Category Archives: Sports

Harry’s googly

In an unmannerly modern world it seems that the epithet “gentleman” is more likely to be found these days on the door of a public loo than out there in the less than genteel mores of society. It might be that this is evidence of a new standard but the fact remains, it was not always so. The word “gentleman” at one time was a word that carried a certain polite social expectation since to be a “gentleman” removed a man, at least in his own mind, from the general hoi polloi of the professional and labouring classes, the “great unwashed” of literature.

An early picture of Thomas Wragge, c1860. (Source: Bill Bush collection)

In 1861, Yallambie’s Thomas Wragge signed the certificate of his marriage describing himself as a “gentleman of Lower Plenty” while his bride signed herself as Sarah Ann Hearn, a “lady”. A hundred years earlier, Lord Chesterfield had written plenty of advice about what this actually meant in practice, advice that had become pretty widely accepted by the time Wragge brought his bride to Yallambie, but it is advice which today has been largely forgotten. The good Lord is better remembered now chiefly for having a chair named after him.

Sarah Ann Hearn in the early 1860s about the time of her marriage to Thomas Wragge. (Source: Bill Bush collection)

As a code, the Chesterfield ideal flourished in the otherwise egalitarian society of the Australian colonies of the 19th century in spite of, or perhaps because of the 20 thousand kilometres by sea that separated Australian society from the rest of civilization. Transplanted from the British Isles by early settlers the code attempted to reproduce as far as possible the traditions of a polite society in a rude world under the demanding vicissitudes of an alien sun. Colonial intellectuals might look to the contents of a man’s library to judge a gentleman’s character, the dandies the cut of his coat and heralds the existence of armorial bearings, but for all of this one standard remained inviolable. That was the ability of a man to live respectably within his means on an unearned income.

Thomas Wragge’s armorial bearings, a rampant lion, clawing the air in noble rage with the Latin motto, “audacia et sincero”.

When Thomas Wragge decided to take his growing family on a visit to England in 1892 to see the land of his birth, he did so as a representative of Australia’s new landed squattocracy. The family chose to travel that year as saloon passengers on a single class steamer, the Peninsular and Orient Steam Navigation Company’s SS Valetta with the manifest describing each member of Thomas’ family as either a “gentleman” or “lady”. Keeping up appearances, there would be no room for any of life’s riff raff on this voyage for Thomas.

The 4904 ton single class iron screw steamer, SS Valetta at the wharves in Sydney, c1887. (Source: State Library of Victoria)
Dr William Gilbert Grace

The ship left Melbourne on the 26 March, 1892 and stopped at the Port of Adelaide where ongoing passengers were excited to find Lord Sheffield’s 1891-92 returning English Test cricketers come on board. The team was captained by the renowned Dr William Gilbert Grace, a huge figure in the cricket of this era in both his sporting achievements and his commanding presence – 6 ft 2 in (1.88 m), an ever expanding girth and a bushy, black pirate beard to match. To the great interest of Thomas’ sons, nets were put up on the deck to allow the cricketers to keep in condition during the long sea voyage and to their general excitement Thomas’ youngest son Harry, then nearly 12 years old, was given the opportunity to bowl to the great W G in the nets. The unexpected result of this would be remembered by his family for generations with Harry’s nephew, Frank Wright later writing of the encounter and of Harry’s subsequent development as a cricketer.

“In the playing of deck games, young Harry, then aged only 11 or so, clean bowled Grace in a game of deck cricket. It seems to have created such an uproar that Grace lost his temper, so things could have been so-so for a while. The aura surrounding young Harry for this feat was probably the cause of his later interest in cricket. My first recollection of him in the early 1900s is in his flannels, eating an enormous meal at Yallambie one Saturday evening after having played in some match at Heidelberg.”
F S Wright, 1949, State Library of Victoria, Manuscript Collection and quoted by Calder, p119, Classing the Wool and Counting the Bales

Deck cricket from a Peninsular and Oriental Steam Navigation Co postcard, c1915. (Source: Museums Victoria)

The lack of grace of Grace at losing his wicket to an eleven year old might seem to have been a bit of an over-reaction but the bearded cricketer was well known for possessing a highly competitive streak. The stories of his refusal to “walk” when out are legendary and although some of them are probably apocryphal, one sometimes quoted tale recalls the cricketer coolly replacing the bails in a first class game after they had been dislodged by the leather, remarking as he did so for the umpire’s benefit, “Windy weather out here this morning.”

Fred “The Demon” Spofforth photographed by the pioneering sport photograher George Beldam in 1904 at Hampstead CC, still a fearsome sight at age 51.

Such blatant examples at gamesmanship could have and sometimes did have unintended consequences in the sporting arena. In a match at The Oval in England in 1882, Australia’s  Fred “The Demon” Spofforth is said to have boiled over in righteous anger at an unsporting run out by Grace of an Australian batsman who had wandered out of the crease to do a “bit of gardening” between balls. It inspired “The Demon” to a bowling rout of the Englishmen with the Australian quick capturing a decisive 14 wickets, Australia winning the match by seven runs with a famous published “obituary” to English Cricket afterwards appearing in the press, the body to be “cremated and the ashes taken to Australia”.

Rupertswood, Sunbury, c1890 (Source: Wikipedia)
The parents of Sarah Ann Hearn, James and Louisa Hearn of Thorngrove, photographed in the early 1850s. Louisa was the sister of William John Turner “Big” Clarke, father of Sir William J Clarke, Baronet of Rupertswood, Victoria. (Source: Bill Bush collection)

In a way strangely pertinent to our story, these “Ashes” as they became known enjoy a vague familial association with Yallambie which you won’t find mentioned in any of the many history books of the subject. Wragge’s wife, Sarah Ann Hearn was a full cousin of Sir William Clarke, 1st Baronet and it was at Clarke’s country seat, “Rupertswood” near Sunbury that the most enduring and famous trophy in cricket was created as a nod to the earlier death notice to English cricket. One of cousin Clarke’s many hats was as president of the Melbourne Cricket Club and he was instrumental in bringing the English cricketers to Australia in 1882 after their shock loss at the Oval.

Sir William Clarke of Rupertswood, Victoria. (Source: State Library of Victoria)

The tour became known as the battle to reclaim the imaginary Ashes of newspaper obituary invention but how much Sarah Ann had to do with her cousin’s family at Sunbury in this era is uncertain. What is known is that her husband Thomas’ brother, Henry Wragge, a veterinarian was at Rupertswood around this time working in Sir William’s stables and that Henry had been living with his brother’s family at Yallambie. Perhaps the story of The Ashes had become a family anecdote to them by the time Harry had a chance to roll his arm over to Grace 10 years later. It’s a thought.

The Wragge family on the verandah at Yallambie, c1900. The cricketing “nemesis” of W G Grace, Harry Wragge, is standing to the right in the straw boater. His brother Syd is seated in front of him and is wearing what could be argued is a suspiciously striped, cricket style blazer. (Source: Bill Bush collection)

W G Grace remained a much loved cricketer for many years with the public both in England and abroad and a respected and sometimes feared opponent. The contemporary monthly almanac “Cricket” wrote of the 1891-92 English tour of the Australian colonies, “The great as well as the most pleasing feature of the tour to the general public was Dr W G Grace’s consistent success as a bat. Time has not even now withered, nor custom staled his infinite variety.”

It was the second tour of the Australian colonies for Grace, 18 years after the first and the first of the Test cricket era. W G was 43 years old at this time but still took third place on the English Test batting averages while in Australia.

William Gilbert Grace, a huge figure in cricket with “an ever expanding girth and a bushy, black pirate beard to match.”

