Birth of the Dandenong Historical Society

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.

Merle Mitchell AM

Merle Mitchell AM
Following is the speech written and delivered by Eileen Sims on the 13 November 2022 at the memorial event for Merle Mitchell AM.

Image (c) Mark Wilson Media

Merle was a leader although she would probably not agree with me giving her that title. But she was a person who did effect change.  


In the 1970’s Springvale was developing as a new suburb: new housing estate with unmade roads. The 1971 census showed that the city’s population increased by 20,000 people. Springvale’s population had always been multicultural but now the census revealed that 32% of Springvale’s population were born overseas. While most of the new residents were English speaking there were others of non-English speaking countries- Italy, what was then called Yugoslavia, Germany, Netherlands, and Greece. 

Council at that time employed one social worker and a youth worker and the establishment of a Citizen’s Advisory Bureau (CAB) in the suburb was suggested. Questionnaires were distributed and the response showed that people agreed and many wanted to be involved. 

 A volunteer Committee of Management was formed and Merle became a member, taking on the role of secretary. Others who wanted to participate became volunteer staff members and participated in a community training program.  

Council provided accommodation at 5 Osborne Avenue and the centre, known as the Springvale Community Aid and Advice Bureau, came into being. In my talk I will refer to it as the ‘Bureau”. 


As the centre became busier and with more demands on the committee and workers it was realised a full-time Manager was needed. The position was created, funded by council, and Merle, who had taken on that role in a voluntary capacity, became the Bureau’s first paid employee.  

Who came? 

The 1970’s also saw the opening of Enterprise Migrant Hostel.   

Even for English speaking migrants settling into a new country as Australia it is difficult. For those without English language skills it is even more confusing, isolating and at times frightening.  

The new arrivals felt they were strangers and wanted to regain a sense of control in their lives. They needed jobs, to learn English, and to know their children were safe at school and able to learn.  

There were so many needs and questions. 

Merle and the staff recognised this and developed policy and programs specific to their needs.    


One of the first requirements for the Bureau staff was to improve communication. Qualified interpreters were needed either in house or by phone. The Bureau was one of the first organisations to support the formation of the state run Telephone Interpreter Service.  

Training in how to work with interpreters became mandatory for all Bureau staff.  

Social and Ethnic workers 

Always looking ahead, Merle learnt that ethnic workers could be seconded from the Department of Immigration and she arranged with other ethnic agencies for their workers to be placed for a day or afternoon at the Bureau as well.  

She found out too that there was a Grant-in-Aid scheme funded by the Commonwealth Immigration Department for a social worker to assist in migrant settlement. 

The first social worker appointed at the Bureau was Jenny Briggs.  

The first ethnic worker was Juan Santa Isobel and together they developed the position of an ethnic aid worker in the Springvale Primary School, the first such position. A program that has now become a national program.  

Staff training in house 

Merle would say this CAB is different from other CABs mainly because of the non-English speaking population. Through Council funding a Volunteer Co-ordinator position was created to reach into the community for volunteers and the involvement of people from other cultures was encouraged. In-house cross-culture training was also mandatory and all staff needed to adapt their service delivery to meet the needs of the various migrant groups and refugees coming into the hostel.  

Roles of workers/Policy of agency 

As well as social and ethnic workers the Bureau employed a financial counsellor and a housing officer. The roles of all the workers focussed on giving information. Counselling and advocacy were tasks for the paid workers while their job descriptions also included community development aiming to encourage policy and practical changes in other organisations as they provided services for migrants. 

Adjusting to governmental policy change 

As government policies changed, the Bureau workers’ service delivery had to be flexible to meet these increasing demands. With the closure of Enterprise Hostel, new arrivals were moved straight into the community without support and the Bureau staff developed programs to fill these gaps. Workers from the Centre for the Survivors of Torture and Trauma were housed at the Bureau to work specifically with refugees who had experienced incarceration and torture.    

Then Enterprise reopened but with a limited supportive role. It was the Bureau social worker who took on the role of assisting orientation; walking new arrivals to the main shopping centre and leading them to schools, maternal and child care centres, library, Centrelink, the Community Health Centre and the council administrative centre. The last places being the Bureau and the Neighbourhood House to help them become acquainted to the services available to help them settle.  


Merle’s role always extended beyond the walls of the agency. She was adept in building relationships and had involvements in committees like VCOSS and ACOSS where her knowledge of what was happening at the grass-roots level could inform and influence change into government policies.   

Merle had the ability to infuse energy into everyone she was involved with: her staff, councillors, government heads, politicians and everyone she met regardless of who they were or the position they held.  

Without any doubt, to me, Merle was a dynamic leader. 

Eileen Sims© 2022

Eileen Sims

Former Cr Zaynoun Melhem

Speech from Mayor Cr Long

Zaynoun, we remember you as a young boy (we understand this was probably both a blessing and a curse for you!), and we watched as you proudly followed in your father’s footsteps.  Having seen how hard you worked for your local residents, representing local views and priorities  – we absolutely know you didn’t take anything for granted.   We have enjoyed standing with you in the Council Chamber and we acknowledge the strong relationships you have established both inside this building and in the communities you served. 

Mayor Cr Angela Long, Former Cr Zaynoun Melhem. 9 March 2021
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Former Cr Matthew Kirwan

Matthew, you recognised that participation is a key feature of a well-functioning community and you played a very strong advocacy role in creating a more inclusive and engaged city – determined to empower residents and community groups whilst highlighting and working towards addressing many human rights disparities.

Mayor Cr Angela Long, Former Cr Matthew Kirwan, Deputy Mayor Cr Sophie Tan . 9 March 2021
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Former Cr Youhorn Chea

Speech from Mayor Cr Long

Youhorn, during your 23 years on Council you acted as a great ambassador for the city. You openly shared the details of your journey of arriving and settling in Australia as a refugee. This honesty sparked an important ‘rethink’ in how we view social cohesion and helped us develop a respectful pathway forward for all people in our city to feel valued and accepted, and enjoy a genuine sense of belonging. I would now like to read the key points from your letter under seal.

Mayor Cr Angela Long, Former Cr and Mayor Youhorn Chea and Deputy Mayor Cr Sophie Tan. 9 March 2021
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