Latrobe Street: Government or Private?

Aerial view of Latrobe Street, Mentone.

Courtesy: Sheila Johnston

In 1853, a plan was developed by surveyor Penrose Nevins to create ‘a town near Brighton to be named Beaumaris’. 1 The land envisaged in this development stretched between what is today Latrobe Street, Nepean Highway, Balcombe Road and Charman Road. Nevins’ plan included sixty-foot wide streets, several of which he named. One was Latrobe Street, which also was mentioned in a letter from George Whitehead in 1869 to the Moorabbin Road Board requesting permission to cut timber in that street. 2 Balcombe Road was not named as such but recognised with the label, Government Road.

A resident of Latrobe Street, born there in 1874, acknowledged that the beginning of the street went back before his time. He recalled the street being well used by market gardeners carting water from the spring in the Cheltenham Park and by children walking to the school conducted at first by Frederick Meeres. 3 According to him, access from Arthurs’ Seat Road (which became Point Nepean Road then Nepean Highway) was a thirty-foot bridge across a twelve-foot deep creek and for some time Latrobe Street was a good gravel road kept in repair by the Council. 4 The portion between Charman Road and Bourke Street was metalled about 1910 because it became boggy in winter.

In 1917, a western portion of the Shire of Moorabbin won its severance after several years of argument to form the Borough of Sandringham. Another group of people in the southern section of the shire felt that they too should call for independence from Moorabbin. The campaign was largely driven by those newly settled amongst the ti-tree in South Mentone (Parkdale) where streets were sand tracks, drainage was non-existent, and services were primitive if they existed at all. The movement gathered strength and the case for severance was argued strongly at a meeting in the Skating Rink in Mentone in May 1919. The following year, the Minister of Public Works granted independence to the Borough of Mentone and Mordialloc. 5

Following success by the pro-severance movement, several issues had to be resolved, including where the boundaries between the new Borough of Mentone and Mordialloc and the Shire of Moorabbin should be drawn. The Shire wanted the new boundary with the infant borough to be Balcombe Road, but this was not agreeable to many people living on the north side of that road. Finally, the solution reached was the declaration of Latrobe Street as the boundary.

In the early 1950s, the condition of Latrobe Street’s surface had deteriorated and complaints were cited about people getting bogged, falling into holes formed by water erosion, breaking bones when falling from a motorbike due to the rough condition of the street, and spraining an ankle when walking in the street. All these events caused personal loss of work time. Residents wanted the road constructed like other roads in the municipalities, but they wanted the road treated as a government or public road where the two-border sharing council paid the cost of construction. After pressing their case in 1955, the two councils agreed but through the lack of materials and men at the time to undertake the work, the project lapsed. 6 The matter was raised again in 1955.

Both councils consulted their legal advisors. Was Latrobe Street a public or a private road? There was a time when Mordialloc sided with the residents arguing that it was a public road, while Moorabbin, based on their legal advice, took the position that the street was private. A stalemate was reached between the two councils.

Looking for a solution, Jack Grut, the Mordialloc Council town clerk, suggested that notices should be served on residents informing them of the Council’s intention to construct Latrobe Street as a private road and let them take their objections to the court where a magistrate would decide the classification. Cr Sambell agreed that the issue should be tested in court with the council proceeding to fix the street from end to end. He was supported by other councillors. 7

Finally, Latrobe Street was constructed as a private road, and remains so today.

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City of Kingston acknowledges the Kulin Nation as the custodians of the land on which the municipality is a part and pays respect to their Elders, past and present. Council is a member of the Inter Council Aboriginal Consultative Committee (ICACC).