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Sewerage Treatment Plant at Braeside

In the 1920s local communities were stirred to action when they learned the Melbourne and Metropolitan Board of Works (MMBW) was proposing to construct a sewerage treatment plant on land at Braeside. While there was some confusion about whether it was a treatment plant, a sewerage depot as existed in the past where the night soil was dumped into open furrows and covered with soil, or a sewerage farm as was operating at Werribee, there was agreement that whatever it was it wasn’t wanted in their neighbourhood.

Early planning for the disposal of sewerage from the growing city of Melbourne made provision for two farms, one at Werribee and one at Mordialloc. However, the Mordialloc proposal did not proceed. [1] But with the continuing growth of metropolis Melbourne the motion of a treatment plant in the south-east was revived. The municipalities of Box Hill, Oakleigh, Mulgrave were expanding and the coastal towns of Mordialloc and Chelsea were not sewered. Planners were concerned that Werribee would not cope. Consequently the Board of Works searched for a suitable site in the south-east. In April 1928 the MMBW purchased two hundred and twenty six acres from Frederick Werrett for £16,272. Later the Board purchased the 930 acres held by Arthur Syme for £84,500 after an arbitrator became involved to settle the price when the purchaser and seller could not agree. Members of the Keys family earlier owned this land. [2]

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Stables on the former Symes property, 1976. Courtesy Leader Collection.

In September 1927 three municipalities became concerned about the possibility of the Board of Works establishing a sewerage treatment plant, “approximately 40 chains away from the Mordialloc Golf Links.” (now Woodlands) [3] They saw Western Port as a better option for a site. However, Cr Blanche of Mordialloc was sympathetic to the actions of the Board. “They were doing their best,” he said. The situation at that time saw nightsoil from Moorabbin, Mordialloc and Sandringham being dumped on a 10 acre block which had become inadequate with the growth of those municipalities. Blanche believed if the Board was forced to drop its proposal then small depots would have to be established in each municipality and then no objections could be lodged because it was their own nightsoil. Cr Denyer of Mordialloc was not only concerned about the nauseous odours but also the stigma that was attached to such works. If they allowed the plant to proceed it would mar the beauty of the district and do it great harm, he claimed. [4]

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Aerial view showing treatment plant to the left and the Woodland Golf Club to the right. Part of the Epsom Racecourse is to the top right hand corner of the photograph.

Jenkins, the former town clerk and engineer of the City of Mordialloc, spoke to a large gathering of the Mentone Progress Association where he pointed out that the pan system that had been used for many years was a primitive and disgusting method of treating the nightsoil problem. In addition, the bathroom and kitchen waste which went into the street channels was nearly as dangerous. The Werribee scheme, he deemed, was also crude with the nightsoil being partially treated on land before being sent out to sea. It was not the answer because of the distance the nightsoil had to travel before reaching the farm. In contrast, Jenkins suggested, the proposed scheme at Braeside was the very latest and had been successfully adopted at Ballarat and in England. He completed his presentation with a story of a lady who was inspecting a house with the intention of purchasing it. “What is that nasty smell, is it the drains?” “No ma’m” replied the vendor, “It can’t be the drains because there ain’t none.” [5]

George Gibbs, the secretary of the Board of Works, responding to a letter from the Parkdale Progress Association described the proposed Treatment Plant and emphasised the fact that it was not a Sewerage Farm or a Sewerage Depot. “The proposed system is known as an activated sludge process. The sewage passes through a series of operations in which the solids are converted into an odourless sludge …. The resultant effluent is 98 per cent pure and is absolutely devoid of any objectionable features and will be discharged by a pipe into the Bay in about 30 feet depth of water. The treatment plant can be constructed as to be indistinguishable from a factory.” [6]

A deputation to the Minister of Health, Hon. Beckett, presented a petition signed by 5600 individuals protesting against the proposed plant at Keysborough. Cr Beardsworth of Carrum told the Minister that many of the individuals of his district were former residents of industrial suburbs who had moved to the seaside to get clean, fresh air and open spaces. The proposed Treatment Plant threatened this. Cr White of Mordialloc was concerned about the impure matter that was to enter the Bay. How long, he asked, would Port Phillip Bay stand the pollution? The winds and currents would drive the impure matter on to the beaches. Would the Minister and his advisers want to bathe in the bay if the effluent was allowed to pour in? Dr Colohan said the discharging of effluent on to their beaches was a crime against public hygiene and a violation of a State asset. The Minister responded to the speakers saying that he would give the matter more careful and grave consideration; taking into account the information they had placed before him. [7]

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Councillor G R A Beardsworth of Chelsea Council, 1930.

Two months later Minister Beckett proceeded with the plan and the Carrum Council sought legal opinion as to whether the decision could be challenged in the courts. J Moore of Selborne Chambers advised that under the Melbourne and Metropolitan Board of Works Act of 1915 the Board had the authority to establish sewage farms in any part of Victoria they wished provided they had the approval of the Governor-in- Council. Moreover, the Act gave the Board power to acquire any lands it wanted either by agreement or compulsion with the compensation being paid by the Board. Moore concluded, “In my opinion neither the Shire of Dandenong nor the City of Mordialloc is in a position to successfully restrain the Board by injunction.” [8]

In April 1928 the MMBW had the land and the plans for what they were to construct but the timing of the actual building did not proceed as planned. Before the construction could commence the Great Depression of the 1930s intervened forcing the shelving of its plans. The new owners then offered the land for lease resulting in Frederick Werrett taking the opportunity to take up the land he formerly owned to continue his market gardening activities of growing potatoes, onions and other crops. The land and improvements made by Syme were leased in 1929 to Harry Telford a trainer from New South Wales. Phar Lap grazed there for a short time. [9] However the population of Melbourne continued to grow and the need for a sewerage treatment plant did not go away. In 1939 when the effects of the Depression had dissipated work on the Sewerage Effluent Treatment Plant commenced and the following year in October the Premier of the State, Albert Dunstan, officially commissioned it.

The Sewerage Effluent Treatment Plant at Braeside served the communities of south-east Melbourne for thirty five years until 1975. In that year all the sewers that entered the Braeside plant were diverted to the South Eastern Trunk Sewer complex at Carrum.[10] In 1982 the chairman of the MMBW at that time, Alan Croxford, announced that a substantial part of the property at Braeside would be administered by the Parks and Gardens section of MMBW as a public park. Subsequently the responsibilities were transferred to Parks Victoria, the situation that exists today. It is known as “Braeside Park” now.

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Portion of South Eastern Sewerage Plant 1988. Courtesy Leader Collection.

Author

Graham J Whitehead

Footnotes

  1. Hibbins, G. M., A History of the City of Springvale, page 150.
  2. Whitehead, G., Land Ownership of Braeside Park, Article Ref 287, http://localhistory.kingston.vic.gov.au
  3. Carrum Borough Gazette, September 17, 1927.
  4. Carrum Borough Gazette, October 22, 1927.
  5. Carrum Borough Gazette, October 22, 1927.
  6. Carrum Borough Gazette, December 3, 1927.
  7. Carrum Borough Gazette, December 2, 1927.
  8. Carrum Borough Gazette, February 18, 1928.
  9. See Whitehead G., Land Ownership of Braeside Park, Article Ref 287 Kingston Historical Website, http://localhistory.kingston.vic.gov.au
  10. Bennett, A., Settlers to Sand Pits, Turnips to Tips, 1999, page 99.

Article Cat. Did You Know?
Article Ref. 407

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