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History

Indigenous Heritage

Prior to dispossession three adjoining Koori clans probably used the area as a meeting place and for gathering food along its embankments and wetlands. The Koories managed the creek environment to ensure that these resources would be adequate for their needs and succeeding generations. Midden sites were recorded at the creek's mouth where the Koori's feasted on shellfish. Evidence of other activities in the region include stone tool sites, silcrete quaries, scarred trees and burial places.

The Stony Creek belonged to the Marin bulluk clan, who occupied the area between Kororoit Creek and Maribyrnong River. This clan was part of the Woi wurrung, the tribal group which owned most of Melbourne. Bungarin was the head man of the Marin bulluk clan. He was also a guardian of the famous axe quarry at Mt William. Bungarin's name appears as one of the 'chiefs' on John Batman's so-called deed of purchase.

European Heritage 

Stony Creek has a long and varied European history which has left a marked impression on the creek and its surrounds. The European heritage is summarised below and documented in the following sections.

 


Summary

Stony Creek and Environs Historical Map

1802 to 1835 – Discovery and Exploration

1850s – Basalt Quarrying and Melbourne to Geelong Railway

1870s to 1880s – Early Industrialisation

1880s – Melbourne Harbour Trust

1920s – Modern Industrialisation

Tragedies at Stony Creek

1950s to 1970s– Landfilling

1970s to current – From Wasteland to Refuge


 

Summary

December 1803

A party from the schooner Cumberland follows the creek for one and a half miles. "It was salt and ended in a swamp."

1835

Batman searching for pasture drops anchor opposite Stony Creek backwash.

1848

Creek briefly known as Murderer’s Creek after the discovery of Lucke’s battered corpse!

1850s

Quarries opened up for ballast and building

1870s

Noxious industries established: tannery, meat processing and glue works.

1919

Alfred Luizzi drowns attempting to cross in a flood.

1920s

Market gardens established.

1940s

Urbanisation spreads.

1970

West Gate Bridge collapses killing 35 workers.

1987

Ink spill into backwash kills mangroves.

1993

Friends of Stony Creek formed.

2001

Allied Containers constructed a bridge across Stony Creek without regulatory approval and Meadow Lea spill.

2002

Pivot Fertilizer Spill

2006

Fire destroys revegetated area at Hyde Street Reserve

2011

Stony Creek Future Directions Plan released

2013

Detergent spill

Stony Creek and Environs Historical Map

 

1802 to 1835 – Discovery and Exploration

The first European’s to visit Stony Creek were from the schooner Cumberland, on which Charles Grimes performed his survey of Port Phillip. A party from the schooner followed the creek for one and a half miles up-stream noting that "It was salt and ended in a swamp." 

It was not until 1835 that John Batman anchored opposite Stony Creek backwash during his search for pasture on behalf of the Port Phillip Association, ultimately resulting in the foundation of Melbourne.

Charles Grimes Map 1803

Charles Grimes Survey of Port Phillip Bay, 1803


1850s – Basalt Quarrying and Melbourne to Geelong Railway

Quarrying is indicated to have commenced along Stony Creek in approximately 1854. A number of quarries were ultimately established in the vicinity of the Hyde Street Reserve, Westgate Golf Course and also within what is now Cruickshank Park. The basalt rock extracted from the quarries was loaded onto barges and transported to Melbourne to be used as ballast or for the construction of many of Melbourne’s early buildings. Significant quarrying ceased in the 1880s due to the progressive decrease in demand for ballast and basalt as a construction material. 

 

 

Quarries Lower Stony Creek   
 Quarries adjacent to Lower Stony Creek, 1894  Quarries in Cruickshank Park, Yarraville 1942


The basalt extracted from the quarries was also used to construct the Stony Creek Rail Bridge between Spotswood and Yarraville. The bridge was constructed as part of the Melbourne to Geelong Railway. Construction commenced in 1856 and was completed in 1858. The original bluestone bridge abutments survive to this day.

