Northcote is a residential and industrial suburb 8 km. north-north-east of Melbourne. Until 1994 it was a municipality,bounded on the west by the Merri Creek and on the east by the Darebin Creek. Its northern and southern boundaries adjoined Preston and Fitzroy / Collingwood/ Kew respectively.

The land surface of Northcote is a mixture of basaltic and mudstone/clay, the latter having a considerable bearing on Northcote’s economic development.

Much of the former Northcote municipality was sold at a Government land sale in October, 1839, in lots as large as 115 ha. Two original purchasers have left their names on places or landmarks:Ruckers Hill, west of the Northcote town hall (from William Rucker), and Penders Grove, Thornbury, on the north-eastern border.

All the lots were long and narrow, mostly running east-west. Their configuration has imposed the predominant east-west street pattern.

The Northcote township was surveyed in 1853 immediately north of a bendin the Merri Creek where Westgarth is now situated. It is now thought thatthe name Northcote was bestowed by the Surveyor-General, Sir Andrew Clarke, possibly as a compliment to Stafford Henry Northcote, barrister, private secretary to Gladstone and co-author of the famous Northcote-Trevelyan report on the reform of the British civil service (1853).

Whilst the surveyed township nestled beside the creek it was William Rucker’s land to the north which attracted the eye. He built a mansion in1842 in Bayview Street, at the top of Ruckers Hill which slopes down tothe Merri Creek. Land sales in 1853-4 after the gold rushes did well, andwell-to-do houses were built. High Street was the spine of the district, joined to Melbourne by a bridge (1850) over the Merri Creek. A Wesleyan Church and school were opened in High Street between Mitchell and Bastings Streets, their premises functioning as a community centre for several years.The Anglican church was opened in Westgarth, nearer the creek, in 1860,along with a school. The Peacock hotel was opened just south of the Wesleyan church in 1854, along with the Shannon to the north of the church.

Until the land-boom 1880s, Northcote remained rural, with occasional mansions or large homes. It was beyond the ring of metropolitan developmentbefore the land boom. Notable establishments along the river valleys werethe Fulham Grange Orchard and preserving factory, Lucerne Farm and the Yarra Bend metropolitan lunatic asylum (1848).

Industries began in the 1870s, including slaughtering yards, piggeriesand claypits. (For a while the area around the Wesleyan church was calledNewmarket, possibly a reference to butchers and associated activities.)An early claypit was operated by the Patent Brick Co. east of the corner of High and Separation Streets (1873). It was the forerunner of the NorthcotePatent Brick Co. Ltd. (1886) with three Hoffman kilns. Finally becomingthe Northcote tip, the former quarry sites are now occupied by the NorthcotePlaza shopping centre and Kmart. In 1874 the State school in Helen Streetwas opened, replacing the Wesleyan and Anglican schools.

On 25 May, 1883, Northcote became a borough. Before then it had beenpart of Jika Jika shire in union with Preston, which in turn had been part of a larger Darebin shire (1870) and Epping Road District (1864).

When the land boom came Northcote was effectively without any publictransport. The railway had no direct connecting corridor the central Melbourne,having to rely on a circular route from Spencer Street via Flemington, CarltonNorth and Fitzroy North, which linked to the Heidelberg line (1888), butnot to a line through Northcote until 1891. The direct connection to central Melbourne through Clifton Hill and Richmond came in 1901-3. Even trams were late coming, the High Street cable tram opening in 1890 under the aegisof the Clifton Hill to Northcote and Preston Tram Co. Its promoter was GeorgeClauscen, German-born, Fitzroy mayor 1886-7, chain-retailer of furnitureand sometime Northcote councillor.

The absence of public transport during the 1880s meant that land saleswent for low prices, either with a view to profit from later subdivisionor to buyers with limited means. Either course predetermined Northcote asa working person’s suburb. Cottages and row houses sprang up, but builtwith brick rather than timber as had often been the case in neighbouringCollingwood. In 1893 The Australian Handbook described Northcote as –


By then High Street had a substantial commercial strip with seventy businesspremises between the town hall and the Carters Arms hotel and SeparationStreet next to the brickworks. Another State school had opened in WalesStreet in 1891 and the Little Sisters of the Poor opened the first of threebuildings on the spacious grounds they had acquired in St. Georges Road.The borough was proclaimed a town on 12 September, 1890, the year the newtown hall was completed.

During the 1890s Northcote’s population stagnated at about 7,000, inthe next decade it nearly doubled and in the 1920s it did the same again.At last Northcote and a direct-railway link had been discovered.

