Follow this link for a 360
degree view from Banyule Hill
Walking Tour of the Middle Yarra
from the Burke Road Bridge to the Plenty River
(researched and written by
Gary Griffin, edited by Pauline Behan)
INTRODUCTION - EARLY EUROPEAN
SETTLEMENT OF THE MIDDLE YARRA
Bullock tracks followed roughly the
route of Bulleen Road on the Heidelberg side of the
river, then continued from about the current Heidelberg Road
crossing of Darebin Creek to where Upper and Lower Heidelberg Road
Known aboriginal camp sites were at
the Darebin Creek-Yarra junction and at the mouth of the Plenty
By 1851 most of the river flats were farmed and substantially
cleared to the banks of the Yarra and it's billabongs.
Swimming beaches were scattered along the Yarra - usually on
sandbanks. This was before chlorinated municipal pools. Itinerants
camped here and there along the river. During the WW2 there was one
such camp on a gravel bank just below the Banksia Street
Bridge. I recall the story of a neighbour who in the late
1940's had been partying in Balwyn. He missed all transport and set
out to walk back to Heidelberg. across the flats to Burke Road
Bridge in the pitch dark. He imagined he could hear lions roaring.
He courageously pressed on and the next day on the bus discovered
Worth's circus had camped just under the bridge.
The first bridge linking Burke Road, Kew, with the Yarra
Boulevard was tested October 1924 when two steam rollers weighing
42 tons were sent across to test the finished structure.
It was opened by the Governor Lord Somers in July 1926 (Argus
20/07/1926) and was built at a cost of £17,000. In the early 1950's
land on both sides in Balwyn and The Boulevard East Ivanhoe was
underdeveloped. It has been sequentially upgraded.
Remains of the A K Stevens Boathouse which was built on the
north side of the river just above the currentBurkeRoadBridgewere
visible in the 1940's. A palm and other introduced trees now mark
its site. Boating and canoeing were popular there for many
Follow the link to view a historic image from the 1950s of the Burke Road Bridge. Note
how rural Eaglemont seems.
When I was a child in the 30s the Yarra differed from
today's stream in that floods were much more frequent. The Upper
Yarra Dam and other water extraction points have now reduced the
Follow the link to view a historic image from the Yarra floods
during 1923 taken somewhere in Bulleen.
As a result of this the water table under the Yarra and
Banyule Flats is now lower and the various billabongs fill
less often and drain more quickly.
Probably as a result of the introduction of European carp,
vegetation in both the billabongs and the river has changed.
Red Gums, Willows and Tree Violet were common along the river.
Willows were spread by the habit of fishermen breaking off a forked
stick to support their rods. Many of these acted as cuttings for
the basket and weeping willows. Other larger vegetation were Manna
Gum, Lightwood, Sheokaes and Kunzea along the Koonung Creek as well
as Pomaderis and Kangaroo Apple. When the river flooded we could
take the canoe out and chase rabbits and tiger snakes on the
islands of dry land. As the billabongs dried we could wade in
and stir up the mud. Fish would come to the surface and provide a
feed. Eels were also found in such semi dry lagoons.
Until the late 1950's when chlorinated municipal
pools became more common, the river provided opportunities for
swimming. A large sandbank just upstream from Burke Road Bridge
provided a popular pool. A rope swing was established just below
the sandbank. Realignment of the river at the mouth of the Koonung
Creek further upstream destroyed the sandbank and silted up the
pool below the rope swing. A photo near Sills Bend shows a
rope swing, albeit made with an old fire-hose. Such
swing allowed us kids to swing out and "bomb" into the river
immediately adjacent to passing canoes.
THE WALKING TOUR
The walking tour starts at the bridge over Burke Road
in Ivanhoe East and moves along the Main Yarra Trail eastwards -
ending at the junction of the Plenty River with the Yarra
On this aerial view of the
Middle Yarra area, the walking trail starts at the yellow spot
just north of the 17 marker and ends at the yellow spot in the
upper right hand corner of the photo.
Setting off at Burke Road Bridge we walk
upstream along the river (not on the formed path) until we reach a
drain from the Moonrise Billabong, the site of Emanuel Phillips
Fox's painting "Moonrise - Heidelberg". The Artists
Trail sign is on the main footpath on the Boulevard side of the
To find out more about the Heidelberg School of
artists you could browse the Wikipaedia
site and the Australian
Just below the billabong is a Mountain Bike rider's
track through the drain and below this are some old stone
structures known as the Chinese Walls. I
believe they form part of abutments from an old bridge possibly
built by Chinese market gardeners who were active in the area.
Proceeding upstream between the billabong and the
river, about 50 meters below the rejoining of the formal Track and
the riverside track is a very large red gum known as the "Step Tree". The steps were useable
until about 1950 but since then have grown over and only whorls in the bark now exist. It is
possible the steps were cut by aboriginals.
