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 The Act was amended and in 1896 finally repealed, after which time experimental steam transport was finally free to develop and operate unhindered.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.
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?
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
Recounting the past can be a difficult exercise if we rely entirely on the memory carrying capacity of the cauliflower that sits between our ears. Two decades ago, at a time almost before the internet, I was advised most earnestly to start keeping a written diary at Yallambie. “It would make a good history,” was the assertion. I promised to do so but of course, in the years that followed, I never did. Looking back, it seems now like the passage of time has smothered the old cauliflower with something like melted cheese.
At some future date, should historians ever feel the need to consider the early years of the 21st century, the transient nature of today’s digital age may leave their vision blurred. Not so the written word.
In 2002 an old diary was found under the floorboards of Yallambie Homestead, bearing the title, “Yallambie Day Book, 1866”. That date predated the time of the building of the present Homestead but came from a time when Thomas Wragge was already active at the Bakewell property and probably sub leasing it to John Ashton. Winty Calder, author of the Wragge family history, “Classing the Wool and Counting the Bales”, examined the diary in detail and discovered the book had commenced its life as a farm diary on the last day of 1866 but that after 1882 it had been used by another hand to record veterinary practices. The later hand turned out to be that of Henry Wragge, the brother of Thomas and of whom not much had been previously recorded.
Henry Wragge, MRCVS, worked as a veterinary surgeon in Melbourne and Castlemaine and may have seen service in the Crimean War. He served on the first three boards of the Veterinary Surgeons Board of Victoria. He diagnosed pleuropneumonia in Victoria in 1858 and advised destruction of the affected herd, advice that was subsequently ignored by the government of the Colony of Victoria. The disease was not eradicated until 1970.
Henry died at Yallambie in 1898 but it was the finding of his written diary that allowed his history to become more widely understood. Calder published Henry’s story in her book “Finding Uncle Harry”, (Winty Calder, Jimaringle Publications, 2004).
The Victoria Branch of the Australian Garden History Society maintains an ongoing interest in the Yallambie Homestead area and runs occasional, much appreciated working bees in the Homestead garden. Their last visit was November, 2014 when about a dozen Society members spent a day working around the garden. A few weeks later, one of those members contacted me and said that although she had not realized it during the working bee, she recalled that she had been a visitor at the Homestead on an earlier occasion. That was in the 1970s, during ownership of the property by the Temby family. She had forgotten much of that childhood visit, including the location of the house, but remembered it when she saw an account of Yallambie written by Ethel Temby and kept in the files of the Heidelberg Historical Society.
Ethel and her husband Alan Temby came from Eaglemont to live at Yallambie Homestead in 1961, before the development of the surrounding suburb of Yallambie and at a time when the district still retained a largely rural character. The 6 Temby children enjoyed an idyllic life at the farm. Their horses grazed in Yallambie Park, asparagus gone to seed was cut on the river flat and an annual crop was gathered in from the old fruit trees in the orchard. Bee boxes were kept in the Homestead garden and in the park and the children took a keen interest in the native wildlife that lived in the surrounding area. A cockatoo was kept in the kitchen and was known to regularly perch on the ceiling beam from where it would chat to the family. Years later Ethel told of how she had once seen a tiger snake slide underneath the back kitchen door but the direction it was going was from the inside going out. On questioning, her sons admitted that they had trapped the snake outside the house weeks before and brought it inside to keep as a pet. It had escaped and been loose about the house for days. They hadn’t liked to mention this to their mother for fear of upsetting her.
Ethel loved the Homestead’s aged garden which had remained largely unchanged since the 19th century. Her contribution was to plant a forest of natives, mainly north of the house, her method being to scratch the surface of the old stable yard, cover it with a copy of The Age newspaper and plant a seedling into it.
It was in or about 1980 that I saw Yallambie on the one occasion in my teens. A school mate and I were roaming far afield on bicycles and rode through Yallambie Park. We stopped to explore the old abandoned and deserted Homestead pump house that was at that time still standing on the river bank. At least my friend did. Like a goody two shoes, I stayed with the bikes and told him officiously he was trespassing while he climbed about inside, eventually to wave at me from a window on the upper level. While I waited I looked up at the elderly Homestead on the ridge and wondered who could possibly live there. Mainly the ghosts I thought.
