About this blog

This blog is about the history of the Koo-Wee-Rup Swamp and neighbouring areas, such as Pakenham, Cranbourne and Garfield, and any other historical subjects I feel like writing about. It's my own original research and writing and if you live in the area you may have read some of the stories before in the Koo-Wee-Rup Swamp Historical Society newsletter or the Koo-Wee-Rup township newsletter, The Blackfish, or the Garfield township newsletter, The Spectator.
Heather Arnold.

Sunday, June 17, 2018

Divorces in the 'olden days'

In the ‘olden days’ papers often reported what we would today consider private matters such as divorce hearings. The Divorce Court proceedings were reported in much detail in the papers and this was because one party had to prove the other party was ‘at fault’ so the hearings made interesting stories for the newspapers and there seemed to be no privacy considerations taken into account. In fact, one paper I read headed a divorce report with ‘A divorce case of interest to residents of Yannathan and Heath Hill.’  

Women were in a vulnerable position years ago as there was not the Government support we have today - Child endowment was introduced in 1941, the Widows pension (which did not cover single mothers or divorced mothers) in 1943 and the supporting mothers pension in 1973. So, unless the woman could get maintenance or find a job (not an easy thing when there was no child care) or get support from her parents, many women had no choice but to stay with a philandering or violent husband. It wasn’t until 1975 that ‘no fault’ divorce came in and one partner just had to show the marriage had an irreconcilable breakdown. Here are some interesting local divorces reported in the papers years ago.

In November 1896, there were columns devoted to the case of James Macfarlane Lake of Koo Wee Rup who sought a divorce from his wife, Mary Ann Lake, on the grounds of her adultery with Clement Short of Balaclava. He also asked to be awarded £3000 in damages from Short. The couple had married in 1880 and had ‘several children’ aged between 15 and 2 and James would not acknowledge the youngest child as his.  It appears that James had no concerns about his marriage until his sister-in-law fell out with Mary Ann and she then told James that Mary Ann had been having an affair with Clement.  Mary Ann admitted to the Court to having ‘misconduct’ with Short on a number of occasions having been ‘led away by his false promises’ but Clement denied ‘misconduct’ with her. Misconduct is a euphemism for sexual relations. Short gave evidence that he had lent Lake £5 to start a greengrocery business at Bunyip and he refused to pay the money back.

After much evidence the Judge directed the jury to decide whether a poor honest struggling man had his home ruined and his wife’s affection alienated from him by a scoundrel who had added to the calamities by perjury and corruption or, on the other hand, Clement was the victim of attempt to take money from his pocket i.e. he was being blackmailed by Lake. In the end the jury found against James and for Clement so the judge denied James his divorce and his damages. It would be interesting to know what happened to the trio after this.

In November 1904, Edward Hunt from Yannathan was granted a divorce from his wife, Mabel Jessie Hunt. They had three children and had married in 1896. Evidence was given that Mabel ‘was living an abandoned life’ which I presume is a euphemism for an alcoholic or a woman who was indulging in ‘misconduct’ with other men.

The Argus November 24, 1904

In August 1909, William Martin, a 66 year old farmer from Garfield, petitioned for a divorce on the grounds of desertion. He had married his wife, Annie aged 57, at the Registrar’s Office in Collingwood in January 1895. They had one child together who was now 11 and Annie, a widow, also had two children from a previous marriage. William lived at Garfield and Annie and the children lived in North Melbourne. ‘A difference arose between them over the children of the former marriage’ and Annie ‘suddenly left her husband and took the children with her’. Dr William Maloney gave evidence that he knew both parties and tried to persuade Annie to return to the marriage but she refused. Dr Maloney also said that William ‘a man of some property had made a will providing for her and her child’ but he did not know of her whereabouts. A decree nisi was granted.

Another 1909 divorce was between Joseph Lyons (the petitioner) and Mary Teresa Lyons (the respondent). Mary was accused of ‘misconduct’ with Maurice Bloustein and Richard Butler (the men were listed as the co-respondents). Misconduct is a euphemism for sexual relations. At the time of the divorce hearing, Joseph was a teacher at Monument Creek, out of Lancefield, but had previously been the licensee of the Iona Hotel at Garfield. It was in Garfield that the misconduct between Mary and the co-respondent had taken place - the date of this ‘activity’ was given as May 2, 1908 - a very specific date but the report doesn’t say which of the co-respondents were involved. The couple were granted a decree nisi and the co-respondents had to pay the costs. As you can see, in the days of ‘at fault’ divorce the papers were more than happy to name the person with whom the ‘misconduct’ took place.

In May 1912, Elizabeth Rohl, of Iona, was granted a divorce from her husband, Oscar, on the grounds of desertion. They had married in 1904 and had one child. They lived together for two weeks then Oscar went to Queensland and he sent his wife money until November 1905 when he wrote that he was coming back to Melbourne, but she had not seen him since.

In November 1912, 66 year old William Glenister and 51 year old Margaret Glenister, both of Bunyip were granted a divorce on the grounds of her desertion. They married in 1886, had four children, the youngest being 20. In 1900, the marriage had clearly run its course as Margaret said that ‘one of them must leave the house’ so William got a job at Lake Tyers. ‘She subsequently declined to share the same room as him and later refused to have anything more to do with him at all.’ In September 1909 Margaret became the proprietor of a coffee palace in Bunyip and ‘they had not lived together since that month’. The couple petitioned for divorce in 1910 but the proceedings were adjourned as they didn’t have enough money to proceed.

