Just south of Oakleigh Station sit the rambling remnants of an abandoned mill, a skeleton of the area’s industrial past, encircled by a cyclone fence in a desolate field of litter and dried grass.
It’s difficult now to imagine the marshy peatland stretching through this area being cultivated into valuable market gardens and small farms eager to cater to Melbourne’s booming population in the mid 19th Century.
By 1851 the entrepreneurial William Murray Ross had purchased 925 acres of this fertile land with far loftier ambitions of establishing the suburb of Rosstown, building a Sugar Mill and developing a rail line which would connect the government rail lines to Gippsland in the east and the Brighton line in the west.
Ross’s rail plan (below) also shows the Outer Circle Railway (which I wrote about in my last post) and its tantalising connection back to Oakleigh alongside the Rosstown line which was finished 40 years after Ross’s initial proposal.
By the time the Rosstown rail line carried its first passengers in 1891 (to little fanfare) the economy had faltered, the great expansion of Melbourne into the outer suburbs had failed to materialise and the government and banks had run hot and cold long enough to finally thwart Ross’s vision.
Mr Ross’s line never reached its full potential, his mill never operated and ultimately both the line and the mill were abandoned and torn down.
Ross too was almost written out of the locality’s history when Rosstown was renamed Carnegie in 1909 – only 5 years after Ross’s death – in an ultimately unsuccessful attempt to secure funds for a library from the industrialist and philanthropist Andrew Carnegie. Perhaps the aspiring folk of Rosstown thought the American, who had never stepped on Australian soil, would lend prestige to this small section of the planet and was thereby more worthy than Ross and his 50 year’s of local toil.
How Oakleigh’s abandoned mill fits into that early picture of Ross and his railway I’m not yet sure, but local stories of failed endeavours and the remnants of industrial speculation serve as a quiet reflection on all our folly, our quest for the tangible and the reality of transience.
Reference – Robert Smith gives a short history of Ross’s determined, but ultimately doomed, efforts.
- Robert recommends D.F. Jowett and I.G. Weickhardt’s book ‘Return To Rosstown’ for Ross’s full story.