Restoring Pennies brings peace for many

Somewhere among the graves and rusting wrought ironwork in Box Hill Cemetery is a memorial grave to Lieutenant Joseph Austin Sorby. He died in April 1918, leaving his parents, Charles Edward and Helen Sorby, to mourn his loss.

When I came across Joseph’s memorial in 2016, I saw an indentation at the foot of the grave. Did a vase once stand there or some other monument I thought? I did not know it then, but Joseph’s father had placed there something he valued highly – a commemorative war medallion known as a “Dead Man’s Penny” as a memorial to his son. Why it was missing I had no idea; whatever the reason, it was no longer where it should be.

Moving along, I came across another grave missing a Penny. With no first or second names, only a birth and death date, I decided to see if I could identify this soldier. Thomas, his father, was born on 14 October 1843 and died on 6 November 1929. Rachael Ann, Thomas’s wife, was born on 10 February 1860 and died on 21 January 1956. Using their surname and Box Hill as my keywords, an internet search revealed Thomas had a son whose birth date of 5 February 1891 and death date of 19 April 1917 matched the details on the grave. Albert William Cook joined the Imperial Camel Corps only to be killed in action on 19 July 1917 at Gaza, Palestine.

Near Albert’s memorial grave is that of a soldier, killed in action at Fromelles on 19 July 1916. There had once been a Penny on the grave, now gone. With few personal details to go by, I used the same research tools I’d used previously to identify William as this missing soldier. More than 5500 Australians were killed, wounded or captured in this, the first action for many,on the Western Front. They may simply been written off as a casualty of war, “Known Unto God”, had it not been for the efforts of Lambis Englezos, an Australian school teacher whose efforts to find “the missing” resulted in the discovery of 250 Australian and British soldiers in a mass grave at Pheasant Wood, Fromelles, in 2009. Of these men, 203 were identified as Australians with 75 identified by name through DNA testing. Sadly, no trace was found of William.

Of the more than 40 000 graves and memorials in Box Hill Cemetery, I have identified fourteen Dead Man Pennies on or missing from graves. The then RSL State President, Major-General Sir David McLachlan, said:

“… it’s absolutely despicable for people to desecrate the final resting place of others. Cemeteries are a place for people to express grief and remember. Anything that violates that is out of order”.

Lost or stolen, I had no idea where the Pennies had gone to, but I vowed there and then to do something about this injustice.

With the support of The White Horse Leader newspaper, I launched a project in May of 2016 to fund the replacement cost of the missing Pennies. Through donations large and small, replica Pennies were obtained, which, when engraved with the soldier’s name, will be returned to the graves, completing a story that began more than 100 years ago. Donations are accepted for this worthy project.

For further information or to donate, contact me at

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.

A site for sore eyes

Original Burwood High School teacher John Griffith joined the school at its temporary site in 1955. He recalls the eager expectation – and the reality – of the first day teachers and students saw their school in its permanent location.

We arrived expectantly at our newly ready school in February 1956, after the previous year’s stay in unlined steel huts beside Ashburton Railway Station. We anticipated that our new school would be ready. The site had been excavated on the south side, while the north side was a steep slippery slope to the valley. The school had been planned to be on the level ground against Burwood Road; but no-one had realised that Burwood Road was to be widened into Burwood Highway. Rather than pay more for a new site, it was decided to move the main building farther north, which required excavating the hillside of the area sloping down to Gardiners Creek.

The buildings were ready; but after heavy rain the excavation embankment was slippery clay and the slope to the north of the school had been churned up by the builders. From Burwood Road it was risky to enter over the slippery mud. A teacher used a builder’s plank to create a narrow walkway into the school. This quickly became slippery with mud and students stood by to watch the teachers enter in the hope of a slip!