In September 1914, Margaret McKay, 43 years old, from Yannathan was granted a divorce from her husband William. The couple had married in January 1908 and William had left in June 1908 and had not been seen since. There was one child of the marriage.  This was the case that the Bunyip Free Press had said was ‘A divorce case of interest to residents of Yannathan and Heath Hill’

Bunyip Free Press  September 3, 1914

The Argus newspaper headed a report from the Divorce Court in July 1919 as ‘Soldiers’ Divorce suits’ and started the article as ‘Another crop of cases in which soldiers sought divorce from wives who had been unfaithful during their absence on active service.’ Amongst the cases was this one. Alexander Robb, a returned soldier, petitioned for a divorce from his wife, Susan, on the grounds of her misconduct with Charles Beasley of Koo Wee Rup. The couple had five children and before he went away to War in October 1916, they lived in the same house as Charles. When Alexander returned from the war in January 1919 his wife had a new baby and she admitted Charles was the father. It was believed that Beasley was a married man with a family living at Koo Wee Rup.  The divorce was granted. 

In April 1920, Violet Nichols of Elsternwick petitioned for a divorce on the grounds of her husband’s misconduct. Violet and William had married in 1908 and in July 1917 William bought a farm in Garfield and it was arranged that Violet and the two children would live there until he sold his asphalting business. He visited her once a month and when she queried him about the delay in selling the business he said there were debts that needed to be settled. This went on for two years until June 1919 when Violet received a letter from a ‘Char woman of Brighton’ saying that ‘misconduct had occurred between William and a young woman named Doris Edwards who had given birth to a child’. William admitted that he had been ‘carrying on’ for 12 months with Doris before Violet moved to Garfield. For the sake of her children, Violet had forgiven him until one day he came home late and he got violent towards her, so that was the end. She was granted custody of and maintenance for the children. No mention was made of what happened to Doris.

In March 1921, Richard Thomas Taylor, who worked for the Railways, asked for the dissolution of his marriage to Annie Isabel Taylor on the grounds of her desertion. He alleged Annie sold their house, kept the proceeds and went to live with her daughter at Yannathan. Mrs Taylor gave evidence that the house was in her name and that it was her husband’s wish that she should leave him. So, in spite of the fact that Richard wanted a divorce and Annie was happy to leave him, the Judge dismissed his petition for a divorce.

In February 1922, 42 year old Mary Hulse of Bunyip was granted a divorce from her 45 year old husband, Arthur, a farmer of Bunyip. He was accused of desertion and ‘repeated acts of misconduct with Wilhelmina Ford of Bunyip’. Arthur had to pay the costs and 15 shillings per week alimony.

In September 1923, William Rogers, formerly a police constable but now a farmer of Nar Nar Goon, petitioned for a divorce from his wife, Alice on the grounds of desertion. Mrs Rogers defended the suit claiming that she had just cause to leave her husband owing to his cruelty. The judge found that she had deserted him and thus was saying that she was the one ‘at fault’ but granted the divorce and awarded all the costs to William Rogers, so clearly didn’t think he was blameless.  

In December 1925, Albert Taplin a 48 year old farmer from Catani sought to divorce his wife, Annie, 52 years old of Yarragon on the grounds that she had deserted him. The couple had married in Wales in 1907 and came to Australia in 1911. He served in the War from 1915 to 1919 and when he returned he lived at Catani but she refused to leave her farm at Yarragon. Annie claimed that she had to leave him on ‘account of his cruelty.’ Evidence was given that he had visited her in Yarragon and that ‘co-habitation’ had taken place on several occasions. In the end the judge decided that Albert could not prove that Annie had deserted him so he would not grant the divorce and Albert had to pay the Court costs.

Our last case comes from July 1950 when Archie Lee Glover, of Koo Wee Rup, was awarded £450.00 in damages against William Mortensen, also of Koo Wee Rup.  Glover was suing for a divorce from his wife, Joyce Lilian Glover, on the grounds of her adultery with William. Archie had originally sought £1000 pounds in damages from William and the custody of the three children. The judge granted him the divorce, the reduced damages and reserved his decision about the custody.

Early Swamp Schools

The first school on the Koo Wee Rup Swamp was School No. 2629 which had opened on November 1, 1884 on the corner of Bethunes Road and the Koo Wee Rup to Bayles Road. It was originally known as Yallock School and changed its name to Koo Wee Rup on July 24, 1903. The building was shifted into Rossiter Road (where the Secondary College is) in September 1910. A new building was opened in February 1915 which burnt down in May 1950. The replacement school opened as a Higher Elementary School (both primary and some secondary classes) in mid 1952. The Primary school eventually moved to its Moody Street location and was officially opened there on November 25, 1960.

For many years this was the only school on the Swamp. After four years of work the newly drained Swamp was considered ready for settlement in 1893 and families began to arrive, however it wasn’t until July 1894 that the schools at Five Mile and Iona opened.

It must have been a great occasion for the swamp settlers at the eastern end of the swamp to have schools that their children could attend, however apparently some children were less than excited as they had been roaming free and not attending school for 12 months and a newspaper report at the time said that the Iona Head Teacher, Arthur Jamieson, ‘found the that the children were in a deplorable condition of ignorance and barbaric wildness.’

