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Latest News

Discovering Ivanhoe



One of the familiar sights of Ivanhoe is ‘Ostara’. You’ve passed it hundreds of times, but like me you probably didn’t know its name or its connection to Australia’s first airplane and its creator, John Duigan. It's the big red brick house on Marshall Street, just south of the level crossing on the corner with Maltravers Road.

John Duigan and his brother Reg were born into a prosperous Melbourne family. John’s father (also John) had made his money in banks, brokering and pastoral properties, and the family lived in a grand mansion in Brighton. With no need to earn a living and a gift for mechanics and engineering, John had the time, the skills and the resources to enter the exciting and dangerous world of flying.

Harry Houdini had made the first powered flight in Australia, at Diggers Rest on 18 March 1910, but Houdini was American and his plane was French. The way was open for the first truly Australian air flight.

John experimented with kites and a glider before building a biplane based on his own designs at the family property in MiaMia in central Victoria. It was there, in October 1910, that John Duigan made the first documented all-Australian powered flight.

Within a year, John was on the ship to England to learn as much as he could about engines, planes and flying. He earned his aviator’s licence, investigated new designs and engineering and in November 1912 returned home to Melbourne. By this time his parents were living at Ostara, the big brick house that is still standing at 102 Marshall Street. In the hayloft of a nearby stable, John built his second airplane, a biplane. When the fuselage was completed, they winched it out of the hayloft into the backyard of Ostara, assembled it for photos and then took it to pieces again to ship it out to Keilor Downs. Museum Victoria has a fabulous photo of the plane in the backyard in Ivanhoe; click here to see it. I’ve also found a great newspaper article from 1912 – I just have to figure out how to upload it!

On its very first flight, the biplane crashed and John was injured; he never flew again in Australia. He married, became a partner in an engineering firm and moved to Elwood. But in the First World War he enlisted in the Australian Flying Corps, was a flight instructor in England and then piloted an observer aircraft over France, for which he earned a Military Cross.

Returning home to Melbourne in 1919, John led a quiet life and died in 1951. Last year was the 100th anniversary of John’s first flight and David Crotty, a curator at Museum Victoria, has written a book to celebrate the flight of the Duigan airplane. Most of this information comes from David’s book, and you can find lots more on the Museum’s website. Ostara is listed on the Heritage Overlay for Banyule, partly because of its association with John Duigan.


Crotty, David.   A Flying Life: John Duigan and the first Australian aeroplane. Melbourne: Museum Victoria, 2010.



The Old Road

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At one of the workshops held recently to discuss the Draft Structure Plan, residents were asked to nominate ‘special places’ in Ivanhoe that need to be protected from development. Several people mentioned the entrance to Ivanhoe from the city, where Heidelberg Road crosses the Darebin with Sparks Reserve on the right and the old Darebin Bridge Hotel on the left, as one of these places. There is something pretty special about crossing a bridge to mark the moment when you are home, but Sparks Reserve also has some interesting history behind it.

If you are on Heidelberg Road heading into the city, you can see that the current road bends away to the right over the bridge, but if you look carefully (preferably not while you’re driving) you can see the ghost of an old track that continues straight on, taking in that really broad nature strip on the left, crossing the Boulevard and then continuing on as a very short strip of made road that runs down into Sparks Reserve. This is the last trace of the original road and is, in many people’s opinion, the birthplace of local government in Victoria.

The story goes like this: much of the property in the Heidelberg district, including Ivanhoe, was taken up in the 1840s and 1850s by wealthy men who wanted to have an estate close to the settlement of Melbourne. The ‘Heidelberg aristocracy’ needed to move easily between their country homes and their business interests in town, and the farms and orchards that were developing out this way also needed to get their produce to town. A road was surveyed in 1840 and opened a year later, but it was bone-jarringly rough and subject to floods where it crossed the creeks. The Turnpike Road, as it was known, crossed the Darebin through Sparks Reserve; the roadway itself is now grass, but you can still see the row of trees that lined the track where it climbed the slope from the creek.

After a particularly wet and muddy winter, a group of landowners got together and in 1842 formed the Heidelberg Road Trust. This allowed them, under the New South Wales Parish Roads Act (because we were still part of New South Wales at that point), to raise money through subscriptions and tolls to build and maintain a proper road, rather than waiting for the government to do it. This is the first time that the people in living in the Port Phillip District, as Victoria was known at the time, set their own charges and administered the funds without having to go through the central authorities, and so earned Heidelberg the reputation of setting up the first local government.

