corner of Yallambie near the Lower Plenty and Greensborough Rd intersection will be particularly hard hit. Borlase Reserve will be entirely consumed by a construction compound during the build with less than half of it expected to be returned to the Yallambie community after construction of the Lower Plenty Rd interchange, potentially making the area no longer viable as an area of passive open space. A four metre high noise wall will be a visually dominant feature around the Lower Plenty Rd interchange which will result in a significant and permanent change to the landscape in the nearby surrounding residential streets.

Willow trees and the source of the Banyule Creek at Borlase Reserve, Yallambie, May, 2019.

The above-ground sections of the road link are expected to have the biggest and most obvious environmental impact with eight hectares of woodland in Yallambie’s Simpson Barracks alone expected to be destroyed, impacting kangaroos and other wild life along the way by removing their habitat. Hundreds of large, mature trees will either be cleared away during this process or lose water supply to their roots and die, but a trade-off promise to replace lost trees with 30,000 new plantings will take decades to have any significant effect. Of special mention is a 300 year old River Red Gum near a service station in Bulleen which is on the National Trust Significant Tree Register. A local landmark, it is just one of those ear marked for the big chop while another 150 other patches of native vegetation spread over 52 hectares will be removed, including 22 hectares where native and threatened wildlife are found.

Giant mouse soon to be made homeless at Borlase Reserve, Yallambie, May, 2019.

So that in a nut shell is what the North East Link Authority is all about. I find it a source of wonder that there hasn’t been more objection heard about this project up to date with the plan still wading around in its early stages. The failed East West Link project copped far more flak, and that misguided idea never moved further than a few lines pushed around a map with some properties peremptorily and unnecessarily acquired before an election. Part of the reason for this apparent lack of interest could be that all those car users living in Melbourne’s heavily car dependent north east may actually be in favour of the road when push comes to shove. It’s an attitude that might hold water with those people who drive on Rosanna Rd regularly, comfortable in the belief that the new road won’t necessarily roll out anywhere near their own back yard, but there is also the Government’s successful policy of divide and conquer to take into consideration, a policy which was implemented to such good effect in the second half of 2017. That battle became a bit of a running theme in this blog for a while, but by suggesting four potential routes for NEL right from the start, Corridors A, B, C and D, the net effect has been largely to dilute the argument right across the board.

Last week Banyule Council, while acknowledging the Government’s mandate to complete the road, released their own, well-considered proposal to modify the existing plan of Corridor A. The Council’s alternative involves a road tunnel that would be 2 kilometres longer than the current 6 km design, increasing the cost by an estimated $350 million and take an extra 1 ½ years longer to complete. It’s a design however the Council says would spare us many of the negative social and environmental consequences of the project. Critics have quickly lined up to dismiss the changes and list what they see as a range of possible negative effects, including a temporary occupation as a work site of a part of Watsonia Primary School and the AK Lines Reserve, and a longer than anticipated shut down of the Hurstbridge rail line around Watsonia Station, but Banyule Council’s Cr Tom Melican speaking in support of the Council proposal said:

“We’re spending an enormous amount of money, dividing the community and wrecking parkland; we’d better make sure we get it right.”

With the environmental impact still a matter of debate, there seems to me to be plenty of opportunity here to get it wrong.

Misty morning at Yallambie with Hoop Pine, photographed in August, 2014.

The writings of the early settlers in this country are filled with observations of the harsh climate they encountered and the difficulties they had reconciling local conditions with what they left behind in Europe. It is known that cool and moist air inside a forest can contribute to rainfall in a process called stomata, but the lesson those settlers eventually learned is, you cut down trees at the peril of the environment in this dry country. After more than 180 years of settlement, Victoria is now reportedly the most deforested state in Australia and more than 60 per cent of the forest that existed at the time of John Batman’s arrival is now gone.

Yallambie Park oak avenue photographed in 1995.

Scientists have gathered much evidence to support a claim that trees and the natural environment can improve our mood and general state of health, although in practice the jury is out as to exactly how or why this occurs. One theory is that beneficial bacteria, plant derived essential oils and negatively charged ions all combine to increase our well being. Another way of looking at this would be to simply say that being connected to nature provides us with relief from the stress and anxieties of modern living. A North East Link road might solve a transport problem in an ever expanding capital city, but how much is the solution also contributing to some of those stresses? Does the end justify the means?

The planned walking trail would pass through forest on the Errinundra Plateau. (Source: The Age, Goongerah Environment Centre)

Before the last State election, the Government announced a plan to build a 120km hiking trail that would extend from the Cape Conran Coastal Park to the summit of Mt Ellery and the alpine forests of the Errinundra Plateau. It was a pitch to the conservation vote during an election campaign which aimed to create a “Sea-to-Summit” walking track through some of the State’s last remaining areas of unspoiled wilderness. It sounded like a good idea at the time but after the Government was re-elected it transpired that the chosen route passed through many areas already ear marked by VicForests for logging and some clear felling had already begun.

Challenged by the media exposure of this story, Alex Messina, VicForests’ General Manager of Corporate Affairs dismissed the walking trail idea saying that part of the proposed track fell along an access route created for logging trucks.

“The route in remotest east Victoria utilises roads designed for timber haulage, not to optimise scenic tourism experience.”
(Alex Messina, quoted in The Age, February 13, 2019)

Birthing tree of the Djab Wurrung people. (Source: The Age, Gillian Trebilcock)

The cultural value of our trees is a sometimes under appreciated resource. Out in western Victoria, VicRoads is currently planning to duplicate a 12 ½ kilolmetre section of the Western Hwy from Buangor to Ararat to reduce travel time on the route by an estimated two minutes. The VicRoads plan will require the destruction of over 260 trees sacred to the Djap Wurrung peoples, including an Aboriginal birthing tree, with one elder, Sandra Onus,  quoted in The Age saying, “We’re just trying to keep as much of our cultural heritage intact as we can. They won’t listen to us blackfellas.”

Banyule’s Yallambie Bakewell ward councillor, Cr Mark Di Pasquale in email correspondence to us relating to North East Link, voiced a similar concern:

“It needs to be an honest discussion and the community need to voice their wants. Up until now the NE Link Authority has been ‘steamrolling’ through with their work… We are looking to the Army, the traders the residents and finally the State Members to push this barrow.”
Droving in the Light, Hans Heysen, 1914-21. (Source: Wikipedia, the Art Gallery of South Australia)
Tree felling of ancient river red gum at Seymour Rd, Lower Plenty in the early 1920s. The property on the opposite ridge is Bryn Teg, later the Heidelberg Golf Club.

The idea that trees might have an aesthetic value beyond their monetary or utilitarian worth might strike some as a surprise, although it is by no means a new concept. Artwork by that famed painter of Australian landscapes, Hans Heysen, is currently on display alongside work by his daughter Nora at a special exhibition at the NGV in Federation Square. Hans, who turned the ubiquitous Aussie gum tree into a work of art in the early years of the 20th century, was famous in his own life time but is sometimes also remembered for his attitude towards conservation in an era when most people never gave it a thought. The story goes that when Hans heard that a road side stand of gum trees he loved was to be removed by his local Council, he approached the authorities and offered to give them the money the Council would otherwise have received for selling the trees as fire wood. It is unrecorded whether those early Council authorities laughed in his face at the suggestion or instead laughed all the way to the bank.

It seems then that the North East Link might not be the only road likely to trample over the environment and the enjoyment of peoples’ lives. It’s just the latest and the largest and by far and away the most expensive.

In Yes Minister, in an episode about the conservation of a wildlife habitat, Sir Humphrey Appleby assured the minister that there are some things that are just best kept out of the public debate. In that episode, “The Right to Know” he burdens the minister’s correspondence with useless detail in an attempt to keep his political master in the dark while explaining to him a fine line of distinction between classing something as a “loss” or “not a significant loss” to the environment.

“Almost anything can be attacked as a “loss of amenity”, and be defended as “not a significant loss of amenity”.
Sir Humphrey Appleby, Episode 6, Series 1, Yes Minister, “The Right to Know”, 1980.

The NEL will obviously cause a huge loss of amenity in the north eastern suburbs of Melbourne and in particular, within the City of Banyule. Taking a page out of Sir Humphrey’s book, the North East Link Authority have cleverly passed this off as not a significant loss of amenity by releasing so much detail about their plans that it seems most people have given up listening.

Once the traffic starts rolling on the new Freeway in a few years’ time, do you think this will make any difference?

By then, will we still be able to see the wood for the tree stumps?

Woodland sign posting north of Borlase Reserve, Yallambie, May, 2019.

Vale Banyule

The Australian writer and historian Don Watson once posed the tempting question, “What will history make of us should there be any historians left to write it?”

The news last week that the State Government had decided on Corridor A as the chosen route for the North East Link freeway leaves a devastating conflict of emotions for nearby communities. There is the feeling of relief that the alternative B, C and D roads will now, at least not for the time being, be built, but this is coupled with a general feeling of dismay at the destruction Corridor A is likely to wreak.

Corridor A when built will largely cut an underground path under Viewbank and Rosanna, with road interchanges located at Bulleen and Lower Plenty Roads, but it will be the surface road parallel with Greensborough Road along the Western boundary of Yallambie with Macleod and in Watsonia in the north, together with the associated road interchanges at either end that will have the most obvious visual impact. At least 75 homes are expected be lost to the plan and it’s pretty clear to anyone familiar with the local area just where these are likely to be.

The government spent $100 million to write a study of their four, so called alternative routes which included the utter surprise of their Corridor B proposal through the heart of Yallambie, but in the end the extra corridors were a smoke screen, an attempt to muddy the water surrounding a proposal to build Corridor A which, because it was expected to be cheaper, was always going to be the favoured option.

Melbourne’s road network with missing links from Vicroads publication “Linking Melbourne”, February, 1994.

Corridor A has been talked about ever since something like it was first proposed in the 1969 Melbourne Transportation Plan. It wasn’t built because enough people could see back then that it was a bad idea. So what has changed? A decade ago the proposal was still on the table and costed at $6 billion, but last week’s announcement rings in now at over $16 billion. The real question then is, just how much is this thing going to cost eventually, and I don’t just mean in dollar terms.

Perhaps the NELA aren’t aware of some of the worry and the sleepless nights that they have given Yallambie and Lower Plenty residents since the first suggestion of Corridor B was disclosed in August. Perhaps they don’t care. This sort of cavalier attitude is nothing new, as the recent to-ing and fro-ing over the abandoned East West Link proposal is evidence, but fifty years ago the following story illustrates perhaps just how strongly passions can run on such matters.

In the mid 1960s, at a time before the first spade had been turned on Melbourne’s freeway network, a plan was developed by Doncaster and Templestowe City Council in conjunction with the Country Roads Board to widen Templestowe Rd in Templestowe at the Thompsons Road intersection. The plan when first discussed involved realigning Templestowe Rd at its closest approach to the Yarra River with Parker St in the east, through the heart of the Templestowe township.

Finn’s Upper Yarra Hotel on Templestowe Rd, Templestowe. (Source: Doncaster Templestowe Historical Society)

But there was a problem. Finn’s Upper Yarra Hotel, a local landmark of some renown, stood right in the path of the new road.

An early view of the Upper Yarra Hotel before the addition of the west wing.

