Book Review: The Outer Circle: A history of the Oakleigh to Fairfield Railway

Book Review: The Outer Circle: A history of the Oakleigh to Fairfield Railway

the outer circle


The Outer Circle: a history of the Oakleigh to Fairfield Railway

by David Beardsell and Bruce H. Herbert

Review by Michael Canavan

In the day, the Dasher dashed, carriages had swing doors and trains travelled to Deepdene.

The Outer Circle Railway seemed like a good idea at the time. Conceived by Victorian Railways to bring the Gippsland Line into Melbourne by bypassing a pesky private line, the need was negated when the private line, realizing discretion was the better part of a financial bollocking, sold out to VR, thus providing the desired direct line from Oakleigh.

It should have ended the matter: but no, work proceeded. It was, after all, the Era of Marvelous Melbourne where money grew on trees, especially trees growing on vacant land. Land speculators speculated, Her Majesty’s Victorian Parliament housed an impressive array of colourful characters, the Rosstown Railway was built and the Octopus Act enfolded the Colony: too many railways weren’t enough. It was mere coincidence that the new railways passed through vacant land needing development.

The OCR was front and centre: a substantial portion of the proposed right of way passed through land held by Honourable Members. Fulham Grove estate, about half a mile from Fairfield Park, had its own station with two platforms and a passing loop-it was to be appreciated by APM. Willsmere had a similar arrangement under an impressive bridge. A fleet of locos and carriages was on-hand to carry the expected throngs.

The OCR proceeded on its circuitous route from Oakleigh to Fairfield Park [today’s Fairfield]. Passing through the sparsely settled then outskirts of Melbourne [photos of the day beg you to play “spot the dwelling”] there wasn’t much in the way of prospective revenue. No matter: it was built to the highest standards [one John Monash was engineer], in equal parts an attempt to make a statement and to encourage usage. Double platforms and passing loops were laid out, crossings safeguarded, cuttings cut, embankments banked. All for nought.

Opened, with no ceremony, around 1893, about half the line was “suspended” by 1895, the whole line closing soon after. Reprieved around 1897, the line staggered on, serviced until 1927 by the Dasher between Deepdene and Ashburton [cut back to Riversdale after electrification]. A goods service to East Kew lingered until 1943.

Despite the indifference, there were attempts to revive the Line until World War 2, mainly to woo prospective land buyers: a photo shows a train full of clients at Deepdene Station in the 1920s.

As well as assisting speculators, the railway developed suburban golf: 2 courses, at East Kew and near Riversdale, arose. Riversdale members were miffed at having to walk some distance from the nearest station; strings were pulled, and the adjacent Golf Links station [today’s Willison] provided.

This book is a valuable reference: it is the only readily available and comprehensive history of the Railway. It provides an overview of its operations plus the small details that make a satisfying railway history-it is a reminder that so much has disappeared yet remains discernible. It describes the sad fate of the Railway in affectionate detail and provides several interesting annexes– a photo of various tickets is quite nostalgic and a scathing account of a trip using the OCR a joy to read.

Apart from the impressive engineering, the other highlight was the array of locomotives that graced the line, mostly tanks and early railmotors. Naturally, the book provides excellent action shots as well as the staple “look at me” platform shots: the Dasher steaming uphill from Deepdene on a misty morning is a highlight.

The OCR never had a chance: it was a poorly managed embarrassment that Officialdom tried to ignore. It always operated in sections, never in its entirety, seemingly going out of its way to be as inconvenient for patrons as possible. Despite that, a walk along the Centenary Trail [Chandler Bridge to the Malvern Golf Course] and from East Malvern to Oakleigh leaves you asking “What if”, especially as plans are mooted for a new circular link line.

If the OCR had survived, the Packenham, Cranbourne and Gippsland lines would have connected at Oakleigh: the Junction Hotel’s name would make sense. Heading north, it would have crossed the Glen Waverley and Lilydale/Belgrave lines before joining the Hurstbridge line at Fairfield; as well, it would have connected with several tram lines [e.g. at East Kew and Riversdale]. In the 1930s it was proposed to extend the Kew line to Doncaster via a junction at East Kew.

What if?

The Outer Circle is available for viewing at the library but is not for loan.



Book Review: Discovering CBD places of worship

Book Review: Discovering CBD places of worship

This is a book review with a difference. PMI member Geoffrey Paterson takes you through the books he used to research his Eastern Hill places of worship tour for the Uniting Church Historical Society. You can view the text of his tour in PMI’s periodical collection.

