"Environmental History" Sally Wilde - 1996:

  1. Growth in the Oakleigh/Clayton Corridor
  2. The Metropolitan Town Planning Commission
    • Cars
    • The Glen Waverley Railway
    • A New Arterial Road
  3. Water, Sewerage, Gas and Electricity
  4. Endnotes

The lowest and flattest areas of the City of Monash roughly follow the line of the Gippsland railway and Dandenong Road across the southwest corner of the city. In the area between Scotchman's Creek and Dandenong Road is a significant deposit of silurian mudstone, generally known as 'reef'. As late as 1953, Oakleigh and Mulgrave bricks made from this clay supplied about 20% of Melbourne's requirements.

Only a short distance to the south are significant deposits of sand, suitable for both building and concrete. Deposits in South Oakleigh and Clayton are part of an extensive sand area, including Moorabbin and Springvale, which continues to supply Melbourne's sand requirements.

In the 1920s, Oakleigh was sandwiched between these two extractive industries, with the railway running through the middle. The conditions for industrial growth were promising and when combined with the unfashionable flatish, lowish land, fostered the development of a working class suburb.

The rest of the City of Monash was less well endowed with the resources for industrial growth, (although there were clay deposits at Tally Ho), but was rather more promising from the point of view of both agriculture and fashionable housing. For a start, it is higher and parts of Mulgrave west of the Dandenong Creek enjoy outstanding views to the Dandenong ranges. Almost all of Mulgrave, and even northern Clayton, is hilly. This was no particular advantage for market gardeners and orchardists, although the relatively good soil and rainfall (by Melbourne standards) were appreciated. But the estate agents' eyes lit up at the prospect of marketing all those views. All it needed, they thought, was another railway. [1]


The depression of the 1890s had a lasting impact on the area and the population of Oakleigh remained more or less constant at 1200 from 1891 to 1905. However, as early as 1902 there were signs of improvement and by 1906 another subdivison boom was under way. On 16 April 1913, that part of Caulfield between Dandenong, Poath, North and Warrigal Roads was added to Oakleigh. At that stage the population was 2,300 and it more than doubled to reach 4, 700 by 1916. The population remained around 5,000 for the rest of the war, but by 1919 was increasing again. There were 6,076 people recorded at the 1921 census, living in 1,328 dwellings. In 1926 the Council Health Officer estimated 8,478 people living in 2,251 houses and by the year of the Wall Street Crash the population stood at about 11,000. There it remained for three years, but the census of 1933 recorded 11,903 people in 2,758 dwellings and growth resumed during the later 1930s. In 1945, the population was estimated as 14,000. [2]

During this period of rapid growth, the railway remained the focus, as it had been in the 1880s. The line was electrified in 1922 and this both reduced travel time to the city and fostered a spate of new subdivisions. The opening of new stations at Hughesdale and East Oakleigh both reflected and emphasised the fact that most new subdivison was within easy reach of a station. Clayton, too began to grow. However, whereas Hughesdale and East Oakleigh were a part of more or less continuous subdivision from Caulfield outwards, there were still market gardens between Clayton and East Oakleigh. On the map of Melbourne in 1922, Clayton was the point at which the long arm of development to the southeast along the Gippsland railway thinned out and included rural land use. If Oakleigh was at the outer edge of suburban development in the 1880s, Clayton was on the fringe in the 1920s.

In this era, the working class nature of both suburbs was reinforced. Oakleigh first felt the need for building regulations in 1917 and they were revised in 1922. They took the form of minimum allowed house sizes, by street. Heath Avenue, for instance, had a minimum of 8 squares, while Connell Road had a minimum of 10 squares. [3]

In 1915, part of the Cemetery was excised for Municipal purposes and the civic focus became firmly Atherton Road and Drummond Street, around the cemetery. By 19 April 1924, Oakleigh had grown sufficiently to be upgraded from a Borough to a Town. Subsequent modest municipal buildings betrayed no illusions of grandeur.


In the 1930s there were still few buildings in Oakleigh of any size. Possibly the largest man made structures were the holes dug by Evans Brothers for their brick works. Evans Brothers expanded rapidly in the 1930s and took over part of Garden Place and Market Street. Besides brick, they made tiles and pipes and employed at least 75 people in 1939. In the inter-war period, other important brickmakers in the same area north of Dandenong Road were the Oakleigh Brick Works, west of Stamford Road and the Glen Iris Brick Works, east of Stamford Road. Further west, the area north of Broadwood was also becoming an industrial area, particularly for timber yards. However, much of Oakleigh's industry was concentrated in the area around the rail line. By the 1920s, building timber coming out of Gippsland could be offloaded from the train at Oakleigh and kiln dried. Businesses came and went and changed location but the pattern of major timber yards close to Oakleigh station remained important.

During the inter-war years, Oakleigh railway yards were a hive of activity. Coal came in for the gas works. Sewerage pipes were being delivered and installed in the western part of the town and timber came in from Gippsland. [4]

In this era the slaughtering of stock, also grown in Gippsland and brought into Oakleigh by train, was centralised at the municipal abattoir, run jointly with the Shire of Mulgrave. The abattoir opened in 1909. Stock to be slaughtered were unloaded at Oakleigh Station and driven through the streets to East Oakleigh. There until the 1980s the abattoirs and processing works for by, products, occupied the triangle of land between North Road, the railway and Milgate Street. Attempts to persuade the rail authorities to provide unloading facilities at either East Oakleigh or Clayton stations failed and the Council was reduced to banning cattle from the streets except between the hours of 1am and 6am This did nothing to protect the residents of East Oakleigh from the smell of the abattoirs themselves.

