How Chelsea Grew Up: A Short History

Main Street Chelsea with dual track railway line.

The following article was written by Frank McGuire and published in the Mordialloc & Chelsea News in July 1970.  Since that time, almost fifty years ago, Chelsea has continued to grow, new buildings constructed and some old and well-loved buildings demolished.

The Borough of Carrum (now the City of Chelsea) was once part of the Carrum Swamp, which in the early days measured nine miles from north to south and averaged about three miles across from east to west and was widest at the northern end.

The only high lands visible were the islands of Wannark Laddin, now known as Chelsea Heights.

The swampland with its dense growth of tea tree and other vegetation was covered for most part by the water of the Dandenong, Eumemmering and other lesser creeks with a total catchment area of approximately 284 square miles.

The outflow of these waters were through marshy country to the Mordialloc Creek or through to the Kananook which flowed into the bay at Frankston.

The Patterson River did not exist in those days, but was a cutting made to help drain the swamp in 1879.

The first exploration of the area was led by Surveyor Grimes, sent by Governor King of N.S.W. to explore King Island and the coast of Port Phillip Bay.

The exploration party followed a stream (later to be known as the Kananook Creek) for several miles on 30 January 1803.  It was salt and ran parallel with the beach.  They crossed it about a mile from the mouth, and about a 1/4mile further in, found fresh water.

The first survey of the Carrum Swamp was completed by T. E. Rawlinson in 1866 when the only sign of white habitation being a fisherman’s cottage occupied by John Watkins and his family near the present Watkins Grove, Aspendale.

A survey of the Carrum Swamp made by Hodkinson & Couchman in 1868 for the Lands Department indicated that an expenditure of $14,000 could reclaim 11,000 acres of good agricultural lands.

The scheme was to reclaim the swamp by constructing two main channels to carry the waters of the Dandenong and Eumemmerring Creeks across the swamp to the Mordialloc Creek and the Kananook Creek respectively.

In 1871 the swamp was made available for selection and in 1873 the first contract was made with the Dandenong Road Board to drain the swamp.  The work was partly carried out and by 1875 several blocks within the present City of Chelsea were offered for selection.

P Carroll selected land that was later to become the Aspendale Racecourse, and Mark Foy selected land where the present Council Chambers now stand, and including Embankment Grove to Chelsea Road and back to the present Secondary Drain which marks the border of the municipality. J Nixon selected his land near the present Carrum Railway Station, and Patterson River.

On 19 December 1876 a Select Committee of Inquiry on the Carrum Swamp was appointed, and evidence before it indicated clearly that the lower swamp was not drained at that date, however two years later the Hon. J. B. Patterson, Minister for Public Works, made an inspection of the works, and recommended that the Government make $3000 available to the Dandenong Council which accepted the tender of Mr Powis of $2334.50 to make a cut direct to the sea.

The Patterson Cut, 30 feet wide was completed by August 1879  But in November that year a severe storm accompanied by a south westerly gale forced large volumes of sea water into the lowlands, and when the storm subsided the waters surged out washing away the bridge abutment and widening the cutting to its present 300 feet.

With the coming of the single track railway in Frankston in 1882, holiday makers began to visit the area more frequently.  They camped near the beach, boarded at the hotels at Mordialloc or travelled down to the Long Beach Hotel near Carrum.

The main pleasures of the time were bathing at the beach, taking out a boat on the Patterson River, or hunting on the plains and swamp for rabbits, quail and other birds and animals.

The swampland had long been known as a hunter’s paradise, and although by then partly drained there was still plenty of sport to be had.

The Long Beach Hotel or Halfway House as it was known to these early coach travellers, hired out horses to the hunters, supplied a good menu, and in the evening after a hard day out on the moors there was always a drink and a song around the piano.  The old hotel had many famous visitors during its existence including Test Captain Warrick Armstrong who was a regular visitor.  It was finally pulled down, rebuilt and renamed the Riviera.

At Aspendale station (a narrow wooden platform), a lamp and a flag was supplied for intending passengers to strop a train.  The station had been built in 1897 to cater for race traffic.  First called Aspendale Park and renamed Aspendale in 1905.  Aspendale was named after the racehorse ‘Aspen’, a winner of two Newmarket Handicaps.

The Aspendale Racecourse was inaugurated in 1893 and operated until 1931.  Bob Ramage and Mick O’Brien who were associated with the mighty Carbine helped Mr Crook from Bacchus Marsh to prepare the track for training and racing.  Ramage rode Carbine to victory in the 1890 Melbourne Cup (when O’Brien had to be replaced through illness).

The Brothwell’s had a farm on the Edithvale Road, and William Black from Brighton had built the first residence in what was to be the township of Chelsea.  (The area did not take the name of Chelsea until the station was built in 1907).

Carrum was already well established as a small Village and the first school in the district was opened there in 1902 with Mr John Steane as headmaster.

The oldest inhabitant at the time seems to have been Mr Sam Hamilton who gave up his position as compositor with the Sydney Daily Herald to become one of Carrum’s first fishermen.

In 1908 the area had become so popular with campers and other holiday makers that a police station was opened during the summer months.  It operated between December and April until 1912 when it became permanent on 6 December that year.

Chelsea, although off to a late start opened it police station on 29 November that year.