There were a few up-and-down years, but by 1850 the Trust had improved the road from Melbourne to the extent that it was considered an ‘excellent’ road – although this was only in comparison to the truly awful roads elsewhere in the settlement. Still, it had the only section of made road in the colony. This ran from the Merri Creek to the Darebin, and people would bring their carriages out for the day and pay sixpence for the privilege of driving up and down this little stretch of road.

After crossing the Darebin, the road was again a dirt track and ran straight up the hill, following the line of Upper Heidelberg Road to Heidelberg. Today, of course, Heidelberg Road is a major commuter artery with tens of thousands of cars heading in and out of the city, but this little stretch of track down in to Sparks Reserve shows where the original road ran. The recent Heritage Review commissioned by Banyule City Council has recommended that Sparks Reserve be added to the Victorian Heritage Register as a site of state historic significance. It is a reminder of the days when driving into town was slow, frustrating and occasionally dangerous. Come to think of it, not that much has changed.

Garden, Donald. Heidelberg: The Land and Its People 1838-1900. Melbourne University Press, 1972.




Digging into the past

Cup Weekend is usually my deadline for getting the garden in order (got to get the last of the tomatoes in before Cup Day) but last Sunday I took a break and went over to the Heidelberg Historical Society for a look to see what information they have on old Ivanhoe.

The society is based in the old courthouse on Jika Street in Heidelberg and they have an extraordinary amount of information about the history of this area – photographs, maps, newspapers and real estate brochures as well as published books and archives. The volunteers who run it have started a digitisation project that will make heaps of this material available to the public, although very little is on the internet as yet and you have to go there to see it. That said, there is always someone there who is happy to walk you through the system and help you find what you need. They are only open from 2:00 to 5:00 on Sunday, which cuts seriously into gardening time, but it's worth it.

The society also runs regular talks on the history of the Heidelberg area, which once stretched from the Darebin Creek way out to the Diamond Valley, and can undertake research for you. Lots of people ask them for help when they want to know more about the history of their house or their neighbourhood. You can find out more about the historical society here , and they always welcome visitors and new members.

And the book I mentioned by Don Garden? It's out of print, but he wrote a lot of the entries about the suburbs in this area for the Encyclopedia of Melbourne, which is online. You can find the listing for Ivanhoe here.



What's in a name? Rocke, Bear, Salisbury & Buchanan

If you live on the west side of Darebin Station you’ll know Rockbeare Grove, Salisbury Ave, Buchanan St and Rocke St and of course Rockbeare Park. Luke McNamara went looking for clues to the street names around his house and found a wealth of history in them. 
Unlike many other parts of Ivanhoe, where the streets reflect Sir Walter Scott’s novels, the names around here are all based on the families who first lived here. Luke says, ‘I live in Salisbury Ave. When I go back to the original subdivision documents I notice George William Rocke sold Lot 37 on the plan of subdivision 5841 to Elizabeth Jane Grigg, 2 days before the Gallipolli landings on 23 April 1915. George was the son of William Henry Rocke and Salisbury Ann Buchanan. The land was sold under the condition that she “…will not erect any building on the said land other than detached outbuildings unless such building or buildings be constructed with slate or tiled roof.” It seems even back in 1915 Ivanhoe demanded a certain quality of housing stock. Elizabeth Jane Grigg paid one hundred and eighty-four pounds ten shillings for her piece of the Rockbeare Estate. A bargain perhaps? Certainly less than I paid a few years back.’
William Henry Rocke was a prestige furniture importer based in Collins St. He was not the first owner of the Rockbeare Estate. Thomas Walker purchased land (Lot 4) within Keelbundoora at the first sales of Victorian lands in Sydney, September 1838. Later, in 1857, the third owner of the property, Thomas Hutchins Bear, constructed the bluestone house, now named ‘Rockbeare’ and still standing at 6 Rocke Street. There doesn’t seem to be a connection between the names of Rocke and Rockbeare: one story is that Thomas Bear’s wife smashed a bottle of champagne against a rock in order to christen the property and the name Rockbeare derived from that, long before William Rocke came into the picture. 
William Rocke originally owned Lot 5, bought in 1870, which was north of Rockbeare (where Waverley Avenue and Abbotsford Grove are now). He then purchased Lot 4 including the ‘Rockbeare homestead’ in 1881 and upon his death his family moved into the house in 1882. Subdivision of the Rockbeare Estate began in 1888 after the new rail line between Victoria Park and Heidelberg opened in May of that year, although the service was erratic and slower than a horse and carriage. (There is a great story of a man who missed the train at Spencer Street, set out on foot and arrived at Collingwood station ahead of the train!) Rockbeare was described in the papers as the ‘Toorak of the north.’
The second stage of subdivisions was in 1911, and many of Ivanhoe’s Edwardian houses, including Luke’s, date from roughly that time.  My own house, at the start of Lower Heidelberg Road, was built in 1910 by John Whiffen. In the hundred years it’s been standing, we are only the third family to own it. Andrew Robson sent through this link to a webpage with more Ivanhoe history: http://shawfactor.com/gazetteer/victoria/ivanhoe/ . If you know about the history of your house, or have a story about Ivanhoe’s past, send it to This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.  and we’ll post it. 