The Upper Yarra Hotel was a much loved building. James Finn had opened his hotel as a beer shop on the Templestowe corner in 1866, near what is now a vanished river crossing, and over the years various additions had been made to it which had combined to create a strange amalgamation of architectural styles. The idiosyncratic compact construction of the original building seemed to stand at odds with the later, two-storey block fronted section but somehow they combined almost by accident to form a building of considerable rambling charm.

The Upper Yarra was delicenced in the early 1920s but as it aged and became more dilapidated the rustic appeal of its setting became a favoured subject for local artists. The various parts of the hotel itself were painted a rusty red colour in an attempt to bring unity to its conflicting parts and as the paint peeled the overpainted words “Finn’s Upper Yarra Hotel” stood out like a ghostly commentary as to the building’s former life, an old world garden and a cobbled stable yard behind the hotel completing the overall effect of a genteel rural decay.

Finn’s Hotel photographed towards the end of its life by John T Collins in 1963. (Source: State Library of Victoria)

The grown up grandchildren of James Finn were still living somewhat reclusive lives at the old hotel in the mid 1960s when the Council came a knockin’. Doncaster and Templestowe City Council had purchased the land on which the Upper Yarra Hotel stood from the executors of the estate of the son of James Finn and the Council were trying to force his grandchildren from the building which the surviving generation still occupied. The Council met with some militant but probably understandable opposition from the residents who objected to being moved away from the building their family had occupied for over a hundred years. One contemporary newspaper report described how a party of journalists was chased away from the hotel environs one evening in 1967 by an aging Finn brother wielding a big stick, smashing up a photographer’s car in the process in the mistaken belief that the newspaper party were officers from the Housing Commission come to enforce an eviction order.

Finn’s Hotel seen from near the corner of Templestowe and Thompsons Rd, Templestowe. (Source: Doncaster Templestowe Historical Society)

In the end the Council got their way of course and the Finns removed themselves voluntarily from the building on the 28th May, 1967. On the night of departure however a mysterious fire broke out in the old weatherboarded building, quickly reducing it to a pile of cinder and rubble in spite of the best efforts of the Country Fire Authority to combat the blaze.

The end of Finn’s Upper Yarra Hotel on the night of 28 May, 1967 as reported in “The Sun” news pictorial the next day.
Newspaper clipping from the front page of the Doncaster and Outer Circle Mirror, 27 September, 1967.

It was a tragic loss to history for the area. The Council had been discussing the possibility of moving the hotel out of the path of the imagined road realignment in a manner that they would later employ to save another historic Doncaster building, Schramm’s Cottage, in the 1970s. The fire put an end to any further discussion, Ad infinitim.

Eventually the Council accepted a cheque of $365.95 as compensation for the loss of the building, but the money was not really the point. The final irony in the telling of this story is that when the realignment of Templestowe Rd eventually took place, a decision was made to straighten the route to meet with Foote St parallel to Parker Street, which is the situation as it exists today. If Finn’s Hotel had been standing and not by then a pile of ashes, it would have been in the clear.

Today a so called “History Pavilion” on Templestowe Rd, Templestowe marks the site of the former Upper Yarra Hotel, with photographs plastered around the interior detailing the (now mostly vanished) history of the area. It is a strangely sad, not often visited tribute.

“History Pavillion,” at Templestowe on the site of the Upper Yarra Hotel, November, 2017. The bricks used in the cairn were salvaged from the ruins of the hotel after the fire.

So how does this story affect the reality of the Corridor A proposal for North East Link? The above tale is an example that road plans are not set in stone until such time as they are actually set in concrete, whether they be tunnels or tarmac and you don’t have to burn down a building to find this out. Melbourne University transport lecturer John Stone was quoted in a newspaper story about State Government transport spin doctoring in The Age last month saying that, “Communities are presented with Maggie Thatcher’s old line – ‘There is no alternative’ – and often there is. But under the current system, the community can only be heard if they can create enough political will to be heard.”

Opponents of North East Link Corridor A have called a public meeting today on a rainy afternoon at Koonung Creek Reserve, Balwyn North and the AGM of the Friends of Banyule is scheduled for Thursday night at the old Shire offices in Beverley Rd, Heidelberg where there will be no prizes offered for guessing what will be the main item on the agenda that night. The opposition to Corridor A in these neighbourhoods is understandable but by any reckoning, the real opposition to the route should be coming from groups here in the north. Corridor A will be a surface road when it passes through Greensborough, Watsonia and Yallambie/Macleod and two of the three major new road interchanges will be situated here. The lack of opposition here however is the result of the earlier sleight of hand exercise conducted by NELA when they divided community opposition with the suggested alternative Corridors, B, C and D. That’s what the State Government got for spending a $100 million to investigate the alternative corridors, although they said at the time the money was to be used to cover the cost of “geotechnical investigations, design, environmental and social studies”. The cold, hard reality is that Corridor A will have a devastating effect on the City of Banyule, dividing the municipality in two in a north south direction along Greensborough Rd while doing little to relieve the very real traffic problems in the area. Vale to the City of Banyule.

Like the Finns at the old Upper Yarra Hotel, the lives knocked about by these road proposals are real people with real homes, each with their own story to tell and each with a sense of community and belonging. $16 billion and counting sounds to me like an awful lot of money to be spending on building a road, a road that won’t even do what it is intended to do, that is complete the missing link in Melbourne’s Ring Road system. Look at a map of the proposed route of Corridor A and you will see that the Corridor A route does not contribute to a ring at all but is a dent in the road plan, driving ring bound traffic back towards the city before asking it to fan out again in an easterly direction.

Melbourne’s road network with proposed North East Links from RA, September, 2017. Corridor A is the shorter, therefore theoretically cheaper dotted line to the left at Bulleen.

So when is a ring not a ring? When it is a link in the eyes of the North East Link Authority. The building of Corridor A will not remove the need to build a completed ring through Eltham in years to come. The thing is, by then the State will be so bankrupt that this will never happen, no matter what needs might then be presented. By that time too with the advent of AVs (autonomous vehicles), cars as we know them now might be a thing of the past, which poses some interesting speculation in answer to Don Watson’s original conundrum.

 

The Big Con of Conurbation

The game is afoot.

Appearing as the harbinger of our doom, the sight of cranes clawing at the Melbourne horizon is an unmistakable sign of a scurrilous attempt to turn the “World’s Most Liveable City” into a “megalopolis” of over 8 million people by the year 2030.

At first glance, the two concepts would appear to be mutually exclusive, but if the crystal gazers are right, it’s a real possibility Melbourne will grow from a city of just under 4 million people at the 2016 census to an astonishing double that number sometime inside the next two decades. The so called Urban Growth Boundary, first sketched onto a map by government 15 years ago, has proved in practice to be a rubbery line that stretches this way and that way according to political whim while the old “Green Wedge” which was supposed to fill the void beyond the boundary with a ring of non-urban land, has been gradually whittled away to little more than half its original size resulting in urban sprawl and the loss of some of our most fertile agricultural lands.

It’s taken 180 years to get to this point but by any reckoning, Melbourne was always a town founded on the unchallenged principle that growth is good for us. From the heady days of the Victorian Gold Rushes and the regular boom and bust of the Real Estate economy, there has only ever been one way – the way forward. Australia has now been without an official recession for 26 years, something the commentators maintain can be counted on as some sort of a world record, but was Paul Keating right when at the start of the last one he described the descending bust as, “the recession we had to have”? Is growth really that good for us?

The pre-emptive actions of the pioneers of Port Phillip in 1835 are probably the nearest Australia ever came to the American way of doing things when it comes to an assessment of our pioneer history. In the United States, government generally took a back seat as the covered wagons rolled out across the Prairie, the settlers founding towns along the way wherever they came to rest, safe in the power that the Second Amendment gave to them to control their own destiny. In the Australian colonies by contrast, settlement was typically occasioned by Government initiative, either by sending convict fleets to the South Seas or by private enterprise supported by Royal decree.

John Batman portrait by William Beckworth McInnes (Source: City of Melbourne Collection )

In Melbourne, things happened slightly differently with the Over Straiters arriving from Van Diemen’s Land in 1835 and the Overlanders coming from New South Wales the following year to found an illegal settlement at Port Phillip, in spite of official Government policy designed to prevent it. Only after the settlement was reasonably well established did Government bow to the pressure of what was by then a fait accompli and sent in administrators armed with the acts and statutes of New South Wales to try to sort it all out. As a result, when it came time for the Roberts Russell and Hoddle to lay out the streets prior to the first land sales, some settlers found the houses they had already erected were standing in a no man’s land in the middle of the proposed roads and would need to be demolished. John Batman’s brother Henry was one who lost his home in this fashion, much to the amusement of the irascible John Pascoe Fawkner, who despised him.

Wragge women folk on a post and rail fence at Yallambie, c1890. (Source: Bill Bush collection)

The Heidelberg district to the north east of Port Phillip was founded around the three way river confluence of the Yarra/Plenty Rivers and Darebin Creek and was one of the first places to be settled outside of Melbourne itself, becoming for a while an almost fashionable location and a desirable neighbourhood for the genteel set. As such it didn’t last long with the absence of a direct railway line and properly maintained roads arresting district development in the second half of the 19th century, but the resulting quiet solitude combined with the natural beauty of the river valleys appealed greatly to those who chose to live there.

“Tranquil Winter”, by Walt Withers, 1895 showing a house which stands today in Walker Court, Viewbank. The Wragge daughters at Yallambie took painting lessons from Withers about this time. Source: National Gallery of Victoria

Sleepy Hollow they called it and when the artists discovered it towards the end of the 19th century, the area became famously the home of an Australian Nationalistic impressionistic art movement, the “Heidelberg School”.

Real estate brochure from the A V Jennings sale of Yallambie Homestead.
The fields of Yallambie prior to the residential subdivision. (Source: Eltham District Historical Society)

The square mile of country that made up the Yallambie region on the north eastern edge of the Heidelberg district remained more or less undisturbed until the second half of the 20th century, wedged in as it was between the towns of Eltham in the east and Greensborough in the north, its lands locked up within the surviving boundaries of Thomas Wragge’s farm and the neighbouring army camp. Yallambie as a suburb developed only after the sale of the 19th century homestead and its remaining farm land to the developer A V Jennings in 1958.

Folding brochure from land auction during subdivision of the Yallambie estate

The process of subdivision was initially slow, commencing in 1966 but by the early 1970s with urban sprawl gathering momentum, the neighbourhood had begun to take shape with roads and landscaping in place and an active district progress association with a dedicated membership operating with effective results.

Folding brochure reversed

Neighbourhood spirit was strong and a firm sense of community was a feature of the area.

A 1978 picture of Moola Close, Yallambie. The proposed NEL Corridor B tunnel would probably emerge at a point to the right of the photographer. (Picture source: Winty Calder)

The 1st Yallambie Scout Group formed and operated out of a hall built and paid for by residents’ initiative while local sporting clubs like the tennis club, soccer club and a junior cricket club, the “Yallambie Sparrows” all called Yallambie home.

