When I was a kid my Dad used to drive us all the way to Melbourne (and back again) at Christmas time, namely so that we could spend Christmas with the relatives. Since they all lived in Melbourne, and we were the only ones who lived in Adelaide, it was more convenient for us to make the trek than for them. Mind you, growing up 700 kms away from my aunties, uncles, and Grandparents meant that I never got to know them as well as those who lived near them. Still it was fun going on a long country drive once a year, and also visiting various places on the way there, and back. Anyway ,one of the things that I remember doing as a kid was seeing signs pointing to towns that I had never visited and asking my Dad what was there – the answer was inevitably nothing.
Mind you, I still have a desire to go and check out those towns one day because the thing is that every town has their own unique character and identity, however some of those towns are slowly becoming swallowed by by the metropolis that is Melbourne. While this may sound corny, Whittlesea is one of those towns – one that will sooner or later become a suburb of Melbourne (though in a way it already is with the local government authority looking over the northern fringes of the city), and also one of those towns that I always wanted to visit as a kid.
Well, as it turns out, there is a bus that goes from Northland Shopping Centre all the way out to Whittlesea, so one Saturday afternoon I decided that I would make the trek out there. Actually, I had done that before, but that was before my blogging days, and since it isn’t a huge trek to get from Epping to Whittlesea I thought that I might make the journey again. So, I jumped on the train and made my way to South Morang Station (which happens to be the end of the line, though they are planning on extending it) and then jumped on the bus (which didn’t take too long to arrive, but then again I do try to time my train journeys for the less amount of wait time).
So, the bus left South Morang railway station and turned onto Plenty Road to start it’s journey towards Whittlesea. Plenty Road, in my mind, is one of those infinitely long roads – if you who drive probably know what it mean – they are those roads that seem to just go on forever and it seems to take ages to get to where you want to go. Anyway, Plenty Road begins it’s journey at High Street in Bell and heads all the way up to Whittlesea where I believe it ends. Plenty Road is actually named after the Plenty River (which runs through, not surprisingly, the Plenty Valley) which happens to be a tributary of the Yarra. I suspect in times past there were a lot of market gardens in the Plenty Valley, but they have since been gobbled up by the Melbourne sprawl.
The trek along Plenty Road takes us up through the fringes of the urban sprawl, the area where the land is cheap and houses are plenty. At first I thought places like South Morang and Mernda were new housing developments that didn’t exist until the housing development reached out this far, however when I came across the Commercial Hotel in South Morang, and the Bridge Hotel in Mernda, it was pretty clear that these were actually pretty old settlements (especially since there were the remains of some old stock yards in Mernda, as well as some fairly old bluestone buildings – and the shopping strip in South Morang looked like it has been around since at least the 60s).
Even though there was still evidence of the old towns out here there was still an awful lot of development with the northern suburbs expanding ever more to the, well, North. An interesting thing that I read recently was how a lot of these developments are owned by a group of companies and they actually buy up farmland and turn them into landbanks. One of the reasons that they do this is to force up the price of land, namely because when councils release more land for development, the companies want to be able to maximise their profits. Another thing that I’ve heard is that these new housing estates are not like the estates that where developed when I was young – some of them have very strict regulations of how the house is to look and what you can actually do with it. Fortunately I live in one of the older estates (though my house is probably around fifteen years old as of writing) so I don’t really have to worry about the dictates of these construction companies.
It wasn’t long before we finally left the housing developments and entered the actual country where we were surrounded by farmland. Well, I’m not really sure if we can call it country since I was sitting on one of the metropolitan buses, but I suspect that sooner or later the developments will end up eating up all of this farmland and Whittlesea will become what Mernda and Doreen are now – an outer suburb (if it isn’t already).
Mind you, it does concern me, this obsession Australians seem to have with having to own a block of land with a house on it. The reason I say that is because it turns our cities into this massive sprawl. Mind you, Sydney and Melbourne already sprawl enough (and it does take me the best part of an hour to get to work in the morning, and to get home in the evening, which is one thing that I preferred about Adelaide – I would be home in half-an-hour, or about that).
The other thing that is worrying is that all of this farmland is getting eaten up by housing, which means that a lot of our arable land is being eaten up simply because people want a place to live, and don’t want to live in apartment blocks. Mind you, it has a lot to do with the Australian culture of the wide open spaces (which is similar to the United States), and we have become addicted to actually having a decent sized house, which is unlike other places, such as Hong Kong, or even Europe, where people are satisfied with their apartments.
Well, I finally arrived at Whittlesea, and while I could have got off the bus further into town I decided that I wanted to jump off at the outskirts and walk in, not just because there were a couple of things that I wanted to check out, but also because I wanted to see if the pub next to the McDonalds was open (it’s not, and considering the weeds that have taken over the place, I don’t think it has been open for a while, though the last time I came here I noticed there was a sign on the door telling people not to bring food from McDonald’s inside – I wonder if that was the reason it closed down).
Mind you, there used to be a few more pubs in Whittlesea than there are now because it was originally established as a timber town, and there were a lot of itinerant workers coming up here to cut down the trees. I don’t think it is a timber town anymore because it looks as if all of the trees have been replaced with farmland, which is usually what happens when you cut down all of the trees. Anyway there was a growing city to the south that was hungry for wood, namely because they built a lot of houses out of wood (and there are still quite a few around – I like those old wooden houses, though people warned me against buying one as they require a lot more upkeep than a brick house). Anyway, these days Whittlesea, as well as being a farming community, is also home to people who live and work in Melbourne, but want to hassle free life of living in the country.
