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Eltham, VIC

Outer Melbourne suburb famous as location of the Montsalvat artists' colony

Eltham is an outer suburb of Melbourne which is famous for Montsalvat, an artists colony designed like a charming French village. The district is known as the "green wedge" or "Melbourne's lungs" - there are a number of native tree parks, the Yarra River and several important creeks (notably Diamond Creek) flow through the area. While Eltham is a typical outer suburban area, the green area around the suburb is known for its abundance of native flora and fauna with orchids, owls and the Eltham Copper butterfly being symbols of the district's rural charm.


Eltham, now an outer suburb of Melbourne, is located 26 km north-east of the city's CBD.


Origin of Name

No one is sure how Eltham got its name but it almost certainly was taken from one of a number of Elthams which exist in England.


Things to See and Do

Located at 7 Hillcrest Avenue, the remarkable Montsalvat Arts Complex was established in 1934 as an artists' colony by Justus Jorgensen, a student of Max Meldrum who had spent much time painting at Eltham. The artists involved were reacting against the abstraction of modernism by heading out into the bush and pursuing the plein-air methods and landscapes associated with the Heidelberg School.
Jorgensen started with a small country cottage where he and his friends could stay at weekends. In 1938 work began on the Great Hall, a three-storey studio space above the gallery which features a large open fireplace, wooden refractory tables, stained-glass windows and a polished slate floor. During World War II Montsalvat was transformed into a farming collective as part of the war effort. The dairy, stables, silos and storehouses, which date from this era, are now studios and workshops.
Today Montsalvat resembles a small French village - Jorgensen took his inspiration from French villages. It features a range of rustic architectural styles in 12 acres (4.8 ha) of garden. The buildings were constructed of whatever materials could be obtained, including stone and earth from the excavation site. Some of the stone, brick and timber was recycled from building wreckers. The wooden uprights in the Barn Gallery came from wharf timbers from Wollongong in New South Wales. The website explains the treasures of the complex: "In the Barn Gallery you will find a cabinet of exquisite jewellery made at Montsalvat. Matcham Skipper’s sculptures will greet you from the top of pillars, and his monumental ironworks surprise you on walls and ceilings. The faces of Montsalvat artists are carved into bosses in the Bluestone Chapel, and the music from instruments made at Montsalvat echoes all around the grounds."  Montsalvat features a permanent collection and temporary exhibitions. The Great Hall is popular for weddings, social functions and conferences. Check out https://www.montsalvat.com.au for detailed information. To fully appreciate the complex there is a virtual tour at https://www.montsalvat.com.au/virtualtour. Tel: (03) 9439 7712.

Diamond Valley Railway and Eltham Lower Park
Located adjacent to the Main Road is the Eltham Lower Park which contains the Diamond Valley Railway, a 7.25 inch (184 mm) miniature railway which was established in 1960 in parkland close to Diamond Creek. It operates the miniature railway every Sunday from 11.00 a.m. to 5.00 p.m., tel: (03) 9439 1493. Check https://www.dvr.com.au for times, prices and information. It also has very detailed information on the history of the railway and the rich collection of rolling stock most of which is based on a miniaturised version of Victorian Railways. For example the electric train is a "Model of Victorian Railways electric suburban goods locomotive. Each bogie is fitted with a single traction motor with final chain drive to all wheels with layshafts. An air horn is fitted. Painted in the old V.R. livery of black with red buffer beams."

Lenister Farm Wetland
Located on the southern side of the river, at the junction of the Yarra River and Diamond Creek, in Eltham Lower Park is Lenister Farm Wetland where there is a bird hide, a viewing platform and interpretative signage. Lenister Farm covers 23 ha and the wetland was created in 1996 to filter nutrients coming from the Lenister Farm Nursery. "The project involved developing a habitat for indigenous flora and fauna which would also serve as a learning and recreation resource for the community to enjoy. The redevelopment of the site involved converting a farm dam invaded by weeds into a healthy, functioning wetland. In 1997 - 1998 a bird-hide, landscaping, rockeries, footbridge and Interpretative signs were installed." There is a detailed description of the wetlands at https://bobpadula.wixsite.com/yarraparklands/lenister-farm-wetlands.

St Margaret's Anglican Church
Located in Pitt Street, St Margaret's Church was built in 1860-61. Nathaniel Billing, the architect, was employed in 1860 and, as the foundation stone explains: "The Foundation Stone of  this Church to be called St Margaret’s was laid by the Rev. Septimus Llyod Chase, M.A. Incumbent of St Paul’s Melbourne and chaplain to the Lord Bishop of Melbourne on Thursday, 4th April A.D. 1861. Lau Deo." The church was dedicated on 12 December, 1861. It is noted as "an early example of polychrome brick work by the respected architect Nathaniel Billings" and contains three religious objects of interest - the stained glass window behind the altar which was created by the Melbourne firm of Ferguson and Urie and "a crucifix that hangs above the stained glass window behind the altar. The crucifix is a commissioned work by Matcham Skipper who resided at Monsalvat." For more information check out http://www.stmargaretseltham.org.au/our-history. And a labyrinth "outlined in river stones, is laid on a disused entoucas tennis court. Set in a meditation garden of mainly indigenous plants, with shaded seating and a large gathering space." The labyrinth was installed in 2006.