Because of the easy going camp life, plus the building of several sub-standard houses used by a few larrikins at weekends the place was beginning to get rather a bad name.  The last train from Melbourne arriving about midnight would have 9 gallon kegs sacked in the last carriage and guard’s van.

Most of the week-enders were well behaved, but some carried on in such a manner that Truth once had streamer headlines of ‘Sand, Sin and Shame at Chelsea’.  A popular quip by vaudeville comedians was ‘Are you married or do you live at Chelsea.  However, constant supervision by members of the local constabulary gradually weeded out the trouble makers who made things uncomfortable for well-behaved citizens and visitors alike.

By 1910 Chelsea still had only one store although the railway station had been in operation since 1907.  Carrum township was a lot more advanced with one general store, one timber yard (Billings), two butchers, and one bakery (Deakin’s established 1901).

At Aspendale, local residents had formed a Progress Association which was tremendously active in its early years and is still very much alive 60 years later.

In 1912 the Chelsea State School was opened at Hoadley’s Hall on the site of what is now Carr’s Timber & Hardware.  The hall had been brought from the showgrounds, and was known to the locals as the ‘Joss House’.  It served Chelsea as a public hall and in addition churches of all denominations held services there.

The official journal was the Borough of Carrum News, published by Moorabbin News at Cheltenham.  The Moorabbin News published several newspapers along the beachside and was established in 1900.  It finally amalgamated with the Frankston Standard (established 1889) to form the present Standard Newspapers Limited in 1924.

In fact so much progress was made between 1910 and 1916 that it was considered that the time had come to seek severance from the Shire of Dandenong, and a deputation of councillors and prominent citizens presented a petition to the Government.  However, a counter petition containing more signatures was also presented and the movement for severance was defeated.

By 1919 public feeling was strong that severance should take place, and a Severance Committee was formed.

As a result of the excellent work carried out by this committee a petition for severance was successful in May 1920, and the Borough of Carrum was formed.  The name of the Borough was chosen after an exhaustive vote on the preferential system.

In June 1923 application was made to raise the status of the municipality by having it declared a Town.  Already there was controversy of opinion on what name should be chosen.  The News was of the decided opinion that Councillor would favour the name Carrum, and the local branch of the ANA were strongly in favour of keeping the aboriginal word.

By 1923 things were really moving in the Borough  Two new picture theatres had been built; Mason’s Hall now the Plaza Theatre, and Sangston’s Fox Theatre at the site of 436-437 Nepean Highway.  The new Fox Theatre replaced the old open air picture theatre at the corner of Thames Promenade and Station streets.

At Edithvale Mr A. H. Plain had built the Edithvale Hall with its 2800 square feet of floor space surrounded by oval shaped wall mirrors, and the Boat House in the Esplanade had just be lined, and for an admission charge of 10 cents you could dance to Blake’s Band on Saturday night.

Other halls where entertainment could be enjoyed were the Mechanics’ Institute at Carrum, Llewellyn Hall towards Bon Beach and Kismet at Chelsea, and the Aspendale Racecourse Hall where the All Nations Ball was held in 1922.

For the sportsmen and sportswomen, the Chelsea Tennis and Bowling Clubs had been formed and a special ball was held at Mason’s Hall to raise funds for both these organisations.  The use of the hall was donated free by the owners Mr and Mrs Mason who were very public spirited.  Mrs Mason also donated the City of Chelsea commemoration medal in 1929, when the municipality was proclaimed a City.

The Aspendale, Chelsea, Carrum, Electricity Supply Company had commenced operating in 1915, and electricity was gradually taking over from kerosene lamps and candles.

As new applications were made for service, local electricians would canvass the area in order to speed up the connections and at the same time get themselves the installation work.  These included Mr A McPherson of Chelsea who combined his electrical work with plumbing, and a young man named C V (Clarrie) Inchley.  Mr Inchley who had lived here since 1923 retiring from business only last year, after giving a great service to the community.  The business is now carried on by his son Mr Tom Inchley.

The district had been connected to the Bunyip Water Scheme in 1916 and the whole area from Carrum to Aspendale was being reticulated.  The water was not as clear as the tank water and many were of the opinion that the water was not pure.

However, the municipality remained a Borough until 1929 when it was declared the City of Chelsea.

Now in 1970, the early growth of the municipality seems rather insignificant when compared to the recent post war years.

Yet it was the foundation work of the early pioneers in Progress Associations and in Council that made possible the quick development when the population explosion came.

Over the past 20 years the council had purchased many thousands of dollars worth of road making equipment.  The city engineer, Mr Alan Nieman (appointed in 1950-51) introduced new method of road constitution suitable to the area, an through his ideas ratepayer  were able to have their road made most speedily, and at a lower cost than most other areas.

Now practically every road in the municipality is made.  The city’s water supply has been changed over to the Melbourne Metropolitan Board of Works, and more than $500,000 was spent on new mains.  Cr L F Payne was appointed a commissioner to the Board in 1962, and in the same year Cr Nola Barber became Chelsea’s first woman mayor after serving 12 years as a councillor representing the North Ward.  Both these councillors have since been recognised by the Queen for their services to the community.


The Mordialloc –Chelsea News, 29 July 1970

25 June 2019
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