A brief history of Thornbury

In 1837 Robert Hoddle surveyed the area later to be known as Thornbury and High Street was established as part of Melbourne’s grid system of street planning. Eight long, narrow allotments of between 140 and 260 acres which offered frontages of either the Merri or Darebin Creek, were bought by property speculators. The allotments were divided by High Street (refer to map pg. 7 Lemon).

Those with Merri Creek frontages were much more fertile and cost up to three times as much per acre as those with Darebin Creek frontages. Of the early speculators only Michael Pender settled using his property, “Pender’s Grove”, for farming from as early as 1843. The name Thornbury came around 1850 when one early settler, Job Smith, named his property after a farm near his English birthplace. The initial land subdivision was however, largely unsuccessful and few sections were sold.

It wasn’t until the Melbourne land boom of 1880s that Thornbury took off. Sales began when it became apparent that the railway from Collingwood to Whittlesea via Preston would have to pass through Thornbury. Vehicular access to the city was gained when a bridge was erected over the Merri Creek in 1886 and St Georges Rd was constructed. Those who held onto their properties were richly rewarded, as exemplified by Smith who sold his property at a profit of 1,500%. In 1889 the railway line was opened with a station built at Thornbury and a cable tramway was soon to follow in 1890 running the length of High St from Northcote to the Preston border. It wasn’t until 1904 that a direct train line from the city to Thornbury was linked by railway to Clifton Hill, establishing a faster route to Melbourne. As a result settlement was sparse up to this point.

The rise of industry, particularly brickworks, in Thornbury and nearby Preston and Northcote lead to further development of Thornbury during the pre War period. The Pender’s Grove Estate scheme was initiated by the Closer Settlement Board to help workers obtain low cost housing which could be leased and eventually owned. The population of the estate grew from 95 in 1909 to 329 in 1911.  By 1914 a small cluster of shops existed on High Street and the first state school opened in 1915 to accommodate 559 children. The Thornbury Picture Palace was the first local picture theatre in Darebin, screening films in a hall for years before relocating to a larger premises in 1912.

More significant population growth occurred after the Great War, particularly in the 1920s, with shops along High Street beginning to merge with those in Croxton, the northern extremity of Northcote. One of the predominant architectural styles in Thornbury is the California Bungalow which is an indicator of the amount of settlement during the 1920s-30s. Migration, beginning in the 1950s and continuing until today, has seen the community diversify greatly. According to the 2006 census the majority of overseas born residents come from Italy, Greece, India and China and presently account for approximately 40% of Thornbury’s residents.

Edge, Gary (2004). Surviving the six o’clock swill: a history of Darebin’s hotels. Melbourne: Darebin Libraries.

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

Swift, William George (1928). The history of Northcote: From its first settlement to a city. Northcote, Vic: Leader Publishing.

Ward, Andrew (2001). Darebin Heritage Review 2000. Burwood, Vic: City Of Darebin.

'Northcote History Group' website: http://home.vicnet.net.au/~nhcs/

'eMelbourne - the city past and present' website www.emelbourne.net.au