Compiled for Darebin Heritage by Brian Membrey

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A Suburban Walk : Northcote to Alphington

The Age (Melbourne, Vic. : 1854 - 1954), Saturday 20 August 1887, page 13   (added April, 2019)

(This article appeared just ten days after the Melbourne Tramway and Omnibus Co. commenced cable tram operations between Spencer Street and Clifton Hill. While it doesn't give much detail on the tram operations, it does give an interesting insight as to the attitudes that prevailed locally at the time).



The opening of the tramway to Clifton Hill is an inducement to many persons to take this route, partly because the ride itself is for the moment a novelty, and partly because a short walk from the terminus opens upon the country.

No one will attempt to gainsay the merits of the cable tramway as taking infinite precedence of the rambling omnibus, with its accompaniment of stuffiness and headache which assail so many bus travellers. You must take a good hold no doubt when going round the sharp curves; but this adds to, rather than detracts from, the amusement of tram riding.

For it is an amusement at present to the good people of Fitzroy and Collingwood, just as a merry-go-round provides a pastime for children, even of large growth. When the novelty has worn off the tram will still be well patronised, because it provides a cheap and convenient means of transit for a class of people who have hitherto languished under an almost total absence of transit conveniences, for really the 'bus and the cab are primitive modes of conveyance, absolutely unworthy of a great city.

Their only merit, as compared with cable tramways, is a little greater speed and stoppages anywhere. A smartly kept cab and good horse and sharp driver need not fear either bus or tram, and will make a good living alongside them; but it is because cabs are generally the reverse of all they should be that they have had to go to the wall.

While on the way to Clifton Hill, the John who happens upon this occasion to carry the suburban pedestrian towards the beginning of his journey advances strong arguments why Collingwood people will always support cabs.

He looks at it in this way. Cabby circulates, or did circulate, £1500 a week in Collingwood; he lives there; buys food and clothing for his wife and family there; deals with the local produce stores; gets his dinner and supper beer at local hotels; has a local connection in every way; and is an item in the Collingwood community not to be despised. Per contra, the tram eats nothing, drinks nothing, has no wife and no family, circulates very little cash through the few of its employees who live in the suburb, and, worse than all, puts all the Collingwood money taken in fares into some strong bank in the city, whence it makes its way anywhere but back to Collingwood.

He may not be strictly right, but he has some reason on his side. At length, the flow of cabby's eloquence is stopped by exertions on his part to secure two fares waiting for the tram, which is about 30 yards in front of him, and, having spurted past and secured them, turns round with such satisfaction as only a successful cabman can display.

Leaving him at Johnston-street, it seems almost unfair to wait for the tram that he has just cut out; but, audi alteram partem being a good motto, we soon learn that the days of waggonettes arc over. "Where are they?" sarcastically demands Conductor, "The first day we ran we couldn't get along Smith-street for vehicles, and now".  Yes, it is true. Smith-street is very narrow, and the total absence of buses, and 75 per cent, less cabs, makes a difference.

So much for the means of reaching Clifton Hill. Two lines of route present themselves — one over Northcote-bridge, and the other the Heidelberg-road.  Let us take the first, make our way across the paddocks a mile or two out and return by the other.

The cityward side of Northcote is rapidly closing up. Bricks and mortar are making themselves apparent, particularly in the bend of the Merri Creek, bridged hereabouts in three places — at the Northcote road, with its approach from Northcote through the cutting; the bridge carrying the outer circle railway, so light in appearance; and the more solid structure across the Heidelberg-road, built up on massive bluestone piers.

In some remote age the Merri Creek may have run a "banker"; but now, after all this wet winter, it is but a trickle and a drain, and looks as if a bout of hot weather would dry it up altogether. Northcote proper preserves, in many ways, its characteristics of a suburban village of what is in Victoria the olden times. Thirty or 40 years in this country means so much. Almost by the time the fruit trees are well rooted and bearing, a wave passes over, orchards are annihilated or infinitesimally divided, and paddocks are plotted out like the squares of a chess board.

