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Heidelberg Road – An early instance of road pricing in Australia

In trying to dig out some facts on how Melbourne developed its road system I came across Max Lay’s, Melbourne Miles, The Story of Melbourne’s Roads, Australian Scholarly Publishing 2003.

This is not my idea of light reading though Dr Lay obviously loves this stuff. My main finds in this book were parochial. I live north-east of Melbourne city in the suburb of Ivanhoe not far from the Yarra River which runs into the city of Melbourne.

In 1841 Melbourne had a total population of only about 4,500. But even by this time the population had spread well out into Melbourne’s hinterland in the direction of my home. Adjacent areas of Bulleen, Templestowe and the river flats in Heidelberg were surveyed in 1837 by Robert Hoddle – the Surveyor General who was responsible for Melbourne’s initial road layouts. The Heidelberg land was sold in 1838 and sheep stations were installed on it by year’s end. It was an important early area of rural settlement though these days it is almost entirely urbanised.

The first local road body in Melbourne was the Heidelberg Road Trust (HRT) established in 1840 to develop a rough track into the first arterial road leading out of Melbourne. To fund this HRT levied rates on land within 5 km of the road and could apply to levy tolls from users. In fact Heidelberg Road was the first major road out of Melbourne and the first road in Melbourne to levy tolls – they commenced in 1847. Tolls were common in England in the 1830s and had been levied in Sydney since 1811. In Victoria as a whole, from 1853-1856, road costs were half covered by tolls.

By 1854 there are measures of average weekly road usage along Heidelberg Rd – 341 two-wheeled carts, 165 four-wheeled carts and 50 bullock carts! Tolls varied from ¼ pence for passage of a pig or a sheep up to 18 pence for 2 or 4-wheel carts. Exemptions were offered to those attending funerals or for those going to or from church! Toll evasion was a major problem – unscrupulous travellers diverted around toll gates by travelling along footpaths – a practise soon stopped by law.

Heidelberg Road was also the first road in Melbourne used by locals for pleasant Sunday drives in their ‘carriages and gigs’. Heidelberg itself became of interest in the 1880s because the Heidelberg school of art founded itself there – Ill try to get around to discussing this in a future post but the link gives a good brief picture. Heidelberg Road was eventually sealed with bitumen in 1938 and declared a main road in 1960.

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