The first of these schools to open was No. 3198, just down from Five Mile Road on the Main Drain, and it opened on July 7, 1894. This School was originally called Koo Wee Rup South and changed its name to Koo Wee Rup North (and unofficially called Five Mile School). When the Iona School, No, 3201,  opened two days later on July 9, 1894, on the corner of Thirteen Mile Road and Bunyip River Road, it was called Koo Wee Rup North; in 1899 it changed its name to Bunyip South and then in 1905 to Iona.

Five Mile School had Peter Norris as the first Head Teacher. At one time the school population was over 100 but in July 1954 when the School celebrated its 60th anniversary there were only 20 children enrolled.  However, the anniversary celebrations were a great success with over 700 people attending, including three original scholars - W. Gilchrist, W.G. De Vries and Tilly Freeman (nee O’Shea).  The school parents voted for the school to close in November 1959 and the children were sent to Pakenham Consolidated School. Five Mile was the last school to join or ‘consolidate’ with the Consolidated School which had officially opened in May 1951.

Koo Wee Rup North State School 1927
Koo Wee Rup Swamp Historical Society photo

The Iona State School was located on the corner of Thirteen Mile Road and Bunyip River Road at Vervale. The name of Vervale didn’t come into use for this area until around 1917, 23 years after the school was established, which is why it was never officially known by that name. 

The Iona school opened on July 9, 1894 with 83 pupils enrolled and the Head Teacher was Arthur Jamieson. As we saw before,when the school opened many of the local children had not been at school since their parents had moved to the area (it was around 1893 that permanent settlers moved to the Swamp) so it was not an easy time for Mr Jamieson as some children had no interest in attending school after a year or so of freedom. Mr Jamieson also had to find a place to board, establish a school garden and a playground. 

By 1895, the school population had grown to 120 pupils and the new Head Teacher Joseph Lyons arrived in April 1895. He had three assistants - Mr Colquhoun, Miss Alston and Mrs Lyons. Joseph Lyons remained at the school until 1907.

The Teachers Residence was built in 1908; previous to this the Head Teacher had to live in Garfield.  The original school building burnt down on July 6, 1913 and the new building opened on April 28, 1914 with 164 pupils. 

The Education Department established the War Relief Fund in August 1914, to raise money for the War effort or as the Education Department’s Record of War Service, 1914-1919 book put it ‘sustained and generous help by Victorian boys and girls may well assist to keep Australia free from the horrors of war. Every boy and girl should therefore endeavour to make regular contributions till the close of War’. This book lists the amount of money raised by children at all schools in Victoria and the children at Iona raised 196 pounds for this fund, a substantial amount compared to other schools in the area. 

After the War, from 1920 to the end of 1927 the Head Teacher was World War One veteran, Percy Scouller. Percy Osborne Scouller had enlisted on February 8, 1915 at the age of 23. After serving overseas Sergeant Scouller arrived back home in Australia in June 1919 and was discharged in the August and then took up his post at Iona.

In 1942, electricity was supplied to the school and the telephone was connected in 1964. Celebrations took place in 1964 to mark the 50th anniversary of the new building with between 500 and 600 people attending. Another celebration took place in 1989 to mark the 75th anniversary the 1914 building. Sadly, the school community could not celebrate one hundred years of education as the school was closed on December 17, 1993, seven months short of its centenary. The building is now at Nar Nar Goon and used as a Scout Hall.

Iona State School - opening of the new building in 1918. 
Photo: On the edge of the swamp: a history of the Iona Primary School no. 3201 1894-1994 
by Denise Nest

Friday, December 22, 2017

A short history of Bunyip

I wrote this for the 35th birthday of the Bunyip & District Community News, and it was published in the October 2017 edition.

The first European settlers in the Bunyip region were squatters who leased the two Connabul Creek runs, which were located between the Ararat Creek and the Bunyip River. In 1845, Connabul Creek 1 run of 8,960 acres was leased by Michael Ready (or Reedy) and James Hook and Connabul Creek 2 run was leased by Terence O’Connor and a Mr Hayes. The other squatting run in the area was the 30,000 acre Bunyeep Bunyeep Run, which was located between the Bunyip River and the Tarago River and taken up in 1849 by Henry Jennings. Around the same time as these squatting runs were taken up (1847) a road was surveyed from Dandenong to the Bunyip River (in the vicinity of were Ellis Road meets the river) and the township of Bunyeep developed there.

This town was surveyed in the 1850s - it had a High Street and a Barkly Street and eleven blocks - two owned by A. McKinnon, two by W.M.K Vale and the rest by David Connor, who built the Bunyeep Inn around 1854. In 1867, Connor built a new hotel called the New Bunyip Inn.  This was built on the Bunyip River on the Gippsland Road, as the Princes Highway was then called. It was on the south side of the Highway, just east of A'Beckett Road and the west side of the Bunyip River.  A small settlement developed around the Inn, William Snell built a bakery in 1878 and a dance hall was erected by Mr Hyne, opposite the Inn. The New Bunyip Inn was closed by the Licensing Reduction Board in 1917.  It is possible that this small township on the Bunyip River would have developed into a sizable town however the arrival of the railways in 1877 moved the settlement further south and the modern town of Bunyip developed around the railway station.

