Glen Iris Brick Company

St. Georges Road, Thornbury

The Glen Iris Brick Company’s quarry and brickworks were located on St Georges Rd in Thornbury, bordered by Miller St to the north, Watt St to the south and the railway line to the east. The site had first been promoted as a possible state brickworks in 1905 by then Victorian Premier, Sir Thomas Bent. Bent was unimpressed with the control that Melbourne’s major brickworks exorcised over the price of bricks and was keen to force a better deal for the government. The government had bought 30 acres of land in Thornbury in December 1904 for £5,000, with money set aside to fund the purchase of land to improve the homes of workmen in and around Northcote and Clifton Hill. This was the same land where Bent proposed the construction of state run brickworks in February of 1905.  Bent was aiming to bluff the brick company cartel to lower their prices from 40 shillings per thousand. After going as far as clearing the land and putting up buildings on the site, the brick companies conceded and dropped their price to 38 shillings per thousand.  Development of the site was halted. However the fallout would continue to reverberate.

In mid 1905 the Auditor General had queried the purchase of the land, as the funds had been set aside for the construction and maintenance of workers’ homes in the area. Bent was later found to have misled parliament when he stated that the land had been bought for this purpose. This, along with some other questionable land dealings, would bring about the downfall of Bent’s government in 1908.

By 1912 the land, which had been the subject of rumour ever since the brickworks were originally planned, had been subdivided and looked set to be sold. Then, suddenly, in April of that year, the Murray Government, who had launched the original royal commission in opposition in 1905, announced that they had let a large part of the land in Thornbury to a private company to make bricks for the government, the company was the Glen Iris Brick Company. The company began operations in 1912, and initially endured hostile press from the Leader and protests by local residents. But the company stayed, and the government, having signed a 21-year contract with the state government to supply bricks for thirty-one shillings per thousand, were thrilled with the situation. 

Though the brickworks had long ceased operation, the land remained crown until the late 1970’s when the Northcote Council suggested that the Aborigines Advancement League pursue developing the land for a new home. Sir Douglas Nicholls had originally founded the League in 1958 with headquarters in Cunningham St. In 1981 the Victorian Government ceded two acres of the old quarry land to the league as well as contributing part of the $750,000 needed to fund the building. This was the first freehold land granted to indigenous people in Victoria. The rest of the site is now devoted to the Sir Douglas Nicholls Oval and some housing blocks.

Lemon, Andrew (1983). The Northcote Side of the River. North Melbourne: Hargreen.