Trestle Bridge
Located at the end of Panther Place, the Eltham Rail Trestle Bridge is an historic trestle railway bridge. The National Trust Database (see http://vhd.heritage.vic.gov.au/search/nattrust_result_detail/66300) records that it was "Built in 1902" and "it is the only railway bridge of predominantly timber construction that is still in regular use as an integral part of Melbourne's metropolitan electric railway network and one of extremely few timber rail bridges in the State that still carry trains." It is part of the "Alistair Knox Park river-valley landscape, of which the timber trestle bridge is an important visual component, has been classified by the National Trust. Large manna gum and candlebark trees adorn the adjacent creek banks, and historic Shillinglaw Cottage is also part of this much-prized Eltham landscape. This section of the Diamond Creek Valley was the subject of a Walter Withers painting in the earliest years of the twentieth century and has strong historic links with our Heidelberg School of painters."

Shillinglaw Cottage
Located in Panther Place, Shillinglaw Cottage (1878) is now known as Shillinglaw Cafe and Restaurant. Check out http://shillinglaw.com.au for opening times and menus. The website describes the interesting history of the cottage: "Originally a farmer’s cottage, it is historically significant because it is one of the Shire’s oldest dwellings and was built within Josiah Holloway’s 1850s subdivision known as Little Eltham, which later became the centre of the first Eltham township. The cottage is aesthetically and historically significant as a fine example of the work of the well-known pioneer builder George Stebbing, built for the pioneer Phillip Shillinglaw and his family. It unusually features dark coloured brick ends arranged in a Flemish bond style. In the 1960’s, it was marked for demolition to make way for new council buildings, but almost overnight, a group was formed by the locals to save the cottage ... Though completely demolished and rebuilt brick by brick where it still stands today, the original fabric of Shillinglaw Cottage retains its historical significance. The Shillinglaw Cottage has seen many uses over the years, it has been an important local landmark, an example of an early local community conservation project, once used as a handicraft and tourist centre, and is now a family owned and operated cafe/restaurant focusing on locally sourced produce, great coffee, delicious chef-made food and a family friendly environment."

Eltham War Memorial
Located in a part at 903 Main Road, the Eltham War Memorial is listed in the Victorian Heritage Database (http://vhd.heritage.vic.gov.au/places/result_detail/104273?print=true) which records:  "The Eltham War Memorial was erected on a prominent site on the corner of Main Road and Bridge Street in 1919 and has been relocated twice since its original unveiling. The monument contains the names of the 27 local men who died in the First World War and following the Second World War the names of the eleven local men who died in that war were added. The Memorial, including the granite bollards is historically significant for demonstrating the type of monumental memorialisation that occurred in townships following the end of the First World War."

Eltham North Adventure Play Park
Located at 132 Allendale Road, the Eltham North Adventure Play Park is an exceptional playground which has been designed specifically for imaginative play. It also has a Liberty Swing (a swing for children and adults in wheelchairs), a flying fox and a safe indoors playground with canopy. There is a picnic and barbecue area and access to bike tracks.

Edendale Community Environment Farm
Located at 30 Gastons Road, Edendale Community Environment Farm is a 100-year-old demonstration farm which features farm animals (goats, sheep, alpacas, Tina the turtle, spiny leaf stick insects, guinea pigs, hopping mice and various breeds of poultry) and provides opportunities to learn and experience environmentally responsible farming practices. It is located on six hectares adjacent to Diamond Creek. There are guided educational farm tours and excursions and self-guided walks. Farm produce can be purchased, tel: (03) 9433 3711. There is an excellent and very detailed website. Check out https://www.edendale.vic.gov.au. It is open from 9.30 am - 4.30 pm daily.

Diamond Creek Trail
The Diamond Creek Trail is the most popular shared-use trail (both cyclists and walkers) in the Nillumbik Shire. It is currently 12 km long and runs from Eltham Lower Park, through Eltham to Diamond Creek. In 2020 an extension to the trail was announced and, when finished, the trail will run continuously for 55 km from Hurstbridge, linking with the Main Yarra Trail at Eltham which runs to the Melbourne CBD. There is an outstanding website - Bloke on Bike - which provides all details about the trail. Check out http://blokeonbike.com/bloke1/diamond-creek-trail.

