Camberwell – Named after a Pub

In 1853 newly-arrived George Eastaway built a corrugated iron hotel at what is now the corner of Burke and Riversdale Roads. The junction was a minor stopping place on the road to Gippsland and Wood’s Point gold diggings. As the area reminded him of Camberwell Green in London, Eastaway named his pub the Camberwell Inn and for many years its lamp guided carters on the dark road to Melbourne.

The inn was followed by a general store on Ballyshanassy (Camberwell) Road with the developing settlement adopting and retaining the inn’s name for the area; unlike a similar situation in Burwood with the Thorncombe Hotel.

Hotels and inns assisted their local communities for many years by allowing land auctions and public meetings to be held in their premises. However, despite local churches having held services in hotels until their own venues were built, when the Temperance movement swept the western world, these same churches sounded the death knell for those pubs. Local Option Polls instigated in 1885 resulted in many closures: in Victoria the polls directly or indirectly closed about 1600 hotels.

In 1919 the City of Camberwell had seven hotels, but by the end of 1920, following a Local Option Poll held in Nunawading and Boroondara, all of them, including the Camberwell Inn which was replaced by a milk bar, two wine saloons and one spirits grocer, were closed.

Ironically (having been named after a ‘pub’), Camberwell was a ‘dry area’ for 95 years until May 2015 at which time the Victorian Commission for Gambling and Liquor Regulation scrapped liquor polls within the area bound by the former City of Camberwell.

George Bills: a Legacy of Welfare for Animals

GEORGE (Joe) Bills left a lasting local legacy to animal welfare when he died in December 1927. He and his wife Annis, who predeceased him, had no children but shared a great love of animals. After providing some personal bequests his will established a trust and directed that the residue of his estate and income therefrom be used to provide watering troughs for horses and for the purpose of preventing cruelty and to alleviate the suffering of animals in any country. Evidence of his enduring legacy can be found today in the Royal Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (RSPCA) Centre at Burwood East and horse troughs at Box Hill and Blackburn South.

George, one of fourteen children, was born in the United Kingdom in 1859. His father was a bird dealer and instilled a love of all animals in his children. When George was fourteen his family emigrated to New Zealand and later to Australia, initially settling at Echuca. When he was twenty-one George moved to Sydney and worked as a bird dealer with his brother Harry. By 1883, after realising how well Harry’s business was doing, George moved to Brisbane and set up his own bird dealing business. Whilst there he also became involved in wire weaving to make inner spring mattresses. Other siblings later became involved in the manufacture of these mattresses and this resulted in the establishment of BBB, an iconic name in bed making and George’s relocation to Victoria to live in Hawthorn where other members of his family lived.

In 1885, George married his wife Annis, who shared his love of animals. They had no children and became benefactors both for people in need and animal welfare causes. George retired in 1908 and he and Annis travelled quite extensively. Unfortunately, she passed away on a trip to England in 1910. George continued to support animal welfare causes and was made a Life Governor of the Victorian Society for the Protection of Animals (VSPA) in 1924. His brother Henry was a Commissioner of VSPA from 1913 to 1922. George died of heart failure on 14 December 1927 at the age of 68.

In her book For All Creatures – A History of RSPCA Victoria, Barbara Pretzel details a number of animal welfare initiatives around Melbourne supported by significant donations from the George Bills Trust during a period, over several decades, when there appears to have been a fractious relationship between several animal welfare agencies. The donations appear to have assisted in working towards an increased spirit of cooperation between these agencies through initiatives such as the purchase of an animal ambulance.

In 1934, the VPSA was able to purchase land at Preston for use as a rest home for horses and kennel for dogs, predominantly funded by a Bills Trust donation. In 1939, this land was sold and funds used to purchase 28 acres of land at Burwood East, the site of the current RSPCA headquarters.

Another significant donation resulted in the Trust funding the establishment of a rescue centre on the Burwood site, which was named the George Bills Rescue Centre when opened in 1964. Long serving RSPCA President and Patron, Dr Hugh Wirth AM said, “The Bills family was not particularly wealthy, but they recognised the need for people in Victoria to look after animals properly.”

The other significant legacy from the Trust was the manufacture and installation of a large number of concrete horse troughs, some with small drinking troughs for dogs attached, throughout most of Australia and several in Britain. Dr Wirth said:

“They established a Trust for the purposes of developing the design of these horse (and dog) troughs, and placed these troughs free of charge at wellsited places such as outside pubs. I think there would have been a lot of delighted horses when they saw a George Bills trough, particularly on a hot summer’s day!”

George Gemmell of Stanhope has established a website dedicated to collating information about the history and location of the  Bills troughs. The site is well worth a visit to check out the location of troughs and I am sure that George would be interested to hear about and obtain photographs of any troughs not listed on his website.