About 50 m upstream from the "Step Tree" the river is
pushed into a race along the eastern bank. The site of a canoe
slalom course now; it was variously a ford, landing area for boats
as well as a swimming pool. I
recall a rope swing on the site and a side cut track to get cattle
down to the bottom.
Another 50m upstream brings us to a hedge marking the boundary
of the Charterisville and Leighton selections. The hawthorns are
about 100 years old. This boundary extended to the current East
Ivanhoe roundabout. Some of the common hedge plants in use on the
flats until about 1970 included box thorn and hawthorn and another
common boundary hedge was
gorse. Until mid 1940's some dilapidated cottages and a dome could
be located on the property just above the Boulevard. Graffiti
on one cottage door read "Smike" - Streeton's nickname.
In the 1860s Heidelbergwas not considered a suburb of Melbourne,
but rather a resort where the wealthy bought estates on which they
built fine houses. Among these landed gentry was D. C. Macarthur,
who crossed fromTasmania to open the first branch in Melbourne of
the Bank of Australasia, and who later bought the property known as
The foot of McCubbin
Street is the site from which Streeton painted his "Still
Glides the Stream" - shown on Map
A as a yellow spot. This picture shows cattle wading in water
in the foreground of the picture while the river bend now extends
much further east to the VenetoClub. Reference to Map A shows that
the earliest survey, Darkes, had the river shown in the same place
as the picture. It seems probable that the river course
On the track leading to the Boulevard just below this
point is a seat in an
excavation. This is the site of a silage pit excavated by Ron
Watts about 1944. Prior to Ron Watts the property was the property
of Murray Smith who ran a run down dairy on the site. Ron, the son
of E. A. Watts - a major property developer, ran an Aberdeen Angus
stud on the site. It is now a base for horse agistment.
Harold Smith ran the next dairy along near the Mosman
Drive junction and Flemings' the next at the north east end of
Glenard Drive. Flemings' farm ran to Banksia Street and
included a magnificent billabong teeming with fish, platypus and
water birds of all descriptions. It - together with the Mordialloc
Creek - were considered premier bird watching sites in the
A 1946 aerial photo of
the Yarra Flats above shows the area as it was then. Open the
link to be able to get a broader picture and to be able to zoom in
and explore !
The billabongs can be seen in the photo showing the
gasometers at the corner of the Boulevard and Banksia Street. The
Yarra Flats access road now runs along the southern boundary of the
The Glenard Estate - above
the Boulevard - was very underdeveloped and roads were unmade.
This estate was designed by Walter Burley Griffin for Peter
Keam, who then owned Glenard Farm
Mrs Osborne's refreshment rooms are shown on the
north side of Banksia Street. The site is now only identifiable by
some introduced trees.
Moving upstream the Banksia Street Bridge was first constructed
from bluestone and wood in 1860. Prior to the first bridge
construction the crossing used a punt and subsequently a
footbridge. The road was little used in the 1940's and coots and
other water birds would often scuttle across Banksia Street, then
much narrower, to the wetlands where The Greenery nursery is now
On the site now occupied by Courtney & Patterson was the
Heidelberg Gasworks and opposite on the Boulevard were two large
Moving upstream behindSt John's Church of England we come to the
Football Ground and behind it Sills Bend and the site of his
Orchard. Pear trees remain, and although in poor shape they
bore barely edible pears in 2011. At the end of Sills Bend is a
sandbank opposite a steep bank to Banksia Park. This again was the
of a popular swimming pool. Walking upstream one can see a rope swing
(old fire hose) reminiscent of those frequently seen along the
Yarra in 1940.
Walking out to the road we pass the site of
the Old Banyule Gatehouse.
Moving up intoBuckingham Drivewe see Banyule House which dominates the Banyule
The Warringal Conservation Society planted trees surrounding
the Banyule football grounds.
The Banyule Flats
Wetlands are now a very popular bird-watching site.
Further upstream is the mouth of the Plenty River.
This area is the site of an old aboriginal midden.
FURTHER READING / GENERAL REFERENCES ON THE
YARRA RIVE AND ITS HISTORY
A report by
Geoff Lacey based on his book titled "THE YARRA: Still glides
the Stream" in "Earthsong" provides a good overview of the Yarra
A report by Cam Beardsell
June, 2000 Vegetation Communities of the City of Banyule provides a
good overview of the Indigenous species that occur (or are likely
to have occurred) in Banyule.
The Bureau of
meteorology site comment on the 1934 Yarra floods.
A report in 1934 on the record flooding tells of the
rescue of four
Chinese market gardeners at Heidelberg. My father remembered
them tying their shed roof to a tree on the Boulevard in an
unsuccessful attempt to prevent it washing away.
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