Thanks for your hard work Geoffrey

booklet scan 2018 (2)

I am not a regular PMI Library user and visit the Library when a particular task arises. I outline here how and why I recently used the Library, my approach to this particular task, and some PMI resources I used.


In the last two years, I have helped organise a Melbourne CBD Places of Worship Tour for the Uniting Church Historical Society. Each is a free guided tour of three places of worship.[i] Tour participants receive an eight-page A5 booklet which backgrounds Melbourne’s CBD and provides specific details for each place of worship.

The following notes outline some PMI resources I used to write the 2018 tour notes. This tour in Eastern Hill visited East Melbourne Hebrew Congregation, St Peter’s Anglican Church, and the German Evangelical Trinity Lutheran Church.

My approach to research

How do I approach my reading? I first consider the chronology including when the place of worship was built. The second is its location and how it has changed. A third aspect is the architecture including stained glass windows and musical instruments.

Useful PMI resources

The following paragraphs outline PMI resources I have used.


A very useful publication for early Melbourne places of worship is J.M. Freeland, Melbourne churches 1836–1851: an architectural record. Parkville: Melbourne University Press, 1963.

Part I of this book covers building materials, builders and architects, and financing of these early churches. Two chapters also examine the Pioneer Period (1836–1842) and the Primitive Period (1842–1851). Each chapter in Part II considers churches from seven denominations. The book includes photographs, maps and appendices. The section on St Peter’s succinctly outlines its history, architecture, and development of the buildings on this site.


Winston Burchett, East Melbourne, 1837–1977: people, places, problems. Hawthorn: Craftsman Press, 1978 usefully describes the main and subsidiary parts to the Hoddle Grid, the land grants and reservations, and Crown land sales. Although St Peter’s establishment predates these events, the Lutheran Church and other Eastern Hill denominations received a land grant. Burchett also devotes some 30 pages to churches and schools including each of the places we visited.


I consulted two resources from the PMI in the preparation of the tour notes.

A. Willingham, St Peter’s Church, Albert Street, Eastern Hill Melbourne: a cultural history and conservation analysis for the trustees of St Peter’s Church. Allan Willingham Architectural Historian, 1992. This large volume has three parts. Part A Understanding the Place uses a range of photographs, plans and documents to detail the history of the church and associated buildings. Part B Architectural Analysis and Assessment of Cultural Significance uses text and photographs to survey the church’s physical fabric. Part C provides guidelines for conservation. The Appendices provide, in one place, a range of maps and original documents many handwritten relating to the church complex.

H.D. Mees, Editor, A German church in the garden of God: Melbourne’s Trinity Lutheran Church 1853–2003. East Melbourne: Trinity Church Historical Society for Trinity German Lutheran Church, 2004. This 700-page volume starts with the arrival of Lutherans in the late 1840s, the building of the Eastern Hill church, to the present day. It also devotes a chapter to Lutheran congregations in other Victorian locations. I particularly used Chapter 10 which traces the succession of buildings and supplies details of the exterior (pp. 451–456) and interior (pp. 456–463). The book contains many photographs and maps.

In the preparation of the tour booklets, I have used a range of sources including the State Library. However, I value the PMI Library because it is close to public transport, resources are accessible, and the Library staff is always helpful. I will be using the PMI to prepare my 2019 tour notes.

Geoffrey Paterson

[i] 2017 and 2018 tour reports have been published in the Proceedings of the Uniting Church Historical Society Synod of Victoria and Tasmania. The 2017 report is in volume 24 No 2 December 2017, pp. 109–111. The 2018 report is in volume 25 no 2, December 2018, pp. 143–152.

Book Review: Slow Catastrophes

Book Review: Slow Catastrophes


Rebecca Jones’ earlier writings include an academic article titled, “Blended Voices: Crafting a Narrative from Oral History Interviews”.   In ‘Slow Catastrophes’ she has crafted a narrative, not from oral histories, but from farm diaries.  Not merely a narrative, either, but a thought-provoking, heart-warming narrative that evidences the strength of character of rural Australians facing drought.

‘Slow Catastrophes’ presents a picture of living with drought, on two levels:  in the first section of the book, “Drought Stories”, Jones describes 7 farm families, blending their observations of drought with other farm and personal observations and data.  The droughts and the families span most of the twentieth century, and although the book’s title refers to Australia, there is a strong focus on Victoria. The diary excerpts reveal the characteristic stoicism of Australian farmers.  Jones seamlessly includes the historic overview necessary for us to fully understand the picture of drought in Australian life and the strength that underpins living with drought.

In the second section of the book, “Living with Drought”, Jones picks up the threads from these seven stories and divides them into intellectual, practical and physical and emotional responses to drought.  A wonderful chapter in this section is titled, “The Feeling of Drought” and includes quotes about the smell and sound of drought.