The old pump house burned down soon after this. I hope my friend didn’t leave the gas on.
In 1984 Ethel Temby, by then a widow, sold the Homestead at public auction. I can remember my late father at the time critically remarking on the run down nature of the property. For 30 years an inspector for the Melbourne and Metropolitan Board of Works, my father seemed to know a bit about the house. The antiquated water system at the Homestead was the bane of his working life. Although it had been connected to the reticulated water system in the street, this was only turned on when the levels in the Homestead’s tanks dropped, which was usually at the time of highest summer demand. The ensuing decrease in water pressure was a problem for the immediate neighbourhood, or at least for the water officer who controlled it.
Ethel moved to Phillip Island after leaving Yallambie. Two of her sons remained in Tarcoola Drive for a while, building mud brick houses near the Homestead that incorporated materials salvaged from the demolished Bakewell era stables. Ethel is remembered separately as a passionate conservationist and an advocate for social justice, especially in regard to the deinstitutionalization of the intellectually disabled. The Ethel Temby Research Grant is a study scholarship for health care workers, named in her honour. Ethel died aged 97 in 2012. Her account of Yallambie, written around the time of her departure in 1984, remains as a glimpse into the Temby family history of Yallambie.
YALLAMBIE HOMESTEAD (The Temby family’s history at Yallambie, as recorded by the late Ethel Temby MBE, 1914-2012). A house that is of interest only because of its architecture or its age is only a building – cold, impersonal, of no general appeal. A garden planned for display may please the eye as window-boxes do, but may yet attract no human response. Yallambie was built as a home for Mr. & Mrs. Thomas Wragge and their three daughters (sic) close to 110 years ago. Except for three of those years it has always been a family home. It passed to one of the Wragge daughters and her husband and then to a grand-daughter and her husband, Mr. & Mrs. Cliff Bush. The Bush’s two children grew up there but as suburbia drew closer and closer the family sold the remaining 165 acres of the farm to the developer A. V. Jennings. For three years the house was empty and the garden suffered the looting that is often the fate of unattended places.
Jennings’ survey of the property cut through the house garden and pegs close to the verandah indicated that had they not found a buyer for the house it would have been demolished. In 1961 the homestead with 2 acres was put up for auction but without success. Some months later it was bought by Ethel and Alan Temby the present owners who were looking for a larger place for their family of six. In the 20 years that the Tembys have been at Yallambie the area surrounding the homestead and the conditions of life at the house have seen remarkable change. Tarcoola Drive in front of Yallambie Homestead cuts through the old house paddock. Lambruk Court runs across the site of the stockyards and loading ramp. Just south west of the present house fence someone is living on the filled-in dam, once prolific with yabbies until poachers dragged it with nets. Jennings leased the paddocks to a cattle owner. There were water troughs in every paddock, no other houses were in sight and to reach the road (Lower Plenty road as it used to go across the old bridge), the family opened and shut five sets of farm gates. 18 years ago there was a sale of cattle at the yards and it is only 16 years since a pet sheep was torn to ribbons by a pack of feral dogs. There were three dogs often seen late at night on the slopes between the road and the house. The farm tracks were sometimes impassable in wet weather and the record long time to drive the 600 hundred yards from the road was 45 minutes of zigzagging over the grass. From time to time the Tembys reared orphaned animals, and a kangaroo which seemed to like grazing with the horses would pound down the hill to the house when called. A wombat left her mark on a back door when she tried to get into the kitchen. The door still has its protective sheet of metal.
Before Jennings developed the surrounding area (10 years after purchase), the telephone was a private one which left the public line and crossed the river at the foot of Longs Road. The private line was low, supported on saplings and thin poles and in places crossed thickets of hawthorns. It frequently broke, mostly between the poles, so drums and boxes had to be perilously mounted while the wires were twisted together again. Even the climate has changed with the coming of the houses. The combined warmth of so many dwellings has reduced the severity of the frosts. The hills no longer look nor feel like ski slopes. No tree now still has frost 50 feet from the ground at 11 a.m. All this may seem incredible such a short time ago and only 9 milesfrom the G.P.O. but the Yallambie district remained rural long after most land surrounding Melbourne had long been developed. Today Yallambie (district, not Homestead) is in many ways like a country town and has something of the same sense of community. It is partly isolated by the Plenty River and the Watsonia army camp, and has only three access points – either end of Yallambie road and the north end of Tarcoola Drive. Many local residents refer to the Homestead as “the farm”.
