Meet at 2.00 pm (Melway ref 33 B1) at the corner of Bonds and Stawell Roads, Lower Plenty. (Street parking is available in Montpelier Drive)
The predominant feature of this walk in the Bonds Road area, Lower Plenty is the large number of magnificent old River Red Gums that line the route. These trees are of the spreading woodland form of this species indicating that they must have been originally growing in a reasonably open setting. The walk also includes parts of the historic Cleveland Estate and the homestead “Rosehill” established by pioneer farmer Henry Stooke. The walk distance is about 3km and will take 2 to 2.5 hours.
This area was the site of the first recorded European settlement in what was to become the Shire of Eltham when the Willis brothers arrived in the late 1830s. From the southern part of Cleveland Avenue there are extensive views across and along the Yarra Valley.
The walk is open to Society members and the general public. Dogs are not permitted on Society excursions. The phone number for contact on the day is 0409 021 063.
#ThrowbackThursday – Today marks our 80th journey back in time. In recognition of that, we are going to time travel back 80 years to the small holiday resort town of Warrandyte before it had been absorbed into an outer suburb of Melbourne. It is Friday, January 13th, 1939; Black Friday.
In the days preceding, Melbourne has experienced some of its hottest temperatures on record: 110.8 °F (43.8 °C) on January 8th and 112.5 °F (44.7 °C) on January 10th. On Black Friday, temperatures will reach 114.1 °F (45.6 °C), which will become the hottest day officially recorded in Melbourne for the next 70 years until it is surpassed on February 7th, 2009, Black Saturday, 46.4 °C (115.5 °F). Unofficial records show temperatures of around 117 °F (47 °C) were reported on the Black Thursday fires of 6 February 1851.
The summer of 1938–39 had been hot and dry, and several fires had broken out. By early January, fires were burning in a number of locations across the state. Then, on Friday 13 January, a strong northerly wind hit the state, causing several of the fires to combine into one massive front.
In the Eltham district, the fires raged from Tuesday to Saturday morning and occurred in the Eltham, Warrandyte, Yarra Glen, Strathewen, Queenstown, Kinglake and Whittlesea districts.
At Etham, the fire begins on Friday morning in the vicinity of Mr. C.A. (Clarrie) Hurst’s Eltham Poultry Farm and Hatchery in New Street (present day Lavender Park Road), one of the oldest in the State, consuming some fowl pens and killing many birds. The fire-bell is rung, and all the firemen of Eltham, together with most of the male residents turn out to fight the flames. Speeding before a strong and searing north wind, it passes on to Mr. H. Rutter’s house at Yarra Braes. It is while the firemen are at Mr. Hurst’s property that the fire attacks Mr. Rutter’s house. Despite desperate efforts, the home is burned to the ground. It then crosses the valley, and threatens Killeavey in Laughing Waters Road, the home of Mrs. J. (Beatrice) Morrison, daughter of Sir William Irvine.
The fire-fighters reach Morrison’s before it is consumed, and make desperate efforts to save the property. They fight the fire there for three hours, and had checked it several times before the house is ultimately destroyed. Only a lack of water prevents the house from being saved.
Mrs. Morrison is currently away on holiday, but her uncle, Mr. Neville Wanliss, with his wife, together with Mrs. Phillips, two boys and a girl, are spending a holiday there. They see the fire approaching, and take refuge in the river, where they remain for several hours. About 4 p.m. they emerge and are seen by Mr. Evans, who takes them in his car to “Kooringarama,” Eltham, where they receive dry clothes. First aid is given to Mrs. Wanliss, whose foot was badly burned. She is now in a private hospital. Although Kooringarama guest-house is not in danger from the fires, a number of the guests have become nervous, and are leaving for Melbourne.
After a desperate effort by more than 50 men for more than an hour, fire fighters save the houses of Mr. W. Linacre and the Laughing Waters Poultry farm owned by Mr. G.W. Petre, the Swedish Consul, but the beautiful home of Mr. A. S. Austin, nearer Warrandyte, was burned, also the home of Mr. Smith, in Mt. Pleasant road.
The fire leaps the river at three points between Mr. Rutter’s and Mrs. Morrison’s where it continues to advance rapidly, racing through tinder-dry grass and forest almost as fast as the wind itself, demolishing every habitation in its path. It joins another fire, and the two converging bush fires sweep down on Warrandyte about 2 p.m., razing nearly half the houses in the district within an hour. It is believed 100 homes have been lost. So sudden is the onslaught of the fire that few people have the opportunity to save more than the clothes they wear.
