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(3124, 9 km E, Boroondara City)

Camberwell begins at the eastern side of Burke Road and is bounded in the north by Mont Albert Road and to the south by Toorak Road. It extends westwards to the Alamein railway line. For the better part of a century it was the heart of the Municipality of Camberwell. Camberwell formed a section of the 1854 Boroondara Road District. In 1871 Boroondara became a shire and in 1902 the Shire of Camberwell and Boroondara, then in 1905 a borough, and in 1906 the Town of Boroondara. In 1914 the name changed to the City of Camberwell, which was later changed in boundaries (taking in suburbs to the west and losing areas to the east) to become an enlarged City of Boroondara in 1994. Camberwell includes the localities of Willison and Riversdale.

Much of the suburb of Camberwell lay within Elgar's 1841 Special Survey. At the Camberwell crossroads stood a blacksmith's forge, an inn and a general store. Taking its name from George Eastaway's Camberwell Inn (itself named after the London suburb), the crossroads of Camberwell were a minor stopping place on the road from Melbourne to Gippsland and the gold diggings of Wood's Point. Camberwell was initially linked to Melbourne more directly by the large mansions which on the one hand functioned as self-sustaining rural holdings and at the same time as ex-urban commuting homes for professional men in the city. The first Europeans were generally wealthy ex-urbanites who lived in large houses surrounded by their own vineyards and dairy farms. Canonbury, built in 1861 for Edward Lamont, typifies these estates. John O'Shanassy, Irish-born leader of Melbourne's Roman Catholic community and later premier, built and extended his mansion Tara from 1858 onwards.

The arrival of the railway in 1882 brought Camberwell more firmly into the orbit of metropolitan Melbourne. Between 1881 and 1891 the population grew from 1400 to 6000. But the City of Camberwell owes its character more directly to the growth of the interwar years. During the 1920s, and largely because of the electrification of fixed-rail services, allied to the city's policy of charging rates on unimproved land values, Camberwell grew dramatically. Between 1919 and 1933 the number of houses in the municipality doubled to over 12 000. Increasingly, as the council applied local by-laws, brick houses began to outnumber timber. By 1961 there were over 30 000 dwellings in the City of Camberwell.

Much of the prewar housing had clustered along the central railway route through the suburbs of Camberwell and Surrey Hills. After 1919 housing spread along electrified tramlines and after World War II most of the remaining land became building sites. Camberwell, despite this long building process, retained a calm, almost rural character, partly because so many property-owners had lovingly maintained private gardens, partly because of the many creek valleys and public parks and more especially because of the council's determined street tree plantings. With its canopy of greenery, its bright gardens and large, comfortable houses protected by laws which excluded industry, Camberwell displayed all the qualities of suburbia perfected. The strength of the non-conforming churches in the suburb meant that it was also a place which frowned on both idle leisure and active drinking. In 1919 the City of Camberwell had seven hotels, but in a statewide local option poll the following year, the residents of Camberwell and neighbouring Box Hill - together making up the Licensing District of Nunawading - voted in favour of no licences. The hotels closed, including the inn after which Camberwell was named, the inn being replaced by a milk bar.

The six-way junction has remained an important symbol of Camberwell and while the shopping strip has suffered from competition, the areas behind Burke Road sustain large department stores. When plans were made public for a major shopping mall at the Junction, residents rose up to defend their suburb from such an un-Camberwell-like development. Subsequent court action left the council with considerable debts and administrators were appointed. This last battle of the Camberwell Council marked the end of an era, as the city was replaced by an enlarged Boroondara soon afterwards.

Present-day Camberwell is bounded on the north and south by major freeways. Burke Road is one of the few direct north-south routes across the inner east of Melbourne and carries heavy traffic. Camberwell may have successfully defended its suburban calm from drunks and fibro housing, but it cannot keep out traffic, or the property developer. Although expressing a love for the torpor of leafy streets, Camberwell residents, in increasing numbers, sell their homes to developers who subdivide lots for medium-density housing. Birthplace of satirist Barry Humphries, the suburb was lampooned in his poem 'Ode to Camberwell'. More recently Humphries joined with Camberwell residents to protest against yet more high-density buildings at the site of Camberwell railway station. The late 1990s resident action group Save Our Suburbs had its roots in Boroondara and Stonnington. The suburban retreat, while still prized as a calm and respectable address, is now facing up to the urban complexity it has for so long arrogantly ignored.

Chris Mcconville

Blainey, Geoffrey, A history of Camberwell, Lothian, Melbourne, 1980. Details