Watsonia is a northern suburb approximately 15 kilometers from Melbourne, Victoria, Australia
My name is John Kellow I went to Watsonia in 1934. This is a record of my own experiences over the years and recollections with Wilkinson [Wilkie] Joules regarding the general area in which I lived.
The area was originally bounded by Grimshaw Street in the north, Wattle Drive in the south, Greensborough Road in the east and Mont Park in the west. Over the years it has extended north of Grimshaw Street to the new area of Watsonia North. There was also an area east of the railway and this was called the “Grace Park Estate” Some of it was subdivided along the Plenty River boundary called Plenty Lane and was included in Greensborough. The whole area was surveyed for farmland about 1838 by Robert Hoddle who was also responsible for the lay-out of the City of Melbourne
The area where I grew up consisted mainly of the Black’s farm subdivision from Lambourne Road to Grimshaw Street on the west side of Greensborough Road
The farm was subdivided in about 1924 and called “The Electric Station Estate” following the electrification of the Eltham railway line .
J C Jessop [known as Ces Jessop was also a councilor and one time commissioner of the Melbourne and Metropolitan Board of Works which controlled the water supply and sewerage of Melbourne] was an estate agent at the time and lived in Greensborough Rd near Yallambie Rd. The early development was not localized.. There was an Anglican Church which was partly built on the corner of Yallambie Rd where the Shell service station now stands and a few homes near Wattle Drive and Greensborough Road. The local state school, number 4246, was in Macleod opposite what is now the Simpson Barracks. Secondary education was either Eltham Higher Elementary to year 10 or Northcote High School for boys and Preston Girls School for girls otherwise travel into Melbourne. In Watsonia there were two shops. The one at the corner of Watsonia Rd and Lambourne Rd was the estate agents office for a few years then at various times it was a general store until it became Weidlich’s butcher shop for several years. The other shop south of the railway was a general store run at one time by Watson selling groceries as well as stock food and chaff. It also had a grain crusher. Later it was owned by Clarkson’s who built a house alongside with a tennis court and a large fernery. Then it became Martins garage and service station. The south corner of Lambourne Rd and Devonshire Rd was occupied by Hodgin”s nurseries who specialized in roses before they moved to Essendon. Part of this block is now the Uniting Church complex.
The development of the shopping centre was divided in three parts by the railway and the electricity easement at Morwell Avenue. After about 1950. the area along Watsonia Road between Lambourne Rd and Morwell Ave was developed with Austen’s self service and the timber yard . Austen’s later moved to a new larger store nearer to Tennyson St. Also a mixed business followed at the corner of Morwell Ave. The newsagent and several shops were built south of the railway including estate agents Chew and Poulton and Martin’s garage. In the 1950’s a clothing factory was built by Latoof and Callil in Lambourne Rd. and operated in conjunction with their factory in Brunswick.
The R S L acquired a tin hut from the army camp about 1955 and this was erected in Morwell Ave and used as a kindergarten during the week and by the Methodist Church for Sunday services which prior to this had been held in various homes, This R S L tin shed burnt down in 1967 and was replaced by the present more substantial complex. There were active Girl Guides and Brownies companies held in the Hall The pre-school was built in about1963 in Crellin Crescent and the Methodist Church had already moved to their new building in Devonshire Road. In 1959. The Anglicans obtained a court order enabling them to sell the disused partly constructed church property at Yallambie Rd on the corner of Greensborough Road where the Shell service station is now and build a Church at Crellin Crescent. Other Churches in the area were the Baptist in Greensborough Rd near Grimshaw street until they built a new complex on Diamond Creek Rd and St Mary’s Catholic Church on Grimshaw St.
The railway station was built at the present location by public contribution from the local landholders including Black on the west side and Joules on the east side. as only flagged stopping places had been planned at Wattle Avenue and Grimshaw St. [quite a number of houses were built in the twenties in the Wattle Ave area] In later years the station was placed below ground level and the line was duplicated and lowered to avoid the steep climb out of Macleod and the level crossings were eliminated at Lambourne Rd , Grimshaw St. and Nell St . The post office was included in the rail station and the station assistant was also the Postmaster in the early days . The Post Office was built in Devonshire Road about 1959. Mail deliveries began about 1950 The station had kerosene lamps until about 1937 and was not manned by railway employees until about 1955 but by families under a contract system These families were Melbourne, Phillips, Buick, Waterman and Eagland. Some of these people established gardens on the platform. The land around the station now has a capacity for parking about 500 cars and serves a very large catchment . A two carriage train operated between Eltham and Hurstbridge and each Friday it hauled goods trucks from Heidelberg siding to Greensboriough, Eltham and Hurstbridge. The trains of those days consisted of 7 carriages with 3 first class which had padded seats and backrests and 4 second class which had a hard cushions on the seat and slatted backrests The doors opened outward to each compartment. These were called “dog boxes” with about 7 or 8 compartments to each carriage. Later these were replaced with Tait carriages which had corridors and sliding doors but the same standard. of seating.
The land east of Greensboruogh Rd was called Grace Park but the name did not continue .It also contained a golf course shared with the cows although a golf club was formed in about 1924. This was the location later for the Watsonia High School and the Watsonia Tech. Originally the road to Greensborough was through Preston along Plenty Rd. then along Plenty Lane which later became Grimshaw Street. A road was constructed from Lower Plenty Road along what is now Watsonia Rd. then later Greensborough Rd was made to cut off the corner and avoid the level crossings at Watsonia Road and Grimshaw Street.