Students then entered, taking the chance that no-one would bounce on the plank and unbalance others, causing an inadvertent muddy backslide. (Subsequently the teachers all decided it was desirable to come to school early!) In due course reporters arrived and took photos of the area, the plank and the students. The Minister for Education eventually arrived, but declined the opportunity to brave the slippery board into the school.

The following day a bulldozer arrived and a convoy of trucks came with road fill from farther up Burwood Road. We watched from windows as the bulldozer dug itself inescapably into the mud, and with its motor screaming dug itself even deeper. An even larger bulldozer then arrived, attaching itself to the first one, and in turn dug itself into a pit. It too worked its motor to a noisy climax. Finally a third bulldozer was brought up, stationing itself high on the hillside, and with a heavy chain freed each bulldozer in turn from the sticky clay.

With three bulldozers on hand, the valley was filled and compressed, and topped with a layer of gravel. But in the rush, no-one had thought to plot the sewer line at the base of the valley, or to fit new sewer vents in place. Some time later the school sewer line blocked. But where was the sewer? Extended pits were dug up to 15 feet deep to locate the sewer. It was then decided that it was at the bottom of the former valley; but noone could remember where that was exactly. It took an age to find and repair, during which time the school could not operate, and students got a holiday.

All told, since the extra buildings fitted awkwardly and at considerable expense onto the narrow and unstable site, it probably would have been cheaper to dismantle the school in sections and shift it eastwards to the more expensive vacant site (owned by the Blind Institute) on Station Street.

The original students of Burwood High School are having a reunion on Sunday, 2 April. This is only for the first lot of students who went through the school. It will give former students an opportunity reminisce and share stories of their high school days. For further information, please contact Sue Webster (née Cover) on 9885 3235 or via email or email Ted Tullberg at

An extraordinary life

IT was an auspicious day on 6 August 1926 in Kent, England, when Edna Frances Clarke joined the fold. By age three, it was clear she had weak ankles so her aunt suggested enrolling her in dance classes. Edna’s life-long love of singing, dancing and acting resulted. Although dancing strengthened her legs, she was never able to play active sport. Keen to assist children, when schools closed during World War II, 14-year-old Edna, who had been dux of her school, started a school for neighbourhood children in her parents’ attic.

A year later, 17-year-old Bill Jones first saw her in the local park; he later wrote that he knew that this was the girl he would marry.


Daughter Vivien:

“Dad adored her from that moment until his untimely death at 56 years.”

Their first child, Martin, was born in a London Hospital in June 1944 when the first of thousands of doodlebugs (bombs with wings) landed on London. The new young mothers were handed their babies each evening and the nursing staff went home!

Edna Clarke
Edna Clarke

In 1958, Bill, Edna, Martin, Vivien and Trevor emigrated to Australia. Seeking immediate community involvement, they joined an entertainment group called the Modernaires and travelled around Victoria presenting musical shows at aged care facilities and hospitals.

I spoke with the effervescent Edna in February this year at a Peridot dress rehearsal where she was accompanied by enthusiastic residents of her senior citizens’ village. Meeting Edna was a true ‘experience’ – 90 years of age, slim and spry body, topped by bright red hair to match her bubbly personality.

In the 1960s, Edna enrolled at Swinburne Technical College – a lifetime of producing, directing, set design, stage management, adjudication, dramaturgy and a children’s theatre workshop were the result. Edna said that students were not only taught acting but about makeup, sound and lighting. “You’ve got to know how to put the lights in the right place to get the effect you want. We had to learn everything – not just being on stage.”

Around the same time, she studied at Ingmar Bergman’s Melbourne’s School of Film. Edna and Bill produced environmental documentaries and Vivien recalls:

“They also filmed a TV series – the video equipment was so heavy they were often up to their knees in mud and being chased by trains on bridges when they had been told trains didn’t run on Sundays!”

