The landscape of Templestowe is striking. Gentle, rolling hills extend from east of the Yarra River flood plains along Templestowe Road (towards the Eastern Freeway) for seven km (4.3 miles) to the north-east. The altitude of the plain above sea level is 50 m, and the topography is subdued and mostly flat; the hills are just below 60 m, the slopes rounded, and there are several forrested gullies.
Since the Southern Ocean sea-level stabilised 3000 years ago, the rivers of the Port Phillip Sunkland ceased eroding their channels and have been depositing an alluvium of silt, clay, and sand in the lower reaches of the flood plains. Over the last 2000 years the slowly coursing river widened the build-up to form a series of meanders (billabongs). In Warrandyte the river flows through a steep sided gorge for a distance of 26 km, forming an "antecedent" stream: the absence of steps or high river terraces on long spurs inside meander bends indicates some relatively recent deposition. In the suburb itself, at the confluence with the Plenty River, the valley opens up into "wide flood plains surrounded by undulating country of tertiary geology."
Degradation of the soils in the steep slopes at the river's edge has been exacerbated over the last century by unsustainable agricultural processes (such as the harvesting of storm-felled trees), deforestation and the introduction of rabbits; following the 2006 drought, the community newspaper has reported several times the population was only brought under in 2007, 12 years after baiting programs were begun and that more conservation funding is needed to halt the loss of vegetation along the river. Most of the surrounding area has been cleared for agricultural and orchard use, although an "urban forest" exists in the densely populated rural-residential areas. There is a wide diversity of growth within the flood plain.
A report from The Argus in 1923 gives rare insight to interest in the area. It had been recently accepted that "when the coastal plain is overweighted the back country rises" due to inexorable forces moulding the surface of the earth, and the so-called "Templestowe anticline" was studied as representative of microscopic faulting which accommodated this elevation of the eastern suburbs. It was observed that the new reserve grounds established along it would become a "Mecca" for geologists:
at the better geological sections... [there are] folded rocks, which were originally soft mudstones, but now hardened by the forces induced through [lateral] pressure, often sheared and thrust out of position. The saddleback thus produced naturally opened out at the summit of the old, and the cracks that were formed w[h]ere [w]ater filled in with milky quartz veins... [are now, after being mined] full of cavities which were once occupied...
The land to the east of Melbourne was acquired by The Crown early in the 19th century, during the Stawellian timocracy; the Wurundjeri people, who inhabited the Yarra River Valley and its tributaries for 500 years, were granted "permissive occupancy" of Coranderrk Station, near Healesville, and forcibly resettled. Extensive trading networks had been established with the predominantly British colonists prior to pastoralism in 1835, George Langhorne, a missionary in Port Phillip from 1836-39, noting in his recourse to the Colony of New South Wales that a substantial monetary trade was well established in 1838: "A considerable number of the blacks obtain food and clothing for themselves by shooting the Menura pheasant or Bullun-Bullun for the sake of the tails, which they sell to the whites. The increasingly rapid acquisition of guns, the lure of exotic foods and a societal emphasis on maintaining kin relationships meant they weren't attracted to the mission. According to John Green, the Inspector of Aboriginal Stations in Victoria and later manager of Corranderrk, the people were able to achieve a "sustainable" degree of economic independence: "In the course of one week or so they will all be living in huts instead of willams [traditional housing]; they have also during that time [four months] made as many rugs, which has enabled them to buy boots, hats, coats etc., and some of them [have] even bought horses.
The subsequent, pioneer settlement process was drawn out due to the area's geographic inaccessibility relative to that west of Melbourne: the land was hilly and thickly timbered, as opposed to the open plains of greater Geelong. Additionally, it was believed that the soil was shallow and infertile, a fallacy which was not debunked until T. R. Nutt surveyed the land in 1839.
The original Templestowe village was situated between what is today Finns Reserve and the Templestowe Hotel, as this expanse of land ran by a fresh water stream. It was formally recognised in legislative writ following the establishment of the school in Tom Hicks' barn, as the educational facility was also utilised in an official capacity by the community, that is, it facilitated the burial of the dead and town meetings. The original building was roughly situated on the corner of Serpells Road and Williamsons Road and was first cited in a judicial trial in 1856.
The first permanent resident in Templestowe was Major Charles Newman (1795-1866). He served for 30 years in the Honourable East India Company and rose to the rank of Major in the 51st Regiment of the Indian Army, the Bengal Native Infantry. As his vision had degraded, Newman retired from the military and migrated to the penal colony of Van Dieman's Land with his wife, children, and two step daughters. He purchased a large area of land near the town of Pontville, which was to become the colony's second largest estate. Hearing that land was selling quickly in the newly formed town of Melbourne, he purchased 36 km² (13.9 square miles) during the 1830s around what is now Newmans Road. In 1840 he began construction of Pontville Homestead, relocating there with his remaining family in 1843. The Newman family were at the time the furthest settlers east of Melbourne. Their descendants occupied the land until 1950.
