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Discover the history and heritage of Camberwell

Discover the history and heritage of Camberwell, Victoria

Camberwell Junction circa 1916-17. Image credit: Charnley, V.E. State Library Victoria.

The suburb of Camberwell in Victoria boasts a rich history and interesting heritage – it played a key part in the expansion of Melbourne’s railway network and was also named after a pub.

In 1837, the first Europeans staked land claims in the area and by 1853 all the land was sold.

Few suburbs can boast being named after a pub, but that’s exactly how Camberwell came to be.

Publican George Eastaway’s fond memory of Camberwell Green in London was the reason he named his new licenced premises Camberwell Inn in 1853.

The area took the name of Camberwell after the corrugated iron pit stop on the road to Gippsland.

The City of Camberwell, which was established in 1914, evolved from the place “where the ground is thickly shaded” – the Woiwurrung translation of Boroondara.

The Boroondara Shire was formed in 1871, and become the City of Camberwell 43 years later.

Camberwell Inn

Eastaway’s 1853 hotel, Camberwell Inn, was one of the first buildings in the area – a stop on the corner of Burke and Riversdale Roads for those on the way to Wood’s Point gold diggings.

The three-sitting room, four-bedroom inn became the meeting place of the region and the lamp hanging in the doorway was a welcome beacon to carters travelling the dark roads to Melbourne in the dead of night.

Soon a store was built nearby, a blacksmith’s forge was established, and a settlement was born.

Palace Hotel, Camberwell

Palace Hotel, Camberwell.

Palace Hotel

Palace Hotel, then a 43-room hotel, designed by MW Woolf cost 7000 pounds to build and was opened by the Mayor of Hawthorn on July 30, 1888.

Right next to Camberwell railway station, which was built in 1882, the Palace Hotel was perfectly positioned to welcome travellers.

By 1919, Camberwell had seven hotels but in a statewide opinion poll in 1920, locals voted to close them. Only the Palace Hotel survived because it was on the Hawthorn side of Burke Rd.

Camberwell Tram

Camberwell shopping precinct

One of Melbourne’s historic shopping destinations, Camberwell shopping precinct incorporates the lively intersection of Camberwell Junction and Burke Road.

The extension of the railway line didn’t just benefit the Palace Hotel but boosted trade in Camberwell too, allowing businesses to establish along Burke Rd.

With more than 400 stores offering a mix of retail, hospitality and services, the Camberwell shopping precinct is one of the largest open-air shopping centres in Melbourne and is architecturally significant.

The types of commerce that sprung up in Camberwell in the early years of growth can still be found today. Many businesses have been continuously trading in the precinct for decades.

Below are some of Camberwell shopping precinct’s oldest trading businesses:

Burke Road

Prior to the arrival of the railway, Camberwell wasn’t an important commercial centre but it soon became a popular suburb.

Commercial development began next to the train station and spread out along Burke Road. With trams running along Riversdale and Burke Roads in 1916-17 and the electrification of the rail lines in 1916, Burke Rd became a major hub. By the 1920s Burke Rd was booming.

Even through the Great Depression the number of shops grew, and by the 1960s the types of stores reflected the burgeoning population and new wealth of Camberwell.

Camberwell Railway Station

Left: Camberwell railway station circa 1913 (credit: State Library Victoria). Right: Camberwell station in 2020.

Camberwell railway station

On April 3 in 1882, Camberwell railway station opened and was the terminus on its own line until the railway was extended to Lilydale a few months later.

When the first section of the Outer Circle line opened in 1891, a new station was built at East Camberwell as an interchange.

However, the Outer Circle line wasn’t a success and by 1898 only the Ashburton line remained and trains began to depart from Camberwell to Ashburton.

The current Edwardian style station opened in 1919.

Camberwell train station’s signal box was the first in Victoria to have push button signalling after the technology was commissioned in 1964. Two years later, the station was granted ‘premium’ status.

From 2003 to 2012 Camberwell train station was at the centre of a community battle over a planned redevelopment which included building above the railway.

Years of protests and counter proposals ended when VicTrack and the preferred developer failed to agree commercial terms.

Camberwell’s history thrives today

From Robert Hoddle’s survey of the Parish of Boroondara in 1838 to the unique challenges of 2020, Camberwell, and more specifically Camberwell Junction, has not just survived but continued to thrive.

The next time you are shopping or walking around Camberwell, take a moment to look at the significant buildings and consider its fascinating history.