The first toll gate in Victoria was established on Heidelberg Road just over the Merri Creek Bridge from Clifton Hill. It was a great success, raising sufficient income to macadamise the road for over 1½ miles from the bridge, towards Alphington.
Emboldened by this success the colonial government tendered out for another toll gate in Northcote. The site chosen was just over the Merri Creek where Hoddle Street intersects with Queens Parade. The site was soon deemed unsuitable and relocated to south west corner of High and Westgarth streets.
The Victorian Colonial Government had no means of raising its own capital and tolls were to prove an easy way to generate funds for road building and repair. The Government would tender out the gates and the lessee would get to keep the takings of the gate.
An unexpected development of the toll gates was the evolution of local government. In the beginning the government established local road boards to administer the funds from the tolls. Over the twenty years these would evolve into local councils.
The successful tenderer for the first Northcote toll gate paid £2,100 and by 1861 P. Hanna was paying £2,988 for the same gate. A second toll gate was established in Mill Park near McKimmies Road.
The Epping District Road Board, which administered the toll gates and were responsible for roads and bridges from Northcote to Epping, installed another toll gate on the corner of High Street and Murray Road, Preston. The lease for this gate was auctioned at the Belmont Hotel, Thomastown. In 1863 this gate was moved further north to near the Preston Arms Hotel.
In 1863 the charges were 6d for each horse drawn vehicle, ¼d for a sheep or goat and 3d for each horse. As a large number of horses passed through Preston and Northcote bound for Kirk’s Horse Bazaar in the city, this meant a good steady income for the district.
In 1876 the State Government decided it would abolish toll gates in the next year. It promised local councils to compensate them for any lost income. Unfortunately in 1877 the State Government found itself without funds and the towns of Northcote and Preston faced an uncertain future. Fortunately as the Council began to panic the State Government was able to raise sufficient cash to bail it out of its difficulties.
One toll house managed, despite everything to survive until the 1980s. The Northcote Council fought hard to save the building but it was demolished anyway.
Carroll, Brian & Rule, Ian (1985). Preston: an Illustrated History. Preston: City of Preston.
Lemon, Andrew (1983). The Northcote Side of the River. North Melbourne: Hargreen.
Swift, William George (1928). The history of Northcote: From its first settlement to a city. Northcote, Vic: Leader Publishing.