River red gum and pond adjacent to Lower Plenty Rd at the Streeton Views estate, Yallambie, March, 2015

The suburb enlarged further at the start of the 1990s when land was carved from the south east end of the Simpson Army Barracks to create the “Streeton Views” estate, the name a real estate developer’s invention that had its basis in the notion that the Heidelberg School artist Arthur Streeton had once painted there. The idea of the subdivision of the Army land had been first mooted in 1986 as a means of supplying low cost housing to Army personnel but in the end, when the developers came on board, housing for the Army was limited to a few street locations around Crew Street, paid for by the sale of land to the public in other locations. No doubt for a while it proved to be a nice little earner for those developers lucky enough, or well-connected enough, to get themselves on board.

Adastra Airways aerial survey photograph of the Yallambie/Lower Plenty district in 1945 showing a predominantly rural landscape.
Aerial survey photograph made of a still some what undeveloped Yallambie area prior to 1971.
Aerial survey photograph of the Yallambie area in 1981 before the development of “Streeton Views” and “The Cascades”.
Aerial survey photograph of the Plenty River at Yallambie, 2017.

The subdivision at Streeton Views was initially opposed by the Yallambie Progress Association as a matter of principle, it being felt at the time that if Army land was going to be released it should be used to create park land and not an addition to the existing housing estate. A public reserve and the artificial lakes between Arthur Streeton Drive and Lower Plenty Road were arrived at as something of a compromise but the changing of the name of the local primary school from Yallambie PS to Streeton PS and subsequent loss of the Community Hall to the Education Department became a sore point. The developers at Streeton Views were selling blocks advertised as being in proximity to a primary school and the name was changed under the guise of a school merger although the reality was that it fitted nicely with the developer’s business model. The old wooden pole sign at the corner of Yallambie and Lower Plenty Roads which had been there from the start announcing the identity of the estate as “Yallambie” was removed about this time and the more permanent inscription “Streeton Views” was set into stone retaining walls on Arthur Streeton Drive and The Grange in a move further designed to confuse people.

At the start of the new century surplus land that had been previously reserved for an SEC substation adjacent to the Yallambie/Streeton Primary School was subdivided into another new estate, this time carrying the appellation, “The Cascades” with water pumped up and down a nearby gully occasionally to create the fantasy land of a fast flowing mountain stream. Many fine, modern homes have been built within the new Yallambie estates with one house in Macalister Boulevard setting a new price record for the suburb at a sale earlier this year.

Entrance to “The Cascades” at Yallambie, October, 2017. The proposal for NEL Corridor B would take a road underground through the electrical easement in this picture.

This sort of subdivision activity is being repeated all across Melbourne these days with the resulting urbanization and infrastructure pressures leading to the population estimates mentioned at the start of this post. Towns like Whittlesea further up the Plenty River were supposed to sit outside the Urban Growth Corridor within the Green Wedge but the rapid rise of new suburbs along Plenty Road has seen Whittlesea now almost absorbed into the metropolitan sprawl in a process known as “conurbation”, a concept first promulgated at the time of the start of the First World War but perfected only after the Second.

Elizabeth Street, Melbourne in 1847 looking north past the Collins Street corner. (Source: Tinted lithograph by J. S. Prout, National Library of Australia)

Robert Hoddle produced a classic 19th century rectangular street grid for Melbourne, the wide avenues named after a motley collection of Port Phillip identities, politicians, Royalty and Vice Royalty. The main north south road, east of the town was named after Hoddle himself and for motorists stuck in the grid lock on Hoddle Street today the question probably is, why did Hoddle create a city plan without an orbital route around the city centre? The answer of course is that Melbourne was laid out long before such questions were ever an issue and the present situation where the Eastern Freeway finishes at a dead end at Hoddle Street has only compounded the original problem.

Which brings us back in a roundabout sort of way to what has been most lately on my mind, the North East Link. Without proper road reserves the four alternative routes would each require tunneling and a buyback of houses that might have brought a smile to John Fawkner or a frown to Henry Batman in another era. A mail out to every household in the City of Banyule last month cost ratepayers an alleged $110,000 and included a letter describing the four corridors and Council’s grave concerns about the impact of the Corridor A (Viewbank) proposal. The letter also makes the point that the Corridor B (Yallambie) and Corridor C (Eltham) proposals would connect the Western Ring Road with East Link at the aptly named Ring-wood. The letter was signed by the Mayor of Banyule and the last paragraph sums up the situation: “Council has long recognised the need to complete Melbourne’s Ring Road as a direct orbital link from the Metropolitan Ring Road to Eastlink at Ringwood…”

A 1994 map of Melbourne’s road network with missing links indicated and no suggestion of a “Corridor B” poposal. From a Vicroads publication “Linking Melbourne”, February, 1994.

In other words, Banyule Council supports the concept of Corridor B equally as much as Corridor C as a viable alternative to bad, bad Corridor A! The scenic railway of the Corridor D (Kangaroo Ground) proposal has already been ruled out by most pundits which leaves Corridor B looking increasingly like an unlikely NEL compromise between Corridors A and C, routes which have been strongly opposed by Banyule and Nillumbik respectively. Let’s face it, when it comes to opposing Corridor B through Yallambie and Lower Plenty, we are on our own as the letter from the Mayor of Banyule makes quite clear.

Lower Plenty Road in 1914, south west of the Rosanna Rd intersection. (Source: Picture Victoria, Heidelberg Historical Society image).

At a meeting at the old Heidelberg Town Hall last month, during a long discourse about the limitations of Corridor A, the Mayor made the fair point that something needs to be done because Rosanna Road, the current de facto orbital link, was well, “full”. Yes, it’s full but it’s not just Rosanna Rd that’s full. The reality is that it’s the planet that is full and we have only been adding to the problem. I might be in a minority but I’m sure I’m not alone in not wanting any of these road proposals built. The ongoing need to build more freeways is a symptom of the problem but not the problem in itself.  With desalination plants needed to provide our society with drinking water and a conurbation of towns and cities fast consuming our arable land surfaces, mankind has not been kind to the planet it calls home. When those covered wagons wheeled out across the Prairie in the 19th century it seemed that there were no limits to the horizon but the reality today is so much more uncertain.

Marco Amati from the RMIT Centre for Urban Research was quoted in a story in “Domain” last week saying that the greening efforts of local governments had not been as effective as hoped and that with a major decline in canopy coverage, “As they lose vegetation, urban areas start to act like heat sponges.”

To digress along this line, consider for a moment the case of a remote Pacific island, Ocean (or Banaba) Island, an elevated speck of rock within the island nation of Kiribati, (pronounced “Kiribus”). Just 10km in circumference, Ocean Island had been home to a British phosphate mining industry for the first ¾ of the 20th century leaving its hinterland a scarred moonscape when I saw it during a prolonged visit some years ago, denuded of both vegetation and the tribal society that once called the island home.

Early 20th century photograph of Banabans in traditional dress on Ocean (Banaba) Island. (Source: A St. C Compton collection)

The shameful plight of the Banabans is a long and compelling story, too long for these pages, but suffice to say that the exiled locals now live mostly on a completely different island in the Fiji group. Meanwhile the ecological fate of their homeland is to my mind the story of our planet in a microcosm. The Island is infamous for its droughts and so much vegetation was eventually removed from it that when rain clouds approached the island, it was recorded that the clouds would separate around the pulsating heat emanating from the denuded rock surfaces to join up again on the other side, dropping all the while their much needed rain into the ocean. This claim might seem far-fetched, but the mining industry on the island had a desalination plant operating on the island long before Victoria ever needed one.

I’m not pretending that there’s an answer. You wanna planet of 7½ billion people and counting, you need cities to put ’em in and roads to get them around.  That nutcase in North Korea reckons he has the answer to having too many people on the planet, but his answer isn’t really an answer and would destroy the planet itself.

The English animator Steve Cutts summed it up poignantly in 2012 with his environmentalist message, “Man”. The prospect of a flying saucer arriving to mete out primary justice to mankind might raise a Golgafrinchan style smile right now, but without flying saucers to make good our escape, a smile may be the only thing we have left one day on this “Pale Blue Dot”.

Pirates of the North East Link

Legend has it that a dozen years or so before the founding of Melbourne, a South American pirate by the name of Benito Bonito took brief refuge at Port Phillip while on the run from the Royal Navy with the stolen “Treasures of Lima” in his hold. There in a cave at Pt Nepean it is said the pirate hid a fabulous hoard, sealing the entrance afterwards with an explosion of gunpowder. As you might expect from such a story, Bonito reportedly met his end soon after at the end of a rope hanging from an English yard arm but be that as it may, one thing is certain, the so called “Lost Lima Treasure” was never seen again.

Many doubted the origins of the tale and indeed whether Bonito had ever been anywhere near Port Phillip but the story persisted, gaining some currency 20 years later when a man turned up in the new settlement at Melbourne claiming to have been a cabin boy on Bonito’s pirate ship. Sporting a map tattooed onto his arm as a supposed proof of the existence of the pirate treasure, the old sailor found willing ears and wishful thinkers in the infant township. The map itself was no doubt a fake, used to con free drinks from gullible patrons in Melbourne’s early shanties but it did fuel an ongoing hope in the improbable. Numerous gopher holes soon appeared in the sand dunes at Pt Nepean, the work of would be treasure hunters or what is more likely literally true, eternal optimists.

It was the visiting American writer Mark Twain who once said that the history of Australia “does not read like history, but like the most beautiful lies,” and further west along the Victorian coast another story, the legend of the “Mahogany Ship” sits somewhat nicely into this same category. It too involves a story of early map making and forgotten voyages into Australian seas, but in the case of the Mahogany Ship, the origins of the story are placed even earlier.

The legend of the Mahogany Ship revolves around the reported siting of an ancient shipwreck on the beach at Warrnambool in the 1840s. Contemporary eyewitness accounts described it as being of “antique design” of “hard dark timber – like mahogany” and sitting high in the sand dunes at a considerable distance from the high water mark. By the later years of the 19th century the shifting dunes had covered the wreck and its remembered location had been forgotten but by one count, 27 different eyewitness reports had been recorded and it was later speculated from these descriptions that the wreck had been a 16th century Portuguese caravel, lost on the south coast of Victoria during a voyage of discovery by Cristóvão de Mendonça in 1522. The theory goes that knowledge of the voyage and the maps made during it had been suppressed due to the Portuguese operating in what had then been deemed to be Spanish waters under the Treaty of Tordesillas, and that any other evidence was subsequently lost in the Great Lisbon earthquake of 1755. To further the story, an ambiguous French copy of a Portuguese map purporting to show a Great South Land, “Jave la Grande” survived at Dieppe and this has been used by advocates of the Mahogany Ship story as confirmation of its truth ever since.

World map by Nicolas Desliens, 1566.

Mendonca aside, there is no doubting the importance of having a good map to find your place in the world and when Captain Cook arrived on the east coast of Australia in 1770 without one, the uncharted Great Barrier Reef very nearly caused his ruin off the coast of north east Queensland. With HM Bark Endeavour holed and fast taking on water, disaster loomed as Cook showed an almost uncanny presentiment to find the mouth of the Endeavour River, the only place for miles around where he could possibly beach his ship for repair. Some adherents to the Mahogany Ship story have suggested that Cook’s ability to navigate through treacherous reefs to safety owed more to his knowledge of ancient Portuguese maps than his own 18th century sailing ability, a suggestion that almost certainly does Great Britain’s greatest navigator a disservice, but it makes for an interesting conspiracy theory all the same.

