News / History

Every street has a story to tell

A new book describes the history of Brunswick through the development of its road network

Author and editor Dr Cheryl Griffin has devoted hundreds of hours to The Streets of Brunswick.

Mark Phillips
Thursday, November 30, 2023

FROM Aberdeen Street to Zeal Street, there are 450 named roads and streets in Brunswick and each one is a silent memorial to the history and character of this place. 

Street names describe the development of an area, pay homage to its significant historical figures, and chronicle its evolution over the years. 

And the way streets were laid in the first place can also tell us much about a place. 

“Streets reflect how our sense of identity has changed over time, of who we are (and were), our class structure,” writes local historian Dr Cheryl Griffin in the introduction to a new history of Brunswick’s streets.  

Elsewhere she notes that the naming of Brunswick’s streets has always reflected the power dynamics and the preoccupations of the day. 

Griffin is the editor and lead writer of The Streets of Brunswick which has just been published by the Brunswick Community History Group

Part encyclopaedia, part history, The Streets of Brunswick will be launched on Saturday, December 2, and is set to become a must-have addition to many bookshelves. 

It is the result of painstaking research over two years by Griffin, a retired school teacher and librarian who has lived in Brunswick East since 1996, and colleagues at the history group, particularly Elisabeth Jackson and Margaret Fleming. 

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Griffin says the new book would not have been possible without the earlier work of amateur historian Les Barnes, who spent decades trawling through archives and published a definitive work It Happened in Brunswick, 1837-1987. Barnes was a founding member of the Brunswick Community History Group, which this year is celebrating 40 years of existence. 

Initially, The Streets of Brunswick was intended to be an updating of another of Barnes’ books, The Story Behind the Sign: Street Names of Brunswick, but it soon took on a life of its own.

“I wanted to do more than just put the background to the streets, I wanted to create some sense of how the place that we call Brunswick has changed over time, and how that might be told through the story of the place, its streets and developments and so on,” Griffin said. 

“So although it’s called The Streets of Brunswick, it’s really my take on why place is important and why connecting to the place you live is important through the streets and the parks and so on.” 

At 190 pages, the published book is half the length of Griffin’s first draft. 

Many readers will jump straight to the second section which alphabetically chronicles the origins of all 450 current named streets along with another 50 that no longer exist. 

But the first section provides important context to how Brunswick has been settled and grown over the 186 years since the first European colonists arrived here. 

Griffin also attempts to trace the pre-colonial history of Brunswick, although she admits this is frustratingly scarce because of a lack of documentation of Aboriginal settlement. 

“Streets reflect how our sense of identity has changed over time, of who we are (and were), our class structure.”

The book explains in great detail how the area’s streets were laid out during each stage of development as large tracts of land first sold in the late-1830s were sub-divided again and again into smaller allotments to house thousands of new residents as Brunswick transitioned from an agricultural area to one of Melbourne’s most important industrial suburbs. Black and white photos from eras past are sprinkled throughout. 

It comes as no surprise that the first street to be mapped in Brunswick was (Great) Sydney Road in 1840. Prosaically named as the main route out of the small township of Melbourne to Sydney – even though it only went as far as what is now Albert Street – it was laid out a year before Brunswick itself had a name and was sealed in 1842. 

It was one of the earliest European landowners, Thomas Wilkinson, who named his property Brunswick in honour of the German royal house of which Queen Victoria, who had ascended to the throne in 1837, was a member. At the same time, Wilkinson named the first two streets that serviced his land Albert and Victoria after the royal couple who had married in February 1840.  

As Brunswick was further subdivided, many of the new streets took the names of the landowners and their families and they will be familiar today: Dawson, Duckett, Ashmore, Stewart and Mitchell. Others paid tribute to prominent politicians of the time, such as the British Chancellor of the Exchequer, Lord Lyndhurst, the Governor of Victoria, Lord Hopetoun, and the Cabinet Minister, Lord Lygon. And infamously, Moreland Road took its name from a Jamaican slave plantation which had been managed for many years by the family of early settler Farquhar McCrae. 

A later wave of street names such as Austin Terrace, Balfe Crescent and Rickard Street derived from prominent local councillors and council staff, and from well-known business owners of the times, such as Gamble Street and Munro Street. 

An image from the book of ‘The General’ on the corner of Blyth and Sydney Roads in the 1890s.

More recently, new street names such as Giannarelli Drive, Christoforidis Lane and Ilhan Lane and have signified the impact of postwar migration, and belatedly the area’s original inhabitants in streets that use Wurundjeri Woi-wurrung words like Gumbri Place and Yarrabin Street. 

Griffin says this is woefully inadequate acknowledgement of the diversity of modern day Brunswick but there is an opportunity to make amends by naming more of the laneways that link the streets. 

“That’s the disappointing thing, I think, that so many of the names, a lot of them come from councillors, developers and their families,” she said. 

“In more recent times, the Council on its naming policy has been more aware of the need to reflect changes and pay tribute to the original inhabitants.” 

Griffin and her fellow researchers draw much of their information from the now-defunct Sands and MacDougall Street Directories, a precursor to phone books which were first published in 1863 and continued until the early-1970s. 

They also pored through old Brunswick newspapers that are on file at the State Library of Victoria, electoral rolls, census data, and a variety of maps. 

The Streets of Brunswick will be launched at 1.30pm on Saturday at the Brunswick Town Hall. The launch will include a recital of one of his works by renowned Brunswick poet Kevin Brophy and a performance by the folk group Possum, whose lead singer, Kizzy Davies, proof read the final draft of the book. 

Copies of the book will be available to be purchased for $40 on the day, through the History Victoria online bookshop, and at the Brunswick Library and Brunswick Bound bookshop in Sydney Road.