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Box Hill

(3128, 14 km E, Whitehorse City)

Box Hill has for most of its history been a respectable middle-class eastern district and suburb of Melbourne. The name, from Dorking in Surrey, was adopted by an embryonic township on the road between Melbourne and Lilydale in 1861. A similar Dorking borrowing was the town's White Horse Hotel (1854, delicensed 1920, demolished 1936), whose statue was adopted as a local emblem. Box Hill district was designated as a riding (1890) in the Shire of Nunawading, and between 1925 and 1995 was a municipality (Borough 1925, City 1927) extending to Mont Albert, Surrey Hills, Burwood and Blackburn.

Squatters, notably Arundel Wrighte, moved up the Koonung Creek valley with cattle in about 1837 before survey. Beyond, the ground was agriculturally poor, scrubby and lightly timbered. The government issued pastoral licences in 1838-39. West Indian-based speculator Henry Elgar exploited weak land regulations in 1841 to secure 8 square miles (21 square km) west of Elgar Road. Eastward between 1850 and 1852 the government surveyed agricultural land, with a stock route 3 chains (60 m) wide running from Elgar's boundary. Here Box Hill township developed. Most of the district land was auctioned between 1851 and 1854.

Churches, hotels and schools and scattered settlements followed the arrival of woodcutters and a farming population. The oldest extant buildings are the Methodist chapel in Woodhouse Grove (1856) and the Wesleyan school at Ballyshanassy (1865), later Burwood State School. Box Hill post office opened in 1861, but already a Nunawading Roads Board had been established (1857) at the White Horse. In 1861 the population of Nunawading parish was 1000, and Box Hill town had 150 in 1871.

Fruit-growing brought prosperity: by the 1870s orchards civilised the landscape, making it attractive to suburban land speculation following the coming of the railway (1882). Australia's first electric tramway opened in October 1889 (closed 1896), taking tourists from Box Hill to a lookout tower at Doncaster. The land boom saw numerous subdivisions, many new houses and some mansions, and associated enterprises: brickworks (from 1884); gas company (1890); a newspaper (1889); grand hotels and halls; and independent schools including New College (1890), forerunner of Box Hill Grammar, later Kingswood College. The Roads Board became a Shire Council in 1871, and borrowed heavily for civic works in 1889 including offices in Box Hill.

The ensuing depression stopped most development, except a livestock and general market (1895) that emphasised Box Hill's central trading position. Home building, in less frenzied form, resumed in the Edwardian era, and prominent business and public buildings were constructed between 1908 and 1914. Electricity supply began in 1914.

In 1917, Box Hill's high proportion of religious non-conformists, notably Methodists, helped elect anti-liquor campaigner E.W. Greenwood to State Parliament. By 1920 Greenwood had achieved success in 'local option' polls to close down hotels in Camberwell and Box Hill. The Dry Area reinforced Box Hill's reputation as a safe family suburb. Another peak in new housing occurred between 1923 and 1926, boosted by railway electrification (1926) and tram services to the eastern boundary. Town planning regulations belatedly imposed order and amenity in the new areas. Box Hill High School opened in 1929.

The 1930s depression was severe but Box Hill benefited communally from relief projects and Council used financial reserves to build a fine town hall (1935).

The greatest population growth came after World War II, from 20 000 to 50 000 in 20 years, with the remnant orchards subdivided. The Housing Commission was locally active, especially in Box Hill South. The council's challenge was to catch up with sewerage, water supply and roads. A major hospital opened (1956), several schools and a regional library (1962). Civic energy was poured into street beautification and schemes to enhance Box Hill's trading status, under threat in the 1960s from Doncaster and Ringwood. Inconstancy by electors helped Box Hill win political favours and in the decade from the mid-1970s the commercial and transport area transformed as a government-endorsed office and retail centre. Most of the subsequent change has been in the population mix rather than the built fabric, except for medium-density housing near transport routes, and the Eastern Freeway that extended in stages up the Koonung valley. At the 1996 census 12.8% of the population, or nearly three times the metropolitan average, was born overseas and arrived in Australia in the previous five years.

The residential area of Box Hill North is bounded by Koonung Creek in the north, Middleborough Road in the east, and Elgar Road in the west. Box Hill South is a primarily residential area between Middleborough, Elgar and Canterbury roads. Box Hill lamented the loss of its independent status when reunited with Nunawading to form the City of Whitehorse in 1995.

Andrew Lemon

Lemon, A., Box Hill, Box Hill City Council in conjunction with Lothian Publishing, Melbourne, 1978. Details