Bakewell era survey map of Yallambee.

Any study of the past inevitably involves map making and Yallambie is no exception. The Bakewells had a survey of their farm at Yallambee drawn up in the early 1850s, probably at a time when they were contemplating a return to England, and this map has appeared several times within these pages. It is a useful primary source and by comparing the information contained in it to the modern setting it is possible to draw some interesting conclusions about the layout of the Bakewell farm and the context of E L Bateman’s drawings within it and this, for the importance of the record, is worth affirming.

Bakewell plan imposed over the contemporary setting.
The Station Plenty, view I by Edward E L Bateman showing from left to right stables, kitchen, dairy and residences. (Source: National Gallery of Victoria)

As has been stated in a previous post, it was the belief of the Wragge descendant, Nancy Bush that the original Bakewell cottage was located where the tennis court was later built, the foundations of the house presumably ending up as the starting point of her family’s grass court surface.

SLV Daguerreotype of Yallambee showing trellis covered walkway. (Source: State Library of Victoria)

A second residential building stretched in a northerly direction up the slope and was connected to the cottage by a trellis covered walkway with a third building, marked as a kitchen wing on the survey map, placed at right angles at the far end. The location of these additional buildings is now largely buried under the floors of the Wragge era Yallambie Homestead.

The Station Plenty, view VI by E L Bateman showing relation of cottage and secondary buildings to the large dairy structure. (Source: National Gallery of Victoria)

A fence across the kitchen yard enclosed the southern end of a large building marked “dairy” on the Bakewell plan and this building was located where the smaller, present day Yallambie dairy stands to this day.

The Station Plenty, view III by E L Bateman showing in detail a curious access door below the floor of the dairy at the rear of the cottage. (Source: National Gallery of Victoria)

Another Nancy Bush belief held that the original cellar was located under the dairy and in Bateman’s Plenty Station View III which shows the southern end of this building behind the cottage, there would appear to be some sort of underground access into the side of the far building to confirm this.

Yallambie Homestead and Bakewell era stables, corner of Tarcoola Drive and Lambruk Court, c1970

North of the structure marked “hothouse” on the plan was a stable yard with a large stable block located on the eastern boundary and this building was still standing into the early 1980s when a modern mud brick home was built to replace it. Beyond the stables was a tool house and rick yard with a shrubbery and William Greig’s old hut and garden completing the picture within the immediate surrounds of the house.

The Station Plenty, view XII by E L Bateman showing what was probably William Greig’s old hut. (Source: National Gallery of Victoria)
Corridor B Lower Plenty Rd interchange. Map (detail) from North East Link Authority web site.

The North East Link Authority when it made its bombshell announcement at the start of August about smashing a Freeway through Yallambie, released their own map of their plans but anyone who has tried looking at this map has found that it remains frustratingly unclear about the real intentions of their strategic planners. Their web site is little more than a sales pitch which studiously avoids any attempt at revealing too many facts while the so called pop up community consultation meetings that have been staged at various locations across the community have been even less use, an equal part spin and sometimes downright disinformation. At one of these recent meetings it was stated that a diamond shaped corridor B interchange at Lower Plenty Rd would go under the river and not over it and that it would be located on the eastern side of Main Rd. Oh, but tellingly that, “nothing has been decided”.

The lads at North East Link seem to have taken a leaf out of Nietzche’s book who famously said, “There are no facts, only interpretations.” The unstated fact is that trucks using the anticipated interchange would certainly require a grade of no more than 4%, so it is an impossibility to take the road in a tunnel under the Plenty River while still arriving at a meaningful level to connect access roads to Main and Lower Plenty Roads. Taking a road under the Plenty River flood plain would also involve tunnelling through a geologically unstable water table requiring constant pumping throughout the life of the road. My interpretation of the proposal is that if built, (perish the thought) the intention of North East Link is to exit the tunnel near the corner of Binowee Avenue and Moola Close, Yallambie and cross the Yallambie Flats on an elevated flyover and that saying otherwise is just a further attempt to draw a smoke screen over the whole exercise. Should corridor B ever be given the nod, when it comes to the crunch the engineers would wade in, the spin doctors would stand aside and the practicalities and liabilities of their plan would finally be admitted.

Construction of elevated rail near Murrumbeena station. Picture: Nicole Garmston, Herald Sun 30 August, 2017

As the Herald Sun reported in a front page story on Wednesday, the full effect of a similar solution to another transport problem is only now beginning to be understood as the reality takes shape in Melbourne’s southeast.

Digitally altered image showing conjectural North East Link road crossing river flats at Yallambie.

Just picture for a moment a road of at least six, but more likely eight lanes stretching across the Plenty River flood plain, but if you can’t, here’s a digitally altered image of a picture I took of the landscape three years ago to give you an idea.

Proposed corridor B route through Yallambie and North East Link road interchange at Lower Plenty.

And just for good measure, the survey map used above but this time with corridor B splashed onto it in all its glory. Absurd as it might look, I think it is likely to be one of the more truthful representations of this unlikely proposal up to date. It’s a large file so click on it for the detail. You might even see your own roof somewhere in there.

It is part of an obvious attempt not to reveal too many facts about any of the proposed routes of North East Link before a final announcement is made later in the year. The late inclusion of corridor B within the proposal I think has a lot to do with the perceptions of Yallambie’s place in the world, or at least perceptions of the suburb in the eye of the authorities.

Melbourne’s road network with proposed North East Links from RA, September, 2017.

In the September edition of “RA”, the magazine of the Royal Automobile Club of Victoria, there is a four page article detailing the North East Link proposal complete with a generalised map by way of illustration. Interestingly the article states that “broadly, NELA has been looking at three possible routes for the proposed freeway,” going on to explain what in effect constitute the options for corridors A, C and D. The route for corridor B through Yallambie doesn’t rate a mention. The implication is that in real terms, corridor B serves the same business model as corridor C but that the Yallambie/Lower Plenty route has been belatedly included as something slightly easier to digest than the unpalatable Eltham option. I expect most people who heard about Yallambie as an alternative to the Eltham route last month had to then go and look up Yallambie on a map because in cartographical terms, when it comes to your place in the world, it’s all about where you draw the line.

Melbourne’s road network with missing links from Vicroads publication “Linking Melbourne”, February, 1994.

If you drive along the top end of Bell Street in West Heidelberg today, an enormous apartment block is right now fast reshaping the landscape, sitting there like a latter day QE2 beached on top of the ridge. This apartment block carries the moniker “The Ivanhoe” in large, friendly letters emblazoned across its Upper Heidelberg Rd frontage and the building has been described by the property developer as being located in the suburb of Ivanhoe. The project website, obviously aimed at an overseas market, describes the suburb of Ivanhoe as “a sanctuary of leafy green streets, parklands and river walks with a strong sense of community and belonging.” The thing is, this description belies its location on the west corner of busy Bell Street and Upper Heidelberg Road. The location of “The Ivanhoe” is actually West Heidelberg, or at best Heidelberg Heights, to use the jargon of real estate agents. The border of the suburb of Ivanhoe ends at Banksia Street but it seems nobody stumping up the money to live in one of these apartments wants to wake up one day and find them self suddenly living in unfavoured West Heidelberg. The solution, just move a line on the map. Do you think anyone will notice?

The ‘Ivanhoe’ Apartments taking shape at the top of Bell Street, West Heidelberg, September, 2017.

North East Link obviously think nobody will notice when it comes down to the nitty gritty of moving lines around a map of their proposed corridors. It’s all about what you reckon you can get away with. The State Government has vowed that one of these suggested routes will have traffic thundering through it in the early 2020s but like Benito Boninto rampaging up and down the Peruvian coast, the Pirates of the North East Link aim to wreak havoc and destruction on impacted communities without so much as a by your leave. The explosion of gunpowder used in a cave at Pt Nepean will be nothing compared to what they have in mind. To them, communities and the people living in them are simply arbitrary boundaries – mere lines to shove around on a map wherever they want – an inconvenience to their plans best not discussed within delicate hearing.

The story of the 16th century Mahogany Ship and the presence of Captain Cook on the east coast of Australia in 1770 long ago entered the blurred line between historical fact and legendary fiction but in the years to come, how will we look back on the Pirates of the North East Link and the last months of 2017? Will the anger and bitterness that these road proposals raised be remembered or will their legacy live on in history as a postscript to the main story, the forgotten doodles in a road planner’s imagination?

Yallambie matters too

“But the plans were on display…”
“On display? I eventually had to go down to the cellar to find them.”
“That’s the display department.”
“With a flashlight.”
“Ah, well, the lights had probably gone.”
“So had the stairs.”
“But look, you found the notice, didn’t you?”
“Yes,” said Arthur, “yes I did. It was on display in the bottom of a locked filing cabinet stuck in a disused lavatory with a sign on the door saying Beware of the Leopard.”
Douglas Adams

Thus Arthur Dent learned at the start of The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy of the plans to destroy his home for a new road.

“It’s a bypass. You’ve got to build bypasses.”

This week the State Government through the guise of its North East Link Authority dropped a bombshell. It came right out of left field and landed in the solar plexus of the Yallambie community, catching all and sundry totally by surprise. As I listened to the news of this exploding shell broadcast on early Monday morning radio, I couldn’t help but think I had been weirdly trapped inside a scene from the chapters of a Douglas Adams’ science fiction farce, but this was no laughing matter. Secret proposals have been going on behind closed doors at North East Link and while nobody has been looking, somebody just moved the goal posts.

The North East Link Authority, charged with finding a route for the missing piece in Melbourne’s road system, had just announced a choice of four alternative routes to fill the void in that network. Wikipedia has long listed three of them, an eastern option from the Western Ring Rd to East Link via Kangaroo Ground and Chirnside Park, (corridor D); a central option from the Ring Rd to Eastlink via Eltham and Warrandyte, (corridor C) and a western option from the Ring Rd to the Eastern Freeway at Bulleen via Watsonia and Viewbank, (corridor A). But a fourth, previously un-thought of route has unexpectedly been thrown into the mix by the lads at North East Link. Their so called corridor B. The B is for bomb.

Yallambie.

Kaboom.

In essence corridor B is an afterthought. Maybe even a Furphy. A bad and cynical attempt to wrong foot opposition to an already unpopular road by dividing discussion. If built this unexpected option would be a disaster for Watsonia and Yallambie and would completely and utterly destroy the Lower Plenty township to boot.

The Station Plenty, (Yallambie) view I by Edward La Trobe Bateman. Source: State Library of Victoria
An imagined North East Link connection at Yallambie seen from across the River at Lower Plenty. The reality would certainly be far worse.

The unique landscape at Yallambie and Lower Plenty has remained largely unchanged since the 1840s and was recognized and classified nearly two decades ago by the National Trust. Who could possibly think the idea of exiting a tunnel over this landscape and filling it with a spaghetti of connecting roads could be a good idea in this day and age? The corridor B proposal aims to smash a gaping hole into all of it (literally) by taking a route off the Greensborough Highway through Watsonia and the northern borders of Yallambie, almost certainly compulsorily acquiring and demolishing the homes of countless families in the process, before plunging underground along the existing electrical easement and spewing out of the ridge directly in front of the Yallambie Homestead. If that old and fragile building does not fall down from the vibrations during the underground blasting process of building the tunnels, then the combined effects of over a hundred thousand vehicles a day travelling on it will.