Bunnyip Hotel, North Gippsland.  [David Connor's New Bunyip Inn] Photographer: Fred Kruger
 State Library of Victoria Image H41138/11

The railway line from Oakleigh to Bunyip opened on (depending on what source you use) October 4 or October 8, 1877.  There is a description of Bunyip in The Argus of October 4 from a journalist who took a trip down the railway line before the official opening - There are no visible settlements at the Bunyip at present, save such as have been temporarily called into existence by the railway works, but the hills on the north are stated to have been all selected. Two red-wood cottages have been built at the back of the station, apparently for the purposes of trade. On the whole, the scene is very desolate, and the traveller tempted by railway time-tables to ran down into Gipps Land, will be strongly persuaded when he steps from the train into the open space which has been hewn out of the Bunyip forest to postpone his visit, and hasten back to Melbourne, unless he is of dauntless mind, and hardened to toilsome bush roads.

Another report that contains a description of Bunyip was in the South Bourke & Mornington Journal on August 3, 1887 -  it has two hotels, well conducted by Messrs. Hanson and Finch. These two hostelries, with Mr. Barrow's general store, amicably uniting themselves pretty well form the township. There are also one or two unpretentious dwelling houses about, and a State School.

As is usual in many country towns some of the first establishments were hotels and, according to Denise Nest’s book The Call of the Bunyip, two Hotels opened in 1876 - the Butcher's Arms and the Bunyip Hotel. John O'Brien had the licence for the Bunyip Hotel and in January 1877 he took up the licence for the Railway Family Hotel.  I don’t know if these hotels were the ‘red wood cottages set up for the purpose of trade’ as described by the journalist above.

John O'Brien's tenure at the Family Hotel didn't last very long as it was sold up by the Sherrifs Office in May 1881, according to an advertisement in The Argus. I am a bit hazy on the early details of these hotels - by 1884 there are various advertisements for Lawrence Finch's Gippsland Hotel at Bunyip - this Hotel is still in existence (it's known as the Top Pub); in 1897 Sarah Alice Finch was listed as the licensee and William Kraft took over, sometime between October 1898 and September 1899, according to the Shire of Berwick Rate Books.   I don't know when the original building was replaced by the existing two storey brick building. The other hotel in Bunyip today is the Railway Hotel - Thomas Stacey is listed as a publican in the Shire of Berwick Rate books in 1890 and he had it for many years, but I am unsure of the connection, if any, between the Railway Hotel and early hotels - was John O'Brien's Railway Family Hotel the same hotel as the Railway Hotel or was it the Butcher's Arms? The Railway Hotel was destroyed by fire in 1924 and the new building, which is the existing building, opened in October of the same year.

The settlement on the Koo Wee Rup Swamp from around 1893 helped the development of Bunyip and Garfield as they were service centres for the surrounding farm lands. The 1903 Electoral Roll shows that Bunyip had 355 adults enrolled of which just under half were female. The occupations listed in the Roll give us idea of the sort of services were available in the town. As you might expect, most of the men were farmers or labourers but there were also railway employees, a carpenter, draper, coach builder, store keepers, baker, gardener, butcher, Hotel keeper and even one sailor. The women overwhelmingly had their occupation listed as ‘home duties’ but there was a dressmaker, a music teacher, a teacher and a saleswoman.

The population of Bunyip increased at a steady rate - in 1921 it was 694; 1933 - 744 and 1961 - 959. It then remained almost static for 25 years as in 1986 it was still only 986. The largest increase has come in the last 20 years when from 1996 to the 2016 Census the population doubled from 1,011 to 2,468.

As the population grew all the necessary trappings of a 'civilised' life developed - the State School opened at the start of 1880; the hotel keeper William Kraft built a hall, which was replaced by the original Mechanics' Institute Hall in 1906 (this hall burnt down in 1940 and the existing hall was opened in1942). Church services had taken place in the hall and private homes until the Methodist Church was opened in 1899 and the Anglican Church in 1902. The Presbyterian Church (now Uniting) was not opened until 1954.

Community groups such as the Agricultural, Pastoral and Horticultural Society was established in 1899; a football club and a cricket club sometime in the 1890s and Bunyip even had ‘young ladies’ cricket team which started in 1909.  The ‘ladies basketball’ club (netball) began in the 1930s. The Fire Brigade started in October 1942. The First Bunyip Scout Troop commenced in 1910 and the Girl Guides in 1959. On the welfare front - the Country Women’s Association started in 1936 and the Baby Health Centre the same decade.  A private Hospital was built in 1912 and another in the 1930s. The Shelley Memorial Hospital at Bunyip was officially opened on March 19, 1966 and closed on May 1, 1991. The building is now part of Hillview Hostel.

There are, of course, many other Community groups or institutions which have played a role in the life of Bunyip residents but we don’t have the space to go into it here. The Call of the Bunyip by Denise Nest, which I mentioned before, has information on some of these groups. You can buy this book from the Bunyip Historical Society. However, we can’t finish this short history of Bunyip without mentioning this publication, the volunteer run Bunyip & District Community News, which has been recording the activities of the area for 35 years.  Congratulations to the News team and we look forward to the next 35 years!

Koo Wee Rup Water Tower

As early as 1918 there was agitation for a water supply scheme in Koo Wee Rup and this issue came up periodically with the Koo Wee Rup Progress Association. In 1927, the Victorian Railways said that they would be able to use about 14 million gallons of water annually from any water supply scheme (this was in the days of steam trains) which would make a system more viable and so a Committee was formed to push the issue and get rate payer support. Eventually, the Koo Wee Rup Water Works Trust was formed and the first meeting was held at the Memorial Hall on Tuesday, March 12 1929. We don’t really know what happened at this meeting as the next edition of the Koo Wee Rup Sun reported that the Press was ‘gagged’. According to the Sun, Commissioner William ‘Ernie’ Mills was apparently of the opinion that ‘the public should only be supplied with information that the Trust deems fit’. Ironically it was the rate payer’s representatives on the Trust - Mills, W.K Paterson and William Eason - who voted for the exclusion of the Press, while the Government nominees - Matthew Bennett, M.L.A. and George Burhop - voted against the exclusion of the Press.