Map Prepared by Edward Snell Showing Melbourne to Geelong Railway Crossing Stony Creek (denoted as Murderers Creek), 1852

 

Hyde Street was extended across Stony Creek and a timber draw bridge was constructed in the vicinity of the current road bridge by the late 1880s. It is not known when the bridge was replaced, however, remnant of the original bridge including timber piles can today be seen under the existing road bridge. 

Image from the Australian Illustrated News, 28 April 1888

 

1870s to 1880s – Early Industrialisation

Melbourne Woollen Mills

The Melbourne Woollen Mills were established at Stony Creek, Yarraville in 1869. The Mills dyed, spun and wove merino wool, producing tweed. The Mill was the first in Melbourne and one of the earliest in Australia. 

The original bluestone building still remains, hidden behind the facade of the existing Morlynn Ceramics building on Hughes Street, Yarraville. 

Melbourne Woollen Mill

Melbourne Woollen Mills

 

Victorian Meat Preserving Works

The Victorian Meat Preserving Works were established on the northern edge of the Stony Creek Backwash in September 1870, on the current site of the Mobil Terminal on the corner of Hyde Street and Francis Street, Yarraville. The Works included a slaughterhouse complex adjacent to Hyde St and bluestone preserving house on the edge of the backwash. 

The process employed at the work involved rolling the meat and preserving it in tins with tallow. The finished product was transported by a pier extending into Stony Creek onto barges, before being shipped globally. By 1871 120 persons were employed at the works.

In May 1871 part of the works caught fire and collapsed, reportedly in spectacular fashion. Although the works were repaired and the company made several attempts to re-establish its operations, the company ultimately ceased operation by 1880. By 1898 the buildings had been demolished and the site was vacant.


Glue Works

From the late 1860s until circa 1903 a glue works was located on the north side of Stony Creek on the site of the now Jemena (former SEC) terminal on Hyde Street, Yarraville. 

The glue works were firstly operated by John and Catherine Vockler, and later by Collie and Co. In 1888 the Vockler's received a fine from the Health Officer for keeping the site in an unsanitary state: "a quantity of animal matter was allowed to lie about the place". 

Sadly, Catherine Vockler appears to have lost her mind in 1902 and was shortly thereafter committed to the Yarra Bend Asylum. 

In 1903 the works were destroyed: "A small brick building used as a glue works by Messrs Collie and Co, at Vockler-street Yarraville, was completely demolished and several sheets of iron were blown off".


Victoria Export Canning Works

The Victoria Export Canning Works were established in 1889 by EA Clark & Sons to the south of Stony Creek, within the Atlantic Oil site. The works produced margarine and tinned a variety of meat, including rabbit, fish, poultry and game for export to Great Britain. In 1919 the works were required by Council to upgrade equipment to prevent the release of 'noxious effluvia' into the atmosphere. However, by 1921 the business had been placed in voluntary administration. The works appear to have been subsequently operated by a Mr Yewers until circa 1927 when Mr Yewers retired and the equipment was sold.

 

 Article from The Argus, 16 May 1927

 

Smelting/Cement Works

Between 1864 and 1878, until the 1890s, a Smelting/Cement Works was located on south-eastern edge of Stony Creek.


T. Robinson & Co Agricultural Implement Makers

T. Robinson & Co, Agricultural Implement Makers established their works on south side of Stony Creek in 1891 and continued their occupation of the site until the 1970s. 

 

Tanneries

Tanneries were situated along Stony Creek due to the ample supply of freshwater necessary for the tanning process and because the creek could be used as a drain for tanning waste. Specifically Barnes' Tannery was situated on the southern bank of the Stony Creek between Williamstown Road and the railway line, Spotswood. The tannery was established circa 1875 and is likely to have ceased operation in the late 1880s when a fire broke out at the premises. The tannery comprised "nine Tanpits, Drying  sheds, Curing sheds, Stables, and a Wooden Cottage".  

In 1921 McCall's Tannery commenced operation on the northern side of Stony Creek, opposite the former Barnes Tannery. McCall's Tannery and its various incarnations operated until 1961 when the property was used as a steel merchant. The site was vacated and demolished in the 2000s.