Yallambie Homestead photographed in 1995.
Yallambie Tennis Club, June, 2015.

There are practical considerations for the builders’ of these roads not tunneling under rivers so the proposed corridor B route would presumably follow an elevated flyway across the Yallambie Flats, obliterating the existing soccer ground if not the tennis club in the process before crossing the Plenty River opposite the Lower Plenty Hotel and ripping the heart out of the Lower Plenty township itself.

Soccer ground, Yallambie Park, homestead on the hill, November 2014
Lower Plenty Hotel terrace. (Source: David Sarkies, True Local).

You can forget ever having another drink at the Lower Plenty Hotel while marveling at its unique bush land setting.

Lower Plenty, June, 2017.

You can kiss goodbye the Heidelberg Golf Course and the adjacent green wedge of the historic Edward Willis landscape. This proposal is an utter disgrace and would be a catastrophe for this area.

And just for good measure, for those who worry about such things, you can forget about selling your real estate right now. Your house has just become unsellable overnight by the mere mention of this road. So much for Yallambie as the 6th most “in demand suburb” in Australia.

Looking towards Yallambie from Lower Plenty during the farming era

What could they have been thinking? Who are the Vogons who dream up these ideas without a by your leave and then try to back pedal them as a realistic alternative to an existing transport problem?

But no, that’s not the end of it. The road they call corridor B would then travel through the back of Lower Plenty for an unspecified length before heading back underground again only to emerge and bash a path through the edge of Warrandyte and Donvale at Reynolds Road in order to meet up with Eastlink. How many communities do these planners plan to destroy along their merry way?

I was a child growing up in Rosanna when the battle lines were first drawn up in the 1970s to stop construction of what was then known as the F18 Freeway. That road aimed to carve a surface route through the back streets of the former City of Heidelberg. I might have been a kid but I remember the adults around me mobilising public opinion, attending protest rallies and vowing to lie down in front of the bulldozers if it came to the point. The years have moved on and those remembered adults of my youth are now all dead but still the fight marches on and into another generation.

I’ve been writing regularly in these pages for three years about the merits of this very special corner of the world. My writing has been an attempt to draw attention to Yallambie, its natural beauty, its historic stories and the fantastic lifestyle to be enjoyed while living on the lower reaches of the nearby precious Plenty River. I’ve mentioned in these pages the possibility of a North East Link more than once, the last occasion in my May post of this year. In my wildest dreams though I never imagined for one moment that this hot potato would fall out of the fire so close to home and that the decision makers would pull this one on us like a Yallambie rabbit out of a hat. It might be sleight of hand but they’re not fooling anyone.

National Trust map showing the extent of their 1998 classification at Yallambie. The proposed North East Link freeway would emerge from a tunnel under the high voltage transmission line easement on the western boundary of the classification and cross National Trust classified land to Lower Plenty on the eastern bank of the Plenty.

Let’s call a spade a spade and call this proposal for what it is. An absolute turkey that has only been suggested now to deflect attention because of the real fight the government knows it will have on its hands with the other routes. The other corridors have been on the cards for many, many years and local groups opposed to them are well organised and ready for the fight. Before last week this had never even been suggested as an option for Yallambie and the local communities in Yallambie, Lower Plenty and elsewhere have been caught completely unprepared. It is insulting that residents have had to find out about this proposal from the newspapers and radio news. Yallambie is a small suburb and we have always had a small voice, but what consideration has been made for the people living here and elsewhere and for the birds and wild life, the historic landscape and the special bushland setting? What of beauty and nature and all those things that make up life in one of the best living environments in the city of Melbourne?

North East Link proposes to destroy all of that unless we make ourselves heard.

Stand up and have your say now. If we leave this until it is too late it will be no use complaining when you wake up one day to find yourself living in a car yard.

Misty morning with Hoop pine  at Yallambie, August, 2014

This morning I woke before the sunrise and lay in bed worrying while I listened to the dawn chorus of singing birds. Would the bell like sounds of the King Parrots soon be replaced by the noise of a hundred thousand vehicles a day spewing from a hole in the ground like the legions of Mordor? As if in answer to my question a lone kookaburra joined in with a tune, the ensuing laughter of its call ringing loudly in my ears. Maybe the kookaburra had been reading those newspapers. The North East Link Authority’s Monday announcement was driven off the front page the next day by a story about the Opposition Leader, a crayfish and the company he keeps. It’s good to keep these things in perspective.

Luckily for Arthur Dent, he was able to hitchhike a lift from a passing spaceship to escape the destruction of his hometown by the bulldozers. The rest of us are not so lucky. The decisions made on Melbourne’s road network in the near future will effect this city and the people living in it for generations to come. The destruction of communities in order to build these roads will look pretty stupid when Peak Oil has stopped vehicles in their tracks and left nothing behind other than a hole in the ground and an inter-generational debt with a fiscal and social implication of almost unimaginable proportions.

Slipping over on the highway of life

It’s a bit of a cliché, but the incongruous sight of men leaning on shovels around a road sign announcing the apparent falsehood, “men at work”, is one we are all familiar with. In Tarcoola Drive, Yallambie at the start of April one such sign went up on the nature strip near the corner. It read “roadwork ahead”, a precursor to sawn lines being cut into the road surface in front of it, then – nothing. It has been like that for a month, a road hazard if not actual roadwork, evidence that somebody at the road depot at least has a sense of humour. There the sign has stood forgotten, oblivious to traffic and to all intents and purposes seemingly abandoned. Eventually a motorist missing the corner drove right on over it, bending it into a shape like banana or a boomerang made by an Aboriginal on a bad day.

“Road work” at the Tarcoola Drive/Yallambie Road intersection, May, 2017.

The intention I’m told is to build new kerb “outstands” on the corner. These projecting kerbs are intended to reduce the speeds of vehicles entering and exiting Tarcoola Drive by making the turn disproportionately more dangerous. Yallambie’s Thomas Wragge, who owned one of the very first motor cars in the Heidelberg district, is said to have preferred a horse and cart. He may have been right.

Thomas and Sarah Ann Wragge in a Brazier outside Yallambie Homestead shortly before the death of Thomas in 1910. (Source: Bill Bush collection)

Roads were an early priority of this area and it has been argued by D S Garden that the creation of the Heidelberg Road Trust in 1841 constituted the earliest known form of local government within the Port Phillip District. The road to Heidelberg had been formed in 1839 and was known initially as the “Great Heidelberg Road”. It was laid out by the surveyor J Townsend who followed a line that was more or less parallel to the Yarra River.

Lower Plenty Road in Rosanna, 1914 looking south west towards the Upper Heidelberg Road intersection. The approach to Yallambie was behind the photographer of this picture. (Source: Heidelberg Historical Society image).
Junction of Lower Heidelberg Road and Banksia Street in Heidelberg, 1896. The recreation hall owned by Yallambie’s Thomas Wragge is in the centre of the picture. (Source: Heidelberg Historical Society image).

I picture Townsend in those far off days whistling the highs and lows of “The Bonnie Banks of Loch Lomond” as he surveyed his route, the design splitting Heidelberg Road into two paths after the Darebin Creek ford. His Upper Heidelberg Road, known initially as the Nillumbik Road, ran along the top of the ridge while the Lower Heidelberg Road, first called the Mount Eagle Road, followed the valley contours.

The Heidelberg Road commanded regular traffic from its inception. The route beyond to the Diamond Valley and Lower Plenty initially led to a ford over the Plenty River near what is now Martins Lane. Although shorter this route was discarded in 1840 in favour of the current line which was considered easier. William Greig, who as recounted previously farmed at Yallambie in that year, used this way regularly to visit town. That was until the early perilous condition of its surface sent his pony lame. Richard Howitt meanwhile, who lived on the Heidelberg Road at Alphington and who we remember for his visit to his Bakewell brothers in law at Yallambee in mid-1842, was equally unimpressed.

A beautiful town is Melbourne,
All by the Yarra’s side;
Its streets are wide, its streets are deep –
They are both deep and wide

Escaping from one quagmire,
There’s room enough for more;
Such a beautiful town as Melbourne
Was never seen before…

(Richard Howitt, Impressions of Australia Felix, p299)

One of the first tasks of the Heidelberg Road Trust then was to macadamise the road surface, a process that was commenced in 1842 and which was to introduce a technology which had not long been developed in Britain. The metal for the project came from a bluestone quarry at Alphington on the west bank of the Darebin Creek. As the colony emerged from the economic stupor of the 1840s, visitors to the Heidelberg district were astonished by the experience of travelling on a luxury road that boasted an incredible macadamized surface, the first in the Port Phillip District. In March, 1848, Bishop Perry wrote after travelling on this road that:

“Yesterday we drove to Heidelberg, which is the most settled part of the country. The distance from Melbourne is about eight miles, and the road is the only made road in the colony… Here and there we went along, were neatly piled up heaps of broken stone, ready for mending the road, just as you see in England; and at places we found men at work with shovels levelling, filling up holes etc.”

Almost a decade later in 1857, an attempt was made to reform the Heidelberg Road Trust by declaring the district a municipality. It failed after a petition opposing the move, led by the leading gentry of the region, was delivered to the government. Yallambee’s Bakewell brothers must have been getting ready for their return to England when they signed but all the same, their names appear there near the top of the parchment alongside such luminaries as Hawdon of Banyule, Martin of Viewbank, McArthur of Chartresville and what amounts to a mid-19th century virtual who’s who of the Heidelberg district. It appears there had been some disagreement over which part of the Heidelberg Road would most benefit from spending of the available road finances. The Bakewells, preoccupied with their return to England, possibly believed no money should be spent on it at all.

Service station on Main Road in Lower Plenty, c1960.
Service station at Watsonia, c1950. (Source: Greensborough Historical Society)

Transportation has changed and roads might be different but disagreements about spending on infrastructure hasn’t changed that much in the one and a half centuries since. The present State government dropped more than a billion dollars to dump the East West Freeway when it came into office, all to prove a point. In the State Budget announced today, the same government released plans to spend another $100 million on a feasibility study of a North East Link, the so called missing link between the Western Ring Road and Melbourne’s south east.

Burgundy Street in Heidelberg, 1950 at the Lower Heidelberg Road intersection. (Source: Picture Victoria, Heidelberg Historical Society image).

The North East Link is an old idea that harks back nearly half a century to the “1969 Melbourne Transportation Plan” which it might be argued was an attempt to turn Melbourne into a Los Angeles of the south. They largely succeeded in that plan for as a contractor once told Arthur Dent shortly before his planet was demolished by the Vogons, “It’s a bypass, you have to build bypasses.” The glaring exception however was the freeway that was to have been built through Heidelberg. Carrying the moniker F-18, the 1969 plan was to drive it through the Heidelberg community like a Thunderbirds’ atomic road maker, road laying machine, cutting a swathe through the landscape. Thankfully the plan was abandoned in the early 1970s and the land in Buckingham Drive and Banyule Road at either end of the freeway reserve was later sold for housing. The Freeway reserve is still there in between in the form of  a linear park but the plan is now to either build a tunnel under the City of Banyule or direct the route further out through Nillumbik Shire. Either option fills nearby communities with impending dread.

