Wednesday, 27 June 2012

Cockatoo - the early years

The original Europeans in the Cockatoo area came for gold that was found in the region around 1859.  The diggers had followed the Yarra River and then its tributaries including the Cockatoo Creek. The diggings were not rich and most of the miners soon left the area, however in the 1870s some settlers looking for land came to the area including Alexander Crichton, a butcher from Berwick, who selected 1500 acres (607 hectares) of land at the head of the Nangana Creek in 1874. Other early selectors were Henry Smartt and Matthew Kirkpatrick. Crichton opened a store on his land between Cockatoo and Gembrook. 

From the State Library of Victoria Collection Image H32492/2330 

George Simmons is credited with opening the first store in the Cockatoo township in 1895, however the seminal event in the history of the development of Cockatoo was the opening of the narrow gauge railway line on December 19 1900. The railway, now known as the Puffiing Billy line, connected the town (as well as Emerald and Gembrook) to the existing line from Melbourne to Upper Ferntree Gully. This opened up the timber industry in the area and the establishment of saw mills including the Belfrey sawmill owned by John James Bell as well as Goldsack and Smith Brothers. Shops and businesses opened around the Cockatoo Railway Station including James McBride’s store in 1903. McBride was also the post master and the source of the name McBride Street.

Cockatoo School, No. 3535 opened in March 1907 in a corn store and moved into a new building in Ivy Street in 1918. This building was re-located to its current site in 1951. A Public Hall and library opened in Cockatoo in 1914, was enlarged in 1934 and had a supper room and kitchen added in 1957. Sadly, the hall along with many other buildings and houses were lost in the 1983 Ash Wednesday fires.

From the State Library of Victoria Collection Image H32492/422

The railway line also brought tourists and week-enders to Cockatoo to enjoy the fresh mountain air, fishing  and other attractions and guest houses were established, such as Eastgate.

The Argus Saturday April 30, 1949, page 36

The area was originally named Cockatoo Creek by the gold diggers, apparently because of the abundance of cockatoos, however the railway station was  called Devon when the Puffing Billy line opened in 1900. The name was changed to Cockatoo Creek in 1901and then shortened to Cockatoo in 1904, though the Post Office retained the named of Cockatoo Creek until the First World War.

Tuesday, 5 June 2012

Cockatoo kindergarten is heritage listed

The history of Cockatoo has twice been recognised at  an official level recently. Firstly, the fight to have the McBride Street kindergarten placed on the Victorian Heritage Register has been successful and secondly the community has received a Local History Grant.  The kindergarten had been nominated to be included on the Victorian Heritage Register in 2011 and it was rejected on the grounds that it wasn’t of State significance. The decision was appealed and in April 2012 the Heritage Council reversed the decision and the kindergarten was  placed on the Victorian Heritage Register.  The Kindergarten was built in 1976 in an interesting twelve sided design, designed by Richard Allen.  However, its importance to the Cockatoo community is its role as a refuge during the Ash Wednesday  fires of February 16, 1983 when 300 people, including 129 children, sheltered inside and survived the fires that devastated the Cockatoo community and much of the rest of Victoria.
In the end the Appeals Committee found that the kindergarten was of historical and social, significance to the state of Victoria and meets the significance threshold for inclusion in the Victorian Heritage Register. The battle to save the kindergarten is a testament to the strength and tenacity of the people of Cockatoo to  stand up and fight for their community.To see the Statement of Significance for the Kindergarten, click here or go to the Victorian Heritage Register  and type Cockatoo into the search box. 

There is an interesting community website, called Victoria's Heritage and Cockatoo's Ash Wednesday story, at  which was set up during the battle for Heritage listing, which has photographs and the history of the kindergarten and information about the township and the bushfires.The picture of the kindergarten,below, is taken from the website.

The other goods news for the Cockatoo community is that the Cockatoo History Committee has been awarded a $4,729 Local History Grant. These grants are presented each year and are administered by the Public Records Office of Victoria. The Grant for the Cockatoo History Committee is to undertake a project to preserve Cockatoo’s existing oral, photographic and documentary history and make widely available for the community. Funds will be used to transfer interviews from cassette tapes to CD, to have audio files transcribed and purchase archival supplies.

In the end that’s good news for Cockatoo and good news for history.