The next evidence we can find regarding the workings of the Trust was that the State Rivers and Water Supply Commission had approved the plans for the water scheme and applications for tenders for the work were advertised in the June 27, 1929 Koo Wee Rup Sun and the results were announced in the October 24 paper. The tenders were for the construction of Head works, including an elevated reinforced concrete tank and settling basin - awarded to Monier Pipe Construction Co. - tender price was £4985.00; Supply of pumping machinery- McDonald & Co.; Trenching and laying of pipes - G.L Clemson £628.00; Manufacture of cast iron pipes - Monteath & Sons, South Melbourne £1214; Galvanised pipes - John Danks & Son £287; Cartage of pipes - A.J Gilchrist of Koo-Wee-Rup £18 18 shillings. The Engineer in Charge was Mr A.C Leith, who was also Secretary of the Society of Engineers.

The Sun reported in their March 6, 1930 edition that the Press gag was lifted and there was a report on the progress of the works. The official opening of the Water Scheme took place on Thursday, May 1 1930. The Opening Ceremony was attended by Mr Matthew Bennett, M.L.A, who was standing in for the Minister of Lands and Water Supply, Mr Bailey; SRWSC Engineer Mr Neville and representatives from the Companies involved in the construction of the scheme and the Victorian Railways. Commissioner W.E. Mills said in his address that the area was going ahead and would continue to forge ahead due to the surrounding rich agricultural land. He also said that old residents would know that land that was worth 5 shillings per foot, ten to fifteen years ago, was now worth £12 per foot. Another benefit of the water supply was that it would make their homes more picturesque and that from a social point of view the water supply would enable the construction of a bowling green and croquet lawn. Mr Bennett, M.L.A., talked about the health benefits of a water supply as streets could be flushed and that would make for cleanliness and health and the water supply was also a protection against fires. Mr Bennett, then turned a tap and allowed water to flow into a street channel and the scheme was declared open.

How did the Scheme work?
Water was obtained from the Bunyip Canal (Main Drain) and was pumped into a concrete settling basin of 160,000 gallons (one gallon is about 4.5 litres) having passed through a filtration process. It was then pumped into a 90 foot (about 27 metres) tower which had an 83,000 gallon capacity. The water was then distributed around the town. In the March 27, 1930 Koo Wee Rup Sun there was a notice to owners of properties that pipes had been laid in Station, Moody, Salmon, Henry, Gardiner and Charles Streets; Rossiter and Denhams Roads and Alexander and Sybella Avenues. Householders were required to lay a pipe and stop cock to their properties to be connected to the main pipe. The water rates were set at minimum charge of 30 shillings for a residence and 15 shillings for a vacant block. In the December of 1930 the water consumption since the Scheme started was 800,000 gallons of which the Railways had used 635, 000 gallons. On January 13, 1931 35,000 gallons was consumed in one day.

In the end, Koo Wee Rup not only got a reliable water supply but also a landmark construction which is still prominent today.

The Western Port Road

The Western Port Road started at Dandenong and traversed the old Shire of Cranbourne from Cranbourne to Tooradin to Tobin Yallock (the original Lang Lang township). This section is now known as the South Gippsland Highway. The road later continued onto Corinella and Bass and this section eventually became known as the Bass Highway.  The section of road from Dandenong to Tooradin had obviously been passable to some extent as early as 1839 because we know that Samuel Rawson and Robert Jamieson overlanded their cattle to Tooradin in the December of that year and then continued on by boat to their Yallock Station on the Yallock Creek.

Niel Gunson in his book The Good Country: Cranbourne Shire says it was fairly clearly defined by the 1850s, however it wasn’t until 1859 that a permanent roadway was surveyed which allowed access by wheeled traffic and livestock. In spite of this, Gunson writes that transporting stock from the Yallock Creek Station to Melbourne still took four days in the 1850s and 1860s. Even though the road was formed it wasn’t until 1868 that the section from Dandenong to Cranbourne was metalled.

The main problems with the road was the need to cross the inlets (such as Lyall’s and Moody’s Inlets) before bridges were constructed.  In 1845, Edward Cockayne was given the right to operate a ferry service but he was a bit eccentric and unreliable and sometimes ignored the signals of the travellers (such as a lit fire or the firing of a pistol) so they were forced to spend a night marooned on the side of the inlet. His licence was finally cancelled in 1853. Cockayne occupied a hut where Harewood is now located and it is believed that the stables on the property date back to the time of Cockayne’s occupancy. Cockayne Inlet in Western Port Bay is named after Edward.

In 1864, a John Carson offered to conduct a ferry service, but this was declined by the Cranbourne Road Board. In 1865 James Smethurst erected two bridges  over the Inlets, according to Gunson, I am not sure which Inlets he is referring to but the same year the mail contractor, John Murphy, complained about the state of the Yallock and Tobin Yallock bridges.  The bridge at Tooradin was built in 1873.

However, people were resourceful in those days and traversing creeks and inlets didn’t stop commerce and the trappings of civilisation as on November 13, 1860 a weekly mail service was introduced to Corinella via Yallock and by 1865 there was a two day a week coach service from Cranbourne to the Bass River also via Corinella.

