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Two Yarra Bookends


This article was first published in the  White Hat Melbourne Newsletter No.205 on 8 February 2007

“On the left” said the amplified commentary “is where John Batman stepped ashore and said ‘this will be the place for a village’.” The commentary continued all the way to Williamstown. Most of it was wrong but it still gave the casual visitor to Melbourne a rough feeling for the place and its European settlement. The commentary was wrong because, for much of the route from Richmond to the river mouth we were not travelling along the Yarra River as known by the Aborigines and early European Melburnians. – we were travelling along a man-made channel now called the Yarra River while much of the original river has been filled in. The re-routing of the river resulted partly from flood-control works and partly from major dock works. One result was that some islands became part of the ‘mainland’ while, at least in one case, a piece of the mainland became an island.

Two monuments for us act as bookends to the Yarra of early Melbourne. Few people notice them and even fewer read and ponder them. The first (see left) stands near the original junction of the Yarra and the Maribyrnong and announces that the rivers were “discovered” by Charles Grimes in 1803 and later “refound” by John Batman in 1835. I sometimes ponder how you explain to a local Aborigine whose people had known these rivers for thousands of years what those words carved into the granite mean.

Charles Grimes had been sent from Sydney to reconnoitre the area and warn off the French who it was thought may lay claim to this Terra Nullius. Having encountered the French at King Island and deciding they were not about to subvert the colonies he went on to examine the nooks and crannies of Port Phillip Bay. Charles Grimes and his party made their way up the river in a heavy rowboat – no easy task given that the river was clogged with snags and fallen trees. They passed the river junction where the monument now stands and proceeded until they encountered ‘The Falls’ where the Queen Street Bridge now stands. Grimes recognised that this natural barrier prevented the salt water from the bay from travelling further upstream and thus offered a prospective settlement with a natural source of fresh water. It is this place which we believe he declared "The most eligible place for a settlement I have seen is on the freshwater river". He also recognised that if he was to explore further upstream the party would meed to haul the heavy boat out of the water and manhandle it to the other side of the falls. “Bother” said Grimes – or nautical words to that effect. They followed the meandering river through the now Botanic Gardens (the lake in the gardens was part of the original Grimes Monument in Studley ParkYarra) through the now suburbs of Richmond, Fitzroy and Abbotsford until they came across another river junction and set of rapids now known as Dight’s Falls. At the prospect of hauling the boat across that next set of falls without knowing whether there was yet another just around the corner, Grimes said “double bother” and decided to investigate the local area before turning back.

Thirty-two years later, John Batman was to make his way up the river and further up the Merri Creek is where we believe he said "This is the place for a village". Had this prediction proven correct then downtown Northcote would now be our CBD. It possibly also explains why the large plaque in the footpath on the corner of Flinders & Williams Streets implying that was the place Batman was referring to has quietly disappeared. However if you poke around in the bushland of Studley Park you will find a monument commemorating the extent of Grimes’ journey.

As stated earlier, these two monuments are rarely noticed,. However for us they form a pair of bookends for the early European exploration and understanding of the Yarra

BL

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Other articles in the series Seven Monuments of Melbourne:

Seven Monuments of Melbourne - overview

No.1 – A Monument to Sydney-Melbourne Rivalry
No.2 – Two Yarra Bookends
No.3 - An Antarctic Monument
No.4 – Troubles on the other side of the world
No.5 - A Plaque but no Statue
No.6 - Two Pillars of Melbourne
No.7 - Two Horse Troughs

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