Women and children are being hurried to the safety of the river shallows, where they wait fearfully throughout the afternoon. Every able-bodied man in the district is engaged in the vain fight against the flames.
The first warning that Warrandyte had was a billow of smoke which rose and people had barely time to realise the warning significance of the smoke when the red glow of the flames was seen.
Sweeping across from Eltham and Templestowe, it leaps from hill to hill. Only a hard fight saves the stores of the town.
The first residence attacked is the shop and store of Mr. J. Kenny, on the northern outskirts of the town. His house and store only feed the flames for a matter of minutes. The fire then advances up the main street, missing the cafe of Mrs. Jones, opposite Kenny’s. A ten-roomed house owned by Mr. C.Blair, and adjoining Kenny’s store, is also destroyed. At the rear of Jones’s cafe and home, the houses of Mrs. McCulloch and McAuley are destroyed.
The experience of the head master of the local school, Mr. M. Isaac, and his family, is typical of the experiences of scores of other families in the town.
Mr. Isaac is resting on his bed, when a tradesman warns his wife. She rushes in and rouses him. They begin to gather clothes together in suitcases. Suddenly a shout is heard. “Run for your lives!”
Hurrying out they see fire racing toward the house. In a moment the flames are licking at the walls of the house. With their few hastily packed cases Mr. and Mrs. Isaac, their daughter, and a grandchild, grope their way through the smoke to their car.
“I can’t see to drive,” Mr. Isaac exclaims. Some shout: “It doesn’t matter whether you can see or not, drive!”
The car is driven into the smoke, crashes into something—a horse-drawn vehicle, Mrs. Isaac thinks she hears a horse whinny in panic—but the car presses on, and presently the party emerge from the smoke.
Mrs. Isaac and the children flee to the river with their few possessions, while her husband goes to join the fire-fighters.
The fire races round the slope of the hill behind the main street of the township, burning house after house as it speeds.
Meanwhile the second fire, on the other side of the river, wipes out Pound Bend, and sweeps up the gullies behind the river cliffs to Kangaroo road, and Artist’s Hill, which is dotted with homes all surrounded by thick bush.
Here the fire displays wanton freakishness, razing a brick house here and leaving a wooden building a few yards away unscathed. Scores of such freaks of fortune occur, aided as the day wears on by strange changes of wind.
It blows first from the north then from the west, from the south-west, from the west again, then switches round to the east. Burning this way and that before the vagaries of the wind, the fire several times threatens to destroy whole groups of dwellings only to sweep back on its tracks and leave intact buildings it was thought impossible to save.
One after the other, three wooden churches Presbyterian, Anglican, and Roman Catholic, go up in flames and collapse. All the houses on the western side of Pigtail Hill are burned.
With the destruction of the whole township apparently inevitable, more than 200 residents have taken refuge in the river. Many of them carry their house-hold goods with them, until the river banks are fringed with sewing machines and other portable household articles. Sweeping through the town, the fire destroys the shop and store of Mr. W. Jones, crosses the road, licking up houses in its stride, and sweeps through two miles of lightly-grassed country to annihilate South Warrandyte. Both the school, and the hall, and at least 20 dwellings are lost. The fire then advances on Croydon, where it later burns itself out.
The refuge provided by the river alone prevents a heavy toll of life. The speed of the fire frustrates all efforts to save property, although there was no big timber to feed It. As it sweeps over Melbourne hill to the north of the town residents receive ample warning to evacuate their homes before the fire descends on them. In the country between Warrandyte and Croydon numbers of cattle and horses are caught by the fire and injured. Later, Constable Bercherson, of Warrandyte, has to go out and destroy over 60 fire-maimed animals.
Of Warrandyte itself only the cluster of a dozen or so buildings round the post-office and the hotel-a few stores, guest houses, a garage, and another group about the bridge across the Yarra, are left standing.
Officers from the gas works branch of the St. John Ambulance Association have arrived in the stricken town and render first aid to fire fighters overcome by heat and smoke. During the afternoon food for 100 persons is rushed to the township from the city and made available at a local hall which, together with the hotel, has escaped destruction.
