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Box Hill, VIC

Once known as The Garden City of Melbourne it was home to the 'en plein air' art community.

Although Box Hill is now a suburb of Greater Melbourne, at the end of the 19th century it was a bush retreat which attracted several of Australia’s most famous artists to it 'en plein air' (in the open) artists camp. Tom Roberts, one of Australia's most famous and important landscape painters, came to Box Hill determined to capture the play of light and shade in the Australian countryside. He was accompanied by fellow painter, Frederick McCubbin, and they were subsequently joined by a number of other artists including Arthur Streeton, Louis Abrahams, Charles Conder and Jane Sutherland. Today Box Hill is a suburb but the local council has created an excellent Whitehorse Artists Trail where visitors can experience the places which inspired some of Australia's most famous landscape paintings.


Box Hill, now a suburb of Melbourne, is located 21 km east of the city via the Eastern Freeway.


Origin of Name

Not many town names are chosen by a kind of lottery but in 1860 there was a meeting of local citizens and a number of preferred place names were suggested. A kind of competition was won by a man named Silas Padgham, a storekeeper and the first postmaster of the area. Padgham had been born at Box Hill in Surrey, England. Thus the name. 


Things to See and Do

Box Hill Historical Society
Located behind the Town Hall at Suite 7, Town Hall Hub, 27 Bank Street, the Box Hill Historical Society is open on Tuesday between 11.00 am - 4.00 pm and other times by appointment. Tel: (03) 9285 4808 or check out https://www.boxhillhistoricalsociety.com.au. It is primarily a research facility which has a "main catalogue which lists items such as photographs, manuscripts, books, ephemera and loose newspaper cuttings." The society was formed in 1963 and is run by volunteers.

Box Hill Gardens
Located off Station Street this attractive park is ideal for picnics and walking. It contains a duck pond, the Box Hill War Memorial and a variety of public play and sports areas. For a detailed map and a list of points of interest, check out https://walkingmaps.com.au/walk/3932.

The Heidelberg School and the Memorial Cairn
Box Hill attracted several of Australia’s most famous artists to the area from 1885 to 1888. Tom Roberts, one of Australia's greatest landscape painters, came to Box Hill shortly after returning from a trip to France and Spain, where he had been greatly influenced by the impressionists and the " en plein air" (painting in the open rather than in a studio) movement . He returned to Australia determined to capture the play of light and shade in the Australian countryside.
Roberts and fellow painter, Frederick McCubbin, dissatisfied with the conservative approach to landscape painting which existed in Australia, chose Houston's Farm at Box Hill. It was an ideal location because it allowed them to pursue their experiments on weekends while retaining their jobs in Melbourne. During their time at the camp they were joined by a number of other artists including Arthur Streeton, Louis Abrahams, Charles Conder, Jane Sutherland and others.
Having established their naturalistic approach to the bush and its inhabitants, the group moved to nearby Heidelberg and became known as the 'Heidelberg School'. The fine grass, tea-trees, and blue gum leaves of the red box eucalypts, featured in such works as Roberts' The Artists' Camp, McCubbin's A Bush Burial and Streeton's Settler's Camp, establish that the paintings were done in the Box Hill area. A memorial has been erected in a small park - the Artists Park - at the eastern end of Prince Street, as this is thought to be near the site of the original Artists' Camp. A land boom around Box Hill in the early 1880s generated prosperity when the railway arrived in 1882, enabling Roberts and McCubbin to commute freely to and from Melbourne.

Whitehorse Artists Trail
A highlight of the area is the Whitehorse Artists Trail (it can be downloaded at http://www.whitehorse.vic.gov.au/IgnitionSuite/uploads/docs/WH%20Artists%20Trail%20Brochure.pdf or obtained emailing customer.service@whitehorse.vic.gov.au.) As the brochure explains: "The City of Whitehorse Artists’ Trail celebrates a significant phase in the municipality’s artistic heritage. The interpretative panels located at various points along the trail acknowledge the artists who painted regularly at the Box Hill artists’ camp. The Artists’ Trail begins in Main Street, near Box Hill Station, and finishes at Blackburn Lake. The trail is best undertaken by car, although there are sections – Gardiners Creek and Blackburn Lake in particular – that are pleasant to walk."
The brochure, which covers ten places where the artists painted, provides images of the art works, detailed descriptions and a map so visitors can find their way around the places of interest. It explains the genesis of the artist's camp as "Almost every Saturday, for some four years (1885–1888), a group of Melbourne artists raced to the Lilydale line to catch a steam train, leaving behind the bustling metropolis for an idyllic weekend of camping and painting. Alighting at Box Hill ... the artists tramped south for two kilometres to their camp at the farm of local resident David Houston. Wasting no time, they secured their blank canvases against trees or on portable easels and set to work making paintings that were rendered spontaneously, capturing the changing effects of light on the landscape."

