A part of our history

By Jim Connor
(Reproduced from EDHS Newsletter No. 242 October 2018)

In a world divided over so many issues it can be challenging at times to meet on common ground. Such is the situation we as a community are facing locally with the future of the World War Two War Memorial Complex of three buildings at 903-907 Main Road, Eltham. This complex is a very definite part of our history and once gone can never be replaced. A primary reason for the significance of the complex is for its construction as a memorial with a civic purpose and with a particular focus on the welfare of infants. It was intended to ‘be a constant reminder of those who fought for us and the little ones for whom they fought and died’. The construction of such a war memorial complex is rare in Victoria.

While these older buildings may not conform with current architectural merits or styles these were designed and constructed to reflect the desires, passions and interests of the era when built, and to symbolise achievements, failures or losses of that time.

895 and 903-907 Main Road, Eltham as advertised for sale, September 2018
(Photo: Frank Knight Real Estate)

These are part of a total package offered for sale in September 2018 on behalf of the Nillumbik Shire Council. It includes the extensive site area between the Eltham Library and the former Eltham Fire Station, and extending west from Main Road to the railway line. This land contains World War One and the World War Two memorials, the Eltham Senior Citizens’ Centre, the former Eltham Shire Office site and the locally significant Shillinglaw trees.

Both memorials commemorate the sacrifice and commitment of those who left Australia to fight for what they believed in and to protect those loved ones left behind. Despite requests and clear statements by our Society there is no confirmation from Council, at this stage, that these memorials and the Shillinglaw trees will be protected in any future development proposals. Neither memorial should be sacrificed in order to raise funds for other purposes.

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ThrowbackThursday: Eltham Police Station Shooting, 1975

#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.

Eltham Police Station, 23 Pryor Street, June 1999. In 1959 the Victoria Police purchased this house to be refurbished as the Eltham Police Station. In 1961 the Police moved out of 728 Main Road and into the Pryor Street building following required modifications to bring it in line with the standards used for police stations throughout the State. ( Photo: Margaret Ball, from the collection of Eltham District Historical Society @elthamhistory @victoriapolice @eyewatchnillumbik )

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.

The new Eltham Police Station, 23 Pryor Street, Eltham, September 2016. Project contract issued to Cordell Connect for $4.2 million, commenced 5 November 2001 and completed 6 November 2002. (Google Street View) @victoriapolice @eyewatchnillumbik
Notes:
  1. 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.
  2. 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.
  3. 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’.
References:
  • “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: Ashton’s Circus the world’s greatest! c.1958

#ThrowbackThursday – Roll up! Roll up! Come on down to Bremner’s Flat and Ashton’s Circus, the world’s greatest!

Ashton’s Circus set up in Bremner’s Flat (Wingrove Park), Main Road, Eltham, c.1958. Viewed from Grace Mitchell’s shop in Mount Pleasant Road. ( Photo: Grace Mitchell; from the collection of Eltham District Historical Society @elthamhistory )

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.

Ashton’s Circus set up in Bremner’s Flat (Wingrove Park), Main Road, Eltham, c.1958. Viewed from Grace Mitchell’s shop in Mount Pleasant Road. ( Photo: Grace Mitchell; from the collection of Eltham District Historical Society @elthamhistory )

 

Notes:

  • 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

 

MysteryMonday: Yvonne’s Dressmaking and Alteration Service, 1987

#MysteryMonday – Today’s image is a Main Road somewhere in the former Shire of Eltham. It was taken in 1987 and displayed along with a number of other panels at the 1987 Eltham Community Festival as part of the Eltham Shire Council display of infrastructure and services. Only problem is, we can not work out where this particular photo was taken. The only real identifying feature is the shop sign for Yvonne’s Dressmaking and Alteration Service. And no, it is not 23 Paris Street, Alliston, Ontario, Canada.

Main road street scene showing Yvonne’s Dressmaking and Alteration Service, c. October 1987 ( from the collection of Eltham District Historical Society @elthamhistory )

Can you identify this location? We’d love to hear from you; your thoughts and suggestions as to where it might be and help us catalogue this images.

Over to you . . .

. . . and remember, if this proves to easy for you, there is always last week’s MysteryMonday, which remains unsolved.

ThrowbackThursday: Main Road Bridge, Lower Plenty, 1966

#ThrowbackThursday – Today we time travel back to September 1966 to the boundary of the Shire of Eltham and the City of Heidelberg on the Plenty River and the construction site of the new Lower Plenty Bridge. Work is well under way preparing for the provision of utility services and the roadway; the concrete piers and prefabricated steel and concrete girders having been put in place the month before. The bridge was completed and open for use by November 1966. It was subsequently duplicated along with Main Road in 1970.