How Ivanhoe Began

In all the recent uproar about higher density development in Ivanhoe there has been one thing mentioned by many people many times, and that is how much we value the history and heritage of this place. I’ve lived in Ivanhoe for over 15 years and I’m a historian by trade, so it’s embarrassing for me to admit that there are heaps of things I don’t know about Ivanhoe’s history. It’s about time I did something about it.

So I’m going on an adventure to discover the places in Ivanhoe that still carry reminders of our past. I’ll visit places, take photos of them and upload to this blog. And I hope that you will join me – whether it‘s by reading about the places I visit, visiting them yourself or suggesting new places to write about. If you’ve got old photos of the area, I’d love to see them, especially if we can share them on this site.

I’ll be taking along as my trusty companion Don Garden’s excellent book Heidelberg: The Land and its People 1838-1900. It’s out of print now but I managed to find a copy on the internet, and it’s full of great information about Ivanhoe’s early years.  I’ll also be using Trove, the National Library’s digitised newspaper archive, to find out what I can about past events both big and small – like the time in the 1850s that someone found a tiny gold nugget in the gizzard of a duck at the Ivanhoe Hotel. But more about that later.

I’ll be jumping all over the place in terms of place and time, but I’ll start with the very beginning – how Ivanhoe got its name – and see where we go from there.

The suburb we know today as Ivanhoe was one of the first places of European settlement in Victoria (or the Port Phillip district, as it was known then) outside the central town of Melbourne. The rolling hills and fertile land of the area attracted land speculators in 1839, just a couple of years after Melbourne’s founding.  The speculators, many of whom were from Sydney (because that’s where the land auctions were held) in turn subdivided their large holdings and sold them on to prosperous gentlemen from Melbourne looking to establish country estates within commuting distance of the town. 

Among the earliest of these was Archibald Thom, who purchased land in 1839. He had two allotments: one of them ran from Lower Heidelberg Road down to the Yarra pretty much where Ivanhoe Grammar is today, and the second was a narrow strip that ran from Lower Heidelberg Road all the way up to Banksia Steet, with Waterdale Road as its western boundary. Thom named his estate Ivanhoe after Sir Walter Scott’s novel. You can find reminders of Scott’s romantic tales of medieval adventure in many of Ivanhoe’s street names: Kenilworth, Locksley, Sherwood, Waverley, Wamba, Athelstane, Waldemar – you get the idea.  Thom didn’t do much with his land, and advertised it for sale in 1840 as ‘Ivanhoe’, and this seems to be the earliest use of the name.

The village itself had its beginnings when local landowners got together in 1853 to establish a school on land at the corner of Waterdale and Upper Heidelberg Roads. (I’m guessing this was not for the benefit of their own children, who would have had more exclusive education, but for schooling the children of their farm workers and domestic servants.) By 1854 the land around it was divided for shops and businesses, and by 1855 the Ivanhoe Hotel was well established on the site where the Town Hall now stands. Don Garden says it is probably an exaggeration to call Ivanhoe a village, because for most of the nineteenth century it consisted of the school, the hotel, a butcher’s shop, a blacksmith’s and a couple of houses.

So that was how Ivanhoe began.

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Submitted by Peg Fraser 21/10/2011


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