Compiled for OzSportsHistory by Brian Membrey

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ADDED : February, 2019



The Octopus Act

Plans for the construction of "our" railway finally came to fruition with the passing of the Railway Act of 1882, introduced into the Parliament by the Minister for Railways, Thomas Bent.

The Act encompassed plans for a network of new railways in suburban Melbourne and became known as the "Octopus Act", a reference to the tentacle-like spread of new lines across Melbourne.   The only section to build was know as the Outer Circle Line. looping through the eastern suburbs from near Oakleigh to Alphington

The line proved a disaster pretty much from day one, but there were still hopes that if the line could be completed to link to the city, its fortunes could br resurrected.

It was based on this faint hope that the first connection of a railway to Darebin was based,

The sections of the Act covering what became known as the Inner Circle Line were Schedule 14 from Royal Park to Whittlesea (although it was referred to as the Fitzroy-Whittlesea Railway), and Section 59, Royal Park to Clifton Hill.   Section 9 of the Act granted the Government the power to compulsorily acquire land for railway use.

The Whittlesea and Heidelberg lines were always planned to run through Royal Park, but the actual route adopted through Carlton and North Fitzroy was somewhat different from the original proposal.

As early as May, 1875, The Age reported a two-chain (roughly 40 metres) wide strip of land had been pegged out between for a line between Flemington Road, North Melbourne and Alphington.

"The line enters the Royal Park at a point about three hundred yards south-west of the old powder magazine, and, following a course nearly due north, crosses near the Zoological Gardens, then curving towards the east it crosses the Sydney-road in front of Mr. Oldfield's residence, and cutting off the north-west corner of Princes park, enters the Borough of Brunswick at a point about twelve chains from the extreme end of Lygon-street".

“… after crossing Brunswick-road, Cameron-street and Barkly-street, the line transverses Nicholson-street at a point about 4½ chains on the Melbourne side of Miller-street, and then passes through several small paddocks between Nicholson-street and St. George's Road. The Merri-creek is crossed about five chains south of the old tramway bridge, and from there to the Northcote-road, the railway then following the line of fence separating the properties of Messrs. Plant and Barry".  

“The Northcote-road is crossed at the commencement of the embankment beyond the toll-gate; the line then runs parallel with Westgarth-street, passing behind the floor covering manufacturer and then through the properties of Messrs Henry, Holloway, Spencer, Cabby and Scott.  It then crosses the Fairfield paddock, the property of Mr. Hawthorne, then gets over a by-road known as Lawder's-lane  and passes very close by Bloomfield House, the residence of Mrs Sutherland and crosses the Heidelberg-road at a point about 25 chains on the Melbourne side of the five-mile post.  From Nicholson-street to the Heidelberg-road, the line may be said to be quite straight, and for the greater part of the distance, approximately dead level”.

A further survey in September, 1882 when the link to the northern suburbs and Heidelberg was first legislated suggested that with the exception of a small portion of Crown land "near the North Carlton quarries", the route was across private land, but remarkably, "no buildings will be interfered with" - the report also suggested the reason why Barkly-street was chosen was because many of the major streets in Carlton ended at Park-street and hence the need for level crossings was reduced.

The Coburg line was the first established under the Act and when it became finally became the turn of Preston, Northcote and Heidelberg, it was decided to include the existing stations on the Coburg line between Spencer Street and Royal Park, cuttings through the park, and a track through the northern part of Carlton and Fitzroy as preferable to a direct route through Collingwood and Fitzroy and the potential costs of acquiring properties in these already densely populated areas.

The Heidelberg section travelled through cuttings in Royal Park, under Royal Parade and then east between Park and Holden Streets to St. George's Road, then south-west to the existing Clifton Hill station before crossing the Merri Creek via a single-track bridge.It was blessed by having the existing "nowhere to nowhere" section of track between Clifton Hill and Alphington which never saw a train.   

The reason for the alteration to the earlier route was never fully explained, but the survey of 1882 concluded

"... for a great portion of its length the route passes over a number of large quarry-holes, where great expense would be entailed in filling, and it was also pointed out to the Minister that if the line in passing along here avoided a number of small streets, it also avoids the centres of population".

The Heidelberg line opened on 5 May, 1888, some 16 months ahead of the Reservoir section of the Whittlesea route and providing some relief to citizens of South Northcote with a station at Westgarth Street.

For the vast majority of Northcote and Preston residents however, a line running north was the only practical solution.

The Grand Junction Station

In December, 1887 and after plans for the Whittlesea line were announced, there was brief revival of the scheme for the Outer Circle line and the construction of what was referred to as the Grand Junction Station in Northcote.

The proposed route was much the same as that of 1875 - a loop line to leave the Alphington and Heidelberg railway "in the Trotting Association's grounds" (probably near today's Dennis station) east of High-street, and to join via "Whittlesea and Fitzroy" railway near Union Street in Northcote.

It was claimed at the time that "this railway was to provide direct communication from the Alphington and Heidelberg and the Outer Circle railways to Spencer-street, or if the proposed extension is authorised, to Princes-bridge Station".

The cost was estimated at £49,000, and just why it was proposed to provide "direct communication "to Spencer Street as an alternative to the Heidelberg line then under construction is a total mystery!

The junction of the announced Whittlesea route and the proposed link to the Outer Circle Line at Alphington involved a planned Grand Junction Station in Union Street, the site roughly that of today's Merri station.

The planned site encompassed two major sub-divisions in the early stages of development - the Fitzroy Junction and St. George's Park Estates, and, both of which sold off part of their land to the Railways Department.

The land acquired by the Department involved a width of 264 feet, extending from Union Street to Charles Street and at the time the land was taken over by the department, some surprise was expressed at the large area to be utilised for station purposes.

The Railway Commissioners also acquired a block of the Fitzroy Junction Estate between Union Street and Westgarth Street to allow a still wider strip in order to provide for the loop lines.

The Argus commended the Railways on acquiring the land from the developers; noting that if delayed a week or two longer, the Commissioners would have had to deal with many small holders as the land had been cut up, and the subdivisional plan was about to be issued for a sale already advertised for the following Saturday.

Reports suggest that the Commissioners planned for the erection of a footbridge opposite the lower end of Westgarth Street to allow ready access to and from the station. The other attraction of the site was that it was said to be just five minutes' walk from the terminus of the Fitzroy cable tram on the south side of the Merri Creek bridge.

The announcement of the proposed Junction Station caused a flurry of land speculation and development around the immediate area, not the least of which was the construction by William Byrne of Darebin's largest (and Northcote's newest) hotel, the Albion in what at the time was a somewhat remote location.

Of course, neither much of that section of the Outer Circle Line or the "central station" was ever heard of again, but the land acquire by the railways was sufficient for an alternative recreation ground, several junior cricket matches (including rather strangely one between an early Preston club and the Deaf and Mute Society) listed as to be played at the "the Railway Reserve near Northcote Station".

Left : Staff at whittlesea station, circa 1890

Right : North Fitzroy station, 1950’s.  No indication of the site’s past remains today, but the next station to the city, North Carlton remains today as a child care centre

 Darebin’s Transport : Tall Tales and True