Grace chose to take the field as a Gentleman/Amateur as opposed to the Player/Professional class but herein lies one of the great shams of what is sometimes referred to as the “Golden Age” of cricket. The game could be said to have been suffering from a sort of existential crisis at this time for to be a gentleman in cricket parlance meant to take the field purely for the love of the game and without financial incentive. At least that was the theory. “No gentleman ought to make a profit by his services in cricket,” wrote the MCC in November, 1878. Sounds simple enough doesn’t it but it was a decree in practice openly flouted by many of the greatest of the Amateur cricketers of the era. This was a time when leading Amateurs were often better rewarded than the game’s Professionals, commanding high appearance fees and extravagant expense accounts but still demanding separate gentlemen’s dressing rooms from their labouring class team mates. Grace was no exception and made a considerable sum of money as an Amateur in 1892 even while Lord Sheffield’s loss making tour racked up expenses, including the cost of the presentation of a magnificent silver shield to the colonies to be used for a domestic competition still bearing his name to the present day.

Lord Sheffield’s magnificent silver trophy, the “Sheffield Shield”, Australia’s domestic cricket trophy.

As an in demand if theoretical Amateur first class cricketer, Grace probably didn’t have a financial need to take his medical practice too seriously, which may have been just as well for his patients as I’m thinking the cut of his scalpel might not have matched the cut shot of his cricket. On one occasion in 1870 while playing for the MCC, Grace then a 22 year old medical student was present when an opposing batsman was struck in the head by a rising delivery on a difficult wicket. Grace took command of the situation and prescribed a stiff brandy for the patient and a lie down who, without further treatment, was dead four days later from an undiagnosed fractured skull.

So much for medicine as a profession for one of the great Amateurs of the game.

It’s natural to think of sport as being a form of play but for the Professional there is no doubt that it has become a task orientated occupation like any other involving physical exertion and carrying a formal structure. In other words, work. Play on the other hand, is all about leisure and having a good time and it is perhaps this distinction that has always separated the Amateur from the Professional and the Gentleman from the Player.

The reality of this has become clouded over the years but any park cricketer today could probably tell you more about what it means to play the game in the amateur spirit than those who have played the game as Amateurs historically. There have always been cricketers who have pulled on the flannels for nothing more than the smell of the new mown grass, the blue skies and the sheer love of the game, including this writer in his youth as an indifferent but always hopeful opening bat for the Lower Eltham CC.

Russell Drysdale’s iconic 1948 sporting picture, “The Cricketers”. (Source: Wikipedia)

Modern associations with the game of cricket are rarely found in Yallambie but they do exist if you look carefully. The only full sized cricket grounds in Yallambie are those that can be found inside the Simpson Barracks but I’m not about to enlist to get a game there. A junior team was founded locally in 1979 and fielded sides, the Yallambie Sparrows and the Yallambie Eagles across two decades in the NDCA, JIKA, PDCA and HDCA using the Winsor Reserve in Macleod as their home base and winning premierships in 1983, 84 and 86. Alan Connolly who represented Australia as a medium-fast bowler in Test cricket from 1963 until 1971 lived in Tarcoola Drive, Yallambie after retiring from first class cricket. Probably the most unique cricket connection in Yallambie however is the existence of a book shop in a suburban court side home location dedicated entirely to the subject of cricket. Roger Page Cricket Books has operated in Yallambie for 50 years with a customer base from across the world.

Cricket book seller, Roger Page photographed among his books in Yallambie, July, 2019.

The days of thinking about cricket in terms of Amateurs and Professionals are long gone, if they ever truly existed with the last of the prestigious “Gentlemen versus Players” games staged in 1962 after which the MCC voted to abolish the concept of amateurism altogether. Next month will mark the start of a new Ashes campaign, the 71st in the history of the game and if there’s still room to remember the principles of that earlier era I’m afraid you won’t find them voicing it on Rupert’s Fox Sports. The introduction of a numbering system this year on the backs of cricketers’ whites marks one more break from tradition but what can we expect in a world where players take the field with huge pay packets in the pockets and a win at all cost mentality that saw three Australian Test players shamed and banned last year for ball tampering. The boos the English crowds reserved for the players on their return to first class cricket in the recently completed World Cup “coloured pyjama” short form of the game was not unexpected. Just a bit ironic. Theirs was not the first occasion of cheating in cricket and it won’t be the last. Just the most amateurish.

The Ashes urn as it appeared in The Illustrated London News in 1921. (Source: Wikipedia)

It may be true that the only Gentlemen to be found in cricket today is in the form of a word on a dressing room door, but watch out. Come the first ball bowled in The Ashes at Edgbaston on the first day of August, expect to see batsmen doing what they have always done in cricket in every form of the game. Flashing the outside edge of a bat at a rising delivery and as we say in this country, “Swinging like a dunny door”.

The large and bushy cat

After more than 14 years, the old dog still has a few tricks.

One morning last month after climbing out of bed she made a bee line for the back room and started doing somersaults.

“Woof, woof, woof.” She pranced from one corner of the room to the other, stopping regularly at the fire place to sniff at the grate.

‘What’s going on here?’ I wondered as I unlocked the door that opens onto the back verandah. She was immediately between my legs and outside, tearing down the slope into the crisp July morning air at a great pace and barking into space fit to wake up the neighbourhood. As I came out after her I was just in time to see something ginger and bushy shoot out from under the timber deck of the old verandah and vanish into the trees shaded by the pale morning light.

‘That was a very large, bushy cat,’ I thought to myself as I tried in vain to call the dog back. ‘How did our venerable, short sighted and hearing impaired hound know something was under the verandah from her comfortable tartan bed, inside the house?’

“Dogs are like that, aren’t they?”

Dogs are like that, aren’t they? The next morning it was on again. This time it was my wife who was looking from a window looking out onto the same verandah when, in response to another commotion from the dog, she clearly saw something shoot out from under the deck and take off down the slope for a second time. Moggy indeed my good lady! Have you ever seen a fox trot?

“Oh, but he was so cute,” she said as she went on to describe to me the fox she had seen from her window.

Cute maybe, but the Fantastic Mr Fox is an introduced pest in Australia and has been held responsible for the extinction of several of our native species across the mainland since settlement. Foxes are common in urban areas and they are widespread across a country where it has been estimated that there are now over 7 million of the blighters. That’s nearly two foxes for every pet dog in the country. My only sainted aunt, the said venerable hound must be feeling like a member of some sort of Yallambie social minority.

Hunt Club meeting outside the Old England Hotel, Heidelberg. (Source: Old England Hotel)
Melbourne Hunting Club meeting at Heidelberg, from “The Illustrated Australian News”, 1895. The prominent building in this picture is possibly Wragge’s Heidelberg Recreation Hall. (Source: State Library of Victoria)

Foxes were imported for sport to Port Phillip in the early days and Heidelberg to the north east of Melbourne was to become a favourite meeting place for the Melbourne hunting clubs that formed, particularly towards the end of the 19th century. The Old England Hotel in Heidelberg opposite the recreation hall owned by Yallambie’s Thomas Wragge in Lower Heidelberg Rd was for nearly half a century the favoured venue for many of these hunting club ventures. The course generally involved the release of a fox on one of the larger local estates followed by a chase over the fields and a subsequent return to the Hotel for refreshments. The Old England as a staging post provided purpose built kennels and horse stalls for the hunt while local children, displaying an entrepreneurial spirit, sometimes earned a shilling holding the reins of unstabled horses as the riders took their tea inside.

Oaklands Hunt Club meeting at Viewbank,1958. (Source: Picture Victoria, ©Heidelberg Historical Society)

For a while the hunts proved to be important social occasions in the district and the events were even occasionally patronized by Victoria’s vice regal society. At one occasion in 1874 it was recorded that the Lieutenant Governor and his wife, Sir George and Lady Bowen followed a hunt all the way from Heidelberg to Eltham in their four horse carriage, a route that would almost certainly have taken them past the southern fields of Yallambie itself.

Sanitary style wallpapersof the Hunt from an upstairs sub floor area at Yallambie Homestead.

