Local history

5 things that you didn’t know about North Balwyn

Having lived in North Balwyn for most of my life and represented it on the local council, it’s a special kind of place to me.

Despite its reputation as ‘North Boring’ there are many interesting things about the area.

So, in no particular order, here are five things that you (probably) didn’t know about North Balwyn.

1. It has a secret creek

Glass Creek once flowed through the middle of the valley where Gordon Barnard Reserve, Hislop Park and Macleay Park are now. These areas were fertile land and where some farms and small dams were located.

It’s still technically there today but it now flows through underground drains that were built in the 1970s.

There are also a number of other smaller creeks and waterways that were put underground.

2. John Brack lived here

Most famous for his painting Collins Street, 5p.m., the 20th-century artist, John Brack, lived at 33 Maud Street from 1953 to 1962.

This is reflected in some of his work during this period, such as North Balwyn tram terminal which was painted on Tuxen Street looking towards the corner of Balwyn Road and Doncaster Road. You can see the same location today.

3. The first Coles supermarket was in North Balwyn

While the first Coles shop was on Smith Street in Collingwood, the first ‘supermarket’ opened on the corner of Burke Road and Doncaster Road in North Balwyn.

It was originally known as ‘Dickens’, named after the company that Coles had acquired in 1958.

The supermarket officially opened on 3 March 1960 with a lot of fanfare. The book A Timeline of Australian Food: from mutton to MasterChef (which I highly recommend – see more information on how to purchase it here) describes it thus:

The North Balwyn store was the first of Coles’ true supermarkets in that it combined variety merchandise with food items – a revolutionary idea at the time. It was Edgar [Coles]’s plan that eventually Coles would run a chain of supermarkets that would allow a housewife to make one single shopping trip for most of her weekly needs, be they foodstuffs or variety goods. Needless to say, it was a very popular idea!

The opening itself was a grand occasion. This new type of shop was a huge novelty at the time and thousands of people came to try out this new shopping experience.

But why did this happen in North Balwyn? At the time, it was a newly-developed, post-war suburb. This meant that cars played a large and increasing role in its layout and transport patterns. The car, like the supermarket, was the latest and greatest thing during this period of great technological advancement (this was also the time when the Space Race was kicking off in a big way).

Unfortunately I can’t find any Creative Commons photos that I can use on this blog, so if you want to see some photos check out this book extract from A Timeline of Australian Food.

4. There were once two high schools

Today Balwyn High School is the only public secondary educational institute in North Balwyn. However, until a few decades ago, there were two.

Greythorn High School was located on the corner of Greythorn Road and Doncaster Road in the eastern part of the suburb. It opened in February 1958, only four years afer the opening of Balwyn High. This was an area of rapid growth after the Second World War and education authorities wanted to ensure adequate capacity for the number of students expected in the vicinity.

In 1992, the school merged with Balwyn High. Its buildings operated as a second campus for Balwyn High. However, the buildings were closed just two years later. The land was subsequently sold for a residential development.

Many former students are still in touch, via networks like this Facebook group.

5. Until the 1940s, it was mostly farms

North Balwyn was the last area of Boroondara to be fully developed. Before the post-WW2 housing boom, the area was mostly used for agriculture. There was a variety of farms during this time. Most of them grew citrus or were used for dairy cows.

There were several large estates and families, many of whom had owned the same land for decades. This included the Buchanans after whom Buchanan Avenue is named.

After the Second World War, the housing market exploded and suburban sprawl took hold in Melbourne. North Balwyn became the new frontier of progress and development and grew at a very rapid pace. By 1960, it was pretty much fully developed as it is today.

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