The tanneries generated noxious waste which is likely to have been discharged directly into Stony Creek and nearby quarries. For example, it was reported in The Independent on 26 June 1920 that:

"..the tip near the Stony Creek at Yarraville was examined and proved in a much more unsatisfactory condition. Garbage was showing all over the place and loads of refuse, evidently from the tanneries, were simply dumped down. The tip was full and as the ground sloped towards it rubbish was carried into the creek when heavy rains fell. The tip should be covered with clean earth and closed. The ground, which was part of the Railway reserve, was insecurely fenced, and milk cows were grazing at the spot when the inspection was made. The Town Clerk stated that Mr. Whitehead had frequently advocated the closing of this tip, which was full but the difficulty was to secure another site."

 Barnes' Tannery, Creek Street, Spotswood, 1894

 

Melbourne Metropolitan Board of Works Sewer 

The Melbourne Metropolitan Board of Works sewer main was constructed at a depth of approximately 70 feet beneath Stony Creek between 1893 and 1897. The main connected the northern suburbs of Melbourne to the Spotswood Sewerage Pumping Station, which is now occupied by Science Works.  

It was reported in The Argus on 20 May 1896 that: 

"Recently one of the most important works of the Melbourne sewerage system was practically brought to a conclusion by the meeting of the faces of the tunnels driven from each side of Stony Creek, this, it is stated, is the first example of subaqueous tunnelling completed in Australia. Although much remains to be done in building shafts and lining ironwork with concrete, it may be taken that the main difficulties of the under-taking are surmounted". 


1880s – Melbourne Harbour Trust

In the 1880s the Melbourne Harbour Trust undertook land reclamation and river re-alignment works between Yarra River and Stony Creek Backwash as part of the Yarra River realignment project. Many of the original timber structures constructed at this time can still be observed at the Stony Creek backwash. The reclamation works ultimately lead to the siltation of the lower Stony Creek. 

Also in the 1880s, a Causeway was constructed at Hyde Street and drawbridge constructed across the Stony Creek Backwash. Remnants of the original structure are still thought to be present beneath the existing bridge.

1879  1894 
 Lower Stony Creek, 1879 - Prior to Harbour Trust Works  Lower Stony Creek, 1894 - Following Harbour Trust Works

 

1920s – Modern Industrialisation

Vacuum Oil

In 1925 the Vacuum Oil Terminal (later Mobil) at site of former Victoria Meat Preserving Works on the corner of Hyde Street and Francis Street, Yarraville. Some of the original oil tanks are still in use at the site for the storage of fire water.

The Holden Dock Railway Line was also established at this time along eastern edge of Stony Creek.

 

Aerial View of Lower Stony Creek, looking south, 1933


Atlantic Oil

In 1927 Atlantic Oil Terminal (later Esso and Mobil) established to the south of Stony Creek, Spotswood. This plant has recently closed and decontamination works are being undertaken at the site.

 

H.V. McKay Sunshine Harvestor Works

The Braybrook Implement Works were established at Braybrook Junction (later named Sunshine) in 1889-1890 on the southern bank of the then Stony Creek, at the site of the current Sunshine Shopping Complex. The works were purchased by H.V. McKay in 1904 and renamed the H.V. McKay Sunshine Harvestor Works. The works ultimately ceased operation in the 1980s. By the 1920s over 3000 workers were employed at the works and the plant covered approximately 31 hectares, making it the then largest manufacturing plant in Australia. Mr McKay purchased nearby land in Sunshine in the area now known as Matthews Hill and and subdivided it to provide housing for his employees.

In 1946 following a major flood in Stony Creek, the creek was diverted to prevent flooding at the Works. The creek was diverted into a drain beneath Anderson Street and the water transferred to Kororoit Creek. To this day the catchment area for the water that makes its way down Stony Creek to the Yarra River commences in Matthews Hill Sunshine, whereas the catchment areas upstream of Anderson Street (including St Albans) drain into Kororoit Creek.

