The History of the Outer Circle Linear Park/Anniversary Trail
Updated: Oct 20, 2022
I’ve already written about Ashburton’s green spaces but I omitted the OCLP – known in Ashburton and its surrounds as the Anniversary Trail – because it is not specific to Ashburton. However, since it plays such an important role in our health and recreation and as far as I know, no-one has been murdered on it (yet), I thought it was high time to investigate how it came about.
The OCLP opened in section during the 1990s. However, its origins lie over 150 years ago in the Outer Circle Railway Line. Quite a lot has been written about the railway line already that is always accompanied by either the words ‘ill-fated’ or ‘white elephant’.
One can not talk about the OCLP without mentioning the railway line, so I’ll give a brief overview.
The Outer Circle Railway Line
Melbourne’s city planners devised the idea for the Outer Circle Railway Line in the 1870s. It was intended to be a connection to Melbourne from Gippsland that went up around the settled metropolitan area and into the city terminus at Spencer Street from the north. The idea for it held a lot of community enthusiasm. However, by the time of the Melbourne boom decade of the 1880s, the construction of the Gippsland line directly to Flinders Street had made the need for the line redundant.
But instead of shelving the idea, Melbourne’s planners thought ‘not to worry, we’ll build it anyway!’ This was a boom time for railway transport after all.
And so they did. The Outer Circle Line lasted barely five years and was fully operational for only a fraction of that time.
You can learn more about it at this website and by watching the accompanying DVD Melbourne's Forgotten Railway that is available at Ashburton library.
According to historian David Dunstan, the Outer Circle Line is remembered ‘in a typically Australian – some might say cynical – way as a failure on a grand scale; and all the more fondly so for having remained visible, with its derelict components – linear open space and ordered vegetation – almost as a deliberate embarrassment to all-powerful public authority.’
Yet the one Melbourne location that arguably benefitted the most from the folly of the Outer Circle Line was Ashburton. It was the last stop on the line. During the electrification process of Melbourne’s trains in the 1920s, the Ashburton to Camberwell section of the Line was re-opened. Although Camberwell had been well-established as an eastern suburbs transport hub for decades, Ashburton was only just beginning to develop back then. So had the station and line not already been there, the suburb’s future public transport options may have been seriously curtailed.
The idea for a Linear Park germinates
A linear park is simply a type of park that is significantly longer than it is wide. They are a very urban concept and often encompass strips of land along canals, rivers, streams, highways, and railway lines. These can act as anything from bicycle trails to wildlife corridors.
Interest in developing the former Outer Circle Line as recreational open space dated to 1929 when it was included in a 1929 Metropolitan Town Planning Commission. This also covered proposals for other popular Melbourne pathways that exist today, for example:
· Merri Creek Linear Pathway
· Gardiners Creek Linear Pathway
· Scotchmans Creek Linear Pathway
· Plenty River and Banyule Creek
· Royal Park to Fitzroy
For undocumented reasons, by the 1980s, development of these other paths had greatly progressed and left the Outer Circle behind.
Throughout the 20th century, the State Government progressively dismantled the Outer Circle line and its fixtures but the land remained in the possession of the State Government. It was protected from residential development and while local councils helped keep the grass down, they did not do anything to develop it. It was still possible to walk the length of the Outer Circle Line along its path but aside from some business leases, it lay largely dormant from any kind of organised development for decades.
Then in 1984, the future of the Outer Circle Line’s former path was brought into question when the State Government proposed to rezone the land for residential purposes. This would allow the land to be sold and sub-divided. When news of this proposal went public, a number of Caulfield and Murrumbeena residents decided to act against the re-zoning proposal articulated in Amendment 268 to the Melbourne Metropolitan Planning Scheme.
They formed the Murrumbeena Outer Circle Parkland Retention Group (Murrumbeena group) to advocate for creating a linear park along the route of the former Outer Circle Line from Oakleigh to Fairfield.
The Murrumbeena Outer Circle Parkland Retention Group
The Murrumbeena group set to work conducting surveys of park users and local residents.
The proposed Outer Circle Linear Park would simultaneously connect to existing pathways and use the unused former Outer Circle line land. However, the area of land available in 1984 was far less than back in 1929 and connectivity would be more difficult to achieve. At the same time, the significant population and density increases that had occurred since then fed a demand for a variety of linked open spaces.
The group proposed the OCLP would officially start at Yarra Boulevard in Kew, then pass through areas of the unused railway land in Kew East, Deepdene, and Camberwell. Then it would run concurrently next to the operational Camberwell to Alamein line through Burwood and Hartwell before heading towards East Malvern and Murrumbeena and ending at Hughesdale station.
According to the City of Kew, Kew residents expected a linear park with pedestrian links to be developed between High and Princess Streets.
The City of Camberwell was already in the process of developing eight kms of its section of the Outer Circle line as the Anniversary Trail (the ‘Anniversary’ being the 150th anniversary of the founding of Melbourne in 1985) so anticipated its section could be easily joined up.
In Malvern, the Government had gifted the City of Malvern with a section of the land for an urban forest in 1983. This was most likely to smooth the soon to be ruffled feathers of residents when they found out about all the parkland Malvern would lose when the Government eventually got around to connecting the Mulgrave Freeway to the South Eastern Freeway. Malvernians wanted their piece of land connected to Gardiners Creek Valley on one end and through to Caulfield on the other.
At the southern end, the residents of the city of Caulfield – the Murrumbeena Group’s heartland – were keen to conserve the historical elements of their patch of land and connect it to Malvern’s urban forest.