While Thomas Wragge’s youngest son Harry is known to have hunted in the Pink on a visit to England (Calder: Classing the Wool, p145), it remains unclear now whether the Wragges on the whole followed any of these local gatherings on a regular basis. Their love of the equestrian has been documented elsewhere and, perhaps tellingly, a set of oleographs of the Hunt are remembered as hanging over the dining room fireplace at the Wragge family’s Riverina country property, Tulla Homestead and wall papers of hunting scenes have been found behind the skirting boards of the original billiards room at Yallambie Homestead.

Thomas Wragge’s second Tulla Homestead located on the Wakool River, NSW, c1900. (Source: Betty Lush Collection).

At Tulla the spread of vermin foxes had reached the vicinity of the nearby Barham by 1895, but with the coming of the motor car on the family’s up country Riverina properties, a more pragmatic mount seems to have been favoured for the hunt in the 20th century.

Thomas Wragge’s grand-daughter Lady Betty Lush recalled a thrilling fox hunt that took place at Chowar in the station Chevrolet when a fox led them on a long dance through the paddocks, the car driving through swamps and tussock grass, wire net fences and fallen timber before finally being run to ground in a haystack. With Betty’s sister Molly behind the wheel of the lurching car, their mother crouching on the floor in abject terror, their father stood to attention on the back seat, swinging the loaded shot gun wildly around in every direction in search of the target.

“(The fox) was aware of us when father who was standing up in the back of the car with the gun, the hood of the car was down of course, called out to Molly, ‘Let her go’. Molly misunderstood and jammed on the brakes where upon father fell onto the back seat and both barrels fortunately discharged into the air.” (Calder, ibid, quoting Lush)

Thomas Wragge (bearded, behind left) with children at Yallambie. Youngest son Harry is in the front holding up a shot gun while another son, Syd is lying behind him also with a shot gun. (Source: Bill Bush collection)

From this story and from photographic evidence in the Bush Collection, it is obvious that guns were important to the Wragges, both as a recreation and as tools of the trade on a working farm where not all targets came in the size of the proverbial haystack. The fact is the record shows that the Wragge’s had something of a prior history with the Fox and the story of the cavalier attitudes towards firearms described by Betty at Chowar is perhaps to be wondered at upon reflection.

William Wragge, 1875-1906 (Source: Anne Hill collection)

The inherent danger associated with firearms is nowhere better illustrated than in the following tale of the sad demise of Will Wragge at Yallambie in 1906. William, the second youngest son of Thomas, met a premature end after going out with a gun under his arm in the early morning air, calling after his sister Jessie as he did so that he had seen a fox from his window. His sister wrote afterwards that:

“Willie while dressing – morning saw from his bedroom window a fox in the orchard. He hurried threw on a raincoat & taking a pea-rifle followed the fox. When he did not come into breakfast, after a reasonable time, someone went in search and found his body beside a stile shot dead. They think that in crossing on the stile he must have stepped on his raincoat, blundered and the loaded rifle killed him.”

Will was just 30 years old when this happened, a life cut short. The Coroner, Dr Cole delivered an open verdict due to an insufficient evidence to show how or by what means the gun had exploded but there is no doubt Will’s tragic death left a hole in the lives of all those around him.

“Oryctolagus cuniculus”, the bunny who wandered in from the cold and stayed on at Yallambie as a pet. She was once lost inside a chimney of the house for several days but survived that adventure to enjoy many more carrots.

The Fox won that one but although feral foxes have been a problem on rural properties across Australia for many years, their presence did help in a small way to keep a check on another introduced species whose presence was to wreak even greater general damage to the Australian mainland environment. Oryctolagus cuniculus, better known to us as that ever so cute wild bunny rabbit is said to have been introduced to Australia in 1859 by Thomas Austin, whose money after his death founded locally Heidelberg’s Austin Hospital.

Wood engraving from “The Illustrated Australian News for Home Readers”, 1867 after an original by Nicholas Chevalier showing a rabbit hunt at Barwon Park. (Source: State Library of Victoria)

Thomas Austin was a keen sportsman and wanted a few bunnies to hunt around his Western District property, Barwon Park at Winchelsea. It’s said that he stated at the time that, “The introduction of a few rabbits could do little harm and might provide a touch of home.” Like the American Civil War general who said, “They couldn’t hit an elephant at this distance,” they were to prove to be famous last words. Australia didn’t get elephants running wild at the bottom of the garden, but we did get rabbits. Loads of them. Rabbits adapted so well to local conditions that Austin soon found, keen sportsman though he was, that his rabbits were breeding faster than he could ever possibly manage to shoot them down.

“Loads of them…”

All sorts of programmes were developed to try to control the spread of the species, from dynamiting and poisoning their burrows and erecting rabbit proof fences to the cruel biological controls of the 20th century, but still the damage continued. Rabbits were first mentioned in the Tulla diaries of 1883, the year in which the Rabbit Nuisance Act of Parliament was passed, but the threat seemed to have been regarded of small consequence by the Wragges at that time. 10 years later measures were being taken at Tulla to control their numbers, with Thomas Wragge purchasing wire net fencing from England to replace the brush fences which harboured the pests, and Aboriginal middens that had been developed by Australia’s first people over a presence of tens of thousands of years, ploughed over to remove established warrens – a great loss to the Aboriginal record.

The poison wagon at Tulla used to fumigate rabbit warrens. (Source: Betty Lush collection)

Winty Calder’s conservative estimate in “Classing the Wool” was that, at its height, there was a plague of well over a million rabbits at Tulla – probably several millions. By the depression years of the 1930s a “rabbit man” had been employed to fight the rabbit problem with the agreed arrangement being that he should take measures to keep numbers down, the supposed incentive being that he should pay any nominal fines imposed on the property by the government for rabbit outbreaks.

Piling up dead rabbits at Tulla. (Source: Betty Lush collection)

George Flight proved to be a rabbit man with a singularly good mind for business. The Tulla trustees paid him £1000 per annum for the responsibility of fighting their rabbit problem and he subcontracted to gangs of other rabbiters who made camps all over the station, trapping the rabbits and sending the meat and skins down to Melbourne to market. It was only after a year or two of this activity and after rabbit numbers had exploded to astronomical proportions that it became apparent just what a good businessman George really was. He and his rabbiting pals had been trapping rabbits, dispatching the bucks but releasing the does and young back into the paddocks to breed. In effect Tulla had become Flight’s very own personal rabbit farm, a rabbit farm of over a hundred thousand acres and he profited handsomely from the exercise. When it became obvious what was going on, the team of about 70 so called rabbiters was summarily sacked but by then the matter was totally out of hand, a situation that was not brought back under control again until the drought years later in the decade.

As we have seen, foxes and rabbits have been an environmental problem for 150 years in this country with the two animals going sort of hand in hand in a sort of uneasy Br’er Fox, Br’er Rabbit, hunter and its prey exotic coexistence. With the challenges presented by climate change however, the threats to our environment in the future have never seemed clearer. With this in mind it’s worth finishing up here with another sometimes overlooked, feral animal familiar to us all but which some experts hold is arguably the single most destructive of all the introduced predator species present in Australia.

Scientists have cited the humble pussy cat as the “main threat to Australia’s biodiversity” with an estimated 23 million feral cats running wild in this country, or more than three times the number of foxes, and these cats manage to destroy 75 million native animals every single night. That’s more than 20 billion mammals, reptiles, birds and insects killed by cats Australia wide, every year. It’s a sobering thought when you look at that fluffy ball of fur pushing its way between your legs in the kitchen at tea time to know that his pals are out there all the time and that they are responsible for the destruction of many of our most threatened species, notwithstanding the fluffy balls of fur themselves all so often irresponsibly let out at night by their owners in suburban river side locations.

The truth is that feral cats are harder to eradicate in practice than those other traditional problem animals, the wild fox and the rabbit with all the evidence indicating that cats do not respond to conventional control methods such as baiting. In those places where fox numbers and rabbit populations have been reduced by baiting, it has been shown that there is inevitably a corresponding explosion in feral cat numbers leading experts to state that one cannot be controlled without reference to the other.