The southern end of the Western Port Road was constructed in the 1860s. Joseph White, author of the book One hundred years of history: Shire of Phillip Island and Woolamai 1875-1928, Shire of Bass 1928-1975 said the road was originally surveyed in 1862 and the first route from the settled areas near Tobin Yallock in the Shire of Cranbourne was by a cattle track that kept to the tops of the range as the coastal route was swampy and needed many creek crossings. The opening of the road led to settlement being opened up and as we said before the establishment of a Cobb & Co. coach service. Very little work was done on this section of the road until the Shire was formed in 1875 and it received another boost in 1913 when the Country Roads Board was established and took over responsibility for the road.

There was a report on the state of the Western Port Road in the Leader newspaper of September 19, 1874. The newspaper correspondent was talking about the development of the Grantville area and had this to say about the journey to the settlement.

 A coach (Cobb's) leaves the Star Hotel from Dandenong every morning in week days. There is a very good metalled road from thence to the flourishing post town of Cranbourne - 9 miles - but the remainder of the road from the latter place here is simply execrable. Some portions of it are even worse than execrable, for they are, in this season of the year, and the three months just passed, absolutely dangerous, and do anything but credit to the road surveyor's department. After leaving Cranbourne, there is a couple or three miles of fairly metalled road, but after that (and this passage I pen for the especial benefit of the above department) come the counterparts of the Great Dismal Swamp, and the Valley of the Shadow of Death. One spot in particular, called Frenchman's Hole, or Flat-bottomed Creek, is highly dangerous to a stranger. The mails are carried over this beautiful spot twice a week, on horseback, and no doubt the man who carries them could give a much more graphic account of this picturesque route than myself. Be that as it may, the traffic on it is much on the increase, and I consider it shameful neglect on the part of the post-office authorities not to organise a better system of mail delivery for this district; and the sooner they let us have three deliveries a week instead of two the better for our convenience and their reputation. 

Frenchman’s Hole was near Lang Lang and according to Niel Gunson, a Frenchman had tried to cross the two miles of the flat land but he disappeared down a hole, covered with water and only his hat was ever discovered or so the legend goes.

An Acrostic History of Koo-Wee-Rup

This is an eclectic look at some themes from Koo Wee Rup's  history and the first letter of each theme spells a seasonal greeting!  I did this one for the Koo Wee Rup township newsletter, The Blackfish, in December 2016. I did a similar one for the Garfield township newsletter, The Spectator, in December 2017.  You can read the Garfield one, here.

M is for Mickle. A well known, early family in the area. John Mickle (1814-1885) owned land from the 1850s.  His nephew, also called John Mickle, sub-divided John Street, Mickle Street and Alexander Avenue (now incorrectly called Alexandra) in 1926. Dave Mickle, the great grand nephew of John Mickle wrote the local history books Mickle Memories of Koo-Wee-Rup and More Mickle Memories of Koo-Wee-Rup

E is for Education.  The first School was established in 1884 between Koo-Wee-Rup and Bayles (at Bethunes Road). It was known as the Yallock School, until 1903 when the name was changed to Koo-Wee-Rup. In 1910, the school moved to Rossiter Road (to the Secondary College location) and a new building was built in 1915. In 1953, the Higher Elementary School was completed. This School included both primary and secondary classes (Forms 1 to 3 or Years 7 to 9). The School became a High School in 1957 and shared the building with the primary school students until November 1960 when the Primary School opened in Moody Street.  St John the Baptist Catholic School opened in 1936.

R is for roads, rates and rubbish - the historical purpose of local councils. Koo-Wee-Rup was part of the Cranbourne Road Board district when it was established on June 19, 1860. Then it became part of the Cranbourne Shire when it started on February 24, 1868. Then it was part of the short lived City of Cranbourne which lasted from April 22, 1994 until December 15, 1994, when the City of Cranbourne and was broken up and Koo-Wee-Rup became part of the newly created Cardinia Shire.

R is for Recreation and other Community activities. A Cricket Club started in 1893, the Recreation Reserve opened in 1906, and a football team had started by 1907. The Royal Hotel was erected in 1915. The Masonic Lodge commenced in 1923. The Wattle Picture Theatre was opened in 1927, the same year the Koo-Wee-Rup Electric Light and Power Company supplied electricity to the town. In 1929, the first Koo-Wee-Rup Scout Troop was formed. To add further to the amenity of the town in 1930 the water tower and the water supply system opened and in 1943 the Fire Brigade was formed.

Masonic Lodge at Koo-Wee-Rup. The Lodge was built in 1923 and has since been extended and new facade fitted. Photo courtesy of  Graham Elso.

Y is for Yallock.  The first European settlement in the area was established by Samuel Rawson and Robert Jamieson on the Yallock Creek in 1839. The Yallock Village Settlement, established in the 1890s, was based around Fincks, School, Hall and O'Briens Roads, off Koo-Wee-Rup Longwarry Road. The Bayles Railway Station, which opened in 1922, was the station closest to Yallock and the township which grew around the railway station soon overshadowed the original Yallock settlement.

C is for Carlo Catani. Catani (1852-1918) was a Public Works Department Engineer responsible for the drainage works on the Koo-Wee-Rup Swamp from 1893. He also established the Village Settlements at Yallock, Five Mile, Cora Lynn, Iona etc. The town of Catani is named after him.

