#ThrowbackThursday – Today we time travel back to August 2nd, 1996 and 895 Main Road, Eltham, to the former Municipal Offices of the Shire of Eltham.
The Shire offices were opened in 1965 and extended in 1971 to establish the Eltham Library. The final meeting of the Eltham Shire Council was held in December 1994 before the forced amalgamations of municipal councils by the Kennett Government resulted in the cessation of the Shire’s existence after 125 years. In July 1996 the State Government appointed Commissioners (1994-1996) made the decision to demolish the former Eltham Shire offices without any community consultation.
The demolition works started within 24 hours of that decision being made. It is claimed the building contains asbestos. However none of the workers or numerous other onlookers are wearing any protective gear as the heavy machinery batters our once proud building into submission. The rubble is simply dumped into open bins and dump trucks.
Ultimately our land is sold to a developer, which precipitates a dramatic trail of community angst, threats of legal action, rescinding of the sale and the sacking of a newly elected council and several unsuccessful development proposals, by subsequent councils.
Back to the future and after all these years the vacant site is still there, still under threat (along with the Eltham War Memorial complex of buildings), still part of the soul of our community, still guarded by the three trees once outside the front of the Shillinglaw Cottage, providing a navigational beacon from past to present and onward we entrust, integral to the soul and heartbeat of Eltham; a treasured part our children’s future when they in turn look back to where their roots sprung from.
We are pleased to advise that our Heritage Walk along the Diamond Creek, originally scheduled for July but cancelled due to inclement weather will now be held on Saturday, November 3rd.
The Diamond Creek is a major feature of the open space spine that runs through the centre of Eltham. From the time of the first European settlement of the area most of the land along the creek valley was private property extending to the centre of the creek. Over many years land has been purchased by the Council and the State Government to create a continuous open space system along at least one side of the creek, from central Eltham to the Yarra River. The area contains many places of historic interest.
Our November excursion, similar to the originally planed July outing, will comprise a walk along the creek path starting at Wingrove Park, formerly Bremner’s Flats, and finishing at Central Park.
This is about 2 km one way and should take about 2 hours including plenty of time to stop and talk. There will be a return walk without much commentary but those who wish to can catch a bus back from the Eltham railway station. A particular point of discussion along the way will be the historic railway trestle bridge as to its history and its future given the proposal to duplicate this section of the railway.
This walk on Saturday 3rd November will start at 2pm at the Wingrove Park parking area near the corner of Main and Mount Pleasant roads (Melway ref 21 J 8).
This excursion is free and is open to the general public as well as Society members.
Please note that dogs are not permitted on Society excursions.
The phone number for contact on the day is 0409 021 063.
#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”.
#ThrowbackThursday – Roll up! Roll up! Come on down to Bremner’s Flat and Ashton’s Circus, the world’s greatest!
Today we time travel back to Bremner’s Flat, circa 1958 where Ashton’s Circus and Zoo have set up their Big Top. A wonderful cast of peerless performers await to entertain us with daring Trapeze Artists, Aerialists and High Wire Acts that will hold you spellbound! We will have the opportunity to see Ashton’s herd of elephants from the jungles of Malaya; a thrilling rodeo of trained horses and riders; Ashton’s Clowns, clearly the world’s funniest and Ashton’s famous circus – the most popular on the road today! Look out for Captain Shultz (late of Barnum and Bailey, the greatest show in America) and The Cage of Death – he works 10 lions and lionesses all in one cage; 3 Nacchines, Continental Clowns; the famous Flying Ashtons; Top-of-the-Tent marvels – Miss Lorraine, Leo St. Leon, brilliant equestrian – Phillis & Douglas Ashton, Miss Marie Sanderson, Mervyn Ashton and more. It’s a show not to be missed.
Bremner’s Flat was the original name given to the reserve located opposite the intersection of Mount Pleasant Road and Main Road, Eltham. It was renamed to Wingrove Park circa 1970.
According to the National Library of Australia; Ashton’s Circus was founded in Hobart, Tasmania, in 1847 by Thomas Mollor, and acquired in February 1850 by James Henry Ashton, a man schooled in the tradition of English circus and who had experienced the hard times of the nineteenth century. The circus operated as the Royal Amphitheatre or Royal Circus. When founder James Henry Ashton died in 1889, his son Fred, then aged 22, inherited the circus. The circus continued to be handed down throughout the family, and today it is run by the 6th generation of Ashtons, Michelle and Joseph and their sons, Jordan and Merrik. As Joseph had founded ‘Circus Joseph Ashton’ in 1998 prior to his grandfather’s retirement in 2000, it was decided to apply this name to the family’s main circus reflecting the current state of ownership and operations. The prior name of “Ashton’s Circus” was retired.
Circus acts referenced from various newspaper advertisements of the time accessed through the National Library of Australia’s website, Trove
Our Society encourages interest in and the sharing of stories about the local history of the Eltham district in Victoria, Australia