The first occupants of the land by the Plenty were a tribe of Aborigines who had a permanent camp by a long deep pool on the river – it always had water and fish even in the worst droughts. The name Yallambie is an approximation of the Aboriginal word meaning place of shade, or shelter. The first white settlers were two brothers, Robert and John Bakewell, who first held the land on lease from the New South Wales government. Very soon after, in 1840, they bought 604 acres. The land is sharply divided into river flats and higher areas where the main stands of timber were of stringy bark. The higher land is banded with clay and mud-stone, but the river flats are rich alluvial soil, subject now to rare flooding. Before Yan Yean dam was built the floods were much more frequent. In those days the river earned its name and a timber mill operated by a water-wheel was built on the river across the wide flat below the homestead. In the 1960s its foundations were still visible when the river was low.
The flat was established as a market garden and orchard and grew a great variety of vegetables. One of the former row of fig trees remains, (the rest were bulldozed by the Council several years ago), there are two walnuts and several other remnants of the orchard. The Bakewells grew grapes for the Melbourne market. These with other fruit and vegetables were taken by dray along Heidelberg Road. Heidelberg Road is the oldest road in the State and then had a toll where it crossed Darebin Creek. It is not known whether the Bakewells (who were Quakers) paid the toll or cheated the State asso many others did by pushing through the bush to a place up stream where the creek could be forded. The trip to market took two days at that time. The Bakewells created a wooden house – a pre fab brought out from England. It may well have arrived with them. With its French windows it was particularly appropriate for the hotter climate and the lovely environment the brothers found. The Bakewells also had property near Tooradin and used to journey between the two places – a considerable undertaking then, and hour’s drive today.
In about 1870/71 Mr. Thomas Wragge, who had earlier bought Yallambie from the Bakewells, started building the present homestead. The original (pre fab) house appears to have been where the tennis court was later laid out. A huge oak tree was probably an early planting by the Bakewells. The tree (from an acorn they brought?) is near the south-west corner of the present house. Perhaps as old as the tree – about 140 years – is the stump with remnants of white paint on it now almost completely in its shade. When the Tembys bought the house from A. V. Jennings the stump supported a sun-dial. By the time they took possession it had been stolen as had china finger-plates from some of the doors, and other things from the house. But some pieces of history are hard to remove and the old hand-pump that raised water from a tank under the drive is still there, though no longer useable. Water in the underground tank comes from the roof and before the days of electricity or ice deliveries the butter would be hung in the tank to keep it cool in summer. In the 1966/67 drought the water was used to keep some of the garden alive, especially the old magnolia grandiflora. Part of the original square sectioned iron guttering that takes the roof water remains on the west roof of the house. The tennis court must be very old because the area is now over-hung by huge branches of the big oak and of the buya pine (araucaria bidwilli). No one would have placed a tennis court under the bunya if it had been big. I drops very prickly leaves, large branches and every three years or so, huge, heavy, cones bigger than pineapples. The buya and many of the older trees were given to Mr. Wragge as seedlings by Baron Von Mueller when the famous botanist was at the Royal Botanic Gardens. There are some old fashioned garden plants and garden pests at Yallambie – some of them far too plentiful and seemingly impossible to eradicate. Ivy has killed several trees. Bindweed, some scrambling plants and onion weed are constant enemies. The ducks and bantams that used to keep down the insect pests and add life and colour to the garden have been massacred by neighbours’ cats and dogs. Four bantam hens remain. Bulbs, shrubs and trees were planted with forethought and at any time of the year there are flowers somewhere in the garden. Honesty, lilac, laurels, a big range of bulbs in flower from April to October, mock orange, flag iris, arum lilies, ixias and Sparaxis, michaelmas daisy, roses, wisteria, christmas roses, periwinkle and many others keep the succession going. There is always a patch of colour somewhere in the garden. The seemingly casual arrangement of the plantings creates corners out of the sun or shade or wind where a person can be alone to read or recuperate or talk with a friend. “A garden is a lovesome thing…”(T. E. Brown).