Indeed, in the 1930s, the municipal abattoir to the east and the municipal tip to the north (filling in one of Evans Brothers holes between their works and Scotchman's Creek) contributed a down market air to much of Oakleigh. When this was accompanied by pressure from developers to reduce permitted minimum house sizes, the Council gave in. Arguing in favour of the reduction, 'Cr. Johnson said it has been continually stated that Oakleigh was aworking man's suburb.' [5]


During the first half of the twentieth century, the building industry, bricks, timber and house building' had a major influence on Oakleigh, but it was the orcharding industry which came to prominence in Mulgrave. Susan Priestley has described how, particularly in the area along High Street Road and in the northeast corner of the Shire, the production of fruit for both national and international markets was an important feature of the interwar years.

In 1913, James Law praised 'the heavy loamy soil and the clay underlaying' of Mulgrave which, he said, was responsible for the district becoming 'second to none as far as production of apples, pears, quinces, plums and cherries are concerned.' He travelled around the Shire of Mulgrave, describing what he saw for the benefit of the readers of the Oakleigh and Caulfield Times.

In his travels he passed market gardens, dairy farms and orchards and argued the need for drainage on the heavier soils. On recently planted areas, orchardists made a living from market gardening, while they waited for the fruit trees to grow. 'The best fruit trees in Mulgrave seem to be in High Street Road' he wrote. Orcharding families in that area included Street, Mullens, Muir, Coleman, Pepperell, Timberlake, Lechte and Jordan. The hub of fruit growing in the shire was the 'Fruitgrowers Hall', also known as the Horticultural Hall, where the Mulgrave Fruitgrowers Association held its meetings. Mount Waverley, with its Methodist Church and Church of England was overwhelmingly a community of orchardists.

Orcharding was also important in Glen Waverley, down Wilsons Road and along Waverley Road. Mulgrave's orcharding families planted their trees in neat rows and invested enormous effort in drains and fences and gates and equally neat houses. It was a landscape of small, intensively cultivated blocks, some of which had the advantage of an elevated site and great views. James Law was particularly impressed with the views from John Foster's block, south from Wilsons Lane. '...it must needs to be a gloomy nature who is not delighted with the prospect before him' he wrote. [6]

Schools and Community Facilities

The growth in population of the area during the 1920s was accompanied by the founding of a number of new schools. Hughesdale (SS 4176) opened in 1924 (first called Oakleigh South) and Notting Hill (SS 4305) opened in 1927. East Oakleigh (SS 4327) and Clayton South (SS 4384) both opened in 1929. Together, these schools chart the growth of population in Clayton and Oakleigh, especially around the new railway stations. Significantly, there were no new state schools in the orcharding area in this era, although Tally Ho (SS 3588) opened in 1908 as an adjunct to Burwood East and a school opened in 1914 for the Royal Talbot Epileptic Colony (SS 3857). The colony moved to Kew when the site was taken over for Monash University.

In 1908, a major new user of land appeared in Oakleigh. The opening of the Metropolitan Golf Course set a trend that was to be widely followed, especially in the areas of sandy soil. Meanwhile, access to the golf course was improved. In 1912, plans were drawn up for a bridge over the railway at Hanover Street and Golf Links Avenue was metalled in 1915. [7]

The golf club laid out the characteristic pattern of fairways next door to a property that was already a playground for the more affluent residents of Melbourne. The Melbourne Hunt Club was formed in 1853 and moved its headquarters a number of times as the city grew. Between 1897 and 1929, Oakleigh was the favoured spot, mainly because of the railway and the unloading ramp at the station. Riders and horses arrived on special trains and hunted over the surrounding market gardens, but not without friction. After 1929, significant numbers of Hunt Club members had access to motorised horse transport and besides, Oakleigh was becoming too built up. The Hunt Club moved on to Cranbourne.

Some of the golf clubs, however, remained for much longer. In about 1925, Riversdale Golf Club moved out from Riversdale Station to St John's Wood, once Redmond Barry's property. About the same time, the Van Amstel property, once O'Flaherty's, began to be used as a private golf course. The members turned it into a public club in 1929. The Waverley Golf Course was a little later. The fairways and greens were laid out in about 1938. The Amstel and Waverley courses were both subdivided for housing during the 1960s, but the Riversdale and Metropolitan remained in 1996, plus Huntingdale. This last course opened in 1941 on what had been the Hunt Club grounds. [8]

Another interesting development at about the same time was the Oakleigh Lake. Construction of an artificial lake on Scotchman's Creek had been debated since about 1905, but the lake was not constructed until 1938. Boys swam in it, just as they had swum in the Creek, but it was deeper, and there were tragic drownings. During the war there was a debate over whether to build a swimming pool instead (or as well). The contract to build the swimming pool was finally let in 1957.

The land along the Scotchman's Creek went through yet another transformation during the 1970s when it became the site for the Oakleigh Municipal Golf Course, opened in 1979. [9]

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Last updated: 24 February 2020