The first few troughs were hand made from granite and installed in the area around George’s home. Detailed research by George Gemmell indicates that over 500 troughs were constructed and installed up until the end of World War II. All of these troughs were made by Rocla Concrete Pipes and the troughs were installed in Victoria and NSW from 1930. No troughs were made after 1939. The cost of the troughs was about £13, plus the transport and installation costs.

Bills trough at RSPCA, East Burwood
Bills trough at RSPCA, East Burwood

There are four Bills troughs in the City of Whitehorse. One is located just inside the old entrance gates to the Box Hill Cemetery in Whitehorse Road opposite the Box Hill City Oval, a second in parkland at the corner of Blackburn and Canterbury Roads and two others at the RSPCA Centre at Burwood East. RSPCA Victoria CEO Dr Liz Walker said, “The two Bills troughs that reside at our Burwood East site hold great historical significance to RSPCA Victoria and will continue to be treasured.” One of these troughs is located outside the Centre’s Education facility where it can be seen by the manystudents who visit the Centre each year.

Like George Bills, I share a great love of all creatures great and small. It is clear that he made a great contribution to animal welfare both during his life and through the Trust established after his death. There’s no doubt his legacy formed a sound basis for the development of animal welfare facilities currently available through the RSPCA. Although the majority of the remaining horse troughs are ornamental, they are testament to an era in our history when we were dependent on horses for transport.

We are most fortunate to have these benefits and reminders of his passion for animals available locally. I am also very proud to say that he was my great grand uncle. Acknowledgements: 1. Bills Birds and Beds – The John Bills family in England, New Zealand and Australia c. 1795-1995 by Judy Crook. 2. For All Creatures – A History of RSPCA Victoria by Barbara Pretzel (2006) ISBN 0646 46078 1 3. Information provided by Natalie Filmer, Media Advisor, RSPCA, Victoria 4. Website – Bills troughs – created and maintained by George Gemmell.

My Bicycle

I clearly remember the days of my bicycle. It was in the 1940s, when everybody had a bicycle. Mine hung on a hook in the laundry. It came with toe grips on the pedals and had a racing seat with a lambswool cover for comfort. It had a rim bell, which was operated from the handlebars (see picture). I paid £3/2/- for it.

Bikes were great fun at weekends. I rode as far as Frankston and Dandenong. The tyres hummed as you went along, creating a happy feeling. But tragedy struck on a very foggy morning. I was going to work when a man coming from the opposite direction collided with me. I continued on my way, not realising that the frame was damaged and needed repairs.

Four other fellow workers used to join me on their bikes to work. It was all downhill from the top of High Street in St Kilda to the city, via St Kilda Road, and the traffic was very light in those days. Going home, you might hold on to the back of a tray truck and have a free ride for a while.

Such was the need at the work place that an area was provided with hooks to hang our bikes on. On the days that we went to Melbourne Tech. as part of our training, the school provided books and a man to staff the area to keep an eye on our bikes.

Eventually, at about age sixteen I sold my bike and purchased an exarmy motorbike.

Several people came to our house on their bikes, including the postman, the Rawleigh’s man (day-to-day medicines) and the street collector for the War Savings fund.

Australia’s First Electric Tram

Transport shenanigans in the 1890s

IN October 1889, Australia’s first electric tram began running between Box Hill Post Office on the Whitehorse Road and Station Street corner and the terminus near Elgar and Doncaster roads, Doncaster. It was the first in the southern hemisphere.

At Melbourne’s Centennial International Exhibition at the Exhibition Buildings in August 1888 nearly 17 000 Melbournians marvelled at being transported by an American electric tramway along a 300-yard (274-metre) track for threepence a ride.

Although ahead of its time and a modern metropolis by 1888, Melbourne preferred to stay with its new cable trams. [Melbourne’s cable trams, the fourth-largest system in the world, operated until 1942 when they were replaced with electric ones.]

However, two months after the Exhibition, a syndicate of landowners and investors in Nunawading and Bulleen banded together raising £15,000 to construct a tramline Transport shenanigans in the 1890s between the large fruit-growing areas of Box Hill and Doncaster, forming the Box Hill and Doncaster Tramway Company Limited. Counting on a boom in land sales and tourism, they secured a 30-year lease from the Nunawading Shire, purchased the electric tram and accompanying equipment from the Exhibition, let a contract for construction of 2.25 miles (3.6 kilometres) of track and secured second-hand rails from Tasmania for the standard-gauge line.

Despite opposition from some locals that trams would negate the need for a railway to Doncaster, the ‘undulating and picturesque’ tramline route, which was actually very difficult, steep and winding, particularly between Koonung Creek and Doncaster, opened on 14 October 1889.