     

Flooding in Stony Creek at the Harvestor Works, Sunshine, 1946


Tragedies at Stony Creek

A Close Shave in the Stony

From the Argus, 1 November 1881

A man named Murray, said to be a miner from South Australia, would have perished in Stony Creek, Yarraville on Saturday, but for the timely assistance of Constable Rushworth who, aided by a gentleman from the local woollen mills, succeeded in dragging him from a perilous position. The man was lying on his back in the mud insensible, and was so nearly being smothered as to require an hour attention from the constable before he recovered his faculties.”

 

"Drowned in the Stony Creek"

From the Independent (Footscray), 28 December 1889

A SAD accident, resulting in the death of a little boy named Aaron Griffiths, between seven and eight years of age, occurred at Stony CreekYarraville, on Christmas eve. It appears that on Tuesday morning the boy went in company, with his brother William, aged 21 years, to Williamstown to bring a ballast craft up the river. When the boat was brought up the Creek the elder brother was making some slight repairs on the boat, and went on shore for the purpose of getting someboards, instructing his little brother to remain below. When he returned a few minutes later the child was nowhere to be seen, but a hat was lying on deck and a piece of board was seen floating on the water. The brother then suspecting what had happened, dived several times into the water in hopes of recovering the body, but in vain, being nearly drowned him if by getting under the side of the boat. He then went for assistance, and about an hour and a half later the body was found about 15 yards farther down the stream by a young man named Charles Hopkins, in about fifteen feet of water. He was the youngest of a large family, and was a general favourite with his brothers and sisters, to whom he had endeared himself by his winning ways. Deep sympathy is expressed for the bereavedfamiy. A magisterial inquiry was held on Thusday before Cr. Couslig, J.P, who returned a verdict of accidentally drowned.

 

“Milkman Drowned Caught by Onrushing Waters”

From the Argus, 6 March 1919: 

The only loss of life reported took place on the Williamstown road, between New-port and Yarraville. Alfred Luizzi, aged 30 years, a dairyman, of Stephenson street, Newport, while on his morning milk round, with horse and cart, was caught by the on-rush of water and swept away and drowned. 

On the Williamstown road, between Newport and Yarraville, is a bridge over the upper portion of Stony Creek. The council had erected a substantial wooden bridge, with concrete foundations, and stout posts and rails on either side. Yesterday a raging torrent, 400ft. wide, swept along the roadway, to a depth of some 3ft. to 4ft. above the bridge decking. Along this road it was the custom of Luizzi to drive on his milk round. Early in the forenoon the horse and cart were discovered, held by a wire fence, some four hundred yards from the roadway, the horse having been drowned. Grave fears were at once entertained for the safety of Luizzi, and the Newport police were communicated with. 

Sergeant Ross detailed Constables P. C. Miles and J. H. Black to conduct an immediate search. Just before noon the body of Luizzi was discovered covered with mud and slime, and brought to the Williamstown morgue. It is stated that Luizzi usually took with him his little boy on the round, but owing to the wet weather had fortunately left him at home.

The rails of the bridge had been swept away, while portion of the concrete foundations had been uprooted. 

 

"Boy Drowned at Play"

From the Argus, 5 January 1921

"While playing around the stone piles of the bridge at Stony Creek, Yarraville, on December 28, Frederick George Niblett, aged 10, of 5 York street,Yarraville, slipped into deep water, and drowned. His playmate, Jessie McGrath, aged 12, told the deputy coroner (Mr. A. Phillips) at an inquest yesterday that she asked a man, whom she would be unable to recognise, to save the lad. He said that he could not swim, but began to take off his clothes, and told her to fetch mother. When she returned the man was not there. If he had stopped across the rocks he could have reached the boy."

 

"The Haunted Ford"

Article from the Williamstown Chronicle, 8 Nov 1946

“(To the Editor.)

Sir,-Noticing the work that is being carried out at the Stony Creek, between Spotswood and Yarraville, I thought you might like to know a bit about the history of that place. In the old days when the Melbourne Road was the only road, or rather, bush track, to Melbourne, lacking a horse or cart one had to walk. It was thick bush on either side of the track, and as a resting place someone had built a bit of a humpy in the little gully just off the road at the south side of the creek. 