But of this more presently. It is a straggling sort of place on the further side of the cutting, with streets right and left in process of opening up and filling in with houses, villas and cottages. Then the Northcote Brick Company's enterprise discloses itself, with its rows of house-of-cards little cottages, in which the "bricky" dwells, cottages all of galvanised iron, as if ready to be taken down and put together somewhere else at a moment's notice, though the day for that sort of move seems a long way off.

And soon past the Croxton Park Hotel for about half a mile where one may diverge to the right and across the green and sometimes sloppy turf, make a leisurely way to an emerald knoll, which promises some command of the surrounding country.

On reaching this, and having succeeded in doing so without falling foul of insidious pegs — a difficult task, unless the eyes are kept earthwards — a charming prospect opens out.

Presumably the land has all been sold by the foot, or, if not, is intended to be retailed in that way; but anyone who would be content with land vendors' areas here, and land vendors' prices, is simply the inside and outside of a fool. As far as the eye can take in the landscape it is a succession of valleys, plains and ridges, topped by clumps of trees, with here and there the whitened walls of some old fashioned residence standing out in relief, or the dull brown surroundings of a homestead, with its half-cut mow of hay and dairy cattle dotted over the pastures.

Fur away to the right the domes of the Kew Lunatic Asylum point to the proximity of the Yarra, and in between a glimpse is caught of the course of Darebin Creek, with its miniature gorges. On a gentle slope is seen the suburban retreat of a magnate of the bank parlour — "Money" Miller. Following Darebin Creek along the residence known as "Rockbeare," on its banks, near Alphington-bridge, glistens in the sun, and the foliage is lightened by his rays dashing on the orange and lemon trees and an occasional mimosa. Almost straight ahead rises the Beaconsfield Tower, and behind it the everlasting blue of the Dandenong Ranges.

Farther to the left, Ivanhoe intervenes, and carrying the eye round the bold frost of Mount Macedon may fitly close the view on this side. To decide on pushing on towards Ivanhoe is an instinctive necessity.

Perhaps 'tis "distance lends enchantment to the view". The world may be different on closer inspection; the intervening pastures nay be bogs; the crested knolls may be but a creation of the fancy : and the oranges and lemons a myth. In one respect, it is soon apparent deception is in the air.

Fondly supposing that though the foot of man might hare trodden this bit of earth, but that it was still sacred to the care of the husbandman and devoted to the sustenance of his herds, it is hard to find it is not so. Scarcely are we through a huge paddock, in which a faithful sheepdog guards the coat and billy of a wood splitter a few hundred yards away, than the signs of vandalism are forced once more on the attention.

More pegs; long lines indicating roads and cross roads; and then something that looks very like a railway. Closer investigation bows that it is a tramway. A ruin!  Yes, a veritable ruin, though only that of a bluestone dwelling of some kind. The "donnicks" lie about in boulders of many and with these and a little muddy mortar, some medieval occupier of the land - say 30 years ago — put up a dwelling, of which the lower walls alone remain.

At length another paddock brings us to the bank of Darebin Creek, on which stands the contractor s familiar office. A quarry has been opened, and we catch the cheery clink of hammer on gad, and the ring of the bar as it gradually opens a way into the rock for the reception of the charge which shall presently rend it. Pitchers are the requirement, for a goodly quantity is stacked ready for transportation.

Passing down into the creek bottom and over any of the numberless shallows and up the other side, the vision we had just now of Ivanhoe and Alphington becomes our foreground.

As the conjuror says, "There is no deception". Clumps of sweetbriar, looking ill and out of sorts, are the more noticeable from the contrast which the flowering gorse close beside them gives; and to show that nature has some life in it that is not all still, away from her "form" in the tangled covert which a bush of winter roses affords — how did the roses get there? — starts a hare, ears straight up, and cantering along as it there were no danger.