The fire fighters have been insuperably hampered by the absence of water. There is no reticulation system in the township. Most of the residents depend on rain water collected in tanks for their supplies. Only the hotel, and a few of the more pretentious homes in the district, have pumping plants to draw water from the river. These, for the most part, are electrically driven, and early in the afternoon the fire severed the town’s electricity supply.
Only at the hotel is there any considerable storage of water, and this is poured on to the post-office, saving it after an hour’s struggle.
South Warrandyte and the homes in the town standing in heavy timber, are the worst affected parts, a clean sweep having been made of the town’s dwellings. The towns-people watch helplessly while building after building disappears in smoke and flame.
Saturday, 14 January
The fire burns itself out this morning, and only at Wonga Park is there any danger from a future flare. There is plenty of food available for the 200 odd victims, who have been provided for at the Masonic Hall, but there is urgent need for more blankets and clothes.
We find the town stark and devastated. Piles of tin and chimneys are all that remain of more than 100 dwellings. Along the road, stock caught in the fences give evidence of the speed and destruction of the fire.
Reported missing Friday, Mr Frederick Topping, 72, pensioner, of Warrandyte, has been found dead among the ruins of his home near his packed goods. It appears that the fire, which blazed through the town in 20 minutes, came on him before he could make his escape. Mr Topping was for many years the Warrandyte correspondent of “The Advertiser,” and was an active worker in all public movements for the good of that town. He was also an authority on cricket, and a great cricket enthusiast.
Only the presence of the river saved many others in the hills.
Alarms are sent out at 10.45 for more volunteers to fight the blaze at Stony Creek between Warrandyte and Kangaroo Ground, and there is a fear that if the wind changes, Kangaroo Ground will be in serious danger.
Several artists have lost houses at Warrandyte. In Mr Adrian Lawlor’s home, more than 200 of his paintings were destroyed, and Mr Henry Hoile lost all his pictures. The building known as the “Old Studio,” in which the annual art exhibition has been held in recent years, was burned. It was owned by Mrs Connie Smith.
Later in the afternoon fires in the Warrandyte, Eltham and Kangaroo Ground districts are brought under control. Seventy-five men are standing by a fire at Christmas Hills. At Research the fire is being kept to the gullies.
Warrandyte and district has received a paralysing blow. Apart from the destruction of homes, hundreds of acres of orchards, which provide the district with its means of livelihood, have been scorched into unproductiveness, and substantial relief is an urgent necessity.
It is unfortunate that the Eltham Fire Brigade did not have enough hose to reach the place where the fire started, for they might have put out the blaze before it did any further damage. The nearest fire plug was near Mr. Percy Leason’s property in New street, and from this the firemen ran out 1200 feet of hose – all they had – but it was still 300 feet short. Nevertheless, the fire fighters, both members of the brigade and volunteers, working under Capt. W. Allan, Lieut. A. Parsons and First Constable O’Donnell did splendid work. They were on duty continuously from Friday to Sunday, and on Friday afternoon were reinforced by volunteers from the city. There were three casualties. Mr. W. Deards cut his foot; Mr. Berry, the sustenance officer, tripped in some burning ashes at Morrison’s and severely burned both hands; while on Sunday, Mr. G. Carver twisted his ankle while descending a step hill to fight a renewed outbreak near Beauty Point.
Residents of Eltham freely made available their cars, and trucks for the carriage of fire-fighters to the danger points.
Too much praise cannot be given to the ladies of Eltham for the manner in which they rallied to give assistance. When volunteers began to arrive early in the afternoon, and women and children from the Research and Warrandyte districts were brought into the town for safety, Mesdames E. M. Andrew, Ford, Pyke, Parsons, Browne and Crick formed a nucleus of workers, which soon increased by many more, who provided meals for the 150 volunteers who made the fire station their headquarters, and also for the five families who had taken refuge in Eltham. The latter were fed at the fire station, and were provided with sleeping accommodation at the Eltham Hall. They were returned to their homes on Saturday, with a hamper of food for each. The Eltham ladies were cutting sandwiches, preparing tea etc., from early on Friday afternoon until 2.30 a.m. on Saturday morning, and were back at the station by 6 a.m. on Saturday. Ninety men were supplied with food donated by local people, but later on supplies were sent out by the Red Cross Society.
Bush Fires: A pictorial survey of Victoria’s most tragic week, January 8-15, 1939, pp2-3.
THE WEEK REVIEWED
THE fiercest bush fires Australia has known since its discovery are quiescent at the moment, and Victoria, in the comparative coolness of the change which came with rain on Sunday night, has begun·to count its losses.