When it comes down to it then “the large and bushy cat” seen here last month, although exposed as a fox, might just as well have been a cat as judged by their comparative potentially destructive values. An interesting proposition I’m sure, but I’m afraid that’s probably not much consolation to the doomed native bird or animal as it slips down the throat of one or the other while contemplating the relative merits of the killer’s respective bushy tail.

A real lot of realty

Some games require a considerable investment in sporting equipment. Others can be played on the fingers of one hand. One game in popular culture is famously played on thrones, but of all games there is one that beats them all hands down when it comes to capital expenditure in real estate terms.

Golf – it’s been par for the course with players since knobbly kneed Scotsmen first started hitting a Featherie around the Highland moors with a big stick. It is a game that has uniquely always required a real lot of realty to establish all the holes and fairways and the bunkers and greens that are part and parcel of making up a golfing links and therefore, perhaps not surprisingly, the district around Yallambie has usually been pretty well supplied with golfing options.

Of these options, the Grace Park course to the north “…all sand scrapes… you could lose your ball on the fairway,” (Eric Barclay), vanished 50 years ago into the suburban sprawl but of the others, the Heidelberg and Rosanna Golf Clubs, whose names seem to contravene their Lower Plenty existence, have happily endured to the south.

The early story of the land on which these two Lower Plenty courses now stand was recounted in the last post, largely through the words of James Willis who kept a diary of his brother Edward’s squatting activities on the Plenty River in 1837. That brief squatting era was over before anyone quite noticed it had happened and the Willis brothers moved on, Edward to an eventual career in Geelong and Richard onto the Plenty River upstream. Following their departure the land on the west bank passed from 1842 into the hands of John and Robert Bakewell at “Yallambee”, but what of the land on the east bank, on the ground that made up the greater part of the Willis run?

That story resumes in 1839 with the survey of land east of the river by Assistant Surveyor T H Nutt and its subsequent sale in 1840 by the Crown. Portion 11, which covered most of the present Lower Plenty area, passed through the hands of various speculators before it was bought by Patrick Turnbull, a Melbourne merchant and pastoralist. Although Turnbull did not live on his land he did clear, fence and stock it.

Early subdivisions at Lower Plenty from an old Parish boundary map, (Source: Eltham Historical Society)

In the early 50s, the Lower Plenty end of Turnbull’s east bank property was purchased by John T Brown who established the Preston Hall estate of 365 acres on which he practiced dairying and general agriculture. Brown had come to Australia in 1841 and was reputed to be the first man in Victoria to breed Clydesdale horses.

The enclosing verandah at Preston Hall as pictured in “The Australian Home Beautiful” magazine, June, 1929.

In 1855 Brown built a homestead on a ridge overlooking the (Old) Lower Plenty Rd Bridge. It featured a large, overhanging red flagged and plaster lined verandah on three sides with door and window openings to the floor and was well constructed from handmade, slop sided bricks purchased by Brown on the Melbourne wharves. These bricks had been brought to Port Phillip from Scotland as ballast in the clipper ships and similar bricks had been used across the river in outbuildings at nearby Yallambee. It would be interesting to know now whether Brown and the Bakewells, who were near neighbours and whose houses were within sight of each other across the Plenty valley, purchased some of their bricks in partnership.

In the 1870s, after the local population petitioned for a State school to be opened at Lower Plenty, John Brown offered the lease of an existing slab hut on his property for use as a school building which opened there in 1874. The building must have been pretty unsatisfactory for the purpose and was replaced in 1877 after being described in that year by the Lower Plenty school teacher, Mrs Gay, as large enough to accommodate only a dozen children.

“The slabs which compose the sides of the building are all one and two inches apart, and the shingles of the roof are so decayed that there are holes in it one and two feet in circumference.” (Elizabeth Gay quoted by W F Henderson in School at the Crossing Place, 1974).

This hut is recorded as having been located near what is now the south corner of Old Eltham and Main Roads and from these descriptions it was obviously already an old building in 1877. Was it therefore the shingle roof slab hut built by the Willis brothers 40 years before? Slab buildings were a common form of primitive utilitarian architecture, much favoured in the earliest years of the Colony, but it is an intriguing speculation all the same. As stated in the last post, after leaving Lower Plenty James Willis relocated to the original Bridge Inn on the Plenty River crossing at Mernda, a building that was of similarly rude construction. Last month it was announced that Heritage Victoria is conducting an archaeological dig at the Willis site which is expected to “shed light on Mernda’s rich heritage and help us understand land use and early community development in the area.” (Yan Yean State MP Danielle Green, quoted in the Whittlesea Leader, 16 June, 2017). Perhaps the archaeological boffins could be persuaded to come and have a similar prod around this neck of the woods one of these days, sometime soon.

Mary Thomas’ Bryn Teg – from an old real estate brochure, c1926. (Source: Eltham Historical Society)

In 1884, Brown sold Preston Hall to David Thomas, a partner in Craig, Williamson and Thomas, well-known drapers on the corner of Flinders and Elizabeth Streets, Melbourne. Thomas died shortly afterwards but in 1887 his widow, Mary Thomas realized their ambitions by building a new and substantial red brick home standing adjacent to Brown’s then 30 year old homestead and which was connected to it by a breezeway. Mary Thomas called the new homestead Bryn Teg, a Welsh name meaning “small hills” and its 10ft wide halls, lofty rooms, polished joinery and large lead lighted windows were complemented by a substantial blackwood staircase overlooked by a stained glass window, all of which bespoke luxury.

The old barn behind Preston Hall as pictured in “The Australian Home Beautiful” magazine, June, 1929. This building bore a striking resemblance to the Bakewells’ stable building at neighbouring Yallambee and may have been the result of a common builder.

The widow Thomas has been described as a Scottish, “rather prim, stout lady” who lived on quietly at Bryn Teg for the next 40 years. Near the end of her life the Lower Plenty School reopened with a class room inside an old freestone barn building located behind Preston Hall and a former pupil would later recall that the old lady made sweets for the school children in groups:

“We would all eventually get a turn. In the hot weather she would make home-made lemon syrup.” (Henderson, ibid)

View of the Plenty Bridge Hotel with Preston Hall and Bryn Teg on the ridge above.

Mary Thomas died at Bryn Teg in August, 1925 and the homestead was put onto the market by her executors. At that time the “Heidelberg Club House Co Ltd”, which had been formed from the earlier Yarra Yarra Golf Club at Rosanna, was looking for a home for a new golf links north of the Yarra. In 1927 they paid £13,000 for the late Mrs Thomas’ home which also included 177 acres of land and famously the freehold title on the nearby Plenty Bridge Hotel.

The opening of the Heidelberg GC by Prime Minister Stanley Bruce, June, 1928. This picture shows the close proximity of Bryn Teg in the foreground and Preston Hall behind. (Source: Heidelberg GC)
Ancient River Red Gum beside the (Old) Lower Plenty Rd Bridge prior to the golf links development – from an old real estate brochure, c1926. (Source: Eltham Historical Society)
The same River Red Gum in 2000, before construction of the new Edward Willis Court.

A new course was laid out and opened on 23rd June, 1928 by the Prime Minister Stanley Bruce who on that day congratulated the club for the absence of any suggestions of golfing snobbery and for its stated ambition to “encourage ordinary players”. Over the years various modifications at Byn Teg were made by the Heidelberg Golf Club to fulfil their clubhouse requirements in a changing world. Preston Hall vanished altogether while other than some surviving interior wood work, tiled fire surrounds and lead light, Bryn Teg all but disappeared under these modern alterations.