But the pattering of "many-twinkling" feet coming up astern sends the ears flat to the shoulders, and puss stretches herself forward. Alas, poor creature, that on almost reaching the long line of furze which would have made thy flight a safe retreat, Hodge and his lumbering wain should steer through a gap, and turn thee into a bottle-necked quarry hole, where thy dying squeal is the one reminder of life's fatalities in this rural scene.

Well, it is an ill wind that blows no one any good, and the pot hunter need not complain of  unexpected good luck, or give a thought to the hare's expiring agony, while he savours her flesh.

Here we touch another bend of the Darebin Creek, and keeping to the left ascend the gentle rise which leads to the new Heidelberg-road and Ivanhoe.   Another charming prospect is obtainable, and, seated on the fence which bounds the road, the wayfarer may drink in the poetry of the scene to the full; not the strong, vigorous draught of some heroic measure, but rather the Pastorals of a Browne or the word pictures of a Herriek, a Keats, or a dozen others who tremble on the pen.

But it is time to turn towards the city again. A little way towards town the railway line, which is making some progress at last, crosses under the road in a deep cutting, on one side of which is Ivanhoe and the other Alphington. Here we pass Rockbeare, previously seen from far over on the Northcote side.

Following the railway line is the bridge over Darebin Creek. The ubiquitous Munro must of course have n finger in the pie in supplying the lengthy girders. Crossing over the road bridge we can see on the right bank of the creek the orchards of Mr. Adams, with their cautions to trespassers to beware posted at every angle. They are not so much needed at this time of year, for it is not the picnic season, and the oranges and, lemons, the loquats, vines and fig trees, the apples and pears, the plums, apricots and peaches, all mixed up together, are safe from molestation. The peach only is in blossom, and with snowy cap shivers

"The frolic wind which breathes the spring,—

 Zephyr, with Aurora playing"

and rustling through this grove. Nevertheless, without being trespassers, let us skirt the boundary fence on the higher ground, and make for a bend in the Darebin Creek a few hundred yards away. Here is a perfect miniature study for the artist, and the lady artist in particular. Here will the feminine disciple of Apelles and Zeuxis find a bold high bluff, with strata edgewise, dipping into the stream which ripples at its base, and crammed with trees and lined with shrubs of many aud diverse forms.

An endless variety of light, and shade, and colour; the boulders moss covered and inviting; the sky overhead serenely blue, with puffs of white clouds floating lazily by. Here let us pause, and discuss the quantum of food and flask of Falernian which have, so far, accompanied us untasted. And here, in the words of L'Allegro,

"Far from eating cares,

 Lap me In, in soft Lydlan airs".

 In this stillness, unbroken but by the splash of the waters, as they chase each other on their downward course to the Yarra — our Father Tiber, and his muddy equal — let the curled wreath ascend from the grateful censer, a votive offering to the goddesses of the streams and woods, the Naiads and the Dryads, the Fawns and the Satyrs, the fairy Mabs and the drudging goblins which inhabit this hill. From out that bush upon the cliff why should not the wicked Satyr's head appear, searching with roving eye for his familiars or the dainty figures of Darebin girls ?

 So it is time to go, indeed, or the Satyr may change to a very awkward looking dog, and the virgins to the Furies. From Darebin Creek to Fairfield Park is perhaps a mile, and then all the trouble of getting through the mud begins again.

On the other side of the Heidelberg-road it is better. The bank of the river is high and the descent rapid, and perched on the bank are a few villas looking over the river and across into Studley Park — such places, perchance, as Swift had in his mind's eye when he wrote :

 "I often wish that I had clear,

  For life, six hundred pounds a year,

  A handsome house to lodge a friend,

  A river at my garden's end".

The cheerful chorus of a family of laughing jackasses comes across from the park, and this is a reminder that during our peregrination the birds have been remarkably scarce on this side of the river, though they are plentiful enough on the other. But as time is drawing on, the road must be sought again, and a quarter of an hour brings us within hail of our starting point and the whirr of the tram cable.