The other founding families include:
There was an early settlement of Irish and Scottish folk from the ship "Midlothian" through Bulleen and Templestowe, which had arrived in June of 1839. The grassland there was interspersed with large Manna and River Red (Be-al) gum trees and broken up by chains of lagoons, the largest of which, called Lake Bulleen, was surrounded by impenetrable reeds that stove off attempts to drain it for irrigation. Due to the distribution of raised ground, the flats were always flooding and for a long time only the poorest (non-English) immigrants leased "pastoral" land from Unwins Special Survey, the estate of the Port Phillip District Authority. Hence although far from prosperous, the farmers living close to nature, most were independent, such that a private Presbytarian school was begun for the district in 1843:
The ready market for firewood and building timber [led to the construction of] several pits and charcoal burners. In winter, the tracks on the river flats became quagmires and to overcome this, corduroy roads were built consisting of layer upon layer of timber carted by bullock wagons and drays.
As the land was cleared, crops of wheat, barley, oats and potatoes were gown and dairy farming started, the land having flooded as early as 1847. The [village] was in fact the first wheat exporting community in [Port Phillip].
The first priority of the settlers was shelter, so they built homes from materials readily available, such as trees, bark, and locally quarried stone and probably following the example of materials in local aboriginal housing. A bark hut with one or two rooms was the quickest to erect. Wattle and daub huts were made from wattle sticks interlaced horizontally, nailed to uprights then daubed over with a mixture of clay and water, this gave a rought cast appearance.
The slab hut was constructed from large slabs of timber two or three inches thick. Consequently the hut lasted many years. The stone house was of course the most permanent dwelling. All houses were roofed with either bark or wood shingles, and had chimneys made out of stone or timber slabs, rendered over with mud on the inside to prevent it catching fire. An iron bar was positioned in the fireplace so that cooking utensils could be suspended over the open fire. Three legged pots and camp ovens were used for baking.
Nearly every home kept fowls, a cow or two, and pigs. The women of course milked the cows, made butter and cheese, collected eggs and looked after the vegetable plot. When there was a surplus, the women often walked to Kew and Collingwood to sell it. The pig when slaughtered, was cured and hung from the rafters in the kitchen. Women also worked alongside their husbands ploughing and sowing crops, then reaping with scythe and sickle. They also stripped the bark from wattle trees to use in the process of leather tanning.
Pontville Homestead was constructed in the early 1840s on part of Newman's pastoral holding, at the confluence of the Yarra River and the Mullum-Mullum Creek. The remains of his first dwelling, a turf hut, was located near the site. Pontville now comprises a house constructed c. 1843-1850 and extended in the 1870s, remnant plantings, cottage foundations, outbuildings, bridge foundations, tracks, and a range of other features associated with the farming use of the area since the 1830s. Pontville was acquired by the Melbourne and Metropolitan Board of Works in 1978, and Melbourne Water and Parks now manages the property as part of Paddle Reserve.
Pontville Homestead is socially, if not in practice, one of the last pastoral selections on the Yarra River within the metropolitan area, and is associated with the earliest development of the Templestowe area. Newman, one of only two ex-Indian Army officers resident in Victoria at the time, was influential in the development of Australian colonial society, and his Indian experience strongly influenced the architectural form of the Pontville homestead. Newman was also associated with gold prospecting in the district following the discovery of gold at Anderson Creek in Warrandyte. He was among the first in south-eastern Australia to mine quartz reefs.
Pontville is historically and aesthetically significant amongst the early towns as its landscape contributes to the greater understanding of 1840s agricultural and garden history, as well as for containing numerous relics of aboriginal life. The survival of its formal garden terracing and the presence Hawthorn hedgerows, used for fencing, is unusual. In his book on pastoralism in Tasmania and the 1920s conflict with the island natives, Keith Windschuttle writes:
In the 1820s [and 1830s], some settlers began to plant the hawthorn hedges that remain part of the Tasmanian landscape today. However, this was also a slow and expensive process. The plants had to survive several months of sea transport from England and one mile of hedgerow required between 8,000 and 10,500 plants. The early hedges were used primarily as windbreaks for the house, and were planted close to it. Before the 1830s, Sharon Morgan writes, 'stone walls were almost unknown, and hedges were rare'.