Although Edna trained at Kenwood Theatre where many actors went on to TV shows such as Cop Shop and Number 96, she wouldn’t give up full-time employment to pursue that possibility, instead continuing in community theatre in plays and musicals and she was involved in establishing and running of Melbourne’s first ‘accredited’ hospitality training programs and ran a licensed motel/restaurant in the ‘seventies.

Edna in directing mode
Edna in directing mode

Following the death of her beloved Bill in 1980, Edna worked in youth theatre and also coordinated an after-school program where she taught boys to knit and girls to be more assertive! Back to her thespian pursuits: at the 1983 Waverley Festival of Theatre, Edna won Best Production, Best Set Design and Best Actress award!

Although her ambition to enter the 1986 Moomba Festival was thwarted by local groups, at an after-show cast party the woman running the Moomba Festival, having just seen her work, suggested Edna join the festival! “You will only have to do two plays that we’ll come and see, and we’ll invite you into it.”

The outcome was that she and future husband Gordon Bartlett started their own theatre company – Peridot (named for her August birthstone). With no time for auditions, she asked friends to join the cast of Moving. They had no flats or props and thankfully the (now defunct) Box Hill City Theatre Company loaned them a set.

Edna’s Moomba entry, The Dresser (its first non-professional production) resulted in Best Production, Best Director and Best Set Design – bear in mind that Edna was now nearly 60.

Edna filming with Gordon in the 1980s
Edna filming with Gordon in the 1980s

Over the years Edna worked with schools, casting and directing school musicals at Primary and Secondary level and, having had no previous background in films or theatre, Gordon assisted Edna in producing educational videos for schools and the Victorian indigenous pre-school community.

Playwrights were still seeking Edna’s assistance earlier this year – until Vivien told her that she must tell people her age – no one could guess – because she thought she could still do anything.

“As kids we laughed because Mum couldn’t run”, recalls Vivien. “However, x-rays revealed, when she was in her 70s and had resorted to directing plays on her knees, that she had been born with deformed ankles. The specialist surgeons couldn’t believe that she had walked at all. Her ankle bones were fused to relieve some pain but she refused to use a stick!”

Vivien says that Edna was also a superb seamstress and made fine tapestries and cross-stitch work – her unfinished work will be completed by family members. Vivien: “Mum had a finger in every pie but everything she did she did extremely well. Right to the last Mum just wanted to help people and make them good at what they do.”

Edna was fortunate to have husbands very willing to, as Vivien put it, ‘follow her dream’. When she and Gordon moved to a retirement village in their eighties, they soon had other villagers embroiled in play readings – what every retirement village needs is an Edna!

Following a life of constant pain, Edna passed away from cancer on 15 September, shortly after celebrating her 90th birthday. She is survived by her husband, Gordon, aged 95; two of three children, five of seven grandchildren and four great-grandchildren. Peridot’s next production, Alfred Hitchcock’s The 39 Steps, is a fast-paced whodunit. Venue: Unicorn Theatre, Mt Waverley Secondary College, Lechte Road, Mt Waverley (2–18 February 2017).

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

This was a war savings street

WWII had started.
It was a time of Bonnington’s Irish Moss made from pectoral oxymil of carrageen, a seaweed found on the coast of Ireland, Doctor McKenzie’s menthoids, Figsen, Dewitt’s Antacid Powder, Fry’s Balsam, the Rawleigh’s Man, Loy Brothers soft drink from Burnley with their specials, Football Punch and Winter Cheer. Coca Cola had arrived in those waisted bottles delivered in bright red trucks and Ace Chewing Gum was dispensed from machines fitted outside the local shop.

It was a time when you were either too busy or too poor to be unwell. Mum did the washing in a copper on Mondays, I think she chopped up the wood for the fire underneath as well. The war increased her burdens, a land of plenty suddenly changed. Oddly, the official notice appearing in the Butchers shop said Help win the war in your kitchen, eat more lamb – this came about with a loss in overseas demand.