The Heidelberg GC was formed from the Yarra Yarra GC and that last mentioned club, with a few ups and downs, continued at its 101 acre site alongside the railway line between Rosanna and Macleod stations for the next 30 years, changing its name to the Rosanna Glen or Rosanna Golf Club along the way. However, in a process that has continually plagued the viability of golf links in the suburbs, in 1962 after rates and taxes increased in one year from £3000 to £10,000, the land at Rosanna was considered to be too valuable for the club to continue on that site. A decision was made to sell the Rosanna situation and 139 replacement acres were selected just down river from the Heidelberg GC astride the confluence of the Plenty and Yarra Rivers. This was the south-east corner of George Porter’s old Cleveland Estate, owned at that time by the Bartram and Rank families. Negotiations were cordial and conducted between the Manager of the Rosanna Club, Norm Turnbull and the vendors with a nod and a handshake.

“Mrs Bartram, when a verbal agreement was reached between them, accepted a gentleman’s word as his bond, but he felt money should change hands to make the negotiations legal, and Mrs Bartram then consented to accept ‘sixpence’ to seal the contract” (The Rosanna Golf Club, W R Trewarne, 1980)

One wonders if that earlier Turnbull, the 1840s Patrick (probably no relation), conducted his real estate dealings in a similar easy fashion.

The proposed site of the Rosanna Golf Club at Lower Plenty, photographed before 1964. The Heidelberg township is hidden behind the sign post. The Viewbank ridge is on the right. Picture: The Rosanna Golf Club, W R Trewarne

The new home of the Rosanna GC was opened by the State Governor of Victoria, General Sir Dallas Brookes on 27th March, 1965. The final cost of the course and clubrooms at Lower Plenty would ring in at about £125,000 with Heidelberg Council eventually coughing up $975,000 in 1968 for the former Rosanna links to be developed as a housing estate.

As an aside relevant to these pages, when the old Yarra Yarra/Rosanna Club House at Rosanna was demolished during the development of the Rosanna Golf Links estate, salvaged bricks from the building were used to build the Yallambie Kindergarten (now pre-school). The Yallambie Community Association had been involved with Heidelberg Council in the creation of the kindergarten project and money being short, local councillor and architect Harry Pottage, sourced second hand building materials from the former golf links at Rosanna. The Rosanna club house at Lower Plenty burned to the ground in 1974 and afterwards was completely rebuilt so in a sense the memory of what was once their first club rooms lives on at Yallambie.

The Yarra Yarra Golf Club house at Rosanna in 1921. Bricks from this building were sourced to build the Yallambie Kindergarten (now Yallambie Park Pre School). Picture: The Rosanna Golf Club, W R Trewarne

The net result of the presence of these two golf courses at Lower Plenty has been the retention of hundreds of acres of Willis’ former run as open land, but in the face of economic change, how soon will it be before this situation becomes untenable? The decision by Heidelberg Golf Club nearly 20 years ago to sell the former site of the Plenty Bridge Hotel which resulted in a fight with the developer over the building of Edward Willis Court, eventually landed in a hearing at VCAT where it was revealed that the decision to sell had been governed largely by financial pressures facing the club.

More recently over at the Yarra Valley Country Club in Bulleen owned by pokies king Bruce Mathieson, an ex mayor of Manningham  and developer, Charles Pick has revealed a plan to build a 217 home housing estate in what can only be described as a slight of hand where it is proposed that private golf course land subject to flooding along the river would be exchanged for public land in a prime position along Templestowe Rd. At the same time and in a worrying sign of things to come, the Victorian State government announced a new study to look at “the value of golf courses and alternative land use development proposals”, the reality of which may mean moving the boundary of the “Green Wedge” beyond the urban fringe to release land currently locked up in golf courses.

It’s all part of a property boom in Melbourne that is not without its parallel in history. In the 1880s, prior to an economic collapse that ravaged the Colonial economy and sent many people to the wall, society marvelled at the changes that had occurred in Melbourne in the 50 short years since settlement. “Marvellous Melbourne” they called it and to the people who lived through it, there seemed to be no end in sight to their prosperity or to the growth of the city founded in 1835 on the banks of the Yarra River by the Johns, Pascoe Fawkner and Batman.

The current bull market in Melbourne real estate reads like a road map of that old story as an unfailing belief in the safety of capital in bricks and mortar drives change in the built landscape of the city and suburbs. Here in the north east, multi-purpose towers in Heidelberg and Doncaster and the $31 million “Taj Mahal” Council building in Greensborough are part and parcel of a boom where fortunes are being made but apparently never lost and where it is hard to remember sometimes not only what was on a corner last year, but occasionally even last week.

In concert with this process the prices of existing houses soar in a spiral driven largely by a foreign investment bubble that continues to exclude many first home buyers while eluding approximately one third of people in general. Clearance rates at auctions in the north east are running at above 80% and when REA Group Ltd released its “Group Property Demand Index” for June, listing the Australian suburbs judged by it to be in highest demand nationwide, Yallambie was recorded at number 6 overall. Seriously? When I saw this reported on the television news last month I had to do a double take. Even a triple take. The data is based on views of property listings on but the first sentence from the very first post on this blog in August, 2014 came back to haunt me:

“The glazed look that creeps across a face when you tell someone you live in Yallambie is the motivation behind this blog.”

Where’s Yallambie? Perhaps they meant a Yallambie in some other State? Or maybe on another planet?

But no, a new record for Yallambie was recorded last month when a modern home at Macalister Boulevard inside the “Streeton Views” subdivision sold for a staggering $1.67 million, $430,000 beyond the reserve. The agent for the sale said afterwards that the price was more reflective of sales in Heidelberg, Macleod and Viewbank.

River red gum and pond near Macalister Boulevard within the “Streeton Views” subdivision, Yallambie, March, 2015

“I think that Yallambie has been undervalued for a long time,” Mr Kurtschenko said. “When you compare it to the surrounding suburbs, you can get a lot more for your money.” (Heidelberg Leader, 13 June, 2017)

The median house price in Yallambie according to CoreLogic remains at $715,000, less than all of the neighbouring suburbs bar one. Rosanna ($980,000), Viewbank ($922,500), Lower Plenty ($905,000), Macleod ($830,000), Montmorency ($782,500) and Greensborough ($720,000) all have greater median prices than Yallambie. Only Watsonia ($701,500) has less.

The newly constructed corner at Yallambie Rd and Tarcoola Drive, June, 2017 after overnight rain.

Banyule Council has always treated Yallambie like the poor relation that these figures would imply. The road works on the corner of Yallambie Rd and Tarcoola Drive described in my April post have now been “finished” but as this photograph indicates, the road makers have asked water to run up hill. The nearest storm water drain is south along Yallambie road up a slight incline and near enough is no doubt good enough when it comes to Yallambie. Maybe the sale in Macalister Boulevard will change their perspective, but I think not.

Meanwhile over at the other end of town, the ghost of Mary Thomas looks on and sips her lemonade with presentiment as deals are made and developers decide which part of the green sward they will cut up next. The immortal PG Wodehouse was writing with an ironic understanding of a game he loved, but might well have been thinking about developers when he wrote:

“He enjoys that perfect peace, that peace beyond all understanding, which comes to its maximum only to the man who has given up golf.” (PG Wodehouse –The Clicking of Cuthbert)

Panorama photographed from Cleveland Ave, Lower Plenty June, 2017.


“The journey of life is like a man riding a bicycle. We know he got on the bicycle and started to move. We know that at some point he will stop and get off. We know that if he stops moving and does not get off he will fall off.” (William Golding)

According to one survey, 43% of all Australians own a bicycle. It’s not clear whether that statistic counts every rusted machine parked with bent pedals at the back of every garage, or every bike gathering dust under a house across the nation, but one thing is pretty clear. There are an awful lot of bikes out there. Bike riding is big in the north east and in Yallambie, the history of cycling is probably a lot more extensive than people generally realize as they pedal around the neighborhood.

The late 19th century saw the world’s first “bike craze” and a proliferation in the number of bike makers. Some of them, like the Dux Cycle Co. of Little Collins St, Melbourne which employed 150 workers, were established locally. The Dux cause was helped when a Dux was used for the first Perth to Brisbane cycle ride in 1897, a distance of nearly 6000km.

