The 7 Wonders of Thomastown

To my eternal surprise, a variety of respectable and not-so respectable publications have actually paid to print my scribblings.  But nothing has struck a chord like The 7 Wonders of Reservoir, exclusively hiding on this obscure blog.  In fact 49,500 – equivalent to the suburb’s entire population – have fluked upon it.

TsignLike any self disrespecting writer, when the muddy puddle of ideas runs dry, the obvious solution is to revisit the past and punch out a crappy sequel.

A little while ago I began a new day job conveniently within spitting distance of Rezza (well not really, hocking a loogie across Keon Parade to Thomastown would be tough, even down wind).  What I have uncovered is another northern ‘burb with it’s own je ne sais quoi.

Thomastown is about contrast; seemingly quiet suburban streets lined with seemingly nice enough homes for 20,000 seemingly nice residents, vast commercial and industrial zones to the south, and then to the west there’s the nothing.  And nothing says welcome like the wondrous power station opposite Keon Park Station as you enter Thommo via High Street.

Whereas my Reservoir rant was informed by 15 years immersed in the idiosyncratic nature of the locale, I’m approaching this one through the looking glass.

Station to station; the metallic jungle and ominous rail overpass

1. Empty spaces, abandoned places

Tabandoned

If ever an Aussie version of Breaking Bad was to be commissioned, Thomastown is the perfect place to send the location scouts.

The post apocalyptic Maccas on the corner of Settlement Rd and Wood Street is finally gone, and so too the decrepit bus resembling an exploded mobile meth lab.  More unsettling though is the vacant warehouse/factory next to Bunnings on Dalton Road (above).

Considering the development explosions out to the boonies (eg. Craigieburn, Mernda, Wollert), Thommo is littered with a remarkable number of large vacant blocks and tracts of land just 17km from the CBD.

The best place to park your RV and cook some blue is beyond the quarry, on the western edge between the Merri Creek border and the Hume Freeway (ominously known as the Galada Tramboore).  Though if you’ve had a misunderstanding over a g-string belonging to your neighbour’s wife being spotted on your clothes line, best not arrange a pow-wow to sort things out anywhere near these windswept badlands.

Spot the difference: Thomastown (left), Mars (right)

2. Thomastown Sharpies 

‘They never really hurt anyone innocent’ said Nick Tolewski, author of Once Were Sharps; the Colourful Life and Times of the Thomastown Sharps.

This Chopper Readesque statement (coincidentally a one-time Sharp) begs the question of one of Australia’s most infamous Sharpie gangs; ‘innocent of what’?

Sharps bookBeing a Mod?  Playing their pinball machine at the fish & chip shop?  Not offering up a Winnie Blue when pressed?

The bookworthy Thomastown Sharps were hardly a covert operation – which probably didn’t help their cause in terms of evading the constabulary.  Unfashionably kitted out with shaved heads, rat tails, overalls, cardigans, hard-toe boots and old school tatts, not to mention Thomastown Sharps t-shirts, the boys enjoyed a menacing presence during their 1970’s heyday.

In one 1979 incident it was reported a Reservoir teenager had 50 shotgun pellets removed from his back, courtesy of you-know-who.  Could such a gang exist in today’s era of CCTV, PSO’s and PCness?

Fortunately for locals, in lieu of nothing better to do in Thomastown besides causing trouble at the local pool, they’d be afforded some respite when the gang embarked on regular excursions to the city on the old Red Rattler and Blue Harris trains on what was then the ‘Lalor line’.

So what other shenanigans did they get up to and where are they now?  Try the Thomastown Newsagent which has moved almost 1000 copies of the aforementioned book, otherwise check ’em out on Facebook.

Then and now; a 2009 reunion was held in Donnybrook (I kid you not)

3. What lies beneath: Westgarthtown

IMG_2034

Gardenia Road presents as any regular residential Thomastown street until you’re suddenly transported back 150 years to a historical settlement known as Westgarthtown.  Yes, Thommo has an interesting heritage.

William Westgarth arrived on The Pribislaw and initiated the settlement as a dairy farm in 1850. Sixteen German and Wendish (Slavic) families inhabited Westgarthtown.   In 1934 Albert Siebel established what would become Pura Milk in Murray Road, Preston.  Most of the land was subdivided for housing from 1945 until dairying ceased in 1972. The remaining bluestone farmhouses and Lutheran church remain accessible to the public.

The most fascinating feature of Westgarthtown though, in my ghoulish opinion, is the cemetery – resting place for at least 200, possibly 250 people.

Whilst a number made it to their 80’s and 90’s, many lives were cut tragically short by illness or accident.  Sadder still, infants and young children often fell victim to dysentery, diphtheria and typhoid, or misadventure such as drowning.  Life was never meant to be easy in Thomastown.

Located on the corner of German Lane and Gardenia Road, the Westgarthtown cemetery is still open for business to departing Lutheran locals and descendants of the original settlers.

