Thursday, October 30, 2014

...and so the Leigh Grand Junction Bridge was built. It was a joint effort - as described in my previous post - by the shires of Leigh, Meredith and Buninyong, however as with all infrastructure, it required maintenance...and that was where things became a little tricky.
As I outlined, after contributing its allocated share to build the bridge, the Shire of Meredith declined to make any further contribution towards its upkeep - a state of affairs which continued until 1911 when the time came to replace the original bridge.
But on what basis did the shire argue that the responsibility was not theirs?
Eventually there were two arguments, however the first relates to the vexed issue of shire boundaries and will be the primary focus of this post. According to the media of the day, the bridge was built a little north of the point at which the three shires met; Buninyong to the north and Leigh and Meredith Shires to the south, the latter two divided by the Leigh River.
Complications arose however, as the boundaries between the three shires moved over time. This was not an uncommon occurrence and the Victorian Government Gazette records regular boundary changes over the years - including some changes to the area in question.
But to go right back, it is perhaps most useful to establish some original boundaries, beginning with the Buninyong Road District (predecessor of Buninyong Shire) which was proclaimed in 1858. At that time it was noted in describing the extent of the new District that part of its southern boundary (which extended either side of the Leigh River for over 18 miles) included the northern boundary of the Mount Mercer Pre-emptive Right.
Later survey maps indicate that part of this line later became the eastern end of the Dereel-Mt Mercer Road almost up to the Mt Mercer intersection. Further entries in the gazette indicate that this remained the southern boundary of the Buninyong Shire until at least 1869. This line crosses the Leigh River about 700m south of the eventual site of the Grand Junction Bridge.
Next, the Meredith Road District was proclaimed in 1863. The description of its northern most extent on the Leigh River is somewhat unhelpfully indicated as the southern boundary of the Buninyong Road District. So far so good, however in November 1870, things got a little more complicated when it was recommended by the government that a part of Buninyong Shire be detached and instead added to the Meredith Road District.
Why? Well, one possible reason arises from confusion over rates. Land owners within a given shire or road district paid rates to that entity, however land allotments were originally surveyed and titles issued within civil parishes grouped into counties. Since shire boundaries did not necessarily follow parish borders, this meant that in some cases the property of a given land owner, whilst inside a single parish, could fall under the jurisdiction of two shires.
According to the Geelong Advertiser of 10th December, 1869 this was exactly the case for one particular landowner who had received rates notices for the full extent of his land holdings from both the Buninyong Shire and the Meredith Road District. It may have been therefore that the suggested boundary change was an attempt to resolve such issues.
The section of land (relevant to this post) which was to be ceded to the Meredith Road District was described as extending from Williamson's Creek down to the "current boundary" which presumably is the southern border of Buninyong Shire as described above. This course of action was recommended by the government, however I did not find official evidence of its having been enacted, however anecdotal evidence suggests it was.
For the purposes of the Grand Junction Bridge however, it meant that rather than lying entirely within the Shire of Buninyong, by the time the bridge was built, it was now partly within the Meredith Road District. Simple!