FLOOD, FIRE AND FEVER
A History of Elwood
Isolated wastelands like Elwood were used to advantage for activities that needed to be out of sight for the public gaze. The establishment of the early quarantine station and graveyard in 1840 set the pattern for the next fifty years.
Participants in illegal bare-knuckle prize fights would meet at the Village Belle Hotel in St Kilda and travel on to Elwood for the main event. On occasion, police burst through the bush sending the crowd fleeing in all directions. Hunting events on horseback were popular with the well-to-do, who chased specially released foxed, dingoes and stags across the Elwood flats. In 1857, the Melbourne Hunt Club was given a license to erect kennels for their hounds at Barkly Street near the canal.
In 1857 a human manure depot was also established on Barkly street near Glenhuntly Road to which market gardeners came to collect manure to feed their crops. Not surprisingly it was closed after strong opposition from locals in 1869. in addition a rifle range was located near Head Street complementing the artillery battery at Point Ormond. As a result, the experience of bullets whistling overhead was added to the delights of flooding, offal, baying hounds and the smell of human excrement. Not surprisingly, Elwood residents have a long tradition of being agitators for change.
It was the abattoir that raised the greatest ire of local residents struggling to increase the value of their land during the 37-year period it was open. By 1861, an open slaughter yard had been established at Barkly Street on a two-acre site on the banks of Elster Creek joined by a timber bridge. An abattoir building, including herding yards floored with stone pitchers and a boiling down plant were later added. In 1884, the manager was Mathias Lyons, ‘a stalwart, shabby-haired individual’ with a gruff voice he used to restrain his three savage dogs. He lived in a cottage nearby, grew maize crops and had sixty pigs on his unfenced land. Complaints about odour and pollution of the creek were common.
In May 1899 a final deputation by aggrieved residents to council was told the long fight was over and the abattoir would close. 13
As late as 1890, residents were also fighting off a proposal by the council to build a municipal garbage destructor in the recreation reserve at Point Ormond.
In 1894, the Victorian Coal Mining Company sank a shaft opposite the abattoir. Coal was in great demand for power and heating. According to the first volume of the History of St Kilda, the company’s actions were guided by a spirit entity called Pat who communicated with one of the owners, Geraldine Minet. Pat proved unreliable and the venture was unsuccessful. Miss Minet’s partner was Agnes Simmons who taught swimming at Hegarty’s Baths with her fellow instructor, Miss Harriet Elphingstone Dick. There was a feminist flavour to the coal venture with the driving engine named Helena. Apparently Simmons and Minet owned a farm at Clayton where male animals were banned and after her death, Miss Simmons left her estate to the Society for the Protection of Animals.
The clearing of the swamp at the turn of the 19th century and its sale for residences coincided with the closure of Elwood’s unsavoury activities. However the canal continued as a vexation issue until current times with flooding an decaying seaweed. In the 1950s, over 3000 residents signed a petition following deluges that had flooded hundreds of homes. Trust was in short supply. Even after the Cain government approved a diversion channel to the sea in 1958, the citizens of the self-appointed Elwood Vigilance Committee were actively monitoring the works.
Elwood's abattoir (brick building centre left) and coal mine "Helena' (right) located in front of Elwood canal at Barkley Street.
Point Ormond bluff is at the far right.
(Cooper, History of St Kilda, Volume 1, 1931)
Wave Street Ford under water 1930 (MMBW)
13 Ellen and John Lyons, descendants of the Lyons family, still reside in Addison Street beside the former St Kilda abattoir site. Ellen has traced the family history back to County Limerick in 1820. Mathias immigrated to Victoria with his brother, John’s grandfather. The couples have copies of Mathias’s will in their possession.