Construction of the new Main Road Bridge, Lower Plenty, c.August 1966. The new Lower Plenty Hotel in background. ( from the collection of Eltham District Historical Society @elthamhistory )
Construction of new Main Road Bridge, Lower Plenty, c.August 1966 ( from the collection of Eltham District Historical Society @elthamhistory )
Construction of new Main Road Bridge, Lower Plenty, c.August 1966 ( from the collection of Eltham District Historical Society @elthamhistory )
New Main Road Bridge, Lower Plenty, November 1966 ( from the Shire of Eltham Pioneers Photograph Collection, No. 802, held in partnership between Eltham District Historical Society @elthamhistory and Yarra Plenty Regional Library (Eltham Library) @YarraPlentyRegionalLibrary @threalelthamlibrary )

MysteryMonday: Rural Road Infrastructure, Shire of Eltham, c.1987

#MysteryMonday – Today’s images are from a roll of 35mm colour negative film. There are 12 images in total; part of the Shire of Eltham infrastructure works on rural roads. It is believed they were taken around 1987.

Frame 1
Roll of 35mm colour negative film, 4 strips, Kodak CP100 5094
( From the collection of Eltham District Historical Society @elthamhistory )
Frame 2
Frame 3
Frame 6
Frame 7
Frame 8
Frame 9
Frame 11

Can you identify these? Not all the frames have been posted as they are of detail like potholes, etc that add no value to the identification of the road or area.

We’d love to hear from you; your thoughts and suggestions as to where they are and help us catalogue these images.

Over to you . . .

ThrowbackThursday: Snow Falls, Stokes Orchard, Nyora Road, Eltham, 1951

#ThrowbackThursday – As we now head gradually into warmer spring weather, leaving behind what many would call a colder than normal winter, can you think back to even colder winter seasons. Have you ever heard of it snowing in Eltham? We have often heard tale of this event but never actually seen any photographs of it. Well, today we are going to time travel back to the morning of Thursday, July 19th, 1951, to Nyora Road, Eltham at the corner with Eucalyptus Road and Pitt Street. But bring some warm, wet weather gear with you, and your camera, because right now the snow is falling.

The Stokes family home blanketed with snow, Nyora Road, Eltham, winter 1951 (from the collection of Eltham District Historical Society @elthamhistory; donated by Beryl Bradbury (nee Stokes), daughter of Frank Stokes)

Standing in Nyora Road just east of Eucalyptus Road, which itself is not much more than an unmade track, we look towards the southeast and the home built by Frank Stokes for his family just a few years earlier. Now the home of Nyora Studio Gallery @NyoraStudioGallery, it was originally built by Frank towards the end of the war over a two year period as he established his orchard  to the north east bounded roughly by Nyora, Eucalyptus and Diosma Roads.

Stokes Orchard blanketed with snow, Nyora Road, Eltham, winter 1951 (from the collection of Eltham District Historical Society @elthamhistory; donated by Beryl Bradbury (nee Stokes), daughter of Frank Stokes)

Turning to the opposite direction, as we look across Nyora through the wet falling snow, we see the orchard running down the hill and up the other side, a blanket of snow starting to cover the ground. Eucalyptus Road runs roughly along the line of trees to the west.

This event was reported in The Age the next day: –

“SNOW HEAVIEST FOR 20 YEARS: State Shivers in Antarctic Winds”

“Snow falls yesterday were the most widespread in the State’s history and the heaviest in Melbourne for 20 years. Many western, northern and eastern suburbs had snow.”

“Icy winds blowing in from the Antarctic gave Melbourne its coldest July day for 50 years and the second coldest on record.”

“At Eltham an inch had fallen by 11 a.m., and trees were festooned with snow.”

“At noon Melbourne’s temperature of 39.1 deg. was .9 deg. colder than the temperature recorded at Macquarie Island, in the Antarctic, 600 miles to the south. The minimum for the day, however, was 37.2 deg. at 12.50. Through most of the day the temperature was below 40 deg. and the maximum (at 9 a.m.) was only 44.5. Essendon had a record low midday temperature of 34 deg. — two deg. above freezing point.”

Do you remember snow ever falling in Eltham? Do you have photos that you would like to share/donate to our Society? We would love to hear your stories of this event. Perhaps we had better put another log on the fire. . . .

Notes:

Frank Stokes first traveled to the district by train in 1944 to find land with the intention to establish an orchard. By chance he met Arthur Bird of Bird Orchard (bounded by Pitt Street, Eucalyptus Road and Wattle Grove) and they got talking over their common interest. Arthur put Frank up for the night and pointed out the land, part of Crown Allotment 15, Section 5, Parish of Nillumbik (CA15) somewhat diagonally opposite Bird Orchard. Frank bought the land and for the next two years would travel by train from Melbourne to Eltham every weekend establishing Stokes Orchard and building a home for his family, which they eventually moved into in 1946.

The Society is very fortunate to have recently received a donation of photographs and other items of interest pertaining to the Stokes family, Stokes Orchard and the Stokes Orchard Estate from Beryl Bradbury (nee Stokes), eldest daughter of Frank and Gladys (nee Bolduan) Stokes. Much of the Stokes family orchard history had been held and cared for by Beryl’s younger brother, David Stokes, and was lost during the terrible Black Saturday fires on 7 February 2009, which tragically took David as well.

References:

Stokes Orchard – An Incomplete History

1951 ‘SNOW HEAVIEST FOR 20 YEARS’, The Age (Melbourne, Vic. : 1854 – 1954), 20 July, p. 1. , viewed 13 Sep 2018, http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article205338273

 

Our Society encourages interest in and the sharing of stories about the local history of the Eltham district in Victoria, Australia