The water tower used to hold water pumped from the river. Its height gave the pressure for the water to flow around the garden and to the stock troughs. When reticulated water arrived at Yallambie it was linked to the concrete tank and was switched on in summer when the water pressure was low. The pump-house by the river was burnt by vandals about three years ago. Soon after the gardener’s cottage at the foot of the hill at Yallambie was also burnt. Four generations of families have lived in the historic pile that is the present Yallambie Homestead. Four generations of children have slept in its bedrooms, slid down its bannisters, played in the garden, climbed the trees, ridden their ponies, watched possum and platypus, and had birthday and Christmas, coming of age, engagement and wedding parties in its big family rooms. Each family has made its own impact. Mr. Wragge’s three daughters, in an era when young ladies painted or sewed and made music, each painted panels for the three doors in the billiard room. In 1923 it was decided to modernise the house. Marble mantelpieces were torn out and smashed, the old staircase was removed and a big 23 step flight replaced it. In the bedrooms marble was painted to look like wood. Art nouveau did some terribly inartistic things. A brick wall with wooden doors in it enclosed the house garden. It was pulled down and replaced by post and rail, painted white. At this time the cellar was filled in with rubble and the billiard room extended, a bay window being added. At some stage in the 1950s the National Trust looked at Yallambie, but to restore it would have cost a fortune even then. A figure given was £16000. The present family has repapered walls that had 1920s style andcolour, and painted to maximise light in a house that seemed to have been built to keep out the blistering Australian sun. Floors now do not have carpets screwed down with polished wood strips between. Mats on bare wood emphasise the spacious rooms. But Yallambie is not a showplace – just a family home with a mixed assortment of furniture to meet the family’s needs. The architecture of the house reflects the emphasis on social class of a hundred years ago. The family rooms have curved window tops, the staff windows are square. In between are the minor curves of the butler’s pantry and the nanny’s bedroom. But the nanny’s room is the only bedroom with no fire place! Door handles are low on staff doors, higher on family doors. Perhaps this indicated an attitude to children. It kept them out of their parents’ hair but the staff could cope! And when electricity was installed there was no switch at the family end of the kitchen. Now the mother of pearl capped bell pushers do not connect to the service board in the kitchen and if they did the woman who pressed the bell would have to run out and answer herself. Staff sitting rooms, bedrooms and bathroom lead off the kitchen – there is no light in their L shaped passage. At one time Yallambie employed fourteen people including three gardeners who used to “make plants” in a glasshouse. The glasshouse has fallen down, but the present family still sow seeds and strike cuttings to make their plants. In 1962 there were only 4 Australian native trees or shrubs in the garden. The native ‘forest’ planting in front of the old stables has all been grown in the last 15 years. Only the northern section of the stables remain now. The dividing walls are of native rock, the back hand made bricks and the front and end the remnants of the original timber. The stables appear on a survey map of 1852. They probably date from the very early Bakewell days. Part is paved with rounded river stones.
The garden, the river flats and the house have all been used many times to serve the community. Garden and house party, sport day and literary luncheon have all been used to raise money for various purposes or just to bring people together. A Halloween party one year helped neighbouring Americans to feel at home. Churchill Fellows and high school students are among those who have gathered at Yallambie. Journalistic licence leads to imaginative detail – a recent press description of the house included “rusting tanks”, “shingle roof” and “tottering chimneys”. The roof is slate, we can find no rusting tanks, and no one need fear a tottering chimney.Some of the cement rendering has fallen onto the roof. Yallambie seems as solid a homestead now as it was a hundred years ago. An effect of an old home and garden is to give a sense of being part of the continuity of life, of having roots in the past and prospects in the future. The Temby’s family of 6 has grown with marriage and children to 16 so the family house built by Thomas Wragge in 1870 remains just that. It is a place all its families have loved.
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?”
“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?’
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.
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).
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.
“(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.”
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.
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.”
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.
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.
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.
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.
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?