Oh, I probably should put a map of Whittlesea in here for you:
So, I jumped off the park, and the first thing that I encountered was a waterpark called Funfields. I’d seen this place before, and a part of me rolled my eyes as being one of those blatant parks that are built simply to drag people out of the city so that they can spend their money in Whittlesea. Mind you, I didn’t go inside, but then again it has been ages since I’ve actually been on a waterslide, and the last time I did it didn’t work the way that it was supposed to work, even with a mat. Maybe it was just the waterslide as opposed to me.
After having a bit of a gawk at this place, without actually going inside, I then headed in towards the town. However being the historian I wanted to check out where the old railway station was located (since the South Morang line used to go all the way up to Whittlesea). Anyway, here is what the railway station used to look like:
However, this is all that happens to be there these days:
Which as you can see there isn’t all that much there, and even though Google Maps refers to it as a reserve, and colours it in green suggesting that it is a park, I would hardly consider this a place to have a picnic. Mind you, this website that is devoted to Victorian railways stations, both past and present, does suggested that there is an old shed here, however I couldn’t see it (not that I knew that it was there when I come out here because I only discovered that website afterwards).
I also checked out the old school, which still uses the original bluestone building (they really did build things to last in those days) but since there were too many trees in the way I couldn’t get to decent photo, so instead I crossed the street to the main road, which happens to be Church Street, and sure enough there was a coffee shop (or should I say cafe) where I ordered myself a coffee and a cake, and sat down to read a bit of my book.
So, now that I had finished my morning tea I decide to go for a wander up and down the main road. Well, sure enough there was the ubiquitous modern supermarket, but it wasn’t a Woolworths (or a Coles) it was an IGA. Okay, I wouldn’t be surprised to find one of the big supermarkets up here, and even if they aren’t up here I’m sure it won’t be long before they make their presence known – there is still a lot of empty land on the outskirts, and McDonalds has already set up a franchise here – opposite Funfields of all places (though if I were to come up here with kids to go to Funfields, the last place I would go to have lunch would be McDonalds – I would go to Church Street).
As I am prone to do, since I like to write about anything and everything, I decided to visit a couple of other places, namely to grab a cup of tea, another cup of coffee, and a steak sandwich, so I could add a few more places to Yelp and Truelocal (though I probably should look at going to a non-restaurant, cafe, pub shop occasionally, if only for some variety because everybody seems to write about those places).
Well, I had visited some places, grabbed some lunch, so it was time for me to go and check out Whittlesea Park, however as I was making my way over there I saw the old Presbyterian Church. The last time I was here I noticed that a friend of mine was the pastor at the church (though he was actually looking after a number of churches) though it seems that since that time another person has taken over the roll. I guess it has something to do with him going on to bigger and better things within the Presbytrian Church, meaning that he really doesn’t have the time to look after these country churches as well.
As I approached the park I saw something that I first thought was a stylised gateway but it turned out that it was actually a war memorial. This was a little odd I thought because I thought there already was a war memorial in Whittlesea and it was sitting at the head of Church Street (it was pretty obvious because there was a marble statue of a soldier on top). However it turns out that there are two war memorials, one for World War I, which sits at the head of Church Street, and World War II, which is at one of the entrances to the park.
I’m going to have to be honest with you and suggest that Whittlesea park wasn’t really all that crash hot. Okay, there was a swimming pool (surrounded by the fence mind you, but as far as I could see it was still a part of the park) a BMX Track, a skate park, and a couple of ovals, but the rest of it seemed to be a lot of dry grass (okay, it was summer, but still it suggested as if the park was low on the council’s priorities), a few trees, and a yucky looking creek meandering through it. To me it looked more like one of those paddocks that I used to see on the outskirts of where I grew up (which no longer exist mind you since the developers bought up all of the land and threw up a heap of houses there).
Actually, as a kid I would have loved the BMX track. In fact I used to know where all of the BMX tracks were around my suburb, and when I was bored I would jump on my bike and go and ride around them. Mind you, I only ever fell off my bike once, but then again I really didn’t have the type of bike (not was that good a rider) where I could do all of those tricks you would see BMX riders do. Actually, I just did a quick search on the internet and you can pay anywhere up to $2000 plus for one of those bikes.
So, there was one thing left for me to do, and that was to have a beer at the pub. Actually I timed myself pretty well since the bus only goes through Whittlesea once an hour, and it fortunately goes past the pub, so with about half-an-hour left I went inside and realised that I didn’t particularly like the place. Okay, it has a nice beer garden, but I guess I’m much more of the inner-city type, and when I discovered that this was a typical sports bar (which a not too friendly bartender) I simply ordered my beer, drank it, and left in time to catch the bus.
However, the interesting thing that I noticed on my way back to South Morang was that you can still see where the only rail line ran. While much to the land has been overgrown, there is still a raised section which was clearly where the rail track used to lie. In fact you can even see one of the cuttings that the train would pass through (though it was pretty narrow, and I doubt one of the modern X-trapolis’ could pass through there without causing damage to the side).
The final thing that I saw, as I was sitting on the bus, was the remains of an old railway station platform. Mind you it went past so quick that I had no time to actually take a photo of it, but fortunately the guy who went and took a photo of all the railway stations in Victoria does. Actually, the old platform from the Mernda station also remains (though I didn’t see it from my vantage point on the bus). No doubt when the Mernda line is built that station will be demolished (as was the old South Morang Station), but up until then the old memories of the past still remain.