Birth of the Dandenong Historical Society

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By Jenny Ferguson

We received a donation of some newspaper clippings a few years ago, saved by Dave Mickle Snr between 1963 and 1965. Dave was our first president and our first life member. These clippings from the Dandenong Journal provided us an insight into the establishment of the Society, its collection, and the focus and interests of Dave himself.

How did it all start? On 3 April 1963, Mrs Susan Perham wrote a letter to the Editor expressing her disappointment that the old Half-way House Hotel couldn’t be saved and used as a museum and memorial to the pioneers. She believed it was important to do something to uncover some of Dandenong’s history before it was too late. Local resident Dave Mickle responded a week later, keen to generate some interest. He was a member of the Royal Historical Society of Victoria, already passionate about preserving our local history. Susan Perham then offered her home to anyone interested in forming a local history society in Dandenong. Finally, a public meeting was held in the Town Hall on Wednesday 26 June to launch the Historical Society. The first meeting of the newly formed Historical Society was held on Thursday 4 July 1963. It will be no surprise to any of you that Dave Mickle was elected as the first president of the Dandenong Historical Society, and Susan Perham its secretary. The members were keen to get started!

In a newspaper clipping from the Journal dated 7 August 1963, thirteen enthusiastic members were quick to determine the basic facts about Dandenong. In a 1918 railway definition of Dandenong, it was 60 feet above sea level and 18 and a half miles from Melbourne. Its name was derived from the Aboriginal word for the creek which flowed from the Dandenongs, i.e., Danyenong or Tangenong.

The next clipping was dated 13 November 1963. The article “Interest Grows in Dandenong Society” was prompted by their October meeting. There was concern about poor cemetery records. Mrs Trebilco had undertaken to transcribe early deaths from the Dandenong Cemetery records but found her task almost impossible. Nothing was properly recorded prior to 1876. Dave Mickle stated that this was not the case with the Cranbourne cemetery records!

A subcommittee had inspected the Gas Company premises in Hutton Street as a potential headquarters for the Society, but they proved to be impractical.

Warren Titcher and Len Bolch stressed the importance of preserving present-day records for future generations. “In another 100 years, present-day happenings will be history too.”

At the November 1963 meeting, a letter was read out during correspondence from Mrs Daisy Piper, the daughter of the headmaster of Dandenong State School 1403. The headmaster was Mr Alfred Hemmings. Daisy Piper had in her possession an article from the Dandenong Advertiser dated May 27, 1874, concerning her father, and she also had some family information. President Dave promised to pick up the early papers and photographs.

He hoped other early residents would follow suit and donate similar items to the historical society.

By February 1964, Dave had visited the Pipers in Dromana. Daisy Piper believed that when Alfred Hemmings married her mother, Miss Frances Chandler, it was the first wedding in the Church of England in Dandenong.

Mr and Mrs Perham visited a Mrs Jeffreys in Caulfield. She had been told that Mrs Jeffreys’ grandfather, Mr McKee, was the first appointed policeman in Dandenong. Three members took a trip to the Police Paddocks to find out more about its past.

Dr W A Gunson, a well-known historian and Lang Lang resident, was the guest speaker for the February 1964 meeting. Dr Gunson emphasised the value of preserving local history and uncovering old documents which authenticated it. Often, people had in their possession photos, diaries, and personal letters considered only of personal interest and did not realise their value as history. Warren Titcher, inspired by the interesting comparison of the businesses along Dandenong’s main street (The Golden Mile) in 1870 and 1932, in GFR’s Reminiscences of early Dandenong, was keen to photograph the businesses in 1964, creating an elongated streetscape. (Warren’s photographs of The Golden Mile can be viewed in the corridor on the first floor at 39 Clow Street, on the way to the DDHS Rooms. Warren repeated these photographs in 1972, and again in 1991. Another member and keen photographer, Ted Doran captured The Golden Mile in 2013.)

At its May 1964 meeting, Dave Mickle told the members that Cranbourne Shire had tried to annex Dandenong. However, the Chief Secretary rejected the annexation bid. The Cranbourne Shire had better luck in their bid to expand when they secured Yallock from Buln Buln Shire!

Members of the public were invited to attend the Dandenong Historical Society meeting at the Dandenong Town Hall on February 17, 1965. The drawcard was a historical album which Gordon Hill of Beaver Photographics was generously preparing for the society. Mr Hill was hopeful that attendees would be able to identify and date the photographs.

A Dandenong Journal article dated 18 November 1965 titled “Where are these Relics” concerned the old stone bridge over the Dandenong Creek on the highway, built in 1865/66. At the October meeting of the historical society, the members discussed a paragraph published 20 years earlier. When the centre pin of the stone bridge had been removed, a bottle was found, containing a number of papers: Copies of The Argus, The Australasian, Gippsland Times, The Herald and The Age. All were dated December 19, 1866. There was also a penny and a threepenny piece dated 1863. Dave Mickle wondered where those relics were today.

By November 1965, the Society had already designed their emblem, set to appear on correspondence. It was designed by Constable Peter Anderson of Doveton Police, who spent hours researching the uniform of the period and the style of artwork from the previous century. The emblem depicted a typical scene of the old police camp on Stud Road in 1839, established by Captain William Lonsdale in October 1837. At that time it was called the Native Police Corps.

These newspaper clippings have provided us with a glimpse of how quickly the Dandenong Historical Society took off, from one local resident’s letter to the Editor, and it’s still going strong sixty years later.

And the rest, they say, is history.