In the fiery eight days, from Sunday to Sunday, at least sixty-six men, women and children have lost their lives in forest fires, or have succumbed to burns and shock; many others have died from heat; and several serious cases of burns are being treated in hospitals. Two babies in Narrandera district have died, and ten others are in hospital, because of milk soured by the record temperatures of those eight days.
Forest damage totals at least a million pounds, and incalculable damage has been done to the seedlings which were to have been the forests of the future.
Water conservation will be seriously affected by the silting-up of reservoirs and streams from which protective timber has been taken by the all-engulfing flames.
More than a thousand houses have been destroyed, and these, with 40 mills, and schools, post-offices, churches, and other buildings, represent a loss of at least half a million.
At least 1500 are homeless. For their aid, money raised in appeals has now passed the £50,000 mark, and the biggest relief organisation ever set up in peace time has swung into operation.
The First Hint
Victoria’s first hint of what was to come appeared on Sunday, January 8, when most parts of the State awoke to find a blistering day awaiting.
At 12.20 p.m., when the thermometer reached its highest for the day, 109.6 degrees, the first fire victims were at that moment going to their death on a bush track five feet wide off the main road to Narbethong.
They were the forestry officers Charles Isaac Demby and John Hartley Barling, who went to warn Demby of his danger when he parted from his companions, and was himself surrounded by the treacherous fire.
It was not until 8 o’clock next morning that the tragic news was flashed throughout the State.
Searchers found the two charred bodies close together, one seeking protection in the nook of two logs. Barling’s watch had stopped at 1.20.
In the meantime, tragedy was spreading its cloak.
By Monday, big fires were raging at Toolangi, Erica, Yallourn, Monbulk, Frankston, Dromana, Drouin South, Glenburn, and Blackwood, with smaller outbreaks at many other centres.
In the ensuing week, while women and children were evacuated as fast as the flames would permit, Erica-scene of the 1926 fire disaster-thrice escaped doom by a change of wind.
Indeed, those who have been in the fire country these past days say that the numbers of times a change of wind has saved towns from destruction is amazing.
In the towns they speak of miracles.
The escapes from Monett’s Mill at Erica and from the Hardwood Company’s Mill at Murrindindi, near where Demby and Barling went to their death, were Monday’s miracles.
Twenty came out alive from each mill. At the first a 60ft. dugout provided an oven-like refuge; at the second, 12 women and children survived in the smoke-filled gloom of a three-roomed cottage while their eight men, their clothes sometimes afire, poured water on the wooden walls. Three houses out of ten remained when the fire had passed.
Sunday had been the hottest Melbourne day for 33 years; Monday dropped to a 76.1 degree maximum; but Tuesday dawned hotter than ever, the mercury reaching 112.5.
By now rumor was racing ahead of fact; whole towns were being reported lost; the alarm was raised for scores of missing persons. But fact soon overtook rumor, and within a few days the staggering toll began to mount to a figure beyond the wildest imaginings of the panic-stricken.
Six died from heat on this torrid Tuesday, and the fires spread in a wide swathe from south-west to north-east across the State. Fish died in shallow streams.
A curtain of smoke hid the sky from all Victoria, and hung far out to sea. It alarmed passengers on ships. On the Ormonde, on the voyage to Sydney from Burnie, women ran on deck, believing fire had broken out in the hold.
Days later the smoke reached New Zealand.
In Melbourne thousands of fire-volunteers were leaving in cars: vans, motor-buses-anything reliable on wheels-to aid the country in its grim fight.
In the fires at Rubicon and. Narbethong, seventeen were facing death this day. But not till Wednesday, when Melbourne breathed again in a cool change, while the country still sweltered in temperatures up to 117 degrees, did the news come through the tree blocked roads.
A woman and her little daughter, trapped on the road, were among those who died. Their bodies, and those of menfolk with them, were found strewn out at intervals along the road, where the furnace of the surrounding fire had dropped them in their tracks as they ran.
Twelve died at a Rubicon mill, five on the road at Narbethong. At Alexandra, not far distant, a baby was born while the fires raged, and stretcher-bearers brought in the injured.
On Thursday the State Government voted £5000 for the relief of fire victims. The Governor (Lord Huntingfield) and the Lord Mayor (Cr. Coles) visited some of the stricken areas, and dipped into their pockets personally. Later, the City Council, too, voted £5000.
