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.



Collection Spotlight: Local Histories: Walls of Wire: Tatura, Rushworth, Murchison

Collection Spotlight: Local Histories: Walls of Wire: Tatura, Rushworth, Murchison

walls of wire

As part of a new initiative to more closely highlight the incredibly diverse collection the PMI holds, we are going to be discussing an area of the collection and an individual collection item within that area each month.

This month we are looking at local histories, the core of the PMI collection. We have information on pretty much every town in Victoria, as well as a lot more specific material on institutions within towns.

We are focusing on the material about the town of Tatura (we have 21 books on Tatura and its environs) and specifically the book Walls of Wire: Tatura, Rushworth, Murchison. The PMI collects Victorian History (and a selection of Australian History with Victorian content) and this book is an excellent example of the many items that feature in the PMI’s collection, highlighting the memories and experiences of people in even the smallest towns in Victoria.

Walls of Wire: Tatura, Rushworth, Murchison “is a social history of the humane Internment and Prisoner of War camps set up during WW2, (among others throughout Australia) at Tatura, Rushworth and Murchison in Central Victoria, Australia, under Army Southern Command, to accommodate both local and overseas internees and Prisoners of War.

The group of Tatura camps was one of the largest internment establishments in Australia – classed as a “model,” holding approx. 12,000 – 13,000 people of multi-cultures, multi-nations, men, women and children from almost every country in the world.” (blurb)

It is a wonderful resource of maps, photographs and advertisements/ration cards from its era. This book provides context about the Dictators that triggered the establishment of many camps, how many people who, despite living in Australia for many years, were interned with the outbreak of WW2 and the stories of many other who came from all over the globe as refugees and migrants.

There are characters waiting to jump out of these photos and make their way into an historical novel! A group that particularly captures my imagination are the Templers, from the Temple Society of Australia, a German community of Christian values that had been settlers in Palestine for approx 80 years. When WW2 broke those who remained were interned and most of the community immigrated to Australia, having had their homes effectively taken away and Germany not in a state to support many more new citizens.

I can only imagine what other stories, family histories and characters are waiting to be found in these pages!

For example, did you know that:

“Some Templers were deported to Australia in 1941 and were interned in the camps at Rushworth until 1946, one year after the war ended. At this time, despite having been deported to Australia, acquired their 5 years residential qualifications and could become Australian citizens. 95% of them did so…Apparently none of the members have ever regretted coming to Australia. Temple Society headquarters are in Melbourne, and their elderly members are cared for in the Temple Aged Peoples Home, consisting of self-contained units, hostel and nursing home.” (pg 111)

“ Rev. Martin Winkler, Lutheran minister originating from Nuremburg, Germany, maintains that all escapes from the camps occurred because the young virile men missed women’s company, so sought it outside the wire. Rev. Winkler himself, an interned civilian, was granted permission to roam freely from camp to camp, carrying out his role as chaplain, performing religious duties, conducting mass, burial exercises when necessary. Martin Winkler met his wife a young Templer girl from Palestine when interned in Camp 3. They were married in the camp.” (pg 110)

This brief precis only touches the edges of the many stories found in the internment camps and the history of Tatura. To find out more you’ll just have to borrow the book…


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.

Book Review: Speed Limit 20 Plus : The story of the narrow gauge railways of the Victorian Railways by Edward A. Downs

Book Review: Speed Limit 20 Plus : The story of the narrow gauge railways of the Victorian Railways by Edward A. Downs

One of the seminal works on the history of the Victorian Railways’ is Speed limit 20 written by noted railway enthusiast and historian Edward A. Downs.

First published in 1963 the book chronicles the rise and fall and rise again of the narrow gauge railway network in Victoria which cumulated in the rebirth of the famous ‘Puffing Billy’.

This 2017 edition has been updated to include information on the current Belgrave to Gembrook and Thompson River to Walhalla railway lines. Restored locomotives such as the ‘Climax’ geared steam locomotive and former Queensland Railways’ ‘DH’ class diesels regauged to 2’ 6” are documented as are several Mt Lyell Mining & Railway Co carriages that were beautifully refurbished.

Richly illustrated and detailed, this book should be required reading by anyone interested in the history of the Victorian  Railways and would be a worthy addition to your library

Review by Secretary/Librarian Steven Haby

Speed Limit 20 Plus is available in the library and you can view the catalogue entry at

Book Review: Their Brilliant Careers by Ryan O’Neill

Book Review: Their Brilliant Careers by Ryan O’Neill



Their Brilliant Careers is sixteen biographies of fictional Australian writers.

This fascinating, enigmatic book, shortlisted for the 2017 Miles Franklin, is quite hard to pin down. It is both excoriating and hilarious. In pretending to be non-fiction, and with some of the best jokes in the index, it manages to be both an insight into and a critique of Australian culture (literary and otherwise). This is a book of layers (I’m sure I didn’t catch them all) and they are beautifully interwoven, with each story about the fictional writers referring forward and back and inter-working real writers with their fictional contemporaries. The real world parallels also abound, and each offers subtle and not so subtle commentary of both current and past events and ideals.