In 1898 the Northcote Football Club was revived, and played its homematches at Northcote Park from 1904. Pony racing was begun at a racecourseoff St. Georges Road between the Croxton and Thornbury railway stations on a site oddly called the Fitzroy racecourse, one of the three owned by John Wren (the others being at Ascot Vale and Richmond). High Street was the opening of the Northcote Picture Theatre in 1912, one ofAustralia’s earliest in terms of its size and ornamentation. Southwards, near the town hall, a free library was opened in 1911, funded by the American millionaire, Andrew Carnegie. Northcote town was proclaimed a city on 13March, 1914.

In 1907 an argumentative fruit picker for the Goulburn Valley began hawkingfruit and rabbits in Northcote, and opened a fruit shop in High Street in1911. He joined the Labor Party, was elected to the Northcote council in1915 and entered the State Parliament’s lower house as the district’s representative two years later. John Cain became Premier of Victoria in 1943, 1945-7 and1953-5.

In 1920 Northcote got a third north-south public transport route, thetram along St. Georges Road. Residential settlement spread east and westof the tram lines, and several churches were built. Northcote high schoolwas opened in 1926. The football club won its first premiership in the Victorian Football Association in 1929, with its star Aborigine Douglas Nichols. Nichols later played for Fitzroy, returned to Northcote, became a Church of Christ pastor, activist in the Aborigines Advancement League and Governor of South Australia in 1976.

The Victorian Municipal Directory, 1946-7, described Northcote’s mixture of industrial, commercial and residential activity as –


Within a decade Northcote was in the midst of profound change. Italian migrants settled in Northcote (9.5% of the municipality’s population was Italian born in 1961), along with other nationalities. In people’s mindsNorthcote was becoming joined with neighbouring Collingwood as an innersuburb. Verandah posts, tress and old buildings became a nuisance to progress.The Anglican church, which had been built on the site of Ruckers mansionin 1926, was sold to the Eastern Orthodox Church in 1966. Besides having overseas-born residents, Northcote’s school-age population began to fall in the 1960s. The Italian and Greek communities began to challenge the Labor party’s Anglo-Celtic membership.

A further sign of change was when the New Northcote Brick Co. sold its quarry to the council for a tip. The Northcote Plaza was opened on the unquarried land in 1981 and expanded when the tip was filled. With an area of 14,000square metres (Kmart and 41 shops), it has drawn passing trade form theonce dominant High Street which succumbed to non-retail uses and vacancies.

By the 1980s the spread of gentrification crossed the Merri Creek fromFitzroy North. The local brickworks had bestowed a solid terra cotta buildingstock. Northcote’s median house price in 1987 was 93% of the median formetropolitan Melbourne and in 1996 it was 116% of the metropolitan median.Many houses are double-fronted, or weatherboard California bungalow.

In 1996 the median personal weekly income of Northcote residents fifteenyears or more was $282. The metropolitan median was $293. In 1997 45% of children in Northcote belonged to families on a welfare benefits or classedas working poor.

The Northcote municipality contained Croxton, Dennis, Merri and Thornbury,and, after 1 October, 1962, when part of Heidelberg city was annexed, Alphingtonand Fairfield. On 22 June, 1994, most of Northcote city was united with Preston city and a small part of Coburg city to form Darebin city.

Northcote’s census populations were 163 (1861),1,316 (1881) and the municipal populations were 7,100 (1891), 17,519 (1911),30,519 (1921), 44,746 (1961) and 59,303 (1971). In 1996 the census population for nearly the same area as the former municipality was 43,956.

Further Reading:

Fitzroy North

Fitzroy North, 4 km. north-east of Melbourne, is separated from Fitzroy (South) by Alexandra Parade. Its other boundaries adjoin Carlton North, Brunswick, Northcote and Clifton Hill.

It was laid out in the 1850s, by and large to a design developed by government survey staff in contrast to the under-dimensioned thoroughfares and allotments arising from private speculation and development south of Alexandra Parade. The design was fitted around the north-easterly thoroughfares of Queens Parade and St. Georges Road, the latter running over the Yan Yean water-supply pipe (1857). An unrealised suburban design from the government survey department was “Merriville”, but the name is acknowledged by the locality of Merri in Northcote, just over the border. The border is, in fact the Merri Creek.

Suburban allotments were not sold until the 1860s and 1870s. Near Merri is Rushall, the site of a housing development begun in 1869 by the Old Colonists’ Association. The idea of the Association and the houses seems to have been that of the theatrical entrepreneur, George Coppin, who was concerned about accommodation for elderly Port Phillip pioneers and for retired actors. The two hectare site has houses ranging from bluestone cottages to 1960s home units.