Friday, The 13th
Friday, the Thirteenth, justified its evil name. A blistering northerly came early in the morning, presaging destruction, and forcing the mercury to a new record of 114 degrees.
Racing fires killed at least ten in those terrible 12 hours. Four children were engulfed in the furnace at Colac. Panic drove them, uncontrollable, into the smoke-filled road when the fire raced down behind their home. They choked to death.
In other parts fires were joining to make fronts of scores of miles. Kinglake was being menaced on two fronts, £60,000 worth of timber was going up in smoke in Ballarat district. Warburton was surrounded. Residents at Lorne, favoured resort, were being driven to the sea-front by a fire which destroyed at least 20 homes. Healesville, with flames visible from the town at one stage, was in a trough between two fires which burned four guest-houses, seven homes and left its surrounding beauty-spots wastes of bowed-over, blackened tree-fern fronds; with its famous Sanctuary, however, intact.
Most of Omeo was destroyed this black day: Noojee. while 200 residents crouched in the river, was being reduced to a waste of buckled iron and smoking timber; Erica was once again saved by a change of wind.
Beneath a pall of smoke, the Rubicon victims were buried at Alexandra.
Friday night and the early hours of Saturday saw the streets of beleagured towns strewn with exhausted fire-fighters. Their flails beside them, ready for the next call, they lay where exhaustion overtook them-on footpaths, beside lamp-posts, in gutters, in cars, under trucks.
Saturday’s dawn brought clear skies and lower temperatures in many parts, and from the burnt-out areas came a great rush of tragic reports. The death-roll rushed past the fifty mark with incredible speed.
Some had been trapped on roads, others at mills; some, after burying their treasures, had clung too long to the places they had made their homes for many years. Four men lost their lives because one went back for his dog.
By Sunday, when the first of the saving rain came, nearly another score of names had been added to the list.
Summer 2019: A year of anniversaries
This summer, not only do we mark 80 years since the Black Friday bushfire of January 13th, 1939 (2 million hectares burnt, 650 buildings destroyed, 71 lives lost), but also 50 years since the last bushfire to burn parts of Eltham and district on January 8th, 1969. And on 7 February it will be 10 years since we endured the hottest day ever and the disastrous Black Saturday fire (450,000 hectares burnt, in excess of 3,500 buildings including 2,029 homes destroyed, 173 lives lost). Stay safe and diligent everyone, let’s hope 2019 does not add to this trend.
#ThrowbackThursday – Today we time travel back October 1996. The former Shire of Eltham Municipal Offices building has recently been bulldozed and razed from existence. A planning permit has been issued to build a shop, petrol station and community facility on the site and the Eltham Community Action Group has just been formed as a consequence.
Peter Dougherty who has been involved in the local art scene for many years has just established a new arts magazine, ArtStreams, for which he acts as publisher and editor. Volume 1, No. 1, November 1996 edition has just gone on sale. Peter’s comments on the various branches of the arts are widely respected. His “The Arts” column in the Diamond Valley Leader presents a brief summary for a much wider cross section of the local community. Peter also operates his own gallery and the Artstreams Cafe at the St Andrews market. Peter has a wealth of knowledge about present day and historical aspects of local art and artists.
Unfortunately the recent events were too close to publication to reference in the inaugural issue but his editorial comment published in the second issue is reproduced below.
ArtStreams magazine was published for ten years. In all there were ten volumes commencing with Vol. 1, No. 1, November 1996 and finishing with Vol 10. No. 5, Summer Edition 2005-06.
Eltham District Historical Society is very fortunate to hold a complete set of Volumes 1-9 and recently they have been digitised in their entirety and will prove to be an extremely valuable resource for researching our local art and cultural scene. However, we are missing all five issues from Volume 10, the final volume published.
Do you have, or know of someone who may have issues from Volume 10 who would be willing to donate them to us to complete our collection, or at least loan them to us for digitisation? We would be most appreciative of the opportunity to complete this wonderful collection and build upon the resource it will offer to our community.
“my word”, Peter Dougherty, ArtStreams, Dec 1996-Jan 1997, p2
The vacating of the former Eltham shire office building presented an opportunity for the Shire of Nillumbik to use it to serve the needs of the community. The loss of the building presents the opportunity to replace it with one which will serve those needs and provide a visual welcome to the township of Eltham.