Interestingly, they were the only ones who really cared all that much about preserving the land’s historical significance as a railway. Research undertaken ten years later about connecting the Deepdene section indicated that BBQ and picnic facilities were of far more interest than display signs about railway history.
The Government gets onboard
The timing of the Murrumbeena Group’s proposal couldn’t be better. Melbourne had only recently changed its political party leadership for the first time in 26 years. John Cain wished to implement many reforms to the way Victoria managed education, the environment, law reform and public administration. The Cain Government brought in nude beaches, legalised brothels, extended Saturday shopping hours and undertook other reforms to try and bring Victoria into the 20th century before it ended.
Armed with clear evidence of the community’s desire for a linear park, in June 1985, a delegation from the Murrumbeena Group met with the Minister for Conservation, Forests and Lands, the Hon Joan Kirner and other government officials to discuss the idea. The Minister agreed to defer approving Amendment 268 and to establishing a Study Group to investigate the idea further.
The idea also had the in-principle support of the four Councils that looked after these suburbs: City of Kew, City of Camberwell, City of Malvern, and the City of Caulfield. Their only concern was that they would have full involvement in the planning process but not bear the cost of any of it:
‘The Councils should not be required to purchase the land and to use ratepayers’ funds to that end as this facility will fulfill a regional need’, their Joint Submission on the matter stated.
They argued that they had already been maintaining the vacant Government land for decades at their own expense.
Work on the Outer Circle Linear Park begins
Although the State Government generally owned all the Outer Circle land, the long passage of time since the railway was operational had ensured the legislation covering this ownership was internally split between the Crown, the Melbourne and Metropolitan Board of Works, and the Metropolitan Transit Authority.
So the first thing to do was to consolidate ownership and secure the area as Government parkland for the future. The Government also needed to deal with the people on the small sections of the land that had been leased for various commercial, residential, government and municipal uses. It appears this was accomplished by February 1988 when Premier John Cain announced the creation of the Outer Circle Linear Park between Kew and Caulfield.
Somewhere along the way, probably in return for a chunk of money, the four Councils agreed to pay the running costs of the Park.
Work on the northern end progressed until 9 July 1991, when the Kew section of the OCLP from Burke Road to High Street officially opened.
At the southern end, the Murrumbeena group lobbied for the Urban Forest to be included in the Outer Circle Linear Park. This area was officially named Boyd Park in 1992 and connected the OCLP to Hughesdale Station.
By 1993, there was still some ongoing discussion about the Deepdene section of the Park connecting Abercrombie Street to Whitehorse Road. This centred on the occupation of proposed Park land by Chris Cross Garden Supplies. Eventually, Mr Griffiths at Chris Cross was advised he needed to vacate the land. He moved his business to Burke Road in Kew East, where it remains today.
By 1994, the Kennett Government began a widespread series of reforms for local government. Two of the four Council areas the Outer Circle Linear Park traverses – Kew and Camberwell - joined Hawthorn to become Boroondara Council. Caulfield became part of Glen Eira and Malvern part of Stonnington.
Boroondara Council installed historical information boards along its Anniversary Trail section in 1997. When not covered in graffiti or destroyed by the elements, these continue to help travellers learn about the OCLP’s rich railway history.
The Outer Circle Linear Park in the 21st Century
If you did want to ride or walk the full route of the Outer Circle Linear Park using public transport, the closest station at the northern end is Fairfield. It is still about a 1 km ride from Fairfield Station (see Map) to the northern terminus at the intersection of the Chandler Highway and Eastern Freeway in Kew. The southern section terminates next to Hughesdale Station. The Sky Rail at Hughesdale Station means should you wish to continue riding along a railway line, the OCLP now connects to the pretty Djerring Trail that runs underneath the elevated train line.
Access from Fairfield Station
Access from Hughesdale Station
The biggest problem with the OCLP is the busy road crossings. While I was there taking photographs at the Chandler Hwy and Eastern Freeway intersection, I witnessed a man on a bicycle crossing the road with the green light. A car hit him as it was driving onto the Eastern Freeway on ramp. He was OK thankfully and I can finish this article without needing to include a death but I suspect that was by no means an isolated incident.
While this section is quite dangerous, work has progressed on improving the road crossings around Camberwell. As recently as 2021, Boroondara Council removed a dangerous road section between Riversdale Road and Prospect Hill Road by creating an off-road pathway through Riversdale Park behind Camberwell High School.
At time of writing, a proposal to create a cycle bridge over Toorak Road and eliminate the very messy crossing situation there is out for consultation.
Ongoing maintenance of the OCLP is always required. For example, in 2006, the bridge connecting the Ashburton and East Malvern sections over Gardiners Creek collapsed during a storm. It took until July 2007 for the new bridge to open.
These days the Outer Circle Linear Park and the accompanying Anniversary Trail signs are looking rather tired but the Park remains popular recreation spaces for eastern suburbs residents. It is probably the only entity that physically connects the whole of the Boroondara Council jurisdiction together.
Most importantly, if traffic is anything to go by it’s probably a whole lot faster to ride to Kew from Ashburton along the Outer Circle Linear Park these days than it is to drive.
Just imagine how different Melbourne would be if the train line was still there!
 Dunstan, David, 'The Outer Circle Railway Line: Its Origins and Historical Significance,' Ministry for Planning and Environment.  'Written Documentation of the Working Party,' Outer Circle Linear Park, Deepdene, City of Boroondara, July 1994.  Saunders, R E et al., 'Outer Circle Linear Park: Joint Submission by Cities of Kew, Camberwell, Malvern and Caulfield.'