FLOOD, FIRE AND FEVER
A History of Elwood
Rams and Roads
Elwood’s first European occupants were mainly imported livestock. Early St Kilda was sometimes described as a village in the middle of a cattle run. Shortly after settlement, the colonial government, stationed at Sydney, leased the lands of Port Phillip as grazing areas for cattle and sheep. These were driven overland from NSW or arrived by ship from Tasmania. Archibald McLaurin and his brother had a lease in 1836 to graze sheep from Caulfield to Point Ormond, then known as the ‘Red Bluff’. In 1839, Captain Benjamin Baxter was granted a lease of land to graze cattle from Point Ormond as far as Port Melbourne, virtually the entire foreshore of the City of Port Phillip today. The first known building in St Kilda was his stockman’s hut marked today by a plaque in Alfred Square. Baxter was a former British commissioned officer in India and Jamaica. He and his wife Martha resided initially in John Batman’s house and then in Flinders Lane where they ran Melbourne’s post office in 1838. Perhaps Baxter’s change of occupation to grazier was prompted by the rescue of Martha from the post office by rowboat by one of Melbourne’s early floods.
There were many disputes over trespassing livestock as the crown and council leased land without consulting each other. A seven-foot fence had to be built around the official town grazing area on what is today the St Kilda Botanical Gardens. In 1866 householders delivered their cows by 8am to the mustering ground near today’s Village Belle Hotel, paying sixpence for up to six dairy cows. They had to pick them up by 4 pm or pay an extra sixpence to have them delivered back home.
Livestock and their owners traveled on various routes in and out of St Kilda. The main livestock route to Gippsland, via St Kilda Junction, is today known as Dandenong Road. Many foot tracks made by the traditional owners were in evidence around the Bay at the time of settlement. Whether and how they became colonial roads is unclear but by 1842 a well-defined bush track led to Elwood from St Kilda and then on to Brighton, a hamlet of about 600 residents. This bush track extended the line of St Kilda Road (formerly known as Baxter’s Track) straight over the hill becoming High Street and Brighton Road. On March 10th 1848, Mrs. Perry, the wife of the first Anglican Bishop of Melbourne, described this road in a letter to her friends in England:
It was along a deeply sandy road full of tree stumps, and the surrounding country pretty thickly strewn with gum trees and wattle or mimosa, some dead, some half dead, some in full vigour, some standing upright, some prostrate, some leaning in grotesque attitudes. There is not the slightest approach to underwood to be seen anywhere, and from the appearance of the grass in its present perfectly yellow state I should say it was closely nibbled by sheep. Indeed it is a marvelous country – it appears to be one interminable park.
St Kilda Hill determined the choice of track to Elwood. The track up High Street was the most direct route south but the climb was a drawback to most travellers. For many it was easier to take the lower track, which diverted at St Kilda Junction to the west side of the hill. Old maps show the track running down what today is Fitzroy Street, with a swamp (Albert Park Lake) on its north side and the hill on its south side to the corner of the Esplanade and Fitzroy Street. It then forked into two roads known as the Upper Road (today The Esplanade) and the Lower Road (today Jacka Boulevard).
The road which had to be roughed out through the tea tree to the cleared space of the Quarantine Ground became possibly Elwood’s earliest road, called Quarantine Road (now Marine Parade). The tea tree and other native fauna quickly fell prey to damage caused by livestock and clearing for firewood. One of the earliest residents, MP John Dougharty of Elwood House, appointed himself honorary ranger to stop the rampant tree-felling and the government moved to set aside public reserves for the recreation of citizens. The earliest of these initiatives were to be concentrated between Elwood beach and the bluff at its northern end.
Cattle Grazing at Elwood near St Kilda Beach
(La Trobe Picture Collection, State Library of Victoria)