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