Whatever is built on that site will become the new face of Eltham and form part of the library-Shillinglaw Cottage mini environment. The commissioners have apparently decided that a hamburger joint, petrol station and video store will do the job.
Looked at from a needs perspective these uses are hard to justify. Eltham has a petrol station on the corner of Mt Pleasant Road, another in Bridge Street and two on the main road heading north. There can’t be too many cars on the road that couldn’t make it from any of these to another without refuelling.
The community is already well served in the area of fast food services, and if another hamburger outlet is really needed it could probably be accommodated within the existing shopping centre. With the arrival of cable TV, it would appear that video rental is not likely to be a spectacular growth industry and the community is already well served.
So what does Eltham need?
The Shire Council is launching a strategy to attract more tourism into the region with hopes of generating $27 million annually. Currently the tourism dollar is earned from such sources as St Andrews Market, Montsalvat, Sugarloaf Reservoir, the Diamond Valley Railway and a growing wine industry.
With careful marketing more income may be obtainable from these areas, but shouldn’t we also be looking closely at our other already recognised regional assets. Now could be the time to utilise the depth of creative talent and expertise which resides in the shire.
Nillumbik has many performing artists who, due to lack of facilities, always work outside the area, and visual artists in all fields who exhibit elsewhere because there are not enough suitable venues at home. With the best will in the world those working in the Shire’s arts areas cannot stretch the present facilities to meet the demand.
Political will to explore other possibilities was lacking when the decision was made to hand part of Montsalvat’s grounds over to the cemetery. This action severely diminished Montsalvat’s viability as a venue and led inevitably to the loss of the Jazz Festival and the prestige and income that it brought to Nillumbik.
A bold decision now could redress some of this loss and add to Nillumbik’s potential in the cultural tourism area without putting too much pressure on the environmental and ecological treasures which at present constitute so much of our major tourism assets.
Eltham District Historical Society Newsletter No. 161, March 2005
“my word”, Peter Dougherty, ArtStreams, Dec 1996-Jan 1997, p2
#ThrowbackThursday – Today we time travel back to Friday, 4th October 1946. The town is a buzz with excitement as the Women’s Auxiliary to the Eltham War Memorial Trust have arranged for a Springtime Fair to be held in the Eltham Hall this afternoon, which is expected to continue into the evening.
The Fair is a special effort undertaken by the Women’s Auxiliary to raise funds for the establishment of the memorial, which is to take the form of a Baby Health Centre, Children’s Creche and Library. A block of land in a splendid position was recently purchased as the site on which the community centre will be built.
Mrs Cairns Officer is president of the Trust and chairman of the Women’s Auxiliary. Mesdames Dagnall and Tlngate are the honorary secretaries.
The Eltham War Memorial building precinct is located at 903-907 Main Road, Eltham. The Memorial spans the area between Main Road and the railway line and is owned and managed by Nillumbik Shire Council (formerly Eltham Shire Council). It contains the Eltham Maternal and Infant Welfare Centre, Eltham Food Share, the former Children’s Library (now War Memorial Hall) and Eltham Pre-School. The precinct also contains the Senior Citizen’s Centre though this was never part of the original Eltham War Memorial Trust buildings. The complex was developed by the Eltham War Memorial Trust Inc., as a form of living memorial as a ‘constant reminder to us of those who fought for us and the little ones for whom they fought and died’.
#ThrowbackThursday – Today we time travel back to circa 1969, to Birch Cottage on Watson’s Creek where we hope to join the occupant, Mrs Honor Williams (nee Birch) for a nice hot cuppa.
Originally built by John Hill, a shoemaker at Kangaroo Ground around 1878.
In the late 1970s when our Society was the Shire of Eltham Historical Society, an offer was made to the Society regarding use of an old cottage at Christmas Hills. The cottage sat beside Watsons Creek just outside the then Shire of Eltham but following municipal restructuring it now lies within the Shire of Nillumbik. For various reasons the offer ultimately lapsed.
At that time some research on the cottage was carried out for the Society by Keith Chappel as part of a larger research project that he was doing. Keith’s notes were taken from Lands Department records and showed that the property was the subject of a permissive occupancy of Crown land comprising the creek reserve.
In 1903 a Miner’s Right of one acre in area was granted to Edwin Samuel Birch. In 1907 Birch applied to purchase this land but was unable to because it was part of the creek reserve. The documents show that the cottage existed at that time. Upon Birch’s death in 1932, his daughter, Honor Mary Birch was granted a permit to occupy the residence.
