News / Community

Race to capture memories of Upfield path before it is gone forever

Project wants stories from Brunswick residents

Photographer Nicholas Walton-Healey and writer Kevin Brophy have been documenting the Upfield path for more than six months.

Mark Phillips
Sunday, May 5, 2024

RENOWNED Brunswick poet and writer Kevin Brophy has observed many changes over four decades of almost daily travel up and down the Upfield bike path. 

He’s seen hand operated boom gates replaced with automatic ones, apartments built where factories once operated, and layer upon layer of grafitti painted and then painted over on the walls and fences that line the path. 

Now, with the railway line and the shared path facing its biggest transformation of all when the Brunswick level crossing removal and skyrail project begins in the next few years, Brophy wants to capture the stories and memories of the area before they are lost. 

Brophy has teamed up with a photographer, Nicholas Walton-Healey, and the Brunswick Community History Group to create a portrait of the existing line and path between Park Street and Moreland Road. 

Over the past six months, Brophy and Walton-Healey have walked every metre of the path – and sometimes the railway line itself – to record hundreds of words and images that will form the basis of an exhibition in late-2025. 

But to complete the project they want to include Brunswick residents’ own memories of the area. 

“Brunswick is undergoing huge changes,” Brophy said. 

“And part of that change, I think, is that it’s becoming more self-conscious about itself, more interested in its own history, more interested in its character. And this will be a kind of elegy to this part of Brunswick.” 

Get more stories like this delivered to your inbox

Sign up for our weekly newsletter.

Born in Coburg, Kevin Brophy has lived in Brunswick for decades and has used the path regularly for almost half a century. 

“It’s been my commute, going shopping, going to the baths every morning, these days heading up to Pentridge cinema, going into town,” Brophy said. 

Walton-Healey now lives in Seddon, but when he was a teenager he would regularly jog along the path. 

The poet and photographer have known each other since 2008 when Brophy supervised Walton-Healey’s Honours thesis for a Creative Arts degree at Melbourne University. Walton-Healey later decided photography rather than poetry was his real passion but their paths crossed again when he produced a book of photographs of 68 Victorian poets. 

Brophy was one of the subjects, his image being captured near the Upfield line. 

The idea for their current project emerged from one of their intermittent catch-ups over a coffee in Brunswick when Walton-Healey had returned to Melbourne from the Tiwi Islands where he works for several months each year as a photographer for an Indigenous community organisation. 

“It was after the skyrail had been announced at the last election,” Brophy said. 

“And it was in response to the announcement of the skyrail I had the impulse to record what’s there now, the path that I’ve known for 45 years because I know that once a building, a site, a corner, an area disappears you ask yourself, what was there before? And I just didn’t want to be left looking at a big new skyrail thinking I can’t really remember what was there before.” 

The collaboration developed naturally from several shared walks along the path when Walton-Healey would take photographs and Brophy would use his phone to capture thoughts and images that he would later flesh out at his writing desk. 

“We were looking at the little bits of broken down history that remains on the line. We were looking at the buildings. We were even standing on the railway line itself until a couple of security officers came and shooed us off.” 

It is a narrow, twisty, uneven and challenging pathway as the line goes up against warehouses, new apartments, a pocket parkland, lines of newly planted struggling native trees, abandoned sites and shops, then flings itself past Brunswick Station by the old licorice factory chimney tower, and down into the squeeze created by the brick wall of Brunswick Baths and the bulky wood and steel pedestrian overpass that looks down on a yard of police breath-testing vans and the remnants of an off-shoot line that once went somewhere west from there, and finally after another squeeze between Jewell Station and new apartments it pops out at Brunswick Road where an orchard fills a vacant lot, and beyond that, southwards into the long drifting downward turn into Royal Park.

On the train going north from Jewell Station it is like going into an open-roofed tunnel as the train slides up into its ’sky-rail’ mode at Moreland, with curved silvery metal  sides, holes punched-in artistically. The train glides upwards almost above the passing buildings and then, by Batman station we are back to earth without any feeling of falling or even descending. It is as if the earth has come back up to us. The line goes on in gentle dips and glides through its dusty route among storehouses, carparks, car yards and scraps of grassland until we come to the cemetery, where we leave the train. My friend remembers a haiku he wrote about coming along this line decades ago. It was something about the train stopping at the cemetery station and no one getting on. It is the same today. We leave the station and go looking for our lost parents in this expanding necropolis.

Two small moments on my walk along the line today. A fruiting tamarillo tree in the rogue orchard on the vacant patch of land at the north of Brunswick Road on the Western side of the line. One fruit is going yellow, the rest are still green. They are perfect droplet shapes. I only know the fruit is tamarillo because my phone’s camera is able to tell  me this. And along beyond Union Street going north there is a child’s mattress thrown onto the stones between the bike path and the rail line. A woman walking with friends turns and says to them, ‘Look! And we can bring our rubbish down here too!’

Words: Kevin Brophy
Photos: Nicholas Walton-Healey (courtesy of the artist)

For Walton-Healey, the project has helped him reconnect with the area. 

“When I was younger and living in Northcote, I used to do a lot of long distance running, and so I often used to run along the line. And I guess coming back to Melbourne and I suppose in a way looking to rediscover a sense of who I am and and have been at different points in my life, reconnecting with this area and the local history felt like an important thing to do.” 

He has taken more than 100 photographs in 18 different sessions either alone or accompanied by Brophy. 

“I feel that every time I go along the line the beauty of it is that you notice something different each time, whether that’s because your understanding of the history of the area has changed or because change to the line itself is inevitable,” he said. 

“I feel that you can make the same journey often and see something new every time.” 

Merri-bek Council has agreed to fund an exhibition of the results of the project, which will probably be held late next year. A book may also be produced. 

“We hope that, in pictures and words, we will be able to give the people of Brunswick a freshly awakened appreciation of the character of their suburb – especially this corner of it so powerfully shaped by the Upfield line,” Brophy said. 

But to complete the project, Brophy and Walton-Healey also want to include the stories and memories of other people who use the path. 

They hope to crowdsource these stories, either through written contributions or by interviewing their subjects, accompanied by photographs. 

“The photos we’ve got at present don’t show the people who use the line,” Brophy said. 

“And I think it’s time for us to start talking to those people and photographing them making use of Nick’s ability as a portrait photographer because those characters are part of the character of the line.” 

People interested in contributing to the project can contact Nicholas Walton-Healey at

Latest stories: