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(3070, 6 km N, Darebin City)

Initially part of the Epping Road District (1864), Northcote, bounded by Merri Creek on the west and Darebin Creek on the east, and containing Croxton, Dennis, Merri, Thornbury, and from 1962, Alphington and Fairfield, became a Borough (1883), Town (1890), and City (1914). Until the late 1840s Aboriginal encampments were common on the Yarra River and Merri Creek, on the banks of which, according to local folklore, the Batman Treaty was signed.

Allotments with water frontages were surveyed between Merri and Darebin Creeks, giving Northcote its characteristic layout of narrow east-west streets crossing High Street, the major north-south axis. The first land sales in the area took place in October 1839, and, following the survey of the Township of Northcote in the vicinity of present-day Westgarth, suburban subdivision took place between 1853 and 1855. Northcote was probably named by Surveyor-General Sir Andrew Clarke after British parliamentarian Sir Stafford Northcote.

At the 1838 sales W.F.A. Rucker, agent for the Derwent Bank, purchased the two most expensive allotments which included Northcote's most prominent and prized locality, later known as Rucker's Hill. His mansion, 'the most extensive country house in the district', stood on the corner of Bayview and High streets from 1842 until replaced by an Anglican church in 1925. Many substantial residences on the hill retain extensive views of Port Phillip Bay, Mount Dandenong, and Mount Macedon.

Sales of Crown lots continued through the 1850s, but little building activity followed. The Perry brothers established their Fulham Grove orchards (and later a jam factory) on the Yarra River at present-day Fairfield, and Thomas Wills' lucerne farm was located at the junction of the Yarra River and Darebin Creek. In 1853 William Kirk kept horses for Kirk's Bazaar on the site of the current Helen Street state school, possibly lending the short-lived name of Newmarket to the area. A German settlement at the eastern end of Separation Street was called Cawdortown; its cemetery, still known as the German Cemetery, dates from the 1860s. Farms and small holdings characterised the district until the 1880s land boom when housing spread northwards along High Street, then east and west. One 1880s subdivision was named after Michael Pender's farm, Pender's Grove. Railway stations at Merri (1888) and Dennis (1924) subsequently lent their names to the surrounding areas.

The lack of a transport infrastructure devalued the flat lands and characterised Northcote as a working-class suburb. On the outskirts of the urban area, it was regarded as an appropriate site for the location of noxious industries and institutions requiring isolation, like the Yarra Bend Asylum (1848), the Inebriates Retreat (1883) and the Fairfield Hospital (1904). By the 1870s the smells from piggeries and boiling-down works regularly offended the growing residential population. Northcote's basalts and clays provided good bluestone for building, and quarries and brickyards operated at least from the 1860s. In 1873 the Patent Brick Co. commenced operations on land to the rear of the Carter's Arms Hotel (later the site of the Northcote tip, Northcote Plaza and adjacent parkland). By 1881 Jika Jika was the third largest brickmaking municipality after Hawthorn and Brunswick, the Northcote Brick Co. Ltd taking over the Separation Street clay hole in 1882. Local concerns over industrial nuisances led to the formation of the Northcote Health League in 1880. The Northcote Borough Council severed from the Jika Jika Shire in 1883.

The founding branch of the Trades Hall's Progressive Political League, the forerunner of the Australian Labor Party, held its first meeting in 1891 at the Commercial Hotel in High Street. John Cain, Labor Premier of Victoria (1943, 1945-77, 1952-55), opened a fruit shop in High Street in 1911, before winning election to Northcote Council (1915) and State Parliament (1917). The Northcote skyline was dominated by Northcote Town Hall on the crest of the hill (1888-90), and the Little Sisters of the Poor building on St George's Road (1890-1912). A library, funded by American millionaire Andrew Carnegie, opened near the town hall in 1911.

Although Northcote in 1900 was still badly drained, lacking essential services, and generally isolated from transport, its population had trebled by the outbreak of World War I, most of its new houses being weatherboard cottages and villas. More sustained growth took place in the 1920s, with the new centres of Westgarth, Croxton and Thornbury developing within Northcote's boundaries. Schools and shops followed, High Street now competing for retail trade with Collingwood's Smith Street. Northcote Football Club won its first premiership in the Victorian Football Association in 1929 with star player Douglas Nicholls (later with Fitzroy Football Club), who had a distinguished career as Church of Christ pastor and activist in the Victorian Aborigines Advancement League.

Northcote experienced an influx of Greek and Italian immigrants in the postwar decades; in 1961 9.5% of the municipality's population was Italian-born. By the mid1970s Northcote had more overseas-born residents, more elderly citizens, many more flats, and a higher percentage of blue-collar workers than Melbourne as a whole. While High Street struggled in the 1990s for trade in the face of non-retail uses and vacancies, the suburb has undergone moderate gentrification.

Andrew May

Lemon, Andrew, The Northcote side of the river, Hargreen Publishing for the City of Northcote, Melbourne, 1983. Details