Heidelberg Road has the distinction of being Victoria’s first road outside the confines of the Melbourne township. The residents of the village of Heidelberg had long campaigned for a road and in 1841 their cries were answered when the Heidelberg Road Trust was established. This was the first form of local government in Victoria, even predating the Melbourne City Council.
The road was to go from present day Smith Street, cross the Merri Creek and at the ford, skirt the between the swamps of Fairfield and the Yarra River, and then cross the Darebin Creek in what is now Alphington. The road followed the path of an existing track. At the time it was decided not to build a bridge over the Merri Creek as it was felt that the ford was crossable in all but the worst floods.
Yarra Bend Reserve was a traditional Koori meeting place as well being the base of the Merri Creek Protectorate Station, and there were often several hundred Koori in the reserve and camped across either side of Heidelberg Road. The sight of such large numbers of Koori often proved intimidating for travellers along Heidelberg Road, and there were complaints that their dogs would hassle the bullock trains. In such cases the Native Police Corps was often used to move the Koori on.
By 1847 the Great Heidelberg Road was looking worse for wear. Heavily used and poorly maintained it was close to unusable. The Heidelberg Road Trust received permission to establish a toll gate just over the Merri Creek, and opposite the Yarra Bend Reserve. This was the first toll established in Victoria.
Of course people immediately attempted to avoid the toll by using the ford at High Street and then cutting through the scrub in Westgarth to reach Heidelberg Road beyond the toll. Despite this the tolls raised sufficient revenue to enabled the Trust to macadamise the road from the Merri Creek for one mile. Thus the Great Heidelberg Road added to its list of firsts by being Victoria’s first macadamised road.
By the 1850s Heidelberg Road had become a tourist attraction, people travelling by wagon to see the road. This led to the development of Alphington as a popular picnic location. Soon hotels were built to cater for the tourists and a few shops began to appear. Between the Merri and Darebin Creeks almost all the buildings were located at the Darebin Creek crossing.
The 1880s saw further development of Alphington and the subdivision of Fairfield. The construction of the Inner Circle Railway line also attracted people to the area and it was about this time that the Grand View Hotel was built on the corner of Heidelberg Road and Station Street.
By the turn of the century there were buildings lining most of Heidelberg Road between the two creeks. Bridges now spanned both the Merri and Darebin Creeks and in the forthcoming years both would be expanded as traffic increased.
In 1962 all of Alphington became part of the City of Northcote, pushing the cities boundaries southwards as far as the Yarra River. Thirty four years later Council amalgamations across Victoria saw Heidelberg Road established as the southmost boundary of the new City of Darebin.
Anderson, W. K. Roads for the people : a history of Victoria's Roads (1993) South Melbourne: Hyland House.
Lemon, Andrew (1983). Northcote Side of the River. North Melbourne : Hargreen.