Here is an abridged summary of the ten places of interest. Get the brochure for more detailed information:

1. Box Hill Station Cnr Station and Main Streets, Box Hill
Frederick McCubbin Box Hill Railway Station, 1890
In painting this ‘impression’ of the station buildings, Frederick McCubbin may have been recalling the experience of waiting for the train on a Sunday evening after spending the weekend at the Box Hill artists’ camp.

Tom Roberts A Sunday afternoon picnic at Box Hill, c.1887
Friends of the core group of painters associated with the artists’ camp regularly travelled by train to Box Hill to enjoy a picnic or to pose for paintings. This impression of a couple enjoying a relaxing afternoon picnic in an unthreatening natural landscape of gum trees and native grasses is typical of Tom Roberts’ Box Hill paintings. The male picnicker depicted in this work is the artist Louis Abrahams, and his female companion may be his future wife Golda Brasch.

2. Roberts McCubbin Primary School, Birdwood Street, Box Hill South
Tom Roberts Evening when the quiet east flushes faintly at the sun’s last look’ , 1887–88
According to Arthur Streeton, Tom Roberts was the first to draw his friends’ attention to the variations in colour and tone of the eastern sky at sunset. The point from which this landscape is believed to have been painted is above the artists’ camp, in the vicinity of Roberts McCubbin Primary School.

3. Gardiners Creek Trail - Enter via cnr Riversdale Road and Sycamore Street, Box Hill
Tom Roberts A summer morning tiff, 1896
This is one of the earliest works Tom Roberts painted at the artists’ camp. Frederick McCubbin’s sister Harriet posed for the painting, as Roberts recalled in a letter to his future wife Lillie Williamson: McCubbin’s sister stands for us in sunlight among some exquisite young white firm saplings. She is a little downcast – up the hill a youth in the same state about to let his horse through the slip panel.

4. Gardiners Creek Trail - Enter via cnr Riversdale Road and Sycamore Street, Box Hill.
Also sited on this Trail (400m east of this panel) is a panel representing Tom Roberts’ painting The Artists’ Camp and Frederick McCubbin Lost, 1886
This work is Frederick McCubbin’s earliest known painting on the subject of lost children and is often considered his first ‘great’ picture. The model for the painting is believed to be one of McCubbin’s sisters Mary Anne, also known as ‘Dolly’. Scholars have noted the influence of Tom Roberts’s theories of tonal values on this and other works by McCubbin.

5. Gardiners Creek Trail Enter via Hay Street, Box Hill South
Arthur Streeton Butterflies and blossoms, 1889
Arthur Streeton joined the artists’ camp after Frederick McCubbin met him painting on the beach at Mentone or Beaumaris in 1886. Although the camp had disbanded by early 1889, Streeton still made occasional excursions back to the Box Hill–Blackburn area, where he painted this work.

6. Sutherland Place, Box Hill
Jane Sutherland Obstruction, Box Hill 1887
Jane Sutherland is the best-known female artist who painted at the established artists’ camps around Melbourne in the late nineteenth century. Obstruction, Box Hill is one of several pictures that Sutherland painted in the Box Hill–Blackburn area. Sutherland’s association with the Box Hill artists’ camp is remembered in the naming of nearby Sutherland Place. She is buried in Box Hill Cemetery.

John Llewelyn Jones Summer landscape, droving sheep, c.1883–90
Like Jane Sutherland, John Llewelyn Jones was a contemporary of the plein air artists and is known to have painted at artists’ camps around Melbourne. Various sources suggest that Llewelyn Jones joined Tom Roberts on painting expeditions and thus was possibly a visitor to the Box Hill artists’ camp. This work, with its view of a mountain range in the distance, clearly shows the influence of European Impressionism.

7. Blacks Walk Reserve, Middleborough Road, Blackburn
Tom Roberts Dewy Eve, c.1888
The landscape depicted in this work was possibly painted near the point at which Gardiners Creek crosses Middleborough Road. The view in the painting looks north towards the eastern boundary of Box Hill Cemetery. After spending the weekends painting the bush landscape around Gardiners Creek, Tom Roberts and his artist companions returned to the city on Sunday nights, often making a quick dash up this hill to catch the train at Box Hill Station.

8. Morton Park Central Road, Blackburn (panel sited opposite Wolseley Crescent)
Frederick McCubbin A bush burial, 1890
By early 1889, many of the artists associated with the artists’ camp had relocated to the Eaglemont–Heidelberg area. After the camp disbanded, Frederick McCubbin continued to paint at Box Hill and Blackburn. This poignant graveside scene, a common theme in narrative painting, was probably painted at Box Hill, although the location was for many years believed to be McCubbin’s backyard in Wolseley Crescent, near Blackburn Lake.

9. Blackburn Lake, Central Road, Blackburn
Frederick McCubbin Bush Idyll, 1893
The body of water in the background suggests that this romantic image may have been painted in the vicinity of Blackburn Lake. The young girl in the painting has been identified as Mary Jane Lobb, who was born in Castlemaine in 1881. The identity of the boy is a mystery. This painting captures the mystical quality of the Australian bush and is unique among Frederick McCubbin’s works.