The kindness disappeared overnight. Restricted were the sales of clothing, travel fuel and clothing and simple things like tennis balls. Mum was knitting for other people now, she made soap out of fat and caustic soda, tea by roasting wheat and The Australian Comforts Fund emerged.

Signs appeared on street lamp posts – This is a War Savings Street. There were volunteers wearing the badge with War Savings Certificates ready to collect the money for the official stamps. Two Lancaster Bombers came to Australia for back up publicity, G for George, still in Canberra and Q for Queenie.

Barry of Jerrabomerra in the ACT remembers saving up to buy the special stamps at the Post Office from Mrs Nelson to stick on a card. After reaching a target of 16 Shillings, this could be exchanged for a one pound, (20 Shillings) Savings Certificate redeemable in 7

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.

A visit to the past and Burwood High

Donald Weston and I sit in his living room, talking about his school days 50 years ago. Donald, a former student at Burwood High kept a diary, and as he explains I felt myself going back in time…to a time when Burwood High School was located at the Nissan Huts…

1956: Donald Weston recalls school days at the Nissan huts in the Ashburton Railway yards, which were originally built to accommodate migrant railway workers. The huts did not provide appropriate shelter from the extreme Melbourne weather and summers inside the huts were steaming, he says, as the roofing was structured with corrugated iron sheets.

The Burwood High School students were soon relieved of this. On a historic Monday they were relocated at their “incomplete” new residence, where at last they had their new home.

Burwood High School
Burwood High School before bitumen was put down

But the “new home” had to be cleaned for occupancy. Donald points out that students burned rubbish at the school to destroy rats. The school grounds were so muddy that two bulldozers were stuck in the mud, while the rugged terrain with long grass led a student, Dawn Giltinan, to be bitten by a snake. Assemblies were held in the freezing “breezeway”.

Donald recalls how the headmaster insisted on the students wearing double-breasted suits and “caused no end of strife. He insisted that boys wear their caps and raise them when passing him. He pounces on us if he sees us coming to school not wearing them.” In the extracts he further elaborates:

“In October (1959) we held a protest meeting against him on the hill. The newspapers were tipped off and there was a great scene. He likes to have long assemblies, lecturing us about our behaviour. Often children faint”.

The boys hated wearing caps. “They rolled up the caps and put them in the back pockets”. Laughing he remembers how Mr Lloyd, the headmaster stirred up those who weren’t wearing them. Also the girls’ dresses had to be the “right” length, where the hem of the skirt had to touch the ground when you knelt down.

“Even in hot weather we have to wear our jumpers in the class. If a teacher lets us take them off we have to put them back on before the next teacher arrives.”

The boys looked forward to the lunch breaks when they played a variety of games: cricket was played with no pitch, but just a bat; hand tennis, as the words imply was played by striking the ball with the hand; a German boy had taught the boys a card game called Skat, and though forbidden, was secretly played anyway. And marbles – most of the boys were seen carrying bags full of beautifully designed marbles. They played “alley football” with marbles and about three marbles got broken every day. “I have no idea what the girls did though,” Donald laughs.

1956 saw the Olympic Games held in Melbourne and some students went to one of the Games sessions from school. The enthusiasm of the kids was displayed when the form 1A boys wore an “Olympic running track” in the grassy school yard.

In his diary Donald has many entries. He concludes:

“Lloyd strolled and announced that we could leave school (for ever) after 4 pm! Swiped the library “silence” sign and made my last trip to school, to clear out [my] locker. Did not wear my uniform.”

First matriculation exam in the exhibition buildings.
Had the physics exam…very hard! Stopped at Hartwell for jumbo cherry milkshake (2/-) on the way home. Rang Ms Appleby twice about Calculus questions on the old exam papers. Calculus and applied maths 1 exams. Fastened my school tie to Bob’s brother’s car radio aerial.
Last exam! Pure maths 2.
The last school social.

Bibliography: Barnard P., Memories of Burwood High School 1955-87.