In Banyule, on a local and I might say, somewhat “smaller” scale, the City Council set aside $38,000 in the 2016/17 Budget for the work near us in Tarcoola Drive mentioned at the start of this post. However, they tell me that they are determined to spend only about half of that amount this year, the rest being put aside presumably for when they feel like coming back to do the job properly. Maybe they’ve run out of money already.

Mid 90’s Council proposal for a retrofitted roundabout at the corner of Tarcoola Drive and Yallambie Road that was never built.
Council plan of proposed kerb side alterations to intersection of Tarcoola Drive and Yallambie Road, December, 2016.

Like the F-18 on a larger scale, this is not the first attempt to deal with a perceived traffic problem in Yallambie. In the mid ’90s there was a proposal drawn up to transform the same corner into a retro fitted roundabout, a project aimed at slowing traffic in Yallambie Road, as opposed to the current attempt at slowing traffic in Tarcoola Drive. That roundabout was never built, but was constructed instead onto the corner of Binowee Avenue and Yallambie Road near the shop with speed bumps formed at the approaches.

To add a bit of currency to an old problem, yesterday afternoon our son came in from school and said that as he crossed Lower Plenty Road to Yallambie Road with a green pedestrian light, he had”nearly been run over by a car turning the corner.” In 1993, during the development of Yallambie’s Streeton Views subdivision, the Traffic Engineer for the project Greg Tucker reported that a grade separated pedestrian overpass across Lower Plenty Road to the schools in Viewbank was unwarranted. “The provision of traffic signals at Grantham and Crew Street would incorporate pedestrian crossing facilities in any event…” (City of Heidelberg business paper, 8 Feb, 1993). In subsequent developments, the Martins Lane intersection was substituted for Grantham Street.

The sharp bend at the Old Lower Plenty Road Bridge was a notorious local traffic hazard until the realignment of Lower Plenty Road across the modern bridge. (Source: Greensborough Historical Society, Eltham Historical Society image)

I’ve heard tell that it used to be an unofficial policy at VicRoads to undertake remedial roadwork but to do so only after a road death had occurred. A bit like shutting the barn door after the horse has bolted. The profusion of roundabouts and speed bumps at the northern end of Yallambie Road are something that was added after 1980 and only after the pedestrian death of a child on Yallambie Road near the Primary School. In those days Yallambie Road was a sort of alternative route to Eltham bound traffic on Greensborough Road. The 46 page “Yallambie Road Traffic Study” prepared by Nelson English, Loxton & Andrews for Heidelberg Council in 1982 reported that approximately a third of all traffic on Yallambie Road was through traffic and that up to 78% of traffic exceeded the then maximum 60 km/h speed limit with the highest speed recorded at 100km/h. The report also noted that the impending signalisation at both ends of Yallambie Road was expected to result in even more through traffic.

The decision three years later to extend Elonera Avenue, Yallambie in the City of Heidelberg through to Elder Street, Greensborough in the Shire of Diamond Valley as a part of the Daniel’s sub division opened up another access point into Yallambie, This time from Greensborough in the north. The Yallambie Community Association which was a then very active institution, strongly opposed this connection, but their collective voice remained carefully ignored by those who make the decisions. Once again the ad hoc solution has been to retrofit speed humps, this time along Elonera Avenue.

An aerial survey photograph made of the still some what under developed Yallambie area prior to 1971. Note the abrupt end of Elonera Ave to the left of the roundabout, before its extension as a part of the Daniel’s property sub division.

The folly of creating communities without satisfactory infrastructure is nothing new. What happened at Fishermen’s Bend in Port Melbourne is a case in point and is a classic example of what can happen when the profits of a few investors and developers are put ahead of the interests of the wider community. At Fishermen’s Bend, a few property developers, mostly with connections to the then Liberal State Government, became insanely wealthy overnight when the former industrial land they had invested in was rezoned with a stroke of a pen to allow multistorey apartment buildings. Some individuals made profits of over 500% on their investments but planning for residential infrastructure such as schools and roads was almost completely disregarded in the process, leaving taxpayers to pick up the tab at a later date. It has been described as a classic example of how not to develop land ear marked for urban renewal.

Sometimes it’s not about what you know but who you know along this highway of life. The Premier of Victoria at the time of the release of the 1969 Melbourne Transportation Plan freeway blueprint was the legendary, late Sir Henry Bolte. Ol’ Henry reportedly enjoyed a tipple now and then but in March 1984, long after his retirement as Premier, Bolte suffered serious injuries when the car he was driving collided with another vehicle near his home. Surveys here and abroad have consistently reported that the majority of road accidents happen near our homes but in this case it was alleged at the time that Henry had been drink driving. In the end, charges were never laid after the police mysteriously “lost” the blood sample taken from the injured ex-Premier after his crash.

The Bolte Bridge, named after Victoria’s longest serving premier. It spans the Yarra River and Victoria Harbour as a part of the CityLink road system. (Source: Wikipedia)

Bolte recovered but his legacy remains in the testament of the road network that he envisaged and that has been built right across greater Melbourne. Maybe one day we will all be travelling in driverless Tesla cars on this network, but the vote as far as it affects Banyule remains out.

Personally my money’s all on a future involving the Jetsons’ flying car.

 

 

Select sources: Heidelberg - The Land and Its People, D S Garden; The Diamond Valley Story, D H Edwards; The History of Our Roads, Maxwell Lay in The Heidelberg Historian, June 2005; Yallambie Road Traffic Study 1982, Nelson English, Loxton & Andrews; Yallambie Community Association papers; City of Heidelberg business paper, Feb 1993

Driving me crazy

In Douglas Adams “The Hitchhikers Guide to the Galaxy”, the hitch hiking alien names himself after a motor car, believing it to be a safely inconspicuous nom de plume while visiting planet Earth after erroneously misidentifying the dominant life form of our world. Look at any Melbourne road at peak hour these days and you might forgive the alien his misconception. In the words of a recently defunct Federal Treasurer, “poor people don’t drive cars” but if that were true, then judging by the traffic on Greensborough Rd these days, we Melbournians must be an entirely wealthy lot.

The Lower Plenty Rd Bridge and the Plenty Bridge Hotel, photographed by Mark Daniel, 1900, SLV.
The Lower Plenty Rd Bridge and the Plenty Bridge Hotel, photographed by Mark Daniel, 1900, SLV.

Last November in the process of writing about the one-time site of the Plenty Bridge Hotel, formerly located across the river from Yallambie at Lower Plenty and removed at the end of the 1950s, I made the rather farfetched yet hopeful suggestion that the old hotel might be reconstructed on vacant ground adjacent to a new housing development at Edward Willis Court.

Bicycle riders at the Plenty Bridge Hotel, c1900-1910, SLV.
Bicycle riders at the Plenty Bridge Hotel, c1900-1910, SLV.

Ten months on and there is activity all aplenty down on the Plenty, but not the sort I necessarily envisaged when writing that post. You see, what’s being built over at the Lower Plenty site right now is no piece of resurrected local history but a car park. As we all know, the world needs more car parks. We need them like music needs more cow bells.

giphy

When I saw the tractors trundle out onto the former location of the Plenty Bridge Hotel at the start of last month, I initially deluded myself that this might be the harbinger of better things to come.

Snakes alive at Lower Plenty, September, 2015.
Snakes alive at Lower Plenty, September, 2015.

Across the road, on the corner of Para and Main Roads, a newly installed public sculpture hinted at community pride while a notice in one shop window asked for public help developing a display describing Lower Plenty history.

Poster in shop window at Lower Plenty, September, 2015.
Poster in shop window at Lower Plenty, September, 2015.

Plans are even afoot to redevelop the former Ampol service station site as a franchise store of a certain large, German supermarket chain. An exercise in urban renewal I guess. So when I need a litre of milk in the future it will be handy to know that I’ll also be able to pick up a pair of snow shoes locally while I’m at it, just perfect for the next time we have a blizzard.

So it came as a bit of a shock to watch the tractors roll right across the site of the Plenty Bridge Hotel, grading its story into the dust once and for all time. The process even involved the destruction of the last Lombardy poplar on the site, a tree that is visible in nearly every old picture of the Plenty Bridge Hotel and the survival of which orienteered the casual passerby with an eye for history to the original location of the building.

Golf Club Hotel, aka, the Plenty Bridge Hotel, looking south west, c1950
Golf Club Hotel, aka, the Plenty Bridge Hotel, looking south west, c1950
Site of former Plenty Bridge Hotel, looking south west, November, 2014
Site of former Plenty Bridge Hotel, looking south west, November, 2014
Site of former Plenty Bridge Hotel, looking south west with stump of Lombardy Poplar visible at center, August, 2015.
Site of former Plenty Bridge Hotel, looking south west with stump of Lombardy Poplar visible at center, August, 2015.

Possibly the new car park will be a very nice car park, as car parks go. Adams’ hitchhiker might even feel at home. It  appears that the Lower Plenty Hotel applied for planning approval to develop the area as a lower level car park for their hotel patrons as early as October, 2010. This was authorised by Banyule Council in May the following year with amendments in July, 2012. By 2015 work had not commenced on the project and Council refused to allow an extension to the permit. However this was over ruled on appeal at VCAT with work finally commencing about two months ago. Responding to my enquiry, an officer at the Department of Planning at Banyule Council informed me that the status of the Lombardy poplar as an “environmental weed” meant that it would not have been protected by the ”Significant Landscape and Environmental Significance Overlay controls which affect the site”, whatever that statement might mean. The poplar was on the periphery of the development and not intrusive. Its removal was unnecessary and however it’s dressed up, from the perspective of historical significance, it strikes me as misguided.

Car park under construction at Lower Plenty Hotel, September, 2015.
Car park under construction at Lower Plenty Hotel, September, 2015.

Next month I note that, as a part of the Royal Historical Society History Week, a representative from Banyule Council is booked to lecture at the Watsonia Public Library about the importance of the Significant Trees and Vegetation Register. Yes, there really is a register and a number of the trees at Yallambie within both public space and on private land are on it. What this actually means in practice I would be interested to learn. At Yallambie in the last few years we have seen a century old Hoop Pine and similarly aged Irish Strawberry removed from private gardens. Add these to the disappearance of the Pre-phylloxera grape vine in Yallambie Park and the demise of assorted Italian Cypresses and the old stand of English elms and it is easy to see a pattern developing.

The Yallambie Hoop Pine referred to above was destroyed ostensibly because of the potential damage its root system might do to the drive way of the private home it flanked, although the needs of cars in this city are nothing new. The recent state election was largely fought as a referendum between the freeway and public transport lobbies but it is a debate that has been going on much longer than that. The very first “self-propelled” vehicles of the 19th century were required to be led by a pedestrian waving a red flag or carrying a lantern to warn bystanders of the vehicle’s approach. The F18 Freeway, the so called missing link in Melbourne’s road network and designed to connect traffic on the Western Ring Rd with the Eastern Freeway, is still mentioned every time traffic on Greensborough Rd grinds to a standstill. That battle was fought in the 1970s and won by the anti-freeway lobby. Today it is discussed in the terms of a tunnel under Banyule.