10. Blackburn Lake, Central Road, Blackburn (panel sited at entrance to car park)
Theo Brooke Hansen Lake near Blackburn, 1890
Theo Brooke Hansen studied under Frederick McCubbin. This painting shows the refreshment rooms that were built in 1889 on the edge of Blackburn Lake, in the vicinity of what is now Duck Point, to cater for the large groups of picnickers who frequented the lake at that time.


Other Attractions in the Area

The White Horse and the Temperance Campaign
Located in the centre of Whitehorse Road is a statue of a white horse on a pedestal which has become the emblem of Box Hill. It appears on the city’s coat of arms. The statue's history is bound up with a temperance campaign which was conducted by members of the area's influential Methodist and Presbyterian churches. A local Rechabite society was founded in 1870, but it was not until the passage of a 1906 Act, which considerably reduced the number of available licenses in the state, that the temperance movement became politically powerful.
In 1920 local option polls were undertaken and the Nunawading district, which includes Box Hill, was one of only two in Victoria which voted to completely ban liquor licensing. As a result, the White Horse Hotel, opened in 1853, was forced to cease trading. It became a boarding house until 1933, when it was demolished. At that time the owners donated the old hotel's symbol, the White Horse statue, to the city, which erected it at its present site.
Prohibition campaigners resisted a return to regular licensing conditions. This forced liquor merchants to resort to subversive tactics in order to obtain their licenses. In 1956, the Box Hill RSL sought to take advantage of a liberalisation of regulatory legislation. While the RSL was fighting the 'dry' opposition, the local golf club managed to erect its Notice of Intention in such a way that it went unnoticed and met the requirement that the intention be advertised in a Victorian newspaper by choosing the Sunraysia Daily in faraway Mildura.
The RSL tried again in 1965. Although only 48% of the neighbourhood supported the Club, the relevant act was worded in such a way that 50% had to vote 'no' for the application to fail. The Club's advisers noticed that 3% of those polled did not vote: therefore only 49% had opposed the application. This view was upheld by the courts and the RSL received its license in 1966.



* Prior to the arrival of Europeans the area around Box Hill was home to the Wurundjeri Aboriginal people.

* Box Hill's first European landholder was Arundel Wrighte who, in 1838, took up a pastoral lease on the land he had previously explored in the Bushy Creek area.

* The first permanent settlers, Thomas Toogood and his wife, purchased 5,000 acres in 1841. Speculator, Henry Elgar purchased 8 square miles of land that year.

* Wrighte built a house on his property in 1844.

* The White Horse Inn was built in 1853.

* The area which now constitutes the centre of Box Hill was first settled in 1854 and the township became a market centre for the fruit and vegetables grown in the district.

* In 1856 Joseph Aspinall oversaw the construction of the Woodhouse Grove Methodist Church.

* The town's name was chosen by lot at a meeting of locals in 1860.

* In 1861 a Post Office was opened in Box Hill.

* By the 1870s a temperance campaign was being conducted by members of the area's influential Methodist and Presbyterian churches. A local Rechabite society was founded in 1870.

* By 1871 the town had a population of 154.

* The White Horse Hotel, which had opened in 1853, was forced to cease trading in the 1870s and became a boarding house until 1933, when it was demolished.

* A land boom generated prosperity when the railway arrived in 1882.

* Several of Australia’s most famous artists were drawn to the area from 1885 to 1888.

* The first Wesleyan church in central Box Hill, now the Methodist Oxford Hall, was established on Station and Oxford Streets in 1886.

* A school opened in the town in 1887.

* The first electric tram in the southern hemisphere commenced its run from Box Hill to Doncaster in 1889.

* The tram line was sabotaged by disgruntled locals in 1891.

* The speculative recklessness which accompanied the boom contributed to a significant bust in 1893.

* In 1895 a market opened near the town's railway station.

* The electric tram was terminated in 1896 due largely to an economic depression at the time.

* In 1920, the year prohibition officially came into force in the United States, local option polls were undertaken and the Nunawading district, which includes Box Hill, was one of only two in Victoria which voted to completely ban liquor licensing.

* In 1924 a girl's technical school was built in the town.

* Box Hill was officially declared a city in 1927.

* In 1956, the Box Hill RSL tried to obtain a liquor license but failed. That year saw the opening of a district hospital.

* The local RSL finally got a liquor license in 1966.

* In 1994 Box Hill amalgamated with Nunawading to become Whitehorse City.


Visitor Information

There is no dedicated Visitor Information Centre but information can be obtained at the Town Hall complex.


Useful Websites

There is a detailed history of the town/suburb at https://www.victorianplaces.com.au/box-hill-and-box-hill-city. The council website is at https://www.boxhill.com.au.

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