H is for Historical Society. The Koo-Wee-Rup Swamp Historical Society was established in 1974 and operates a Museum at Mallow, 325 Rossiter Road, Koo-Wee-Rup.

R is for Religion.  In 1896 the Wesleyan Church from Cranbourne was moved to Koo-Wee-Rup and became the Presbyterian Church. The first Catholic Church was built in 1902 and the current church dates from 1962. The Anglican Church was built in 1917 and closed in 2012 and the congregation moved to the Uniting Church. The Methodist Church (now the Uniting Church) was moved from Yallock to Rossiter Road in 1932.  

St George's Anglican Church, Koo We Rup, 1940s. The building opened in 1917.

I is for Inundation. Early pioneers had to cope with numerous inundations or floods- 1901, 1911, 1923, 1924, 1934, 1935 and 1937 being some of the worst historically. The 1934 flood resulted in the Koo-Wee-Rup township being under two meters of water in places.

S is for Swamp.  The Koo-Wee-Rup Swamp originally covered about 40,000 hectares or 96,000 acres and is part of the Western Port sunkland.  The Chief Engineer of the Public Works Department, William Thwaites (1853 - 1907) surveyed the Swamp in 1887 and his report recommended the construction of the Bunyip Main Drain from where it entered the Swamp, in the north, to Western Port Bay and a number of smaller side drains. A tender was advertised in 1889. In spite of strikes, floods and bad weather by March 1893, the private contractors had constructed the 16 miles of the drain from the Bay to the south of Bunyip and the Public Works Department considered the Swamp was now dry enough for settlement. At one time over 500 men were employed and all the work was done by hand, using axes, shovels, mattocks and wheel barrows. By 1904, over 2,000 people including 1,400 children lived on the Swamp. Many more drains have been added over the years.

T is for Trains. The Koo-Wee-Rup Railway station was opened on August 18, 1889. The Station was originally called Yallock and was re-named Koo-Wee-Rup in 1892. In 1922, Koo-Wee-Rup became a railway junction with the opening of the Strzelecki railway line. This was a boom time for the Station. In 1926 eleven people were employed at the Koo-Wee-Rup Station and they dispatched 50,000 tons of goods and around 7,000 head of livestock were sent or received there. There were 48 passenger trains and 72 goods trains per week. The Strzelecki line was closed in stages and the last stretch from Bayles to Koo-Wee-Rup closed in 1959. Passenger services to Koo-Wee-Rup ceased in June 1981, were reinstated December 1984 and ceased again in July 1993.

M is for Medical Matters.  A Bush Nursing hospital was built in 1910. In 1923 the Memorial Hospital opened in Station Street and moved to a new building in Rossiter Road in 1955. In 1946, the Infant Welfare Centre was opened in a room at the Memorial Hall and in 1953 the Pre-School opened.

The Westernport Memorial Hospital in Koo Wee Rup under construction, photo taken February 5, 1955.
Koo Wee Rup Swamp Historical Society collection

A is for Agriculture. By the 1920s, the Koo-Wee-Rup Swamp was producing one quarter of Victorian potatoes and was also a major producer of dairy products. Today, 93% of all Australian asparagus is produced on the Koo-Wee-Rup Swamp and many other food items are grown including broccolini, strawberries, cabbage, leeks, celery and lettuces. If the Government can resist the temptation to rezone all the rich agricultural swamp land to residential then the Swamp should continue to produce food for at least another 120+ years.

S is for Shopping. The first shop was opened by John O’Riordan in 1890 in a tin shed where Light’s Garage is now located. Many of the shops in Rossiter Road were built in the 1920s and 1930s, as was the old Theatre and a few garages. This was a boom time for the town with the Hospital, State Rivers & Water Supply Commission, surrounding farms and the railways all providing a steady source of employment.

The 1937 flood

It is eighty years since the Koo-Wee-Rup Swamp experienced the second largest flood in its history. The largest flood took place in the first week of December 1934. The 1937 flood hit the area on October 18 and water was 60cm deep in Rossiter Road and Station Street in Koo Wee Rup. The flood peaked at 20,000 cusecs (50,000 megalitres) about half the 1934 flood volume. There had also been a smaller flood of around 10,000 cusecs in April 1935. 

Station Street, Koo Wee Rup October 20, 1937
State Rivers and Water Supply Commission photograph

The 1937 flood was caused by an extraordinary amount of rain over the proceeding few days. The Argus of October 20 1937 had a map showing the rainfall totals of the five days from the 14th to the 18th of October and Dandenong had 532 points (just over 5 inches or 125 ml) and Gembrook had 977 points – close to 10 inches. The Pakenham Gazette reported that Pakenham had over 4 inches at the same time and Pakenham Upper 7.5 inches.  As you would expect, with that amount of rain, parts of Melbourne including the Yarra River and the Patterson River also flooded.

The Koo-Wee-Rup Sun of October 21 1937 reported that the experience of previous floods had taught Swamp settlers the lesson of removing stock and what property that could be shifted to higher levels and this precaution, as far as possible, was taken. Therefore although the body of water was almost as great as the 1934 flood, damage to the above was in no way as large. Crops however suffered in many cases owing to the waters being diverted since then, there were many cases in which settlers fared worse by this deluge. The Koo Wee Rup Sun estimated the damage at £50,000.

