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.

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