Socio-Cultural Development

"Environmental History" Sally Wilde - 1996:


Since the beginning of white settlement, the area that is now the City of Monash has experienced dramatic and rapid environmental change. This study has identified a number of major themes and examined some of the forces that have shaped the way the area has come to look.

Before 1945, the man-made structures and landscapes in the area were generally modest in conception and small in scale. Since 1945 there has been a marked increase in the number of landscapes and structures resulting from grander conceptions and built on a larger scale.

Before 1945

The first century or so of white settlement produced several distinctive manmade landscapes.


These landscapes typically consisted of rectangular paddocks with boundary plantings of conifers.

  • Small market gardens and orchards, associated with hard manual labour by their operators and integration into the national and international economy. Plants, whether fruit trees or cauliflowers, were planted in regimented rows in rectangular paddocks. This landscape is typical of the closest agricultural zones to urban areas.[1]
  • Dairy farms with boundary plantings and imported grasses on otherwise bare, rectangular paddocks. This landscape is generally associated with an area slightly further out with lower land prices, but the determining factor is land price vs return.
  • The middle class suburban farms of people who made their living from and generally also had a separate residence in, the city. The price paid for land for this use was not tied to a monetary return. Aesthetic landscape values were important in determining land in this use.


  • Brickworks and sandpits, the former more widespread in the early period. A number of Mulgrave buildings were constructed from bricks produced in noncommercial brickworks of short duration. Both land uses are tied to soil type and have a time limit. Once the clay or sand was worked out, the holes were filled with rubbish from near and far.

All of the above landscapes exist in relation to distance from the city, in time and space. As travel time fell, so distance from the city for all land uses could increase.

Built Environments

  • Streets of small wooden houses in tight rectangular grids in Oakleigh;
  • The stations, hotels, churches and schools, all of which have considerable local significance as sites of shared community experience, plus commercial and municipal buildings;
  • Dense concentrations of small factories, workshops and timber yards, particularly near Oakleigh station and along the rail line to Clayton;
  • Parks and reserves, especially the Recreation Reserve along Scotchman's Creek, where small boys went swimming in the nude and civic fathers attempted to create picturesque gardens, plus the area between Atherton Road, Logie Street, Drummond Street and Warrigal Road. Here, apart from the school and the cemetery, were the cricket ground where men and boys played cricket and football and everyone turned out for local festivities such as the Eight Hour Day processions, plus the tennis courts and bowling green, scenes of sometimes less sexually exclusive sports.

All of these landscapes have a sense of intimacy and individual character linked to their small scale.


In this era, the scale of development changed significantly. During the first century of white settlement, the area was principally shaped by a vision of its role as a place for market gardens and small farms supplying Melbourne with produce. After World War 2, the dominant vision was of suburban development, principally of detached, owner occupied houses, each surrounded by its own garden. These two visions overlapped. Attempts at suburban development in Oakleigh, for instance, began as early as the 1850s. More importantly, there were major spurts of suburban growth in the 1880s and 1920s. All this paled, however, by comparison with what took place after 1945.

  • Major housing estates were an important feature of suburban growth in Monash. Beginning with the Housing Commission at Jordanville, the pattern was subsequently followed by AV Jennings. Large estates were the dominant form, planned as a whole with a road layout of courts, crescents and curves, designed to provide variety and prevent through traffic. Other private developers adopted a similar pattern. Within each estate there is often a degree of stylistic unity in building materials and house size and design.
  • The shared suburban vision of this era, evident in planning regulations, building codes and development proposals, was anglo-celtic and largely middle class. Detached houses, individual gardens and owner-occupancy were the norms. Residents invested enormous amounts of time and money in their individual gardens and planted tens of thousands of trees.
  • Growth in car ownership during the 1950s and 1960s was accompanied by the growth of a range of drive-in suburban environments. Notable examples in the City of Monash include Monash University, a number of shopping centres, substantial industrial estates and Waverley Park. The original rectangular road grid accommodated the associated spectacular growth in motor traffic.
  • In all these man-made landscapes, individuals and organisations showed a sustained fondness for planting trees. Fashions changed over time and native trees increasingly replaced exotics, but the trees continued to grow, in size and in the numbers planted.
  • One expression of environmental concerns was the restoration of landscapes in parks, particularly along creek beds. This included the careful nurturing of patches of remnant vegetation and the replanting of local native species.

By the 1990s migrants who did not come from an anglo-celtic background formed up to half the population in many areas of the City of Monash. This cultural diversity was represented in several shopping centres, particularly Oakleigh and Clayton. However, in 1996, a wider impact on the environment of the City was only beginning to emerge.[2]


  1. Dennis N. Jeans ' A context for regional history in Australia' in Terry Kass, ed. The Role of History in Conservation Work, Sydney, 1993, pp. 25~29.
  2. Sophie Watson and Alec McGillivray, 'Planning in a Multicultural Environment: A Challenge for the Nineties' in Patrick Troy, ed. Australian Cities, Cambridge University Press, 1995; Graeme Davison, 'History and Heritage' pp. 4-15 in Kass; Graeme Davison and Chris McConville, eds, A Heritage Handbook. Sydney, 1991; Sharon Sullivan, ed. Cultural Conservation: Towards a national approach. Canberra. 1995; James Semple Kerr. The Conservation Plan. Sydney, 1985, which includes the text of the Burra Charter.

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Last updated: 24 February 2020