4. Dalton Road

I’m no computer game aficionado but I was partial to the Atari game Frogger, as immortalized by an episode of Seinfeld.  But no matter how many roads you’ve successfully navigated in real life, I’d contend few could be as challenging or require as much patience as Dalton Road.

Heading north of Mahoneys Rd towards the Ring Road, three lanes each way are interrupted by two roundabouts. Essentially the roundabouts facilitate an endless stream of cars, trucks and buses in all directions.  One could play it safe and walk the looong way up to the lights at the Ring Road overpass, but that would be plain ridiculous.

If taking to the road and joining the slipstream is more your game, you’re in for some excitement.  The Wood St roundabout is the ring of fire – if you can navigate that one you may be ready for the Settlement Rd circle of death.  How there aren’t more accidents is indeed a wonder.

5. Naughty shops

‘You’ll find what’s on your mind on our shelves’ is the rather disturbing Club X tagline.

Remarkably, of the hundreds of local businesses selling everything from memorial headstones to Balinese outdoor statues, the only one to fly the national flag on their premises is this patriotic sex shop. Oh, and a nearby pool pump and irrigation store (go figure).

And if what’s on your mind is a little too pricey on the shelf, Club X conveniently offers FAST CASH loans to ensure you won’t go home disappointed at being unable to clear the depraved naughtiness rattling round your brain.

Meanwhile, across the way is Sexyland’s head office (see what I did there?).  By comparison Sexyland is a little less garish about its wares.  The old sign simply says ‘check out our huge new store’.  Size does matter, after all.

6. Random stores

According to Professor Google, the Thomastown Post Office opened way, way back in 1862, however it was many years before any real development took place upon the market gardens which pervaded the area.  More German settlers arrived post WWII, followed by an influx of Italian and Macedonian migrants during the 1950’s.  It wasn’t until the 1960’s that Thomastown really got its act together.Thommo

Nowadays the aptly named Settlement Road has the Yellow Pages covered.   There’s nothing you can’t find here; accountants, air conditioning, aluminium, baby goods, bank, beds, bolts, car hi fi, cheese, chicken, coffee wholesalers, computers, crane hire, electrical, flooring, furniture, glass, gym, hardware, horse floats, kitchens, lighting, liquor, mattresses, medical centres, nuts, outboards, pet barns, plaster, recycling, roofing, security, sheds, small goods, smash repairs, solar hot water systems, storage, tiles, white goods, work wear, xylophones, yaks and zeppelins (OK, I made the last two up).

And if you do plan on dragging your delightful munchkins around Whittlesea Drapes then be aware the Maccas/KFC/Hungry Jacks triumvirate serve essential behavioral bargaining chips.  If that doesn’t work, promise to stop by Mick’s Place on Victoria Drive.  Their Nutella donuts have become a Melbourne sensation.  They’re so generously filled the kidlets’ gobs will be too clogged up to speak. Magnificent.

‘We’re always here’ at Abbey Funerals (but you won’t be); the Alpine gorilla

7. Thomastown Market

I’m a little slow on the uptake but I must admit taking a while to comprehend the nature of this bizarre piece of real estate.

At first glance it could be a disused pony club – until on closer inspection the rusted old stalls and dilapidated excuses for shelter evoke more sinister undertones.  An abandoned abattoir for slaughtering stubborn ponies?  Surely not?

The penny drops from the Settlement Road entry, where a sign sets one’s mind at ease. So what is the Thomastown Market like when it springs to life on a Sunday?

According to mymarketsvic website; “In a large outdoor space this market offers an assortment of tools, hardware, clothing, kitchen items, and all sorts of odd curios – you never know quite what you’ll find.”

Odd curios ay…  If it’s anything like Pipeworks up the road then don’t expect to find the lost ark.

Tmarket

Thomastown Market; are you in or are you out?

So there you have it, my rather uninformed 7 Wonders of Thomastown. Sure, parts of Thomastown might lack for aesthetic appeal, but there’s something for everyone in Thommo.  Though I’d advise against looking for it after dark.

TBearsThomastown gets one up over Reservoir; the Bears hammered the Mustangs to claim the 2014 NFL Division 3 flag.

Further Reading:
The 7 Wonders of Reservoir
The 7 Wonders of Preston

@JeffDowsing

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15 Comments Add yours

  1. Dead Ned's Head says:

    In the 60s/early 70s, me folks and I would be coming back
    down the Hume, after dusk, from a big Sunday drive. As the Holden
    crested Pretty Sally, mum would always say, “Look at the fairy-lights”.

    Really the street-lights of Thomastown’s sprawl but why spoil the magic
    of childhood. It was all me folks had – let there be Light!

    Like

    1. JD says:

      LOL, nicely put Ned! How did Pretty Sally get its name? (I’m assuming you mean the part of Mahoneys Rd near Pipeworks that I refer to as the racetrack).

      Like

      1. Dead Ned's Head says:

        Pretty Sally, according to Wikipedia, is a dormant volcanic cone between Wallan and Kilmore.

        *blush* I never knew that – it was just the last big hill on the way home. No idea where the name came from. I reckon my folks wouldn’t have know either, if I had thought to ask. Which I didn’t. These are Mysteries, you know!!