In the middle of Fitzroy North is Edinburgh Gardens, a circular site with a sports oval at its southern end. The oval was the home ground of the Fitzroy Football Club from its formation in 1883, entry to the Victorian Football League in 1897 until its departure from the oval in 1967. The Gardens had the Brunswick Street/St. Georges Road tram alongside (1887), and railway lines from Preston and Carlton North, which converged on a spur which ran through the Gardens. The railway line from Carlton North was part of the inner circle which became superfluous when radiating suburban lines were finally run through other inner suburbs to connect directly with central Melbourne.

Churches and schools were opened: St. Luke’s Church of England (1874), the Alfred Crescent primary school (1875) and St. Brigid’s Catholic church and school in Alexandra Parade (1880s). In 1891 the Merri primary school in the very north of the district was opened.

The tram in Nicholson Street, along the western boundary, was begun in 1887 and the service along Queens Parade in the same year. Shopping strips developed along the three tram lines, Nicholson Street, St. George’s Road and Queens Parade, the last one being the strongest and having the attraction of a plantation and service road protecting it from the main traffic.

In 1915 a central school was opened in Falconer Street, becoming a high school/secondary college in 1956 and changing in 1992 to a campus of the John Batman TAFE.

The inner-circle railway lines were kept for goods traffic, but in the 1980s and 1990s they were given over to linear parks. The spur line down to the former Fitzroy station has been treated in the same manner. The football club’s homeground became a community oval.

In 1987 the median house price in Fitzroy North was 14% above the median for metropolitan Melbourne and in 1996 it was 46% above the metropolitan median. Housing types in Fitzroy North are similar to those in Clifton Hill – mainly brick with a solid look about them – and their price levels and movements closely mirrored those in Clifton Hill.

Further Reading:

Barrett, Bernard, “The Inner Suburbs: The evolution of an industrial area”, Melbourne University Press, 1971.

Clifton Hill

Clifton Hill is a residential suburb 4 km north-east of Melbourne, separated from Collingwood by Alexandra Parade and the Eastern Freeway. Its eastern boundary is the Merri Creek, and the northern boundary is the road to Heidelberg.

An early landowner, better known in Richmond, was John Docker, who owned Clifton Farm in 1841. A land speculator, John Knipe, later named the area Clifton Hill.

The Melbourne City Council operated a basalt quarry in Clifton Hill, between Yambla Street and the Merri Creek, in the 1850s, continuing until the 1950s. Most of the other land was held by the Crown for agistment purposes, and Government land sales began in 1864. Residential settlement ended the use of Clifton Hill for the burial of sewage in the 1870s. It was the more salubrious part of Collingwood council’s area, having elevated land with larger houses and two reserves. Mayors Park and Darling Gardens. It had about seven houses per acre compared with fifteen per acre in Collingwood, south of Alexandra parade. Most were red brick and terra cotta tile compared with weatherboard and iron roofs in Collingwood.

An industrial landmark, the shot tower, was erected beside Alexandra Parade in 1882. Primary schools were opened in Gold Street (1874) and Spensley Street (1891). The shot tower and the Gold Street school are on the Victorian Heritage Register, as is the railway station (1888). The railway line connected Collingwood and Heidelberg until a link between Princes Bridge and Collingwood was opened in 1901.

Of more commercial significance was the cable tram (1887), which brought the Smith Street shops within easier reach. A local shopping strip grew along the tramline in Queens Parade.

Clifton Hill’s residential attraction lessened after the turn of the century as middle class housing grew in the eastern suburb and industry took up land for factories. The Victorian Municipal Directory described Clifton Hill in 1933 as –


The Merri Creek loops around the eastern and part of the northern boundary. By the 1990s the whole of the river bank was edged with parklands, including a large space occupying the quarries site. Clifton Hill underwent accelerated gentrification compared with Collingwood: by 1987 Clifton Hill’s median house price was 112% of the metropolitan median, and in 1996 it was 160%.

There is an attractive shopping centre along Queens Parade, separated from the main thoroughfare by a plantation and subsidiary motor track. The shop facades are in a good state of preservation and comparatively few have fallen to non-retail uses.

Further Reading:

  • Barrett, Bernard, The Inner Suburbs: The evolution of an industrial area, Melbourne University Press, 1971.
  • The Flat and the Hill: Conserving Old Collingwood, Department of Planning and Housing and the City if Collingwood, 1991.