Cars might be a fact of life but what would aliens really think if they happened to drop by and observed the precedence we give to them? In 1960, Lucerne Farm, the former home of Thomas Wills at the confluence of the Darebin Creek and Yarra River, was demolished to make space for a car park for the La Trobe Golf Club. Thomas Wills had been the first owner of the land that became Yallambie. He purchased it in 1836 from the Crown (nobody asked the Wurundjeri what they thought of this) and held onto it for only a few months before selling it to Thomas Walker at a profit. He would have done well in the real estate trade of the 21st century.

Lucerne Farm, the National Trust classified, former Alphington home of Thomas Wills, photographed by Colin Caldwell before demolition c1960, SLV.
Lucerne Farm, the National Trust classified, former Alphington home of Thomas Wills, photographed by Colin Caldwell before demolition c1960, SLV.

More recently, on the corner of Yallambie and Lower Plenty Roads, an assembly hall was built by an evangelical church. Even before the building was finished a car park went in across the site, obliterating in the process the remnant features of a dam which had survived there from the farming era up to that point. An old weeping willow was fortunately retained and it survives on the corner to this day, despite having earlier lost approximately one half of its canopy when Lower Plenty Rd was widened 20 years ago.

Will Wragge pictured alongside one of several tanks (dams) at Yallambie at the start of the 20th century, (Bush collection). In 2013 a dam similar to this on the corner of Lower Plenty and Bannockburn Roads, Viewbank was asphalted as a carpark, an old willow similar to the tree in this picture remaining to this day to mark the spot.
Will Wragge pictured alongside one of several tanks (dams) at Yallambie at the start of the 20th century, (Bush collection). In 2013 a dam similar to this on the corner of Lower Plenty and Bannockburn Roads, Viewbank was asphalted as a carpark, an old willow similar to the tree in this picture remaining to this day to mark the spot.

So where do cars fit in with life in a capital city of the 21st century living under the looming threat of Peak Oil? Many people are defined by their cars and cannot envisage a life characterised without them. I’m fast approaching that time in life when a man is supposed to go out and purchase a Harley Davidson in vain glorious pursuit of youth, but when our son recently asked which vehicle would I replace our 16 year old Japanese car with if I had the choice, I replied, “A Morris Minor.” I think he was hoping I would say a Lamborghini.

Motor car in the farm yard at Yallambie, c1930.
Not a Lamborghini in the farm yard at Yallambie, c1930.

The Morris or so called “Noddy” car was the first car I ever owned and came with me when I moved to Yallambie. It sat out in the open in front of Thomas Wragge’s old brick garage for years, gradually rusting into venerable retirement. I let it go eventually, fearful that if I left it there much longer it would eventually become a roost for chickens. Observing it leave Yallambie for the last time on the back of a trailer was like watching the days of my youth driving off out of my life. The inclination to one day own such a car again proves I’m really not so different to the next man.

Or visiting alien.

The Noddy car leaving Yallambie for the last time.
The Noddy car leaving Yallambie for the last time.

From Yallambie to Heidelberg & the road to salvation

An early view of St Johns Church of England, Heidelberg from the north
An early view of St Johns Church of England, Heidelberg from the north

It was already old when I was young.

From the outset, St John’s Church of England was always there, it’s influence on district life felt or implied in many ways. Later, when I knew the church, the Reverend Simondson had by then become an institution. Perhaps he had been there from the start? The Rev’s piano accordion was like a white toothed chest appendage that squeaked when he moved, his weekly pastoral crusade to the young heathens of Banyule Primary School a regular thing.

Recollections of the church in spring time, Sunday School classes moved outside into the crisp, fresh air of the park to make the most of a beautiful morning. Children singing “Jesus Loves the Little Children”, its lyrics loaded with unintended racism. Book prizes at Christmas and the annual Parish fair. The hard work of the Ladies’ Guild on the white elephant stall like an elephant in the room. A bus, lying mysteriously on its side on the banks of Salt Creek one Sunday morning some time in the 1970s. Its brakes had failed at the top of Burgundy Street and it had careered out of control with a load of schoolgirls before overturning in Heidelberg Park. The driver was killed, the girls shaken. And always the church bell calling the faithful to worship. When I was old enough I had the job sometimes of ringing it. A temperamental thing, it was harder to get it swinging than I had imagined.

It all started readily enough when we were quite small, my parents simply asking, “So where do you kids want to go to Sunday School?”

“What’s that?”

“It’s like school, but on Sunday. Sunday, school, get it. You could go to the church in Arden Crescent where you went to kinder or St John’s in the Park where we were married.”

My sister answered for both of us. She usually did. “I want to go to the place Mummy and Daddy got married.”

‘There’s a school on Sunday?’ I thought with a sinking feeling, maybe. ‘I wonder if there will be finger painting?’

St John's Church of England, Heidelberg from the south west before addition of side porches below the bell tower
St John’s Church of England, Heidelberg from the south west before addition of side porches below the bell tower
St John's Church of England, Heidelberg from the north east before addition of side chapel &, vestry
St John’s Church of England, Heidelberg from the north east before addition of side chapel &, vestry

The association of Yallambie with St John’s Church of England, Heidelberg, the third oldest church in Melbourne, goes back a long way. The Bakewell brothers at Yallambie, like their friends and relations in law the Howitts, were Quakers at the time of their arrival in Australia. Quakers or the Religious Society of Friends (or Friends as they call themselves), other than making porridge believed in a doctrine of the priesthood of all Christian believers. They avoided creeds and the hierarchical structure of churches and refused to swear loyalty oaths or participate in wars. The established churches “viewed the Quakers as a blasphemous challenge to social and political order” which in an earlier time, before the Act of Toleration, led to a degree of persecution.

John Bakewell’s name appears alongside that of Dr Godfrey Howitt on a grant of a burial ground in Melbourne to the “Society of Friends” by the Governor of New South Wales in November, 1847. However, by the time of his return to England in 1857, Robert Bakewell’s resignation from the “Society” was accepted by the Nottingham Monthly Meeting (of Quakers) because “he had entirely discontinued his membership during his long residence in Australia.” (Minutes of Nottingham M. M., February, 1857).

Possibly Robert and John had found that during their stay in Australia, their support for an as yet unestablished outpost of Quakerism in Port Phillip gave them little scope to advance their aim of creating a successful farm in the English character on the Plenty River. In an era when the interests of church and state were often intertwined, it was the Church of England that was at the seat of power in Port Phillip. It is believed the Bakewell brothers, like their brother in law, Dr Godfrey Howitt, lost interest in Quaker activities some time after arriving in Port Phillip. In the case of Howitt, his “gradual alienation from ‘Friends’ followed his increasing identification with ‘upper’ classes of Melbourne and with the established church”. (Quakers in Australia in the 19th Century,William Nicolle Oats).

When plans were drawn up by the Church of England diocese to build a church in the Heidelberg parish, on the list of donors alongside the names of church trustees, local gentry Hawdon, Martin and McArthur, the Bakewells’ name appears in the Church accounts book, their initial contribution being £10. (The pre gold rush wage of an agricultural labourer in 1850 was about £26 per annum).

A grant of two acres which had been reserved in the “diamond shaped” village green of the original subdivision of the Warringal village was secured from the government and the foundations of St John’s Church of England were commenced in 1849. The foundation stone “J. W. 1850”, believed to be the oldest surviving engraved stone of this sort in Melbourne, was laid the following year and the building officially opened in October, 1851.

Engraved foundation stone, St John's Church of England, Heidelberg
Engraved foundation stone, St John’s Church of England, Heidelberg

The architectural style of St John’s is reminiscent of an English Parish church from the Decorated period of English Gothic Revival. Its idyllic setting near the river curiously drew this comparison with Yallambie in the 1987 Loder & Bayly, Marilyn McBriar Heidelberg Conservation Study:

HEIDELBERG PARK/ST. JOHN’S
Existing Landscape character
This zone is dramatically different from any area previously described. Its closest affinity is with Yallambie well to the north…
The area is characterised by old plantings of mixed conifer species and a minor sub-planting of deciduous trees.

Thomas Wragge, who purchased Yallambie from the Bakewells, was a staunch Anglican and became a regular worshipper at the church. In the words of one of his descendents, “He probably thought he owned that church.” His commitment extended also to the home. In the homestead that Thomas built at Yallambie to replace the earlier Bakewell farm, it is recorded that it was Thomas’ habit to read a service to his family every morning. On one occasion while reading an appropriately filled fire and brimstone sermon through a thunderstorm, Thomas turned to a window and indicated a horse that had been killed by a bolt from above, emphasizing by example the fate to be expected of those who wandered from God’s grace.

“(He) always had a service in the morning and (once) he was just sort of reading — blessing the gathering and there was a frightful crack of lightening and a clap of thunder together. And Olive said she was looking out and then underneath the oak tree in the paddock a horse was struck by lightening so she said she would always remember the prayers at Yallambie.” (Quote from Classing the Wool and Counting the Bales, Winty Calder, Jimaringle Press, 1996).

Horse carriage in the farm yard just north of Yallambie Homestead.
Horse carriage in the farm yard just north of Yallambie Homestead.

In an age when Sunday was still “church day” and most people attended regularly, the Wragge family were active members at St John’s, Heidelberg travelling there regularly to Sunday services along Lower Plenty and Rosanna Roads by horse and carriage, but never it seems by motor car. At least not initially. In some ways, Thomas Wragge was very conservative and it has been said that he believed that the novel machines that started to appear in the Heidelberg district at the end of the 19th century were wicked instruments. His son Harry had enjoyed the use of a bicycle for some time but Thomas forbade his family to have anything to do with motor cars. However, in the case of at least two of his sons, perhaps his wishes were not always entirely respected.

Young Harry Wragge and his bicycle on the road to Yallambie, c1895
Young Harry Wragge and his bicycle on the road to Yallambie, c1895

“(Before Thomas died) Syd and Harry were very keen to get a motor car, but their father would have none of the new-fangled idea. He held strong views that horseflesh had served him well all his days, and that motors were an invention of the devil. Harry would not take ‘no’ easily, and kept plaguing away for consent, until Thomas finally told him he would be disinherited if he got one of the hateful things. The family was most concerned about this, because they knew that the old man might well carry out his threat. To their horror, a little later, the whisper flashed through the family that Harry, despite all threats, had got a car (a Hurtu) and was keeping it secretly in town. Harry had, in fact, done just that. Many a quiet run he had round and about after doing all possible to find out where his father might be going, so he could go elsewhere. Cars were not registered and carried no identification numbers.

“During one of these runs, his one-lunger (sic) was snorting south in Nicholson Street a bit north of the Exhibition building where the road is fairly level. A policeman on a push bike decided he was speeding and called on him to stop. Harry began to panic, visualising his name in the newspapers and his inheritance gone, so he decided to make a run for it. The bobby came pedalling after, and Harry gradually drew away on the level road. Reaching the slight rise to the Exhibition building, the car slowed up and soon the bobby was right behind breathing heavily and gasping threats. It seemed that capture was imminent, but with a flash of genius, Harry slapped on whatever brakes he had; the bicycle crashed into the rear and the policeman took a fearful toss with a buckled front wheel. Harry and car escaped unhurt, and Harry had saved himself from the loss of perhaps £50,000.”