The townsfolk placed the blame for the water in Koo Wee Rup squarely on the closure of the openings in the railway embankment which caused the water to be bottled up in the town. They were made even angrier by the fact that this was seen to be the cause of the town being flooded in the 1934 and 1935 floods and there had been no action to rectify the problem. The Koo Wee Rup Defence Corporation was established after the 1937 flood, at a representative meeting of trades people, residents and farmers of the township and district... Nothing but bitterness was expressed at the continued apathy of Government bodies in ignoring all the past representations and in failing to at least take measures to ameliorate the consequences of the disastrous flooding.  The Koo Wee Rup Sun reported that in 1934, the Premier, Mr Dunstan, had promised to go into the question of co-ordination of the Railways and the State Rivers & Water Supply Commission but up to the present had sat idle.

Letter to the Editor of The Argus October 25, 1937

There was a lot of publicity about the effect of the flood in the Koo Wee Rup township but surrounding areas also suffered as testified in this letter to the editor of The Argus on October 25, 1937 signed ‘Also a mug’ from Cora Lynn.  
 It is a cause of annoyance to residents of Cora Lynn and adjoining districts to read in the newspapers, and to hear over the air, the plight of the people of Koo-wee-rup. We are sorry for them, but they have the railway to remove them from the danger zone. They have many more hours of warning than we, with greater facilities for getting away. The water that floods Koo-wee-rup has previously surged over our lands and homes. Long before the flood reaches us in Cora Lynn all means of exodus have been cut off by the flooding of such towns a Vervale, Iona, Tynong, and Garfield for the most part. Cora Lynn is in a very decided depression, and, in my opinion, suffers more than most of the unhappy districts during the awful floods which visit us with monotonous regularity.

Click here to see photos of Cora Lynn in the 1937 flood.

The Age of October 19, 1937 had this report about the effect of the floods in the local area.
The rain continued almost continuously until to-day, when about 4 inches had been registered. At Picnic Point the Tarago River overflowed several properties. At Longwarry it flooded the butter factory to a depth of 4 feet, causing considerable damage to the machinery. Stores had to be removed to the mechanics' hall for safety. North of Garfield, Cannibal Creek over flowed its banks by 5 feet, and properties in this area were flooded. The Ararat Creek between Tynong and Nar Nar Goon became flooded, and there was 3 feet of water on Princes Highway. The
Longwarry-Nar Nar Goon road, which runs parallel to the railway line, was submerged for more than half a mile. The railway embankment and line was washed out for a distance of 26 chains, and the railway service was disorganised. Buses had to run from Nar Nar Goon to Bunyip.
 The main canal fed by Bunyip and Tarago rivers first overflowed its banks at Cora Lynn, but later it overflowed near Long-bridge, between Longwarry and Bunyip. The water is now over the Princes Highway and the the Longwarry-Nar Nar Goon road. Many residents have been compelled to go to Bunyip, as their homes have been flooded. Stock, sheep and pigs, wherever possible, have been removed to higher ground.
At Cora Lynn there is 5 feet of water in the Drouin Co-operative Cheese Factory, and at Keast Hall the water is flowing through the windows. At the railway bridge between Bunyip and Longwarry the river overflowed its banks. The Bunyip show ground is submerged to a depth of 2 to 3 feet, and water is flowing copiously across the old racecourse. The golf links is a lake of water. Many residents have water running through their homes and women and children have been removed to places of safety. It is feared that if the rain continues throughout the night the record flood of 1934 will be eclipsed.
A report in The Age of October 20 said that the ballast that had been washed away from the railway line between Nar Nar Goon and Tynong was replaced the day before and by 10.00am the line was ready for light traffic. The Argus of October 20 reported on the telephone lines The exchange at Iona, near Bunyip, went out of order when flood waters reached the cables. The exchange was in touch with Melbourne, but could not give connection to subscribers. Men were working on the fault last night, and expected to have the lines clear by this morning. All other country exchanges carried on services.

Koo Wee Rup October 19, 1937 - the water tower in the background gives an indication of the location of the photo. 
State Rivers and Water Supply Commission photo

As we saw before there was widespread unhappiness and anger after the 1934 flood and, as a result, the State Rivers and Water Supply Commission (SRWSC) worked on new drainage plans for the Swamp and these plans became known as the Lupson Report after the complier, E.J Lupson, an Engineer. A Royal Commission was also established in 1936. Its role was to investigate the operation of the SRWSC. The Royal Commission report was critical of the SRWSC’s operation in the Koo-Wee-Rup Flood Protection District in a number of areas and it ordered that new plans for drainage improvements needed to be established and presented to an independent authority. Mr E. G Richie was appointed as the independent authority. The Richie Report essentially considered that the Lupson Report was “sound and well considered” and should be implemented. Work had just begun on these recommendations when the 1937 flood hit the area

The main recommendation of the Lupson / Ritchie report was the construction of the Yallock outfall drain from Cora Lynn, cutting across to Bayles and then essentially following the line of the existing Yallock Creek to Western Port Bay. The aim was to take any flood water directly to the sea so the Main Drain could cope with the remaining water. The Yallock outfall drain was started in 1939 but the works were put on hold during World War Two and not completed until 1956-57. The Yallock outfall drain had been originally designed using the existing farm land as a spillway i.e. the Main Drain would overflow onto existing farmland and then find its own way to the Yallock outfall drain. Local farmers were unhappy at this, as the total designated spillway area was 275 acres. They suggested a spillway or ford be constructed at Cora Lynn so the flood water would divert to the outfall drain over the spillway. The spillway was finally constructed in 1962.