Honor Mary Birch, known as Nora, was born 1900, the daughter of Edwin Samuel Birch and Honor (nee Young). In 1939 she married George Henry Williams (aka Henry). Honor died 8 July 1976. Her siblings were Margaret Martin (dec), Bert Birch and Brigidene Brinkotter. In her will she gave and bequeathed “all the improvements on the land held by me at Christmas Hills under Permissive Occupancy from the Department of Land and Survey consisting of the house property thereon and all the contents of the said house to my nephew Brian Joseph Martin of Christmas Hills aforesaid farmer”.
The will described the property as a four room, five square house, about 100 years old with enclosed verandah, including kitchen, combined lounge dining room, bedroom and store room; built of ‘bush slabs’ with a corrugated iron roof. A dairy had been erected in 1935. After her death, the property was acquired by the Melbourne Metropolitan Board of Works in 1978.
The property is listed on the Victorian Heritage Database HO200-Hill, later Birch farm complex, 945 Eltham-Yarra Glen Road, Watsons Creek and described as:
The house has a steep but simply gabled roof form clad with corrugated iron, vertical adzed hardwood slab front wall construction, split palings to the gable ends; rubble freestone chimney at one end (with added gsi flue), pole-framed Graeme Butler & Associates, 2006: 101 Shire of Nillurnbik Planning Scheme Amendment C13 Heritage Assessments verandah (rebuilt?); six-pane double-hung sash windows; T&G bead-edge boarded ledged & braced door; and paling clad rooms added at verandah ends. A slab-clad large fireplace is at the north corner of the house, with a gsi upper cladding added and an internal lining of rubble stone.
The rear facade is different construction, being drop-slab, and sits beneath a rear skillion addition to the main gabled form: this may be more recent construction. The house appears to have been once set up for public display and may have been recreated in part for that purpose.
Outbuildings are reached by a track along the east side of the house, including what may have been a creamery (typical standard inter-war design clad with corrugated iron and lined with 1938 Lysaght Queens Head Australia galvanised sheet iron) and a paling clad gabled out-house. Timber outbuildings of differing eras are to the north-west of the house, with pole framing and paling infill construction and Redcliffe brand corrugated iron. Post and rail (front) and split paling (rear) fence remnants line the front boundary. Pepper trees part of house yard landscape.
Now, why not sit back and enjoy that hot cuppa Honor has poured for us as we cast our eyes back to the the future.
The cottage now comes under the auspices of Parks Victoria. A notice out front states:
Historic sites form part of our nation’s cultural heritage.
The surrounding landscape and remaining features and artefacts help us to understand how people once lived and worked here.
Please help protect this heritage for present and future generation by leaving the site as you found it.
Eltham Senior Citizens’ Centre, Library Place, Eltham
At this Society meeting we will explore ideas about what is considered to be the ‘Spirit of Eltham’.
We will view a video produced for the Shire of Eltham in response to the 1985 Victorian Local Government Commission Report titled ‘The Restructure of Local Government in Victoria – Principles and Program’ (the Morris review). The recommendation was to amalgamate the Shires of Eltham and Diamond Valley, something that Eltham Council did not support as being appropriate for the shire or compatible with the ‘Spirit of Eltham’.
We will also be fortunate to have a presentation on this theme by Lynnsay Prunotto, a local architect, who is also involved in community planning activities, as well as some insights from Hamish Knox on his experience of growing up and working for many years in the region.
As always, Society members and visitors are most welcome to attend this meeting.
#ThrowbackThursday – Today we time travel back to Sunday, March 16, 1975. It is the early hours of the morning, around 3.30 a.m.. The air is still, the temperature a cool 14 degrees and damp from the recent showers. Senior Constable Lew Howard of Eltham and Constable Adrian Bennetts of Greensborough are finishing up on overtime duty in the Eltham police station at 23 Pryor Street. Unbeknownst to them, five youths from Diamond Creek who have spent a night of drinking are now in the process of a shooting escapade throughout the district with a shotgun. There have already been several incidents. An unoccupied police car, parked at the Diamond Creek police station, was fired at from the street, 30 metres away. The front passenger side of the car received the full force of the blast. Hurstbridge and Greensborough police stations have also been shot at along with a public telephone box and a private citizen’s car. And now they have turned their attention towards Eltham.