When Black’s farm was sub-divided a limited water service was installed but this was too small for later development.
Many of the early purchasers of the blocks did not keep up rate payments and in the late 1940’s an agent - Spencer Jackson and Co - arranged with council to sell defaulted blocks. Our block was one of these. Many were bought by spec builders. We built in 1954 and were one of the first to do so. There were about twelve houses which were built in the thirties on this particular estate at the time. As building progressed over the next few years it was necessary to make the roads trafficable in wet weather. This was done by temporary street construction This was a method whereby the Council could make weatherproof roads without needing a large capital outlay . The abutting landholders contributed about 38 pounds each in 1956. As North Ward was regarded the poor country cousins of the. City of Heidelberg it required the efforts of the Watsonia Progress Association which had begun in about 1954 to initiate any activity.. The work was undertaken by Council and consisted of crushed rock and basic drainage work. There were two such projects at the time one was our block west of Watsonia Rd and and consisted of about 5 miles [8 km] of streets then about two years later the block bounded by Nell St, the rail line and Watsonia Rd where the school was later built. The North Ward became the Shire of Diamond Valley in 1964
When we built in 1955 we were told that sewerage would be several years away but as the Army were building a number of dwellings east of Greensborough Rd and at the same time a sewerage plant to which we were connected about 1960 This was before the roads and footpaths were fully made.
Our street was originally called Park St then Cornwall St ,Morwell Street then finally Greenwood Drive to link up with Greenwood Drive in Bundoora We changed address without actually moving.
The State School in Nell Street was built in 1959 and Rosemary was one of the first pupils. The trees on the perimeter were planted by the School committee when the school opened . This area was known as Quinn’s paddock and had a small dam at the Grimshaw St end which became a garbage tip then later the AK Lines playing field. Named after a long serving councillor of the north ward of the Heidelberg council Macleod High School was built about 1950.
The triangle including Ibbotson Street was developed about 1957 mainly as a War Service homes area..
The Christian Brothers Novitiate , Loyola was built in 1934 and at the time they had their own electric generator. They had a large vegetable garden and farm and so were to some extent self supporting. During the war years this was scaled down. In later years a portion to the east end of their block became Loyola College.
The area to the west was known as Mont Park and contained the Gresswell and Repatriation tuberculosis sanatoria. A rail spur goods line went from Macleod to the Mont Park asylum. In a location below the Gresswell Sanatorium an area had been levelled preparatory to building a new sanatorium but was discontinued due to the introduction of compulsory x-rays in the 1950’s and anti-biotics and so the buildings were not necessary. All the original buildings were subsequently dismantled and the land sold for housing. In the Mont Park reserve there were two dams which had been constructed by one of the mental patients probably as therapy.
A sand pit which supplied much of the sand for Flinders St rail station was located at the end of Sellars Street.
In the 1920’s the Maroondah Dam was constructed to supply Melbourne with water through an aqueduct which ran among other places through Bundoora to Reservoir. At Bundoora there was a pumping station to send water either way between Surrey Hills reservoir as it is on the same level. The water main follows Watsonia Road, Greensborough Rd and crosses the Yarra at Bulleen and major work was undertaken in about 1980 to reline it with cement.
When Hansen’s connected to the electricity in 1937 they were the first to connect in the block and they had to guarantee a minimum payment
In 1940 the Military took over the area known as Wragge’s paddock at the corner of Yallambie Rd to build the army camp. This was mainly a staging camp for troops in transit. One of the Watsonia station signs turned up in Tobruk. Camp Pell military camp at Royal Park was constructed to house United States servicemen during the war. This later became department of housing accommodation for some of victims of the postwar housing shortage. When this was closed many of the residents were transferred to Watsonia camp until pre-fab houses were built at Heidelberg West and similar estates. In later years the Watsonia Military Barracks was up-graded and became a permanent site now known as Simpson Barracks.
To the west along Plenty Road were several establishments including Larundel and Mont Park mental hospitals. Also the police remount depot for police horses until it moved to Greenvale. Later Latrobe University was established
On the northern boundary is the Western Ring road from Greensborough in the east to Laverton in the west on the Geelong Rd. There is still a link to be made directly to the eastern freeway and the eastern tollway. At present the traffic finishes at Sellars Street makes its way either through Greensborough or down Greensborough Rd through Watsonia, Rosanna and Bulleen. Land was acquired some years ago for a continuation of Greensborough Road to the Lower Plenty Road junction through Viewbank and behind Heidelberg park to Bulleen. Extensive work was undertaken on Greensborough Road as far as Lower Plenty Road .
In her book “The Diamond Valley Story” Dianne Edwards has several points of interest
The railway from Melbourne to Heidelberg was established in about 1881. [In those days the line went to the city via Clifton Hill and around through North Carlton. The tunnels at West Richmond and Jolimont were constructed much later]. The line was extended to Greensborough and Eltham about 1901 and electrified in 1926.
The Shire of Diamond Valley was formed in 1964
Originally the area was known as Grace Park and was owned by Frederick Nell. Frank Watson managed a section of the land around 1900 and later purchased it and sold a portion to the railways. A station was to be erected at Main Road and Greensborough Lane [more correctly Grimshaw Street. The landowners paid a levy and erected the station at its present site.]
The area I knew was the one west of the railway and was subdivided by Black and called the Electric Station Estate in 1925.