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A Short History of the Development of Ashburton

Having walked the streets of Ashburton for days and weeks now (or is it months - what is time anyway during these lockdown days?) it struck me that the street names of Ashburton are a neat way to tell the story of the suburb’s development.

So between bouts of remote learning, board game playing, walking and despair, I set out to develop the Ashburton Street Name Encyclopaedia.

I did not always succeed. Streets that are common first names (Eleanor, Winifred, Nicholas, Oliver etc) are near impossible to trace beyond, ‘probably someone’s wife/daughter/son’. Being stuck at home is unfortunately not conducive to proper historical research beyond the internet. So this is a work in progress and I hope to update the list in the coming months.

I must acknowledge the fine work of Mr Neville Lee OAM for his intensely detailed research in Ashburton through the Ages. This has been an invaluable source for this blog post. If you would like to know more about how the suburb developed, he is your man.

Read on for an overview of the development of Ashburton or check out your street name in the Encyclopaedia.

Stage One: The naming of Ashburton in the 1890s

The first stage of Ashburton’s development began when the plan to develop the ill-fated Outer Circle Railway Line connecting Camberwell to Oakleigh was pushed through the Victorian parliament in the 1880s.

Parliamentarians like James Munro (of Munro Avenue fame) had already bought up all the land surrounding the proposed line. In order to profit immensely off the sale of the land like the greedy capitalists they were, the parliamentarians needed the Victorian Government to build the line.

First, the local landowners and councillors needed a name for the new railway station. Having pushed the Wurundjeri people off the land years earlier, the land surrounding the new railway was occupied by European settlers who owned various dairy farms, market gardens and orchards. At this stage, the area did not have a collective name.

However some streets that still exist today, including High Street Road and Cope’s Road – now Fakenham Road, were already in place.

High Street Road was so named because it was the road that connected ‘High Street’ (where Glen Iris station is now) to ‘Boundary Road’ (Warrigal Road). Obviously, imaginative street names were not the settlers’ strong suit.

In the 1890s, the steep climb up the hill of High Street Road was not for the faint of heart. The road was notorious for its potholes and disrepair. Many local residents preferred to use Cope’s Road. This road ran parallel to High Street Road and connected Summerhill Road in Glen Iris to Boundary Road.

The new train line cut Cope’s Road in half. The eastern end became Fakenham Road and the western end Aitchison Avenue. The new railway station was built on land originally owned by Mr William Button.

Where did the name Ashburton come from?

The naming of the area as Ashburton occurred with the building of the Outer Circle line railway station. It was originally called Norwood Station after Norwood Street but within six months was re-named Ashburton.

There are a few sources of where the Ashburton name came from. The most consensus forms around Camberwell City Councillor E Dillon, a long-time resident of Summerhill Road, who suggested Ashburton after the street he lived in Cork, Ireland.

There are other possibilities. Edward Stocks (of Stocks Avenue), who lived near Boundary (Warrigal) Road, occasionally used the address ‘Ashburton’ because his family arrived on the ship Lord Ashburton. Another suggestion is that Councillor Vear (Vears Road) suggested the name after a town in Devon, England.

Whatever the source of the name, the area took its name from the new Ashburton railway station. The trainline stopped at Ashburton until the building of Alamein station in the late 1940s.

Today, the Alamein line is the only operational section of the original Outer Circle line. Much of it has been turned into picturesque walking paths. If you are interested in learning more about the Outer Circle line, check out the documentary. It is also available on DVD from Ashburton library.

Stage Two: Sub-divisions of the 1920s

After World War I, the need to provide housing for settlers, returned servicemen and immigrants began a push to sub-divide the land surrounding Ashburton Station. Camberwell Council established the 3147 postal district from Summerhill Road to Warrigal Road in 1923. The southern part of Glen Iris below Dent Street was originally called Ashburton South.

The first sub-divisions spread out from High Street Road. Investors snapped up one acre blocks along the north side of High Street Road first. Many of the street names reflected the names of the owners of the dairy farms, market gardens and orchards that were rapidly disappearing: Baker Parade, Dunscombe Avenue, Yuile Street are examples of this trend.

Clarence Gladstone Ward (Ward Street) developed much of the south side. Ward owned a large swathe of land around Munro Avenue, Lexia Street, Highgate Grove, and Dent Street. He called it Ashburton Heights and invested heavily in building many of the houses in these streets. He also built several of the shops on High Street Road.

Around this time, I believe the area that is now the railway line between Ashburton and Alamein became a rest home for over-worked horses. When I’m allowed to the library, I will investigate this further.

The 1920s heralded a time when the working and middle classes sought more say in how their tax dollars were spent. The new land-owners of Ashburton were not landed gentry from England. Nor were they the more well-to-do residents of Camberwell, who often considered Ashburton as the poor cousin. These people were often Australian-born and decidedly middle class. They quickly realised they needed to unite if they wished to have any say in how their new streets and facilities emerged.

Residents formed organisations called Reform Leagues and Progress Associations.

Reform Leagues in Ashburton

It may have been 30 years since Munro and his friends profited off the Outer Circle Line but it had not been forgotten. The Victorian Reform League movement developed because people felt the Legislative Council, primarily comprised of wealthy property and land-owners, obstructed the people’s Legislative Assembly to further their own interests.

In Glen Iris and Ashburton, they formed to take on Camberwell Council. In 1930, Camberwell Council did not build roads unless ratepayers in the street paid for them. This meant most roads in early Ashburton were made of resident-funded macadam. This was a type of road construction, pioneered by John McAdam (get it?!) that involved laying crushed stone layers and compacting them. It was a simple and cost efficient method but more suitable for flat roads.

You may have noticed that the steep streets of Lexia Street, Highgate Grove and Ward Street are today made of concrete. At the time, the Glen Iris and Ashburton Reform Leagues argued this was because Camberwell Council had already purchased the sturdier but far more expensive cement and were trying to force the residents to pay for it, receiving a healthy kickback in the process. Their attempt to force the Council to be more transparent about its operations failed and the streets original concrete survives today.

Progress Associations in Ashburton

A Progress Association was a non-political community group of residents forming along sectarian lines to further the interests of the local community. By 1938, there were 14 Progress Associations in Camberwell alone. Today they are similar to ‘friends’ groups and local action groups.

Progress Associations were responsible for fundraising for early public buildings in the area, like the Ashburton Hall on Johnston Street. Now occupied by the Shell Service Station, the hall hosted a range of community activities, including religious services before the various denominations acquired their own churches.

Stage 3: The post-war housing commissions of Alamein

Even before World War II (WWII) ended, the Victorian Government knew it needed more housing for the massive influx of returned servicemen and their families. The land between Auburn Grove and Boundary Road was zoned for this purpose.

In honour of the sacrifices of Australian men and women during WWII, the streets of the new housing commission were named after significant battles of the Pacific campaign (e.g. Huon Grove, Ambon Street, Wewak Road); the Western Desert Campaign (e.g. Alamein Avenue, Tobruk Road, Derna Road); or the common aircraft and flying boats used by the RAAF (e.g. Liberator Street, Lancaster Street, Catalina Avenue).

Fortunately for me, these were by far the easiest to track down.

To review the full list of streets, please follow this link.

If you know anything about your street and it’s not here I’m very open to suggestions and updates. Finally, if I have forgotten your street, let me know and I’ll pop it in.

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