16 June, 2017

The Deviation revisited

Several years ago I looked at a little of the history of Deviation Road, Fyansford then, whilst researching a recent post I came across further details which revealed the politics behind what became a 22 year battle to have the road constructed. Here's what I found:
Prior to 1933, the most direct way to travel from Fyansford to Geelong was via Hyland St up the steep, 1 in 10 grade of Fyansford Hill. Hauling drays up the hill required the harnessing of extra horses, just to make the climb and the heavy braking by vehicles travelling downhill caused damage to the road's surface. The steep incline was also susceptible to erosion during bad weather.
Aerial image of the Cement Works and Fyansford Hill prior to the construction
of Deviation Rd, dated (incorrectly) as 1939. Image by Charles Daniel Pratt,
State Library of Victoria
By 1911, an alternative route was being promoted by Councillor McCann of the Corio Shire, one which was slightly shorter but most significantly had a gradient of only 1 in 20. The total cost, including land purchases, was estimated at £1,500 (Geelong Advertiser, 30th November, 1911). The benefits would include easier access for Geelong to the bluestone and sand deposits in the Fyansford area whilst the journey would also be significantly easier for travellers and companies bringing produce into town. By February, 1912, the shire engineers of both the Shire of Corio and City of Geelong were in agreement that the project would be a significant improvement on the existing road. The surveyor for the Shire of Newtown and Chilwell agreed.
By April, 1914 (Geelong Advertiser, 30th April, 1914) four prospective routes had been proposed. The first was merely an upgrade of the existing route up Hyland St, whilst two other options also saw the road rerouted from the end of Fyansford Rd (now Autumn St) at the top of the hill. The fourth and preferred scheme, not only provided breath-taking views of the valley, but also provided the most direct route between Geelong and Fyansford as well as eliminating the need for several right angle turns. It was also the most expensive route, now estimated at £7,000.
At this point, the outbreak of war intervened and it was not until 1919, that the required land had been purchased and the route pegged out. As always seems to be the case when multiple parties are involved however, progress on building The Deviation stalled. On 2nd June, 1921, the Geelong Advertiser reported that Corio Shire was (understandably) reluctant to carry the sole cost of construction. In November 1923, Geelong West Council objected to the financial burden of the project (to be divided amongst various shires and councils) which it saw as having little benefit for its own town (Geelong Advertiser, 1st November, 1923).
By July, 1924, the longer, more picturesque route from the end of Aberdeen St had been accepted as the preferred option and on 4th July, the Geelong Advertiser published the below map of what the new road would look like. (Note also, "Valley Rd" descending from the top of proposed Deviation to the river below. Traces of this older road can still be found today.)
Proposed deviation from Fyansford to Aberdeen St, Newtown (Geelong Advertiser,
4th July, 1924)
By this time, suggestions were circulating that day labour in the form of returned solders from the First World War could be used to build the road, keeping costs to a minimum.
As with many major projects, politics was also a burning issue. In July, 1924, a stoush was brewing between the Nationalist Member for Barwon Edward Morley - in whose seat the road lay - and Labour Member for Geelong, William Brownbill. The latter was deemed guilty of a breach of etiquette when he intervened in the matter, approaching the acting chairman of the Country Roads Board to discuss funding and the use of day labour for the project.
A young William Brownbill. Image taken from the
Parliament of Victoria website
By 1925 steps were being taken to secure finance which would allow the extension of Aberdeen St past Minerva Rd to the top of the proposed deviation, however objection to even this measure was raised by one Louis Melville Whyte of 'The Heights', subject of one of my recent posts. Whyte - some of whose land had been compulsorily acquired by the CRB - was now being levied by the
Newtown and Chilwell Council who had stepped in after the CRB declined to build the extension, to contribute to the cost of building the new road. He argued successfully (see the above post) that as a previous, rather than current owner, he could not then be charged for construction of what he claimed would be an under-utilised dead end road (Geelong Advertiser, 12th August, 1926).
Regardless, progress did continue, albeit slowly. In May, 1926 it was reported that the line surveyed by the CRB for The Deviation in about 1914 was about 18 feet south of the line of Aberdeen St, which if not fixed would have left a kink in the road once it was finally constructed (Geelong Advertiser, 24th May, 1926).
A further hurdle was faced by the unfortunate surveyor for Newtown and Chilwell Council who, when needing to take the new levels, was confronted by an angry bull. The council resolved to have the unnamed owner remove the animal whilst the surveyor was on site (Geelong Advertiser, 6th July, 1926). The issue with Whyte was finally resolved in his favour with the council ordered to pay costs in August, 1927 (The Age, 23rd August, 1927).
And so it continued. By the middle of 1930, construction still had not begun as wrangling over finances continued. In June, the shires of Bannockburn, Corio, Geelong, Geelong West and Leigh sent a deputation to the Minister for Works, asking the government to undertake the project, once again citing local employment as a benefit, however the government were unimpressed with the lack of funding offered by the respective councils (The Age, 25th June, 1930).
During August, the councils continued pushing to have the earthworks for the project funded from the Government's unemployment fund. By early 1931 however, these issues were sorted and 80 unemployed Geelong men were selected to begin work on 9th February. A few months later, an article in the Weekly Times (11th April, 1931) noted that workmen had discovered numerous fossils ranging in size from tiny shells to the bones of "huge beasts".
In May the following year and with construction well under way, beautification works were being undertaken in the form of tree planting. On the 14th June, commemorative trees (does anyone know where?) were planted by Alderman William Brownbill, the mayor of Newtown and Chilwell and the President of the Shire of Corio.
Finally on 28th April, 1933 a short paragraph in The Age noted that "the new Fyansford deviation road, which has been formed with cement penetration, has been opened to traffic."
The Deviation, 2016 from Button Hill, Fyansford
Finally, after 22 years of delays, politicking, legal proceedings and financial wrangling, Deviation Rd, Fyansford was completed. Today, it remains the main entry point to Geelong from the Hamilton Hwy and still provides one of the most scenic views of the Barwon River; a view which has been painted, sketched and photographed from the earliest days of European settlement.

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