Australia found itself literally in the mainstream of the world-wide bicycle boom as it emerged from the financial recession of the early 1890s and by 1897 there were over 150 brands of home grown and imported bicycles to choose from. Innovations such as the tubular steel frame, the ball bearing, roller bearing chain and pneumatic tyres were all products of advanced manufacturing techniques but in practice, any reasonably competent home handyman or bush mechanic could assemble or repair them. While bikes were comparatively expensive to buy they were ultimately a much cheaper alternative to keeping a horse and trap or even to buying regular rail tickets. As Jim Fitzpatrick observed in the introduction to “The Bicycle and the Bush”, his widely regarded book on the history of Australian pedalling, the bicycle: “required no food or water, was two or three times as fast as a horse or a camel, and did not drop dead from eating poisonous plants.”

Harry Wragge riding his bicycle at Yallambie on the Homestead road, south of the stableyard, c1895, (Bush collection).
Harry Wragge riding his bicycle at Yallambie on the Homestead road, south of the stable yard, c1895, (Bush collection).

In Yallambie, Henry Ernest “Harry” Wragge, (born 1880), the youngest son of Yallambie Homestead’s Thomas Wragge, was an early exponent of bike riding in this district. Harry had a life-long fascination with all things mechanical and is known to have owned a bicycle by May, 1896. (Calder: Classing the Wool and Counting the Bales, p145). The first Australian Cycle Show was held in March that year and it would be interesting to know if the teenage Harry convinced his parents to purchase a bike after attending the show.

Harry Wragge with his diamond frame, "safety" bicycle, photographed near the front door of Yallambie Homestead, looking towards the northern gate into the farm yard area, c1900, (Bush collection).
Harry Wragge with his diamond frame, “safety” bicycle, photographed near the front door of Yallambie Homestead, looking towards the northern gate into the farm yard area, c1900, (Bush collection).

A photograph in the Bush collection shows a young Harry riding his bike along the Homestead Road in front of the house garden on what is now the Lower Plenty end of Yallambie Rd and another shows Harry at a slightly later date, standing proudly alongside his pushbike in front of the Yallambie stable yard. Harry’s machine was a diamond frame, “safety” bicycle, a style first perfected by Humber in 1890 and known as the “safety” because of the ease and safety of riding one compared to the “ordinary” or “Penny Farthing” type. It is a design that, with few real modifications, has remained the most common bicycle design up to the present day.

Diamond Creek's music teacher, Ada Lawrey used her bicycle to deliver piano lessons throughout the district. (Source: E Tingman, The Diamond Valley Story by D H Edwards)
Diamond Creek’s music teacher, Ada Lawrey used her bicycle to deliver piano lessons throughout the district. (Source: E Tingman, The Diamond Valley Story by D H Edwards)

Another early rider was Ada Lawrey, the daughter of one of Diamond Creek’s first settlers and a music teacher who at the start of the 20th century used her bicycle to pedal widely around the district giving piano lessons. A photograph shows her inside the gates of her parents’ Diamond Creek home alongside a fine looking machine, complete with a bicycle luggage carrying valise attached to the frame, ideal perhaps for carrying her lunch box and fork, or maybe just a tuning fork.

Bike riders at Kent's Plenty Bridge Hotel, c1900.
Bike riders at Kent’s Plenty Bridge Hotel, c1900.

Cycling clubs were formed in many places and city dwellers travelled on bicycles to places near and far in the country side that were a refreshing change to the grime and factories of inner-city Melbourne. In several of the earliest extant photographs of the Plenty Bridge Hotel, bicycles are seen pulled up outside the building, evidence perhaps of the importance of the old hotel as a stopping place for travellers on the Plenty River on the road from Melbourne to Eltham and beyond.

Newspaper report from p10, "The Age", 15 April, 1907.
Newspaper report from p10, “The Age”, 15 April, 1907.

A 1907 newspaper report in “The Age” described a cycle race organized by the “League of Victorian Wheelmen” and promoted by the publican of the Plenty Bridge Hotel. The route followed country roads from the Plenty Bridge to Bundoora and back again over a “bad course” with “hilly roads and dangerous turns”. For the record, a Mr D Hall won the event, on a handicap.

When I surveyed my old bike at the back of the garage last week with this post in mind, it seemed like it too was starting with something of a handicap. It was purchased nearly a decade ago from a large supermarket chain, familiar to most people in this town, and looked like it was worth what I paid for it that day I went shopping with money for a loaf of bread and came home with a bike.

barnum_baileyMy thoughts strayed. ‘Whatever happened to the bike my father brought home as a rusted old frame “found in a paddock”?’ I spent weeks sanding and repairing that bit of scrap metal and then delivered newspapers from it on dark mornings throughout Rosanna. It later took me on trips as far afield as Bendigo and Ballarat and for a while it seemed indestructable but as I recall, died a sudden death one day as I rode home from Heidelberg Park with football boots dangling across the handlebars. The boots became entangled with the front wheel and, with the front wheel motion suddenly arrested, the rest of the bike and associated rider were destined to continue, the resulting Barnum & Bailey circus somersault a clown act to recall.

That’s what happened to it.

What chance today? In the end I wheeled out my wife’s old pushbike from the garage instead, a good looking, red “girl’s” version with no horizontal bar and streamers on the handlebars. The tyres were a bit perished but it had been a fine machine in its day although that day apparently had been some time ago.

“You’re not going out looking like that are you,” my wife said when she saw the overall effect of me sitting astride her glorious, red retro riding road machine in an outfit she said resembled a 1920s bathing costume.

“Why not? I forgive people wearing Lycra don’t I?”

“I’m glad he didn’t ask me,” said the boy not looking up from his iPhone.

“You don’t know what you’re missing. It’ll be just like Pokemon Go.”

Main Yarra Trail at the intersection with the start of the Plenty River Trail, July, 2016.
Main Yarra Trail at the intersection with the start of the Plenty River Trail, July, 2016.


The Plenty River Trail is a shared path that leaves the Main Yarra Trail near the confluence of the Plenty and Yarra Rivers in the south and follows the Plenty River valley to a point beyond the northern margins of Greensborough. The Main Yarra Trail is like a wide open highway compared to the Plenty River trail and gets commensurately more cycling traffic as a result.

Confluence of the Plenty and Yarra Rivers, July, 2016.
Confluence of the Plenty and Yarra Rivers, July, 2016.

As I approached the branch to the Plenty River Trail on a recent weekend now past, a tandem bicycle flew past me on a journey down the Yarra, its riders grinding away at the pedals on the level flood plain of the Yarra Trail to achieve a missile like velocity. ‘Cripes, I’d like to see them try that on up there,’ I thought to myself as I looked at the incline that is the start of the Plenty River Trail.


“Daisy, Daisy, give me your answer, do,
I’m half-crazy all for the love of you.
It won’t be a stylish marriage –
I can’t afford a carriage,
But you’d look sweet upon the seat
Of a bicycle built for two.”

The Plenty Trail leaves the Main Yarra Trail at Viewbank at this point and rises quickly to the vicinity of the old Viewbank Homestead archaeological site, an ascent of about 30m where commanding views are to be had out across Bulleen and Templestowe. The day I was there a fine winter breeze was blowing and enthusiasts were flying a large model sail plane out over the valley. It was presumably radio controlled since like a boomerang, it kept coming back no matter how many times they tried to get rid of it.

Rural scenery at Viewbank Homestead historic site, July, 2016.
Rural scenery at Viewbank Homestead historic site, July, 2016.

Beyond this, the path crosses Banyule Rd and runs in a straight line alongside Hendersons Rd. It passes a pony club where it descends steeply to a point at the end of Martins Lane where, as mentioned previously, my wife’s great grandfather once kept a spectacularly unsuccessful chicken farm.

