Dr. Maxwell Lay, civil engineer, is director of Connecteast which is constructing the Mitcham - Frankston toll road. He is also the author of "Melbourne Miles: The Story of Melbourne's Roads". As the Port Phillip District had some 180 tollroads, he approves of toll roads.

In October 1836 Robert Russell was sent to the Port Phillip District to survey a township for Melbourne. He chose the zero point, or datum, for the survey of Victoria, off shore from Williamstown. Utilising a standard town plan designed by Governor Ralph Darling in 1829, Russell aligned the town along the Yarra River, juggling its position to accomodate all but 3 of the 28 huts which made up the settlement. Spencer Street ran alongside a swamp and Flinders Street ran along the river. The town was 1 mile long by 1/2 mile wide, made up of 8 blocks by 4 blocks.

When surveyor Robert Hoddle took over from Russell in 1837, he accepted the position of Melbourne but moved the datum to Batman's Hill. The angle of the town produced triangular blocks at its edges but outside that, the one mile grid system covered the whole of the state with one axis of the grid being in a north - south direction. The square mile portions were called sections and 25 sections made up a parish. A county was an area which could be administered satisfactorily.

Section boundaries had to follow watercourses. Brunswick and Coburg lie between Moonee Ponds Creek and Merri Creek whilst Northcote and Fairfield lie between Merri Creek and Darebin Creek. Land here was sold in long strips, with river frontages at one end and at their back fence either Sydney Road or High Street. There are not many north - south roads in this region as a consequence. Rivers were not included in land sales.

As early travel was by bullock train or horse and dray, the topography of Melbourne largely determined the position of the roads. The creeks are small, but lie in deep valleys. Getting down into these valleys and out again was arduous. There was also a lot of swampland and so roads out of town navigated around these boggy areas and headed for convenient river crossings, there being about 20 ferries around Melbourne, all with toll booths. Some roads like Studley Park Road followed ridge lines.

The first convenient ford on the Maribyrnong River was at Keilor, so at the time of the Eureka uprising, the troops went to Ballarat, not via the Western Highway, but via Mount Alexander Road to Essendon, where they turned towards Keilor to cross the river and on through Melton. City Road negotiated the swamps south of the river; Malvern Road meandered around Gardiner's Creek whilst Heidelberg Road headed to the best river crossings. Exits out of Melbourne were by the ferry across the river at Punt Road or Princes Bridge and if going to Warrandyte a circuitous route around the Yarra River was taken and then via the diagonal Camberwell Road, heading towards Kew Junction and then onwards along Doncaster Road.

The main route to Geelong headed straight for the You Yangs and then turned left. Travel to Gippsland was via Maroondah Highway to Healesville then south to Yarra Junction where several roads over the hills took travellers south and west.

Whilst the Van Diemen's Landers crossed Bass Strait with their sheep, the cattlemen from New South Wales headed south. They crossed the Murray River in the wake of Hume & Hovell, perhaps following the Goulburn River and in their approach to Melbourne took the Plenty River or followed the Merri Creek to its junction with the Yarra River near Dight's Falls. There they crossed the river and headed for Dandenong, where the Dandenong and Eumemmering Creeks form a horseshoe shaped area perfect for holding cattle.

It's hard to imagine Melbourne as it was, surrounded by so much swamp, with no bridges and difficult ridge roads to negotiage. There are some irregularities in road alignment which can only be explained by poor surveying techniques by men who liked their gin too much and foolhardy decisions taken by London authorities such as in the case of Elgar's Special Survey, which threw out of their rightful place on the grid many roads in Camberwell and North Balwyn.

(The Above is a Report on the Address by Dr. Maxwell Lay
at the General Meeting on 13 May 2006)

Contributed by Jan Hanslow ( PPPG Member No. 1057 )

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