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(3196, 30 km SE, Kingston City)

Before its absorption into the City of Kingston in 1995, the municipality of Chelsea covered the narrow stretch of coastal sandy ridges and former swampland between Mordialloc and Frankston. Initially both the coastal area and the swampy, flood-prone land were known as Carrum, with the name Chelsea derived from a London borough, first used in 1907 for a new railway station on the Frankston line. The Shire of Dandenong administered the district.

In the mid-19th century James McMahon's Long Beach squatting run covered the coastal district, while a lone fisherman, John Watkins, had a shack near present-day Aspendale by the mid-1860s. The road to the Mornington Peninsula, now the Nepean Highway, followed the coast inland of the dunes. When the area was first surveyed in 1865, it was the coastal strip, dubbed 'the Long Beach' and now comprising Aspendale, Edithvale, Chelsea, Bonbeach and Carrum, that was first offered for sale. Some of the first buyers established farms and market gardens. William Coleman built the Bridge Hotel near Mordialloc Bridge and James McMahon opened the Half-Way House, later known as the Carrum Pub. The Carrum Swamp was gazetted as the Mordialloc Farmers' Common in 1861, but 10 years later was offered for sale by selection. Unfortunately, few selectors could build on or improve their flood-prone properties. During the 1870s and 1880s the Dandenong Roads Board and the Lands Department carried out swamp drainage work, but homes were subject to flooding until the 1950s.

Carrum station on the new Frankston line opened in 1882. Reputedly, a private landowner refused to allow the line to bisect his property, so it was built along the centre of the Nepean Road, creating a stretch of narrow highway that continued to annoy drivers throughout the 20th century. The coastal strip developed as a beach resort in the early 20th century. Unlike most of Melbourne's coastal districts, Chelsea's foreshore was not reserved, but sold off to private buyers. This created a long narrow stretch between the sea and the railway line, with few public roads giving access to the beach. Between 1905 and 1910 many coastal blocks were sold at relatively low prices. A number of wealthy Melbourne citizens built summer residences, while the growing popularity of the healthy beachside life attracted campers who established increasingly elaborate semi-permanent campsites. A rowdy element earned Chelsea a reputation as a bohemian camping ground. In the 1910s, landowners, realising the value of their sea frontages, subdivided blocks, often creating areas of extreme overcrowding. An astonishing range of structures, from the flimsiest of tents to quite elaborate homes, filled the foreshore.

Working-class residents from inner Melbourne took advantage of the cheap land to build permanent homes, commuting by rail to the city. A fire that destroyed approximately 200 homes in 1913 drew attention to the overcrowding, leading the Board of Public Health to investigate two years later. Also of concern was the lack of appropriate drainage and sewerage. In 1920 the inability of the Dandenong Shire Council to effectively remedy the sanitary situation prompted coastal residents, led by local progress associations, to secede to form the Borough of Carrum, which became the City of Chelsea in 1929. In later years many of the substandard constructions along the Long Beach were replaced with sounder domestic buildings, with appropriate space between them, though access to the sea by public road remained limited.

Although Chelsea's population increased substantially in the first three decades of the century, its most dramatic growth occurred as families sought affordable housing after World War II. Subdivisions spread from the coast, across the railway line and onto former swampland, and the Chelsea City Council struggled to enforce regulations on speculative builders. In the 1960s the highest part of the swampland at Chelsea Heights, formerly known as the Islands of Wanark Laddin, was subdivided. By the end of the 20th century, however, Chelsea's population was ageing. Its retail and commercial focus is on the Nepean Highway near Chelsea railway station, with a small residential suburb of Chelsea Heights further inland between the Mornington Peninsula Freeway to the east and Edithvale Road to the north.

Jill Barnard

McGuire, Frank, Chelsea, a beachside community, City of Chelsea Historical Society, Melbourne, 1985. Details