The Trail then crosses the Plenty River, the first of many crossings, and follows a route at the back of Heidelberg Golf Club between the Club and the River. For many years this was the “missing link” in the trail as the Golf Club and Council struggled to come to an agreement about the siting of the path and a bridge. After agreement was reached, the link was finally opened to riders and pedestrians in March, 2007.

Old Lower Plenty Road, Bridge and Plenty Bridge Hotel, c1957
Old Lower Plenty Road, Bridge and Plenty Bridge Hotel, c1957

Crossing the River again via the Old Lower Plenty Road Bridge adjacent to the former site of the Plenty Bridge Hotel, the Trail is then in Yallambie territory proper.

Plenty River in flood looking upstream towards the site of the old pump house (removed early 1980s) which had earlier replaced the windmill visible here.
Plenty River in flood looking upstream towards the site of the old pump house (removed early 1980s) which had earlier replaced the windmill visible here. (Bush collection).

It passes the Yallambie Tennis Club and the Soccer Ground before rounding out onto the Yallambie common at the next bend in the River. The well-remembered “Lone” Hoop Pine, oak trees, cypresses and remnant orchard are the neglected features of the National Trust Classified landscape that can be found here.

The Station Plenty, (Yallambie) view XII by Edward La Trobe Bateman 1853-1856. Distant view of hut with creek in foreground.
The Station Plenty, (Yallambie) view XII by Edward La Trobe Bateman 1853-1856. Distant view of hut with creek in foreground. (National Gallery of Victoria)

Beyond this are the locations of William Greig’s 1840 farm and William Laing’s Woodside (Casa Maria), the site of the latter being marked by several ancient Italian Cypress trees which can be seen standing on a ridge high above the River.

The path then splits in two and there is a choice of following it for some way on either side of the River, a relic of the days when the River marked the boundary between the Shires of Diamond Valley and Eltham and the two banks were under separate administrations. Today the whole of the Plenty River Trail falls within the Municipality of Banyule with Yallambie at its centre.

Up river, the Montmorency Football Oval on the eastern or “Monty side” covers the site of a former tip. Wonder in awe at a time when it was thought environmentally OK to use a river landscape as a tipping ground! The area is well maintained but if you look closely at the river bank below the oval you can see some evidence of its previous use at places where the bank is eroded.

River valley photographed from the Plenty River Trail opposite Montmorency Secondary College, July, 2016.
River valley photographed from the Plenty River Trail opposite Montmorency Secondary College, July, 2016.

After Montmorency Secondary College is passed, the Trail arrives at the Willinda Park Athletics Track where it becomes a single path on the western side of the River. On the eastern side, the factories on Para Rd show their backs to the River but even here wild life can be found. I stood looking from a distance at what I thought was a tree stump at the back of the factories, trying to make my mind up about what I was looking at. Then it moved and the kangaroo I had in fact been watching, hopped away and out of sight.

At what was formerly the northern most boundary of the old Montmorency Farm, Para Rd and the Greensborough/Eltham single track railway cross the River using separate bridges and here the Plenty River Trail appears for the moment to end abruptly in a residential court. The Trail is not well sign posted throughout its length but at this point it leaves you guessing completely about what course to follow next. The answer is to travel about 100m along Bicton St and resume the Trail at the far end.

At Poulter Reserve the Greensborough rail station can be accessed by riders who have had enough and want to return home via a train or cross to the looming ugly presence of the Greensborough Plaza for a café latte.

Further on, the Trail crosses the River again under the Main Street Bridge next to the remains of the old swimming pool that was built in the Depression within the bed of the Plenty River itself.

Cheltenham Cycle Club under the old Main Rd Bridge, Greensborough, 1897, (Pictures Collection, State Library of Victoria).
Cheltenham Cycle Club under the old Main Rd Bridge, Greensborough, 1897, (Pictures Collection, State Library of Victoria).

Lost history abounds here. A photograph of bicycle riders at the original blue stone bridge in 1897 is another reminder of the area’s historic popularity with riders. The original 1864 blue stone bridge was removed progressively from 1974 until 1983, its massive blue stone buttresses being turned into a barbecue on the corner of Main St and St Helena Rd above in what was surely a loss to local history but a win for sausages.

Old orchard scene showing Willis Vale Farm apple trees on Partington's Flat. (Source: Greensborough Historical Society).
Old orchard scene showing Willis Vale Farm apple trees on Partington’s Flat. (Source: Greensborough Historical Society).

A dinky little suspension bridge crosses to Whatmough Park on Partington’s Flat where the original farm, Willis Vale, was formerly situated until being burned out by a bushfire in the 1950s. Local football is played at many of the ovals along the River on any given weekend and the day I was at Partington’s, a DVFL game was in progress between St Mary’s and Epping. It might have been a reserves game but it was very popularly attended and an example of how I remember footy used to be played. The skills were of course a long way short of AFL standard but for all that, or perhaps because of it, I found it was a very enjoyable game to watch. Forget the “flood” of players up the ground, a feature of AFL football in the modern day.  I saw a bit of mud, a bit of biffo and a full forward who stayed rooted to the goal square, waiting for the ball to be kicked to him.

And further to the record, after trailing early, St Mary’s beat Epping 11.16 to 9.3.

"Goat track" leading to the Greensborough Bypass Trail from the Plenty River Trail, July, 2016.
“Goat track” leading to the Greensborough Bypass Trail from the Plenty River Trail, July, 2016.

Up-river from Partington’s, the Plenty River Trail passes under the Greensborough Bypass Road which crosses the River on an elevated roadway high above. A plane could fly under it. A Zeppelin could park under it. At this location there is an un-signposted “goat track” from Plenty River Dr at a point just about opposite Booyan Cres. The “goat track” is a mountain bike switch back but by successfully negotiating the mud for a short distance access can be gained to the Greensborough Bypass Cycle Path and thence to the Metropolitan Ring Rd Trail. By all reports you won’t find a single B-Double semi travelling in the outside lane.

"Batman Apple Tree" at Greensborough from "The Leader" newspaper April, 1910. (Picture by R G Brown, Museum Victoria Collections).
“Batman Apple Tree” at Greensborough from “The Leader” newspaper April, 1910. (Picture by R G Brown, Museum Victoria Collections).

Staying on the Plenty River Trail the path arrives at the so called “Batman Apple Tree” next to an easement below Corowa Cres and adjacent to the old Maroondah Aqueduct Pipe Bridge.

Early view of the Maroondah Aqueduct pipe bridge over the Plenty River at Greensborough, photographed by J H Henry, (National Library of Australia).
Early view of the Maroondah Aqueduct pipe bridge over the Plenty River at Greensborough, photographed by J H Henry, (National Library of Australia).

Nearby the Pioneer Children’s Cemetery holds the unmarked graves of children from the Whatmough and Partington families, early settlers on this part of the River. Not far beyond is the official end of the Plenty River Trail at the base of a flight of stairs leading down from Punkerri Circuit.

Official end of the Plenty River Trail below Punkerri Circuit, Greensborough, July, 2016.
Official end of the Plenty River Trail below Punkerri Circuit, Greensborough, July, 2016.

Although it is sign posted to this effect the trail is actually longer than its official 12.3km length and follows a path further along Dry Creek, the merry sound of water running nearby which surely belies its name. The track passes through a closed gate and along an unmade path to an easement running between Plenty River Drive and Mclaughlans Lane where the 520 bus to Doreen has a stop on Sugar Gum Blvd. This is the final end of the Plenty River Trail but the vicinity also marks the south eastern approaches to the Plenty Gorge Parklands, whose mountain bike adventure trails beckon more determined riders.

But that’s a whole other story.

Anyone for tennis?

Tennis — it’s a game that’s all about the love. At least that’s how it seemed to me this year when I took up the sport for the first time. Every mixed doubles concluded with a player pointing at me from the other end and calling out, “Love”. But I don’t think it was necessarily a term of endearment.