I came to ‘Slow Catastrophes’ seeking material for my research into the lives of farming families over 120 years in one small corner of Victoria’s Mallee, thinking to find data such as the number and extent of droughts, the number of young men who left farms for the battlefields of WW 1 and 2; in other words, with a quite specific and narrow focus on the impact of drought.  I found myself absorbed by Jones’ narrative, and by the personalities of her subjects.  I came away stimulated to look more deeply at the rural experience, and to ask more questions about the lives of my subjects and how their characters were formed by the vagaries of climate.

This book is highly recommended for anyone researching farming or agriculture in Australia, for those writing a family history that includes people who lived on farms or in the bush.  More, though, it is essential reading for all those of us who wonder about the impact of future climate events.

Review by Heather Redmond

Book Review: Master Gardener

Book Review: Master Gardener

Master Gardener: T.R Garnett of Marlborough College, Geelong Grammar School, The Age and The Garden of St Erth by Andrew Lemon

Review by Penny Woodward

master gardener

I always knew him as Tommy, and I only knew him in the last phase of his life when he and Penelope bought their property in Blackwood, which they called The Garden of St Erth. In 1986 Tommy wrote the forward to my first book Australian Herbal. At that time he didn’t need to be explained, anyone who gardened knew Tommy Garnett. But, today historian Andrew Lemon believes that his work is starting to be forgotten. Many of his books are out of print (luckily, I have them all) and his 15 years of articles for The Age are not on line. His gardening columns were always a joy, reflecting his scholarly background and gardening enthusiasm. I believe that no-one in Australia has yet bettered his erudite and wide-ranging garden prose. And there was something of this same approach to his gardening. Eclectic and idiosyncratic St Erth was a plantsman’s paradise.

I well remember my first visit, it was bone-chillingly cold, my breath misted the air in front of me, the ground was slippery with frost and I started to shiver but at the same time was totally beguiled by the garden surrounding me. A secret almost hidden garden, English style tucked into the middle of typical Australian bush. This bush later became an integral part of the garden. At this time, more than 25 years ago, the Garden of St Erth was the home and haven of Tommy and Penelope Garnett. Set in rural Victoria in hilly bush country 90km north west of Melbourne, the Garden of St Erth is constructed on the site of the old gold mining town, Simmonds Reef. At the height of the gold rush there were 14,000 people living here, at the time of my visit there were only two.

Although I visited their garden many times over many years, Tommy was best known to me, and others, through his From the Country columns in The Age. It has been a great joy to now read The Master Gardener and discover the detail of other parts of his working life; and family life with Penelope. We get to know Tommy as an English schoolboy, student cricketer, a flight lieutenant in the second world war, a scholar with a fascination for the classics, and a school principal in both the UK at Marlborough and at Geelong Grammar in Victoria, Australia

It was only after Tommy had retired as the head of Geelong Grammar that he and Penelope moved to Blackwood specifically to create their garden. Tommy was well known for saying that “All gardening is based on decay and renewal” recognising that gardens change over time. He also always encouraged gardeners to have a go and not to worry too much about mistakes. He was truly a scholar and a gentleman.

The Master Gardener at 632 pages takes time to read, but it is time very well spent.

Book Review: Terra Nullius by Claire G. Coleman

Book Review: Terra Nullius by Claire G. Coleman


Terra Nullius by Claire G Coleman is one of the Stella Prize shortlist for 2018 and a remarkable novel.

It is hard to classify and to explain because there is a risk of ruining the premise of the  novel, so forgive me if this review is a little light on the detail.

Through a less than typical lens Terra Nullius throws a spotlight on the history of Australia in a way that is often very uncomfortable to read, but this makes it all the more necessary.

The key to this novel is its ability to pull the reader in and to turn them on their heads. The conflict of Australia’s past frontier violence is drawn out and examined from all aspects, at the same time as situating the reader at the heart of the conflict from a myriad of different perspectives. Through its unusual positioning, the reader (regardless of their views or background) becomes one of the oppressed. Even though this is not history as it happened in Australia it is achingly familiar both as a reflection of our own past and our still fractured present.

The story is told from a number of characters and perspectives, but ties together as a whole that illuminates the many facets of the society that Coleman has created. The landscape of Australia is also evocatively imagined and a key component throughout the whole novel.

This is a novel that should be read by all Australians in the hope that its perspective might enable a discussion or at least an acknowledgement that there is still a long way to go.

Terra Nullius is available for loan from the library.

Ellen Coates: Collections Librarian.