        The stretch of the Hume I’m referring to is (or was) out in the paddocks where forests of prickly pear and scotch thistle bloomed. Out past Craigieburn which wasn’t even developed then

        Like

      2. Dead Ned's Head says:

        Rustled up this mention of “Pretty Sally” from July 1847 at trove.
        http://trove.nla.gov.au/ndp/del/article/4761883

        Extract from the article quote:
        The winter has set in with a vengeance ; the mailman arrived from Melbourne this morning, much later than the usual hour upon horseback, with the mail-bags, having been necessitated to leave the mail-cart and passengers at Smith’s, better known as “Pretty Sally’s,” upon the Big Hill, the road from “Beveridge’s to Kilmore being covered with snow, three feet deep. Unquote.

        SNOW!!?!

        Seems like “climate change” was around 140 years earlier than the boffins reckon.

        Like

      3. JD says:

        You’ve gone above and beyond digging that up Ned! I know it gets particularly cold out that way but 3 feet of snow is extraordinary.

        I liked this bit;

        ‘Some days since, a poor man and woman were robbed of their all, £10, by two armed scoundrels upon the Big Hill.’

        Like

  2. Dead Ned's Head says:

    I liked that bit too, JD. It is a comfort to know that, in those days,
    up in the wild wild north, scoundrels were possessed of all their limbs.

    Like

  3. JD says:

    Ha, didn’t mention how many legs though. Poor reporting!

    Like

  4. Dr. Keats says:

    The Thomastown Market is a pale shadow of what it used to be – in the early 1980’s, it occupied almost that entire triangle of land bordered by Settlement Road, Wood Street, and Dalton Road.

    It was enormous! Prior to getting a driver’s licence, I used to bike my way there up the dirt track leading from the East Thomastown football ground in Leslie Street to Settlement Road, wobbling my way back home with all manner of goods perched precariously on the handle-bars…

    Like

  5. Kev A. says:

    Until it was recently removed for some reason, we used to tell visitors that we had TWO undeniable local tourist attractions…

    One was the huge sign on High Street boasting ‘BOSTIK – The Home of Blue-tack”. (Just the attraction we needed to bus-in loads of eager Japanese tourists keen for a photo-op!)

    The other local highlight was what we liked to call ‘BATHTUB MADONNA’ – which we directed all visitors to stop and see. This home-based metallic grotto to stronger powers, was propped up against the front wall of a rental property in Huskisson Street, Lalor.
    In reality it was an old white bathtub sitting on its end, with a large religious Madonna statue in it. Madonna was cemented-in from the ankles down.. probably to stop her wandering off and performing late-night miracles – or perhaps to deter scurrilous “non-believers” from whisking her away to points unknown in the wee small hours!?
    This elaborate affair was covered with an array of plastic flowers super-glued on to good effect.
    Coming to a stop at the T-intersection opposite must have given many a motorist a start when this apparition appeared in their headlights!
    Daytime passer-byes also got to see the other bigger feature in the centre on the front lawn… in a rock garden were more plastic flowers amid the plaster figure of a startled-looking garden gnome, over which towered a giant and foreboding Cobra snake – seeming poised for attack. Bathtub Madonna looked on from nearby as this obvious battle of Good over Evil was displayed in its suburban setting. What a delight!
    Alas, like the iconic BOSTIK sign, Bathtub Madonna and tenants have moved on… leaving us with nothing but fond memories… as well as 2 empty concrete plinths on High Street, and the faint outline of chiselled-off concrete on a brick house wall in Huskisson Street. Alas, nothing stays the same… not even legendary Icons.

    Like

  6. Jennifer says:

    I lived in Thommo until I was 6 — we left in 1961.
    My father had a (mostly) dairy farm in Settlement Rd next to the aqueduct. I believe my grandfather bought it ca 1920. Dad used to play football with the Ziebells among others. Maccas in High St actually had a photo of my father on top of a hay cart, stacking the hay with a rake.
    I spent my first 2 years of school at Norris Bank, which then had 2 classrooms and another room and 2 teachers, one for Preps to grade 2, one for grades 3-6.
    I had to venture out to Thommo a few months ago. The traffic was terrifying and I was so pleased to get to Bell!
    As you can imagine, nothing is the same. The corner of Settlement and High used to be Armitage Shanks, boasting rows of toilets in wall-less sheds.
    Back in the olden days, the 2 big new buildings on Settlement Rd were Dreadnought (where my dad worked when the farm was winding up) and a factory that made bits for cars (my bro-in-law worked there and I can’t remember its name!)
    My father was a farmer and thus not required to go off to WW2, but did guard the electricity plant at nights and received a civil defence medal for that
    I have shared this blog with my brother (b. 1933) so perhaps he will soon be here with tales of the polio epidemic and other cheery times.
    Thanks for the blog.

    Like

    1. JD says:

      Thanks for taking the time to comment Jennifer and share your own interesting experiences and knowledge of Thommo’s history.

      Like

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