In the old days it was a watercourse and full of trees and ferns. There was only a rough ford across the creek, and above the ford the water was sweet and fresh, and travellers used to boil their billies, and if benighted would camp there. 

Two men stopping to have a meal were horrified to find in the hut the dead body of a seaman whose throat had been so savagely cut that the thin bladed knife had broken and the point stuck in the backbone of the neck. The police found the murderer in an eating house in Williamstown eating his dinner with the very knife. He was a Swedish sailor. 

When one was driving down the incline to the ford one's horse was terrified, and it took very strong hands to hold it.. Mrs. George was killed there through her horse shieing so badly, and Mr Luizzi, a milkman, was drowned In the creek in a flood. I would not care to be a nightwatchman on the work at Stony Creek.--Yours, etc.

ANN FLEMING, Altona.”

Westgate Bridge Collapse

At 11.50 am on 15 October 1970 one of the spans of the Westgate Bridge collapsed, falling 50m into the mud of Stony Creek below. 35 workers were killed in what is to this day Australia's worst industrial disaster. A permanent memorial is today located beneath the bridge on Hyde Street, adjacent to Stony Creek.

 

 

1950s to 1970s– Landfilling

Many of the former quarry holes had been used for informal waste disposal prior to this period as the disued quarry holes became a wasteland. For example, it was reported in The Independent on 31 March 1900 that: 

“Cr Hills complained bitterly of the condition of a tip at the back of the Francis street State School. Since the plague scare commenced people were sending all manner of rubbish to the tip, which was in a disgraceful condition. The surveyor intimated that the tip in question was not a council tip, nor was it used by the council employees. Cr Toohey agreed with Cr Hills' remarks as to the disgraceful condition of the place, and it was decided that steps be' taken to have the place closed, and the rubbish properly covered.”

However, the most significant phase of landfilling occurred during this period. Landfilling was performed at the Hyde Street Reserve, initially filling old quarry holes, and progressively moving south and easterly to reclaim former swampland. The waste deposited here includes a variety of residential and industrial wastes. By the early 1970s the majority of the site had been filled, although indiscriminate and illegal waste disposal is indicated to have occurred at the Hyde Street reserve until approximately 2001.

During the construction of the West Gate Bridge, filling also occurred along the southern embankment of the Stony Creek at Spotswood. The natural course of the Stony Creek was also altered and concrete lined in the vicinity of Williamstown Road; the creek previously extended further toward Spotswood in this area. 

Over the years, the creek and its banks became a waste land of Scotch thistles and an adventure playground for local children. Horses were corralled at different sections of the creek and Cruickshank Park held horses for the local pony club. But even in its most neglected days there were plans to create a more inviting recreational space. In 1946, plans were drawn up for Cruickshank Park and the north side of what is now Westgate Golf Course, to create parks and recreational spaces along the creek.

1954  
 1954  1960 - Lower Stony Creek
   
 1968 - Lower Stony Creek  1974 - Lower Stony Creek


1970s to Current – From Wasteland to Refuge

In 1971, a group was created to design and build Cruikshank Park. Local residents got together and in conjunction with the Council, work was started on the park. Community groups such the Friends of Stony Creek and Friends of Cruickshank Park have done many plantings there. 

In 1993 Friends of Stony Creek were incorporated. They were originally named Greening Footscray but the group decided to concentrate on Stony Creek. They have revegetated many parts of the creek including Cruickshank Park, and areas from Cala St to Paramount Rd, and from Williamstown Rd to Francis St. With the help of Melbourne water, they built two ponds at Cala St and in Cruickshank Park. The group would like to create other ponds and reed areas along the creek.

In 2011, a new Masterplan was commissioned by the Maribyrnong Council giving new emphasis to work on Stony Creek and its environs. The plan creates a more usable open space, and aims to connect as much of the creek as possible with pedestrian and bicycle paths and infrastructure. As part of the plan, bollards were recently built at the Hyde Street Reserve and the old fence was demolished. The future of the Creek is bright with promise.


Friends of Stony Creek 2013