The opening ceremony was said to be a very grand affair well-attended by leading men of the day, many of whom were passengers on the inaugural trip. In 1950 The Argus reported that those who had tried “the new means of propulsion had a very pleasant experience. … When the brake was removed the vehicle glided down the track with a smooth and easy motion. … The average speed throughout was good, the whole distance of 2¼ miles taking twenty minutes.”

The event was marked by extraordinary press coverage, not only locally in The Argus, but also overseas – it was seen as a major coup for Melbourne. An article appearing in the local newspaper The Reporter on 17 October 1889 exhibited an overwhelming exuberance and pride for the venture and much purple prose.

“Every resident in the district should be proud of the action which has prompted the promoters to rise and make the tramway which connects Doncaster with the leading metropolis of the southern hemisphere.

“… All over the Australian colonies, too, Box Hill will be known as the place which had the capital, the wisdom and the enterprise to inaugurate an undertaking which will place her in the foremost van of progress. In the course of a few months hundreds of tourists and sightseers will specially visit Box Hill to see for themselves what was hitherto believed The Box Hill–Doncaster electric tram circa 1896 December 2014 – February 2015 Burwood Bulletin 5 to be a physical impossibility – a tram car run by electric motive power. …Why, had Galileo prophesied such an occurrence as that he would have been court-marshalled and crucified head downwards.”

With ten round trips on weekdays and additional ones on weekends, the tramway was an initial success and a second tram was ordered from America. Speeds of around nine miles (14 kilometres) per hour were reached and sixpence afforded a one-way trip.

But by November 1890 the steep gradients were causing continual breakdowns and when Tramway management refused to guarantee that the line would operate on a regular basis, the landowners removed 50 yards (46 metres) of track.

Adding to the volatile situation was the interruption to locals’ quietude brought about by Melbourne ‘larrikins’ journeying by tram to their sleepy village. Gangs raided orchards, stealing fruit and verbally and physically challenging any residents who upbraided them. This resulted in locals also venting their anger upon the tramway.

In June 1891 The Argus reported that rails on the line had been “… pulled up, the line fenced across and a deep gutter cut from one side of the road to the other.” During the following weekend, though: “… the fence was removed, only one post being left in the ground to mark where it had once stood, and the deep drain had been filled up so effectively that the tram road was safe for traffic on Monday.”

The same Argus article advised that it was unknown who carted the fence away or who filled in the drain, and that: “During Sunday and Monday an effigy, which has been carefully made, was suspended on the crosswire at the terminus of the tram line in Doncaster. The effigy has been provided with a black belltopper, to which is securely fastened a large card, bearing the following inscription:- ‘A. E. Tankard. Sad, sad. The sad effects of rail lifting. The above will be burnt in effigy on Saturday evening next at 8 p.m. All are cordially invited.”

Although the line eventually ran again, the economic depression of the 1890s resulted in its final closure on 6 January 1896, just over six years after its first journey, when local councils were left with the substantial cost of making the roads fit for normal traffic.

The glowing words from The Reporter article were far from prophetic and the venture sadly ended in obscurity:

“They have carried out an undertaking which will tend to immortalise their names in the bright and sunny land of Australia. … when the directors of this company shall have joined the great majority they will leave behind them footprints in the sands of time.”

Check out Melbourne Museum’s precise miniature replica of the first tram at Museum Victoria. A full-size replica of the first tram is on permanent display at Doncaster– Templestowe Historical Society’s museum at Schramm’s Cottage, Doncaster.

References: Green, R. (1989) The First Electric Road, J. Mason Press,
Box Hill Reporter – Its banner boasted: “The Reporter Circulating in Box Hill, Surrey Hills, Canterbury, Balwyn, Camberwell, Doncaster, Burwood, Blackburn, Mitcham and Ringwood.”
The Argus newspaper online at Trove

Waverley’s Roads

Roads – they are something we take for granted when all is well, and complain about when it isn’t – but barely think about most times. They are everywhere, little ones in front of our houses and big ones for travelling distances. We don’t have to build them or maintain them so we just assume they are a part of life.

But it was not always so. As recently as 150 years ago there were barely any roads in the eastern suburbs area. Of course the whole Burwood area was in the country then – cattle runs, woodcutting, and little else. The first land sales in the area were not until 1853, when the area was surveyed, Oakleigh township gazetted, and “government roads” laid out. Victoria wasn’t even separated from the colony of New South Wales yet!

Many people do not realise, but at that time of the first surveys, Melbourne’s (and all of Victoria’s) roads were laid out to run (magnetic) North – South and East – West, exactly one mile apart. This was to give easy access from all points to all points, with plenty of room for quiet residential areas and self-contained industrial areas, efficient routes for public transport, etc. It was excellent planning that inspired those mile grids to be established.