(Extract from Classing the Wool and Counting the Bales, Winty Calder, Jimaringle Press, 1996).

It is doubtful that if Harry had been caught that day his father would have taken such drastic steps as to disinherit him. At the end of his life Thomas had put aside his reservations and had entered into arrangements with The Motor House Company for a Brazier priced at £475. This was not delivered until two weeks after his death on 12 May, 1910. All the same, it is nice to imagine his widow Sarah Anne, who took possession of the car, driving it like Granny in Tweety and Sylvester until her death five years later. Picture the sales pitch of that car, which had by then been replaced with another. “Practically new you know. Hardly anything on the clock. Driven by a little old lady who only took it to church on Sunday.”

Thomas and Sarah Ann Wragge in a Brazier outside Yallambie Homestead shortly before the death of Thomas, 1910
Thomas and Sarah Ann Wragge in a Brazier outside Yallambie Homestead shortly before the death of Thomas, 1910

The children of Thomas and Sarah Wragge all became regular parishioners at St Johns, in between visits to the family’s sheep station in New South Wales. Tom Wragge (Thomas’ eldest son) was confirmed at St John’s on 20 June, 1878 and Annie (his eldest daughter) on 18 July, 1889. Caroline Victoria Wragge (Thomas’ third daughter) married Francis James Wright at St John’s on 14 October, 1896 and Annie married Wallace Murdoch there on 20 August, 1903. Annie and Wallace’s daughter, Nancy Wragge Murdoch was baptised there in 1905. Nancy would later inherit Yallambie Homestead through her mother and live there until the end of the 1950s.

In 1907, Thomas Wragge gave £500 to the vestry of St John’s Church of England, Heidelberg to help them purchase adjoining pieces of land in Yarra and Hawdon Streets to build a new church. “This land was wanted because the population of Heidelberg was then concentrated near the railway line, and it was thought that the old church was badly placed. The church hall was moved to that land, and a new vicarage was built on it.” (Classing the Wool and Counting the Bales, Winty Calder, Jimaringle Press, 1996) “…the basic wage was 7/- per day, £4.2.0 per week, so approximately £210 per annum. So Mr Wragge’s generous offer is equivalent to about two and a half annual basic wages.” (A Church in the Park, St John’s Anglican Church, 2001).

Membership of the Church of England was a spiritual comfort to Thomas and his family and they are remembered there with at least two memorials. The Holy Table or altar at St John’s was a gift to the church by the wife of Thomas Wragge, Sarah Anne in 1902. Solidly constructed of polished blackwood and with a carved front it stands appropriately before the magnificent Wragge family “Ascension Windows”. The windows were a gift to the church in 1920 and dedicated by three of the children of Thomas and Sarah Ann to the memory of their late parents. It was recorded in the church minutes of 1920 that the Wragge family at that time “desired the best position in the church” for their proposed windows and that the vicar therefore suggested the chancel in the sanctuary, the arrangement replacing an earlier design of geometric stained glass. The Wragge windows show Christ ascending with an aureole of cherub like faces adorning the perimeter. The Holy City is shown below with the apostles bowing in reverence. The left and right panels show Mary and John. The triptych bears the following inscription: “In loving memory of Thomas and Sarah Ann Wragge for many years worshippers in this church. Presented by their daughter Annie and two sons Syd and Harry 1920.” I read that inscription often in bygone times, the man in the front pew perhaps looking at his watch during the Reverend Simondson’s sermon. Who were Thomas and Sarah Ann Wragge in life? I didn’t know.

The Ascension Windows triptych at St John's Church of England, Heidelberg. Inscription reads,"In loving memory of Thomas and Sarah Ann Wragge for many years worshippers in this church. Presented by their daughter Annie and two sons Syd and Harry 1920."
The Ascension Windows triptych at St John’s Church of England, Heidelberg.
Inscription reads,”In loving memory of Thomas and Sarah Ann Wragge for many years worshippers in this church. Presented by their daughter Annie and two sons Syd and Harry 1920.”

St John’s became the mother church of several other churches throughout the district. Upon his death on 12 May, 1910, Thomas Wragge left Yallambie to his wife Sarah Ann, excepting one acre of land on the north west corner of the property. Under his will, Thomas Wragge bequeathed this land to the Church of England with the stipulation that a church should be built on it. The transfer of land was finalised in 1912 and construction of a church began. Conceived possibly on grand lines, the Church of the Holy Spirit, Watsonia on the corner of what is today Yallambie Road and the Greensborough Highway, was never completed. It’s boarded up, unfinished end became the home of roosting pigeons. In the 1950s the congregation of the Church of the Holy Spirit moved to a new location closer to the population centre of Watsonia near the rail station. A petrol, service station would later occupy the Greensborough Road site on the edge of Yallambie. There’s probably a moral somewhere in that story.

In the early 20th century there had been a notion of relocating St John’s, Heidelberg to the land in Hawdon Street that had been given to the church in 1907 by Thomas Wragge. In 1958 however, a decision was made to consolidate Parish operations at the old church in the park. The Hawdon Street site and its hall were disposed of, the sum realized for the Parish being £17,050. The upper and lower church halls at St Johns at the front of the building were built at this time and a side chapel, vestry and porches were added to the church. In 1966, soon after the alterations were reconsecrated, the Ladies Auxiliary of St Johns organized an historical exhibition of local significance to raise funds for the Church Missions. The considerable interest which the exhibition generated directly resulted in the formation of the Heidelberg Historical Society which today bases itself nearby at the Old Court House in Jika Street. For another half century the St John’s Church of England site remained relatively unchanged drawing this praise just a decade ago:

“It must have been good to hear it (the church bell) ring out for the first time from the square tower so cunningly located that it formed the focal point of a vista through an avenue of eucalyptus from the main road. We are grateful today for the foresight that chose a lie of the land that still enables one to see the tower across a modern suburb; and for later municipal planning of parkland which saves the church from being ‘built out’.” (Extract from “A Church in the Park”, St John’s Anglican Church, 2001).

Banyule Council’s report “Heritage Guidelines for Warringal Village, 2006” describes the Warringal Village/St John’s/Heidelberg Park precinct as “historically, aesthetically and socially” significant and states that”St John’s Anglican Church, at the highest point in the township, is the dominant key structure… The church, and more particularly its spire, may be seen from a number of points in the Area. It is a highly picturesque element that underscores the early history of the Village reserve.”

The same report makes these recommendations:

“The size and shape of new buildings should relate sympathetically with those of the adjacent significant buildings. New buildings should not dominate existing significant places… New buildings should respect existing settings and neither dominate nor obscure views or sight lines to existing significant buildings.”

Building work on Burgundy Street, Heidelberg, church & car park on left, November, 2014
Building work on Burgundy Street, Heidelberg, church & car park on left, November, 2014

So just what is going on at St John’s today? If you stand at the lower end of Burgundy Street and look across Heidelberg Park to the view that was formerly of St John’s Church of England, all you will see now are medium level apartment buildings. The unit developments that have been built on Burgundy and Jika Streets along the south west boundary of the church threaten to overpower the site. But they are nothing when compared to what has most recently gone in behind the church on Vine Street on the south east boundary. “Streeton Park on Yarra” as it is styled is a Freemasons premium retirement living complex conceived on a large scale. A deep excavation has been made up to the fence line of the church and a balcony apartment block built which now completely dominates the location, rising above the dugout and standing above ground level almost as tall as the tower of the church itself.

Streeton Park on Yarra & St John's Anglican Church, November, 2014
Streeton Park on Yarra & St John’s Anglican Church, November, 2014

Before this project was commenced, the then mayor of Banyule was quoted as saying in the Heidelberg Leader newspaper that not everyone wanted a garden and that many people wanted affordable living, like that which would be provided by the new project. Trouble is, that’s where the argument falls flat. “Streeton on the Park” was not conceived as affordable housing but is a premium retirement complex providing a wonderful lifestyle opposite the river.

Streeton on Park, Vine Street, Heidelberg, November, 2014
Streeton on Park, Vine Street, Heidelberg, November, 2014

My parents have their own accommodation nearby in the St John’s memorial garden, the site of their ashes now overlooked by the apartment complex next door. They loved St John’s in life and after their marriage they remained active members of the congregation at St John’s for decades. I still have the letter written by the vestry of St John’s formally thanking my father for the voluntary work he put into the garden in the 1980s. The garden at St John’s then was a place of solitude and quiet reflection. Now it is a place from which to wave to the neighbours.

Wedding at St John's Church of England, Heidelberg
Wedding at St John’s Church of England, Heidelberg

I am told that the church protested about the Streeton Park on Yarra project and that the objections were taken to VCAT. Failing to have the project stopped there was also an attempt to have one storey removed from the high level plans and to have the buildings set back at a distance from the boundary line. VCAT passed the plans. The Church “turned the other cheek” and not only has the ambience of the location been irretrievably destroyed, but the resulting increase in land values that apartment living encourages means that St John’s itself distressingly must be seen to be under potential threat. In an era of dwindling congregations the church by default now finds itself sitting on acres of premium land opposite Heidelberg Gardens and worth potentially millions.

St John's Church of England, Heidleberg before intrusion of apartment development
St John’s Church of England, Heidleberg before intrusion of apartment development
St John's bell tower from the car park with Streeton Park on Yarra apartments behind, November, 2014
St John’s bell tower from the car park with Streeton Park on Yarra apartments behind, November, 2014

Streeton Park on Yarra has taken years to take shape beside St Johns. For a long time it stood as a massive hole in the ground the development apparently on hold. It was like that in 2011 when the church hosted a “Back to St John’s” service to mark its 160th anniversary.

Similarly, in the 1970s the F18 freeway project to link Greensborough Road to the Eastern Freeway stalled within the City of Heidelberg when objections were raised to a road that would have bisected the community and potentially destroyed the important landscape around the Warringal Parklands. The freeway reserve is still there in the form of a linear park called Rivergum Walk at the back of Beverley Road but it is unlikely now to ever be used. But is that the end of the matter?

Signs on Rosanna Road have been asking in this pre election week “Who will fix Rosanna Road?” Who indeed? One party has suggested a curfew on heavy transport on Rosanna Road at night. Another party wants to build a freeway elsewhere, in Royal Park. Nobody really wants to say what everyone is thinking. Like another elephant in the room the ghost of the F18 has haunted successive governments the plans “on display in the bottom of a locked filing cabinet stuck in a disused lavatory with a sign on the door saying ‘Beware of the Leopard’.”

Will the eventual solution of the road problem in Banyule see the destruction of parkland in Warringal as first proposed in the 1960 and 70s, or will the destruction move further out into leafy Eltham, the “outer ring” option? As I ponder this question, I picture old Mrs Wragge seated in her Brazier in the early years of the 20th century driving along a much quieter Rosanna Road to church on Sunday. Money is the religion of the modern day, the speed of living and development at any cost the maxim. Too bad we only have the one planet. In the words of someone somewhere, if a tree falls in the forest and no one blogs about it, who gives a damn?

North east exterior of St John's showing Wragge window in the end of the Sanctuary at right and Streeton Park on Yarra apartments on left, November, 2014
North east exterior of St John’s showing Wragge window in the end of the Sanctuary at right and Streeton Park on Yarra apartments on left, November, 2014