Eltham Copper Butterfly Habitat
In recent times Eltham has gained a reputation as a place where it is possible to see the Eltham Copper Butterfly. The very detailed Connecting Country website explains: "The Eltham Copper Butterfly (Paralucia pyrodiscus lucida) is only found in Victoria, Australia, and is restricted to several sites around Castlemaine, Bendigo, Kiata (near Nhill) and Eltham ... Although new populations have been discovered around the state since the Eltham discovery in 1986, the future of this special butterfly remains uncertain. It is listed as threatened under the Victorian Flora and Fauna Guarantee Act 1988 and listed as endangered under the Commonwealth Environmental Conservation and Biodiversity Act 1999." Check out https://connectingcountry.org.au/education-resources/eltham-copper-butterfly-in-central-victoria and download the brochure so you know exactly what you are looking for. The Nillumbik Shire has two areas specifically dedicated to the butterfly: the Western Eltham Copper Butterfly Reserve at 7 Diosma Road, Eltham and the Eastern Eltham Copper Butterfly Reserve at 12a Lyons Rise, Eltham. See https://www.nillumbik.vic.gov.au/Environment/Natural-environment/Native-flora-and-fauna/Eltham-Copper-Butterfly for details. There is also the Pauline Toner Eltham Copper Butterfly Reserve (see https://www.melbourneplaygrounds.com.au/pauline-toner-butterfly-reserve-eltham#.X8F0yxMzZBw) which is located of Eucalyptus Street and owned and managed by Parks Victoria.


Other Attractions in the Area

Heidelberg School Artists Trail
Starting in Heidelberg and continuing into the Dandenong Ranges and to Yarra Glen, this route is designed to take visitors to the sites depicted in the paintings of those artists who were associated with the Heidelberg School (Arthur Streeton, Walter Withers, Louis Buvelot, Tom Roberts, Clara Southern, David Davies, Emanuel Phillips Fox, Charles Conder, Tudor St George Tucker, Eugene Von Guerard, May Vale and Jane Price).
It passes along the Yarra River, through Heidelberg, Bulleen, Templestowe, Eltham, Diamond Creek, Research, Warrandyte, passing through Ringwood and Montrose, en route to the Dandenongs and Kalorama, Olinda, Kallista and Upper Ferntree Gully. 
At each such site there is a reproduction of the relevant painting which allows the visitor to see the artist's interpretation of the landscape and to observe how the landscape has changed since the late 19th and early 20th centuries. In Eltham there are six locations, all connected to Walter Withers, on a 1.5 km trail. Check out:
32. Walter Withers, Country Road, 1898
33. Walter Withers, Spring, 1910
34. Walter Withers, On the Eltham Road, 1906
35. Walter Withers, The Drover, 1912
36. Walter Withers, Landscape with Sheep
37. Walter Withers, The Silent Gums, 1909
Culture Victoria notes of The Drover "The Drover, 1912, by Walter Withers, depicts a scene familiar in early Australian life - a drover guiding sheep, the dust rising from the dry earth around them, the scene conveying the intense light and heat of a summer's day. Withers had his local butcher in Eltham, a township on the outskirts of Melbourne, pose for this work, which captures a feeling of national pride and an appreciation for the Australian bush."
Beyond Eltham, there are also places at Research and Diamond Creek.
38. Clara Southern, An Old Bee Farm, 1900
39. Clara Southern, A Country Wash-House, 1905
40. Clara Southern, Audrey and Chickapick, 1911
41. Clara Southern, The Artist’s Home, 1909
Diamond Creek
42. May Vale, The Orchard, 1904
43. Jane Price, Moonrise

Maroondah Aqueduct Trail
Sometimes referred to as the Research Trail, and variously described as 3.5 km and 10.2 km, this shared-use trail starts at 1637 Main Road, Research, is undulating and connects with the Diamond Creek Trail. The excellent Bloke on Bike site (http://blokeonbike.com/bloke1/maroondah-aqueduct-trail) describes it as "an ideal family friendly trail along a relatively wide easement providing views out over Melbourne as it winds along an overall downhill slope, so long as you are riding in an anti-clockwise direction." It travels for a way along the Maroondah Aqueduct and finishes at Allendale Road, North Eltham.



* Prior to the arrival of Europeans the area was home to the Wurundjeri First Nation people. Stone axes, grinding stones and canoe trees have been found in the area.

* Eltham was surveyed in 1840.

* A Post Office was opened in 1854.

* The first primary school was opened in 1856. That year also saw the settlement become a shire.

* By 1857 town allotments were being sold.

* In 1860 both the Police Station and Court House were built.

* By the 1860s the town was a supply centre for the Caledonia Diggings at St Andrews and Panton Hill.

* In 1902 the railway was extended from Heidelberg to Eltham.

* A State higher elementary school was opened in 1926.

* A Catholic primary school was opened in 1928.

* The artistic colony at Montsalvat was created by Justus Jorgensen in 1934.

* In 1958 part of the shire was annexed to Healesville Shire.

* By 2011 the population had reached 18,162.

* In 2020, amidst controversy, the last connection between the Jorgensen family and Montsalvat was broken when the grand daughter was evicted from a farm owned by the Montsalvat trust.


Visitor Information

There is a carousel at Montsalvat, 7 Hillcrest Avenue, Eltham, open 9.00 am - 5.00 pm.


Useful Websites

The official local website is https://visityarravalley.com.au/activity/eltham.

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