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:


Ivanhoe is a residential suburb 9 km. north-east of Melbourne, south of Heidelberg. The land occupied by Ivanhoe was one of several portions adjoining the Warringal (later Heidelberg) village surveyed in 1837. Sales occurred the following year and, the Ivanhoe portion was considered to be of unusual fertility and landscape appeal. It had Darebin Creek on the west and the Yarra River on the south. By the 1850s there was an Ivanhoe village, a name derived form Sir William Scott’s novel, and used from 1853. A school was opened in the Anglican church.

During the 1850s smaller farms were taken up and by the next decade there were two hotels, market gardens, orchards, an elementary racecourse and “gentlemen’s villas”. A state primary school which replaced the one in the Anglican church, was opened in 1881. The Australian Handbook, 1904, described Ivanhoe as –

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Between 1910 and 1930 Ivanhoe underwent residential development. From being a pretty township with handsome villas, a church school, a golf links and a population of 2,013 in 1913, it had 5,016 persons in 1921 and 7,701 persons in 1933. The Victorian Municipal Directory described it as –


During the 1920s the Ivanhoe Girls’ Grammar School (1903) and the Boys’ Grammar School (1915) had growing enrollments. Another primary school in East Ivanhoe was opened in 1930. In 1937 the council offices of Heidelberg city were transferred from the old Heidelberg village to a new art deco civic centre in Upper Heidelberg Road, Ivanhoe. The move acknowledged that Ivanhoe’s shopping and commercial area was the more prominent of the two. Ivanhoe gained direct access to suburbs south of the Yarra River when the Burke Road Bridge was opened in 1926.

The areas of Ivanhoe which are distant from the railway station and shopping centre completed their residential development in the postwar years. Ivanhoe West, adjoining the Darebin Creek, has several Housing Commission dwellings and a small shopping area. The Bellfield primary school was opened in 1951. Ivanhoe East, adjoining the Yarra River, is famed for the Boulevard which overlooks the public golf course and Yarra Valley. Each Christmas residents decorate their houses and gardens and the display attracts many onlookers. There is an active strip shopping centre near the A.V. Jennings Beauview estate (1941). To the north is Eaglemont, which was developed during the prewar years, the attractions being its elevated position and proximity to a railway station.

Ivanhoe central has maintained its retailing dominance, with a combination of strip shopping and the Ivanhoe Plaza. There is a bowling club and tennis court near the shopping centre, and a croquet club, another bowling cub, tennis courts and ovals in parklands a little to the south nearer the river.


View of Ivanhoe from the clock tower of Heidelberg town hall in Ivanhoe, Heidelberg 1937


Land at Heidelberg, 14 km north-east of Melbourne, was sold by Crown auction in 1838, making it one of the earliest rural allotments. (Central Melbourne’s first land sale was on 1 June, 1837). By 1840 there was a surveyed township named Warringal (Aboriginal for eagle’s nest). Warringal gave way to Heidelberg, a name applied by a land agent after the town in Germany.

Heidelberg was reached by a track from Melbourne via North Fitzroy, and in 1841 the Heidelberg Road Trust was formed. As a form of local government it preceded the Melbourne town council. By the late 1840s the road had a toll bar at the Merri Creek, and a macadamised surface. It became a tourist attraction, enhancing Heidelberg’s reputation as a desirable place for views, excursions and rural estates. Cattle overlander Joseph Howden had built his Gothic Banyule homestead in 1846 overlooking the Yarra Valley.

Heidelberg was made a shire on 27 January, 1871, and The Australian Handbook in 1875 described it as –


The village-like appeal of Heidelberg was repeated in the 1904 Handbook, and town amenities had grown –


Until the 1960s the Heidelberg municipality extended into Northcote on the west side of the Darebin Creek and northwards until 1964 when the semi-rural North Ward was severed and made the Shire of Diamond Valley.


Heidelberg. 1937

Heidelberg had been proclaimed a City on 11 April, 1934, but its rural space exceeded the urban area. Subdivision and settlement clustered around Heidelberg Road and the Melbourne to Hurstbridge railway line which bisected the municipality in a generally north-east direction. Along that line are Darebin, Ivanhoe, Eaglemont, Heidelberg, Rosanna, Macleod, Watsonia and Greensborough. Mont Park was reached by a spur line from Macleod. Heidelberg West, unserved by railway, was sparsely settled until the 1950s when it was built on by the Housing Commission and provided the site for the athletes’ village for the 1956 Melbourne Olympic Games. In 1947 The Australian Blue Book described Heidelberg as –


The appealing rural scenery had attracted artists in the 1880s, not least because the absence of public utilities and a railway (until 1888) caused houses to be vacated and available at low rents. The plein air school of painting from Box Hill rented a cottage at Eaglemont in 1888, culminating in the “Heidelberg School” of Australian art. Two years later the Chartersville homestead was occupied for similar purposes. The views from Mount Eagle and across the Yarra Valley were especially impressive.


The new Heidelberg town hall (Ivanhoe), Heidelberg 1937

By the 1970s the residential development of the Heidelberg municipality was complete but for some areas in Viewbank or Rosanna East. The shopping areas were mostly of the typical strip kind, but an early (1956) free-standing centre was built in Heidelberg West, to a design by the Housing Commission which drew on American trends.

The population of the Heidelberg municipality (before the severances in the 1960s) was 8,610 (1911), 34,401 (1947, excluding Greensborough), and 60,007 (1961). The population in 1991 was 60,468. On 15 December, 1994, most of Heidelberg City was united with part of Eltham Shire to form Banyule City.


Contemporary homes, Mount Street, Heidelberg, Heidelberg 1937

Further Reading:

  • Garden, Donald S., “Heidelberg: The Land and its People 1838-1900”, Melbourne University Press, 1972.
  • “Heidelberg Since 1836: A Pictorial History”, Heidelberg Historical Society, 1971.
  • Topliss, Helen, “The Artists’ Campus: Plein Air Painting in Melbourne 1885-1898”, Monash University Gallery, 1984.