If you are the kind of person who just has to know what’s happening to them, then here is a synopsis of next Sunday’s ride (15 July 2018). However if you like the idea of a mystery ride, then PLEASE READ NO FURTHER. Just come along next Sunday and enjoy the intrigue. It seems the sun gods might be with us.
The ride has a narrative arc to it.
Captain William Hovell and Hamilton Hume were the first Europeans to travel overland from Sydney to Port Philip Bay. A description of the area now occupied by the City of Whittlesea appeared in their journal on 14 December 1824 thus:
“Myself and Mr Hume ascended a high but single hill. In front from which we saw a very gratifying sight. This was a very extensive plain extending from west to south east for several miles with patches of forest which appear to separate one plain from another. But the whole appeared in front, say south, to be level but in parts in the plains some hills arose of a conical shape, with only here and there a few trees upon them. And all the soil of best quality.”
Hovell and Hume’s description of the land affirmed its desirability and effectively ensured that it would be settled. In 1835, after hearing about the area John Batman decided to investigate. He formed the Port Phillip Association and in May 1835 travelled to Victoria. By 1841 Whittlesea was included in what was termed the settled districts of Melbourne.
As a child we often visited an old uncle who lived in Whittlesea. The journey along Plenty Road provided the chance to see one of my favourite landscapes. It seemed unique. Whereas the propensity of most farmers seems to be to clear their paddocks completely of all trees, here between the dry stone walls, numerous stately gums grew all across the green fields stepping back into the distance layer after layer until seemingly there was no space between them. The defining feature of this shire is the majestic river red gum. I’ve seen weak autumn sun shining between their gnarled trunks as late afternoon mists begin to settle in the hollows close to the ground as if an overnight blanket. Magic. The same journey now is a rather heart breaking undertaking.
In 2015, Melbourne reached an unheard of peak in population growth of around 280,000 new residents. The city is now growing by an average of 145,000 people per year or 2,800 new arrivals a week! Apparently Melbourne may have topped 5 million already. But where to house all these families? Part of the solution has been to expand Melbourne’s fringes into areas that were once prime agricultural land. If you look down from space at the edges of this battle ground it’s as if a tsunami of countless grey rectangular cancer cells are eating up the green pasture. The rate of expansion is so fast that not even satellite images can keep up with the changes. Ancient river red gums with their knotted twisted trunks so full of individual character, are the signature element of the Shire of Whittlesea. Those majestic sentinels are the sacrificial lambs of this insatiable development. So too the earliest relics of pioneers of white settlement in the district. There are on-going battles by local community groups to save their beloved trees, buildings and places of historical importance but it is a lament that goes sadly unheard by the pressure of developers and councillors who are all too eager to embrace growth. Now the railway line returns to Mernda.
But let’s not be maudlin about these changes David. Change needs to be researched and investigated and what better tool to use than our Vespas? There is so much to see on this ride which is probably one of the most unusual our club has offered. It’s complex to navigate so fingers crossed that we get through it unscathed. During this ride we will look at the remnants of what once was while witnessing what is about to become. You can be guaranteed to see things which will no longer be there in one or two month’s time.
There will be a bit of adventure, some dirt roads and some bridges, because this is a ‘David’ ride. There will be some history too which will necessitate many stops. Oh dear, sorry about that. There will also be a flume. Have you ever seen a flume close up? There are dry stone walls, bluestone cottages, humble farmhouses and homesteads many of historic importance to the district, others entirely derelict. There’ll be lots of river red gums to admire and some views to be had. We will pass through brand new housing estates with cookie-cutter McMansions sitting on small blocks cheek by jowl next to wide open pastures. We’ll ride past construction sites and see the actual spot where excavators bite and tear into the earth in the urgent quest to turn farmland over into suburbia. We will also see housing estates that have reflected the character of the area in their amenities treating remnants of river red gum as the hero of their layout. We'll pass by a 1950s Victoria Housing Commission estate in Reservoir and note the contrast with a planned garden housing estate designed in 1914 by Marion and Walter Burley Griffin. There will be architecture and radio antennas. If we are in luck, we’ll finish the ride at the oldest apple orchard still operating in Melbourne just 23 kms from the CBD. Hopefully we will visit some spots in Melbourne that we didn't know existed and together we will all learn something new about our great city.
Some Aboriginal place names and meanings:
Yan Yean, bachelor or young man - an area known as an initiation place
Merriang, stone chopper
Wollert, where possums abound
Bundoora, the plain where kangaroos live
You are such a tease David, the unknown on one of your rides is always a temptation and not to be missed. Just hoping our jet lag has sorted itself out by then...very hard to not be waking up at 4am at the moment..which means nana nap by 2pm grrrr...