Their Brilliant Careers is one of the most original books I’ve read and, while at times it can be a little too obtuse in its meaning, there are levels for everyone. In the end the book manages real pathos at the same time as being actually very funny. It is worth reading just to discover these immensely well realised fictional writers who have lives that will alternately, move, amuse and disgust. It isn’t what you think it’s going to be and I suspect that everyone who reads it will get something different out of it.

Review by Ellen Coates (Collections Librarian)

Their Brilliant Careers is available from the library. You can see the catalog entry at:


Plotting History: Judith Buckrich

Plotting History: Judith Buckrich

JudithEach month in a segment called Plotting History we will share a story behind a PMI Victorian History Library member’s use of the library. This month award winning local historian, and PMI Vice President, Judith Buckrich tells her story.

In this truly quiet space, I have now researched and written half of my published histories and biographies. I began using the library during the 1990s when my career as a historian began with Melbourne’s Grand Boulevard: the Story of St Kilda Road. It was the PMI commissioning  Design for Living: a History of Prahran Tech, that brought me to the library (then in High Street) on an almost daily basis. The Prahran Tech archive had been brought there from Deakin University and I was assigned a table ‘out the back’ to get on with the work. After that I found that it was, by far, the most comfortable and useful place for my work.

My books are all about Melbourne people and places, so apart from the necessity to look at material in other collections such as the State Library, Public Record Office or the University of Melbourne, there was no need to go elsewhere. The PMI already held almost all of the references I was using and by the 2000s so much material that I would once have had to see in ‘hard copy’ in other collections was available digitally.

It was not just the books, journals, newsletters and online resources such as the Sands & McDougal Directories that made the PMI so comfortable and stimulating as a workspace, but the well-informed staff and their willingness to discuss whatever I was working on and to help me seek further source material. I felt it was important for me ‘to give back’ so I joined the Committee of Management and became a judge of the annual Short History Prize as well as part of the PMI Publishing committee.

The move to the new library at St Edmonds Road in 2015 facilitated an increase in the number of books and journals on Victorian history, Australian art and Australian biography, all of which are useful to me in my work. An auditorium for book launches and talks has enabled me to give talks about Australian art and its use to historians, as well as a much expanded program of talks for me to attend.

I have just begun work on a history of nearby Greville Street and of-course the PMIs relationship with the Stonnington History Centre has already been invaluable. I cannot imagine what it would be like to spend so much time in any other library, or that any other library could give me the support I have received for my work.

Finally my latest work, Acland Street: The grand lady of St Kilda,  is currently at the printer. It includes the kaleidoscope of the street’s life since before European settlement to the present day. Unique in the cultural variety and social and economic extremes of Melbourne’s history, it has provided a home and place of business for everyone from millionaires to the poorest, migrants, artists, sex workers, the LGBTI community, and for a while, the most powerful men in government and business. The PMI was the key base for my research on this fascinating street.

Dr Judith Buckrich was born in Budapest, Hungary in 1950 and emigrated to Melbourne in 1958. She has edited and published extensively. She has several entries in the Encyclopedia of Melbourne and was an image researcher for the project. She has curated exhibitions for the Royal Historical Society of Victoria and the Museum of the Port of Melbourne. Her penultimate book, The Village of Ripponlea won a 2016 Victorian Community History Award. Judith has written her own one woman shows, short stories, feature articles and essays and worked as an editor and translator. She has taught writing at Deakin University, the Victorian Writers’ Centre and Melbourne University Union. She regularly speaks about her work.

Judith is the author of:

  • Melbourne’s Grand Boulevard: The Story of St Kilda Road  State Library of Victoria 1996
  • The Montefiore Homes:150 Years of Care Melbourne University Press 1998
  • George Turner: A Life (the subject of her doctoral dissertation) Melbourne University Press 1999
  • The Long and Perilous Journey: A History of the Port of Melbourne Melbourne Books 2002
  • Lighthouse on the Boulevard: A History of the Royal Victorian Institute for the Blind Australian Scholarly Publishing 2004
  • Collins: Australia’s Premier Street Australian Scholarly Publishing 2005
  • Design for Living: A History of Prahran Tech Prahran Mechanics Institute Press 2007
  • Well Rowed University: Melbourne University Boat Club The First 150 Years MUBC 2009
  • The Making of Us: Rusden Drama, Media and Dance 1966-2002 Lauranton Books 2015
  • The Village of Ripponlea Lauranton Books 2015 – Winner of the 2016 Victorian History Prize for a small run publication.
  • The Political is Personal: A Twentieth Century Memoir Lauranton Books 2016
  • Acland Street: the Grand Lady of St Kilda ATOM 2017 (to be launched in November)

You can visit Dr. Judith Buckrich’s website at