The property itself (now subdivided) has several remnant plantings of the colonial era including Himalayan Cypress, Black Mulberry and willow trees; and, the integrity of ancient scar trees, ancestral camping sites and other spirit places of the Wurundjeri aborigines which was respected by the Newman family. They can be observed in their original form along the trail systems at the Tikalara ("meeting place") plains tract of the Mullum-Mullum Creek.
Pontville is architecturally important in the evidence surviving from the original homestead building, most notably its distinctive Indian Bungalow form (a core of three interconnected rooms surrounded by a broad verandah formed by the continuation of the main hipped roof slope, within which the ends were built in to create further rooms) and elements of the original fabric which provide a technical history of colonialism. Important items include a displaced hearth of a stone clearly imported from outside the Port Phillip District, possibly English millstone grit, some unexplained sallow cream bricks, probably of local manufacture, pit sawn hardwood ceiling joists, and a stair opening in the ceiling trimmed with tusk tenon joints. Other significant elements are the plaster finishes and remnant ruled lime stucco - the oldest such surface finish in authentic condition to be identified in Victoria, if not Australia. Indian influenced houses are a significant element in Australian colonial architecture, but are extremely rare in Victoria. Associated with the homestead building are the farm outbuildings which are important for their ability to contribute to the historical understanding of the homestead property.
Pontville is archaeologically important for the below ground remains inherent in the location of, and the material contained within the archaeological deposits associated with Newman's turf hut and the subsequent homestead building, cottage, associated farm and rubbish deposits. The structures, deposits and associated artefacts are important for their potential to provide an understanding of the conditions in which a squatting family lived in the earliest days of the Port Phillip settlement.
The name Templestowe was chosen when a village was proclaimed. Its exact origins are unknown, although "Templestowe" is mentioned in the book Ivanhoe by Sir Walter Scott. As the village of Ivanhoe was settled immediately prior to Templestowe, it is believed by some that the name was chosen to preserve the literary parallel.
Dairy farming was the primary vocation of the pioneer settlers, and was practiced along the river flats in Templestowe and Bulleen well into the 20th century. Orcharding was taken up in the 1870s, soon providing prosperity for the district. Apples, peaches, lemons, pears and other stone fruits were grown, providing inspiration for the post-modern "peel" structure on Fitzsimons Lane. Fruit, vine-growers and market gardeners were soon able to build new and more comfortable houses, using brick and weatherboard as materials. Many of these houses still exist, although for the most part they have been modernised beyond the scope for heritage classification by the National Trust of Australia.
Until the expansionism of the 1970s, Templestowe was scarcely populated. Additionally, it was then part of the so-called "green belt" of Melbourne and subdivision into less than 20,000 m² (2 hectares) was not possible in many parts of the suburb. As Melbourne spread past Kew and Balwyn, the price of land escalated and pressure mounted to change the boundaries of the restricted land subdivision. By the 1980s Templestowe was being openly marketed as an alternative to the "dry suburbs". The suburb today has many nouveau riche mansions. In 2006, a property on Church Road was sold for $7.2 million, a record for the area.
Templestowe lays between two of Melbourne's rail services (the Hurstbridge and Epping lines) and did not facilitate the city's urban development. Throughout the 1970s the Doncaster line was planned by the state government to run down the middle of the Eastern Freeway and serve the suburb, with land acquired for the line but sold in the 1980s.
A number of major roads combine to provide the basis for the metro infrastructure. They include:
The area has since been built into and, while there is still no rail service, there is now a modest bus network operating routes to the city in the west, Box Hill and Blackburn in the south, and Ringwood in the east. Service is comparatively poor, with average interval times between buses of one hour after peak hours and few services running after 10pm (departure time), although it is likely to improve from 2007-2010 under the Victorian Labor Government's $1.4 billion "Smart Buses" program.
Following the Sir Rod Eddington-produced report into improving east-west travel, which included 20 recommendations for the area, the professor of public transport Graham Currie gave his support of expanding the bus transit system (eight older vehicles were replaced in 2007) but argued the need for rapid transit lanes throughout Manningham as an alternative to developing light and heavy rail. This would involve "separate road space so (specialised buses) don't have to wait in traffic or at traffic lights" as a solution to arterial congestion, without need for the extension of the route 48 tramline to Doncaster Hill favoured by the Manningham City Council.
There are currently five state schools (Serpell, Templestowe Heights, Templestowe Park and Templestowe Valley) and two Catholic schools (Saint Charles Borromeo and Saint Kevin's), providing primary education to the suburb. Templestowe College serves some of the demand for secondary education. However, Templestowe College, Templestowe Valley Primary School, St Kevins PS and Templestowe Heights PS are located either on the border of Templestowe and Templestowe Lower or in Templestowe Lower.
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