So called “Lawn” tennis developed as a sport in the 19th century from an ancient and obscure predecessor called Real (or Royal) tennis, managing to keep most of the old scoring system and many of the original French words of the earlier game along the way. Love in tennis actually comes from the French expression l’oeuf meaning the egg like shape of zero. If there’s one thing I’ve learned, love counts for nothing on the tennis court.

I’ve heard tell that Queen Victoria’s wastrel son, Edward the Prince of Wales, liked a bit of love. He popularised the game of tennis for the masses in the late 19th century after taking the sport up in a futile exercise to halt an ever expanding belt size. It soon became apparent that Eddie’s love of a second serve at the dinner table meant that this was never going to happen. The P of Wales was destined to be a whale. The game itself meanwhile became one of the world’s most widely played sports with a style about it that was all its own. It’s a funny thing, but have you noticed that in every drawing room, period comedy or murder mystery there always come a point when a Freddie Threepwood type wearing flannels bursts into a room and asks of the assembled guests, “I say, anyone for tennis?” It generally happens just before the first body is found with a knife protruding from its back in the library or the romantic lead is revealed as the lost child of a titled lady, accidentally abandoned on a railway station at birth.

The National Trust property, Ripponlea, featured in a tennis themed episode of the MIss Fisher's Murder Mysteries on ABC television last month.
The National Trust property, Ripponlea, featured in a tennis themed episode of the MIss Fisher’s Murder Mysteries on ABC television last month.

Murder and adoption aside, the sight of a rubber ball being hit homicidally across a net was actually an early feature of this district. The Wragge family built themselves a lawn court south of the Yallambie Homestead for their recreational use on a site that had previously been occupied by the Bakewells’ pre-fabricated farm house.

Yallambie Homestead photographed from the south west c1890 before the addition of the large verandahs. The corner of the tennis court is just visible on the right of this picture, (Bush collection).
Yallambie Homestead photographed from the south west c1890 before the addition of the large verandahs. The corner of the tennis court is just visible on the right of this picture, (Bush collection).

Tennis was not necessarily limited by the size or availability of lawn space however or by competition from gnomes at the bottom of the family garden. Tennis clubs were started at various places around Melbourne and other outlying suburbs for it was a game that could be played wherever a piece of level ground could be found and a net, a soft ball and racquets plus a pot of paint could be provided.

Tennis court at Eltham, c1900, (Tonkinson collection).
Tennis court at Eltham, c1900, (Tonkinson collection).

All the same, some inventiveness might be required on occasion as was the case at the Wragges’ up-country sheep station, Tulla. At that property, unlike the lawn court at Yallambie, a court surface was created by grinding ant hills in the Riverina dust where the fine grass would not grow. In Winty Calder’s “Classing the Wool and Counting the Bales” (Jimaringle 1996), Lady Betty Lush described this tennis court as she remembered it in her youth:

“It was far from being a good court but it gave an immense amount of fun to us all. The posts were Murray pine trunks between which were hung lengths of netting of assorted meshes. The surface originally was made of ants nest gravel and in parts was really good. Unfortunately there were areas where the water lay and these areas tended to grow grass. However a Dutch hoe always removed the grass even if it didn’t improve the surface. Up at one end there was a large bull ants’ nest. Many times and in many ways we tried to remove it but they always came back again and in the end one just had to remember to jump over that part of the court.”

Tennis players on the Wragge's tennis Court at Tulla Station between the wars, (Lush collection).
Tennis players on the Wragge’s tennis Court at Tulla Station between the wars, (Lush collection).

If you want to see tennis played on grass these days your best option is to tune into the box this week, and watch the championship played at Wimbledon, home of the All England Club. Tennis courts with grassed surfaces in Melbourne are as rare as a 21st century grand slam event at Kooyong. The game itself is played enthusiastically all over Melbourne however and is a regular feature at Yallambie with play linked to a site in Yallambie Park just below the Lower Plenty Rd Bridge. It is here, at an entrance off Moola Close, that the Yallambie Tennis Club makes its home.

Yallambie TC was formed in 1972 and played initially on courts located at the Army Barracks at the Greensborough Rd end of Yallambie Rd, alongside the site of the church built by the Wragge family on the north western corner of their estate. This was at a time when the Jennings’ sub division of Yallambie was gathering momentum. The name “Yallambie” was officially adopted for the suburb in 1974 and it was in that year that the location in Yallambie Park was chosen and developed as the home for the fledgling tennis club.

Before the advent of various synthetic surfaces, a common alternative to grass courts in Victoria was “en tout cas” and it was this style of surface that was chosen at the home of the Yallambie Tennis Club. A co-op was formed and money raised to build the courts, the Heidelberg Council matching the club’s funds dollar for dollar. A local landscape gardener who had never built a tennis court but who reckoned he could build one without resorting to ant hills was commissioned to construct the first surfaces at Yallambie TC, the present day courts 1 and 2. Facilities before the construction of club rooms were initially limited to the provision of an old telegraph pole lying adjacent to the north of the courts where players and spectators could park their cold bottoms and watch play in progress.

The present day courts 4 and 5 were the next constructed followed by what are now courts 3 and 6 making a total of six “en tout cas” surfaces. Playing lights were provided in 1978 enabling the club to field teams in the NENTG and a club house provided in 1988. For many years the court surfaces were maintained by the efforts of long-time club president, Rob Kew. With his recent retirement however a professional groundsman has been employed.

Today Yallambie TC fields teams in the NEJTA, NENTG and Pennant competitions. The association of the Fireball Tennis Academy with Yallambie and involvement of Gareth Constance as a coach of the younger players, together with a new committee under a new president, Pauline Scala, has contributed much to the reinvigoration of the club. Our son has been playing tennis at Yallambie since he was barely able to see over the top of the net, typically to mixed parental acclaim from yours truly, but after my experience this year of flailing at empty air with a racquet I’ve determined never to criticise again. It’s really a lot harder to lob that furry ball over to the other side than you might think.

Sarah Annie Wragge and unidentified girl with tennis racquets on the south side of Yallambie Homestead above the adjacent tennis court, c1890, (Bush collection).
Sarah Annie Wragge and unidentified girl with tennis racquets on the south side of Yallambie Homestead above the adjacent tennis court, c1890, (Bush collection).

The sight of Annie Wragge in a long skirt and corsets careering across the tennis court at Yallambie Homestead or of one of her brothers in a blazer and straw boater stringing up a net is certainly a thing of the past. But the tradition is continued at the Tennis Club where the sport has been undergoing a bit of a Renaissance of late. Last month Yallambie 1 mixed doubles won their section grand final in the autumn competition and this was followed by grand final wins by both the junior girls and junior boys’ teams.

Yallambie junior boys playing in their grand final at Yallambie, June, 2015.
Yallambie junior boys playing in their grand final at Yallambie, June, 2015.

On the strength of that latter achievement they gave our son a little trophy which featured a plastic player, tennis racquet uplifted menacingly in hand. He received it in one hand and the boys snapped the racquet off in their excitement with the other. You might say the plastic player is suffering from a bit of tennis elbow. I hope it’s not a sign of things to come.

Yallambie TC on grand final day, June, 2015.
Yallambie TC on grand final day, June, 2015.

Tennis is a great sport and Yallambie TC is friendly and welcoming environment to play it in. The club has teams playing during the week on weeknights and at weekends and most standards are catered for. Even those like me who are still struggling to tell one end of a racquet from the other. According to one opponent I played against last season, the game should never be taken too seriously. “Afterall,” he said as he watched me hit the ball out of play for what seemed like the umpteenth time, “You know we’re not playing for sheep stations”. That at least would have been a comfort to old Tommy Wragge.

Harry and Syd Wragge with their uncle, James Hearn, and dog photographed on the Yallambie tennis court, c1898, (Bush collection).
Harry and Syd Wragge with their uncle, James Hearn, and dog photographed on the Yallambie tennis court, c1898, (Bush collection).