Unfortunately not all local councils followed the plan, but a quick check of a street directory will show the North – South grid as Summerhill Rd, Warrigal Rd, Huntingdale Rd, Stephensons Rd, Blackburn Rd, (etc); and the East – West as Riversdale Rd, Toorak Rd, High St and High St Rd, Waverley Rd and Ferntree Gully Rd. Where there are glitches in the system there are stories to be told about stubborn characters who had to have their own way at the expense of present and future generations – Mr. Elgar, and the Bennett brothers (of Bennetswood) are prime examples. If you want to know more, you may like to find Dr Max Lay’s book, “Melbourne Miles” in a library.

But even when the roads were laid out, they were not “made.” The predecessor of local government in the Monash area, the Oakleigh/Mulgrave Road Board, was constituted in 1857. Thus the first reason for all the individual settlers to “get together” and do something en masse was to establish some roads into town. Picture it – way out here in the sticks, where there were few houses and fewer shops, settlers needed access to the Melbourne markets for their produce – firewood for the town houses, a few cattle that could be spared, and later some fruit and vegetables. A trip to town took many hours. The locals would rise early, catch and hitch their horses, and begin the breakneck journey around trees and fallen logs, down and up creek beds, over the ruts and holes and burrows. (Waverley Rd was even called Breakneck Rd in those days.) In the wet, it was all mud and bog holes; in the dry it was dust and ruts and corrugations.

If the produce was perishable, the trip would have to be started while it was still dark, increasing the danger. After a four or five hour journey, a full day at the markets was spent, selling the produce,.  Then it was time to load the cart with manure from the stock area to take home for fertiliser, and start the long weary journey home. Trouble was, just as it was getting dark they would arrive at the unmade roads closer to home, with all the accompanying danger of the horse running into an unseen log, or breaking a leg in a hole.

Enter the Roads Board, to help the battling farmer. Locals could now band together and make sure the roads were levelled a bit and logs cleared to make the journey safer and a little faster. However no-one had the time to do the work voluntarily. All were on subsistence level and needed to work their selection. Who should pay for the roads? The answer was obvious – the user should pay. Tollgates were set up in various places to collect funds for the service of clearing fallen trees and mending holes.

A bronze footpath marker outside Safeway in High St Rd, Ashwood,  marks the place where one of these tollgates was situated.

Of course people did not like tolls any more then than they do now, and every attempt was made to use the improved roads without paying the tolls. (Some things never change.) The toll gates were phased out by an Act of Parliament in 1874 (by then we were The Colony of Victoria), but not before the Roads Board became the Shire of Oakleigh/Mulgrave, so that local government was established, with the means to extract money for roads by other means. Incidentally, the council only ever met on full moon nights, because there was no street lighting. Travel on other nights was too dangerous.

One of the many dangers on the roads, day or night, was stray animals. When conditions were dry, stock would break out and graze “the long paddock” (the roadside, for those not used to country jargon). In the dark one could easily collide with a cow or horse, and day or night the sudden emergence of stock frightened by the sound of an oncoming cart could make the horse shy and topple the cart. Thus, commons were established to give small land holders somewhere extra to graze stock.

One was on the corner of Waverley Rd and Forster Rd in Mount Waverley. A footpath marker commemorates the place.

In those days the roads were “good” if they were relatively level. Property close to major roads was valuable, because all other roads were private and likely to be nothing more than routes. In the winter, they were muddy and in summer, dust. People used to walk to stations and bus stops carrying a clean pair of shoes for in the bus and in town. Stations and bus stops would be lined with muddy shoes, which owners would retrieve on the homeward journey. This was the case right up till about 50 years ago, when subdividers were bound to provide some basic services on estates, rather than simply drawing lines on a map.

In the 1960s and 70s freeways were built that cut the journey to Melbourne down from an hour and a quarter (compare that with the 4-5 hour journey of the 1800s!) to about 40 minutes. Now we have roads that can take us into town in 20 minutes or so, if we want to pay the toll. We also enjoy “made” minor roads, footpaths, pedestrian crossings, street lighting, freeway sound walls, and many other comforts of road use. I wonder how many of us stop to think grateful thoughts about the many benefits we enjoy each day without lifting a finger ourselves.

If you would like to read more about Waverley/Monash history, look for “Cattlemen to Commuters” by Susan Priestley, or “Taking Its Place,” by Helen Gobbi, or “Waverley Past and Present” in your local library. If you would like a free leaflet about the Waverley Heritage Trail, including all the footpath markers, visit our rooms above Mt Waverley library any Wednesday afternoon, or send a stamped self-addressed envelope to Waverley Historical Society, PO Box 2322 Mt Waverley 3149. If you do not live in Monash try your local historical society for information on the history of your area.