Electricity – The spark that ignited development

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Electricity – The spark that ignited development

By Barbara Miller

We take it for granted that electricity is connected to our homes, available at the flick of a switch when and where we need it. This has obviously not always been the case, but that convenience is still a relatively recent innovation for some. It’s worth considering that  we accept the use of electricity in our homes as being essential, and we forget how hard our forebears fought to get these services.

The Thomastown Terminal Station, on the corner of Mahoney’s Road and High Street, was a turning point in electricity supply to the northern suburbs, and later to the outlying northern regions of Victoria. This terminal station started operations on the 15th of June, 1924 and so has just passed its 100th anniversary. “The Thomastown Terminal Station was designed to receive and control incoming electricity, transform or break it down to a lower voltage, then radiate it at reduced voltages to local transmission stations”. (Robert Wuchatsch, 2024)

The consequence for Thomastown of the building of this Terminal Station was that large factories were established close by, and housing estates spread across the area to provide workers for the factories. The Sydney company, R. Fowler Limited established a Victorian branch of their business in 1927, followed by many large and well-known businesses such as Sutton Tools, Davleco, St Regis ACI, Goodyear, Bostik and Tieman. These factories provided employment for the residents of the area, many of them in the 1960s being newly arrived migrants. You can read further about the Thomastown Terminal Station in an article by Whittlesea Historical Society member Robert Wuchatsch, available on the WHS website.

It was in 1937, after many years of lobbying by residents to the Council, and by the Council to the State Electricity Commission (SEC), that electricity finally became available in the township of Whittlesea. The Advertiser published a letter stating “People who are not comatose are unable to understand why Whittlesea does not go in for the electric light. It would turn the present sleepy hamlet into a prosperous and thriving township”.

In order for the SEC to be persuaded that the costs of supply could be met in each township, residents had to provide a deposit and a guarantee of minimum revenue for the SEC. In the case of Eden Park, the guarantee required was 166 pounds per year for five years, to be spread over eight households. Rod Cavanagh wrote that “the ‘old’ Eden Park was never the same afterwards” once electricity was connected. (Rod Cavanagh, 2022)

On September 28th, 1937, a great celebration was held in the Parish Hall in Church Street Whittlesea, and the highlight was the switching on of the lights. This was followed by dancing until late into the night, and a magnificent supper provided by Mrs Clancy of Clancy’s Tea Rooms. It would have been a time of great excitement and a realisation that the ‘modern age’ was finally here.

The townships that the power lines traversed on the way north – South Morang, Mernda and Yan Yean – also benefitted from the connection of power to the township of Whittlesea. The South Morang school had electricity connected in 1937. Seventy eight consumers, including a number of farmers, were initially supplied along this route. In Epping,  the erection of the poles was hampered by the hard rock which was to be found just under the surface. This was likely also the case in Thomastown, Lalor, Wollert and Woodstock.

Rob Wuchatsch reminisces that electricity was connected to  Thomastown in 1934, however  “Our farm at Westgarthtown, located west of the Edgar’s Creek, wasn’t connected until 1966 and before then I did my homework or studied for exams by the light of a Tilley lamp”.(Robert Wuchatsch, 2024) It’s hard to imagine this scenario now, not only for the lack of electric lighting, but for all of the gadgets that go along with being connected to the electricity grid.

Read more about the factories of Thomastown on the WHS Facebook page.