The five youths turn into Pryor Street from Bible Street; the driver puts the car into neutral and they roll down the hill. Two police are visible through the window. Their police car is locked and parked out back and they have just locked up their weapons and shut everything else down after a night of working overtime. Usually they would have knocked off at 2 a.m. but tonight has been busy helping out Greensborough Police with traffic when a car knocked down a street pole and then attending another incident concerning a stolen car. The youths observe the lights are on in the police station. Out of all the other stations they have attacked tonight, Eltham is the only one with lights on. One of the youths leans out of the car window, raises the shotgun and pulls the trigger. Nothing happens; the gun’s safety is on. The youths decide to proceed around the block and return to the top of Pryor Street where again they put car in neutral, cut the lights, and roll down the hill for a second pass. As they slowly coast past the police station the two constables are standing beside each other near the window. They hear and see nothing. The youth leaning out the window takes aim and fires. The quiet of the night is shattered by the blast and sound of breaking glass. They flee the scene.
Senior Constable Lew Howard is hit in the right arm and Constable Adrian Bennetts has suffered facial cuts from flying glass and wood splinters. Unable to respond, they call D24 for help and the full might of the Victoria Police leaps into action to assist them and hunt the men down.
Both Lew Howard and Adrian Bennetts are treated that night at the Austin Hospital and then released to go home. Lew later states that if they had been standing just a few inches to the side, he or Adrian may well have been killed; the wooden window frame between two panes of glass having taken the brunt of the shotgun force, saving him from far greater injuries.
It is the second time this year that the Eltham police station has been hit by gunfire. In January (1975), bullets were fired into three windows at the station. Fortunately that time, nobody was hurt.
Following inquiries, five Diamond Creek youths, from 18 to 21 years are arrested two weeks later by Det. Sen. Const. Bob Traeger and Sgt. Ian Wright. Four are charged on two counts of grievous bodily harm by negligence and on four counts of malicious damage to police stations; scheduled to appear in Eltham Court on May 6, 1975.
At court, three young men, two aged 18 and one 21, admitted shooting at four police stations and injuring two Eltham policemen. Each was fined $1,000. A fourth man, 19, who fired the shots which injured the policemen was sentenced to 12 months in a youth training centre and given 18 months probation.
Judge Wright said the men were seriously affected by alcohol and that Eltham police station was the only one with lights on. The evidence showed that the youth who fired knew someone was inside the police station. All pleaded guilty to having discharged a shotgun at Eltham police station and causing grievous bodily injury to Senior Constable Howard and Constable Bennetts. They also pleaded guilty to having maliciously damaged the windows, flywire screen and woodwork of the Eltham police station and damaged the woodwork at the Hurstbridge police station. Three of the youths also pleaded guilty to having maliciously damaged louvre windows and a police car at Greensborough police station; maliciously damaging a car, porch and wooden fence at Diamond Creek, and damaging a police car at Diamond Creek.
Whilst the offending youths names are a matter of public record, we, in consultation with Lew Howard, have chosen not to reproduce them here. This incident, whilst it has had a lasting impact upon Lew, was over 43 years ago. The men would all now be in their early to mid 60s, most likely grandfathers.
Senior Constable Lew Howard served at Eltham police station from 9 August 1972 until his promotion to Sergeant and reassignment to Preston police station, 7 June 1976.
D24, the Victoria Police Emergency Communications Centre was located on the sixth floor of the Russell Street Headquarters, in Corridor D, Room 24, behind a door marked ‘D24’.
“Policeman hit in shotgun rampage”, Diamond Valley News, 17 March 1975
“Police station shooting”, Diamond Valley News, 1 April 1975
“$1000 fine for 3 on gun rampage”, Diamond Valley News, 7 May 1975
Sgt. Lew Howard, (Retired), Victoria Police
Eltham District Historical Society gratefully acknowledges the generous loan by Lew Howard of many items for digitising and inclusion in our collection. These include; letters, postcards and photographs of First World War Servicemen of the District sent to Lily Howard; photographs of Howard family members; photograph of the Panton Hill Cricket Club Premiers 1934-35 and 1935-36 Premiers banner; Panton Hill Football League Football Records from the 1970s and a signed photograph of the 1934 Premiers team; various press clippings pertaining to Lew’s police career at Eltham. These items are currently in the process of being digitised and catalogued and will be known as the “Lew Howard Collection”.
Our Society encourages interest in and the sharing of stories about the local history of the Eltham district in Victoria, Australia