26 June, 2011

Making a slight Deviation

View down Hyland Street from the cement works hill
In the course of researching my previous blog, I came across reference to the building of the Deviation - a significant stretch of road which overlooks the conjunction of the Barwon and Moorabool Rivers. I have driven up it all my life and run, ridden and walked past it on countless occasions, even dreamt of it as a child - one of the few recurring dreams I have encountered. However, I have never given it much thought.
The Deviation is the culmination of the Hamilton Highway which runs from Hamilton in western Victoria to Geelong where it joins the Princes Highway in Newtown. Prior to the construction of the Deviation, the highway extended along Hyland Street (originally named High Street) up the hill beside the cement works. The steep gradient of this stretch of road no doubt made it difficult for heavily laden drays heading into the port of Geelong in the pre-motorized era.
Deviation Road with Hamilton Highway in the background
Possibly as a result of these difficulties, the citizens of Fyansford first petitioned for an alternate road to be built across the face of the hill as early as 1879, however it was not until 1931 that construction began, using unemployed labour during the Great Depression.  The road was carved out of the side of the hill, providing a much lesser gradient for vehicles passing through. Originally of concrete construction, it was completed in 1932 and officially opened in 1933.
It did not take long however, for tragedy to strike the long-awaited new road. On 2nd December, 1934, a two women were driving a horse and buggy back to Fyansford from a church service when their horse shied at a land slip which had left debris on the road from further up the hill. The horse stopped and backed away and with no guard rail to prevent such a fall, the women were thrown from the buggy as it toppled down the hill. One - Miss Effie Clarke aged 51 - died and the other - her 69 year old sister Adeline - received treatment at the Geelong Hospital for her injuries. At a later inquest, the coroner was scathing of the state of the road, indicating that it was unsafe for vehicular traffic and that a guard rail should immediately  be installed.
The evidence of my own eyes tells me that guard rails were eventually installed, however land slips have continued to plague the Deviation right up to recent times, whilst the tight bends have been an ongoing source of danger to some drivers. In April, 1938 a motorcyclist (Owen B. McEwin, a cement worker from Fyansford) died when his bike with sidecar collided with a truck ascending the hill.
View along the Barwon River from the Lookout above
the Deviation
At the top of the Deviation is the Barwon Valley Lookout which gives panoramic views across the Deviation, the valley below and the confluence of the Moorabool and Barwon Rivers.
"The Lookout" as it is locally known was built in 1938, only a few years after the Deviation and is an art deco concrete structure with a stucco finish. As a child I would walk to the lookout with my grandmother to view the scenery below. During times of flood it makes a very popular viewing point as the valley below becomes, to a greater or lesser extent, submerged.
Today, the view includes not only the river, but also the grounds of the Queen's Park Golf Club, as well as those of the Geelong Amateurs Football & Netball Club (known locally as The Ammos), much of Highton, glimpses of the Geelong Ring Road and the Barrabool Hills in the distance beyond.
This scene is quite different to what it was even a few decades ago, when there was no Ring Road and much of the housing development was absent.
From 1836, in the earliest days of settlement along the river, Dr. Alexander Thompson's sheep could be seen grazing on the hills of what are now the suburbs of Belmont and Highton. Over the years, the signs of industry could be seen as first the flour mill and then the paper mill were built on the banks of the river below. By the mid 20th century, the scene had begun to change even further. The golf club opened in 1948 as a 9 hole course on land leased from the Commonwealth Lands Department which it shared with the Ammos who arrived in 1957. Club rooms were built in the early 1950s which were shared by both the golf and football clubs and in 1975, the course was extended to 18 holes using land that was previously known as the Botanic Gardens - not to be confused I imagine, with the gardens in East Geelong.
On the other side of the river, the fertile, well-watered land between the Barwon and the Deviation was used to grow vines, fruit trees, nurseries and other market garden vegetables. In 1880 it was recorded that Walker's Newtown Valley farm - one of the earliest in the area - was washed away by floods.  The area continued to be used to supply food for the local community into the mid 20th century. Today however, the vines and fruit trees are gone and this land has been re-vegetated and now forms part of the Zillah Crawcour Park which extends back to Queen's Park. In fact, so successful has the re-vegetation been, that it is becoming difficult to see the Deviation from the banks of the river below.


  1. Jo, I keep returning to your blog. It'
    s great! I appreciate your attention to detail in researching the various topics you explore. I have tried previously to contact you seeking your permission to include quotes and photos from your blog in my website .

    1. Hi John,
      Not sure what's happening there, but I've seen your previous comments and have replied too. Yes, you are more than welcome to include photos and quotes from the blog with appropriate attribution (which I know you give anyway). Thanks heaps for your support!