Finding Anzac Avenue

For a couple of generations, the people of Hamilton have walked, fished, and played on the banks of the Grange Burn, oblivious to the tree planting over 100 years ago to remember Hamilton’s war dead. The only reminder is a sign at Apex Park, close to Ballarat Road.

Since starting my research on the avenue in 2015, the location of the sign hasn’t seemed right. I couldn’t understand why an avenue of eucalypts was mistaken for an avenue of Oriental plane trees (Platanus orientalis), deciduous exotics, mentioned in many Hamilton Spectator reports relating to Arbor Day 1917 and 1918. Also, the landmarks mentioned in those articles don’t fit with the area where the sign stands.

My page dedicated to Anzac Avenue has changed over the years as my doubts grew about the location. I’ve removed photos and references to the section of the Grange near Apex Park, just leaving a photo of the sign proclaiming “Hamilton’s First ‘Anzac Avenue'”. There is a second Anzac Avenue in Hamilton. It is situated beside Lake Hamilton and is one of Hamilton’s more recent memorials, commemorating those from Hamilton who served at Gallipoli.

Research of earlier tree plantings along the Grange Burn has led me to conclude the Anzac Avenue sign is around 1.6 kilometres east of Anzac Avenue’s first plantings in 1917. The sign instead stands before what is more likely Australian Avenue, planted on Arbor Day in 1907 by the people of Hamilton and organised by the Hamilton Arbor Day committee. 

Volunteers planted 157 Australian native trees between the Dunkeld Road bridge (now Ballarat Road bridge) and the Penshurst Road ford (now Mount Napier Road bridge). Pilot Charles Pratt took the following photos in 1927, twenty years after the planting of Australian Avenue.

AERIAL PHOTOS BY CHARLES PRATT. Images courtesy of the State Library of Victoria

The Anzac Avenue sign states, “There are some 50 eucalyptus trees left between Ballarat Road and Mount Napier Road, which appear to be about the right age, and the twin lines of gum trees near Apex Park could be part of that first Anzac Avenue.”


The sign points out “the trees on either side of the steam engine are River Red Gums” and cites an article from the Hamilton Spectator of 4 July 1918-“…the trees selected were indigenous to their (sic) homelands”. The quote was from a speech given by Presbyterian Minister Reverend Alexander Stewart at the 1918 planting. 

The article in fact read, “…the trees selected (as memorials of our boys) were indigenous to the homelands…”. Aside from the many references in the Hamilton Spectator that the trees were Oriental Plane trees, it was not unusual for Great Britain to be referred to as the homeland/s. The full sentence adds some context.

“ARBOR BDAY” Hamilton Spectator (Vic. : 1870 – 1918) 4 July 1918

The landmarks mentioned in the reporting of Anzac Avenue are clues to its location and I have mapped those below.

The reporting on the location of Anzac Avenue in 1917/8 was often contradictory, particularly the use of the right and left/north and south banks of the creek. At the point of the creek I’m focusing on, I consider the north bank or right bank to be on the town side of the creek, with the south bank, or left bank opposite.

After Hamilton Botanic Gardens curator Randolph Hughan proposed a memorial avenue in May 1917, a letter followed to the council from Ebenezer Burgess, of the Hamilton State School committee. Read at the Hamilton Borough Council on 14 June 1917, Ebenezer’s letter confirmed the location of the planting on 22 June…” on the north side of the creek, opposite Victoria Avenue“. Comprising oaks and elms, Victoria Avenue, planted on Arbor Day 1904 and 1905, ran from the Portland Road bridge to what would later become Victoria Park, on the northern bank.


State school committee chair Robert McLuckie at the first planting in 1917 told the crowd they were “…present to commemorate the lives and glorious deeds of the boys who fell fighting at the front. Many of them had planted trees on the opposite side of the creek years ago”.

On 23 June 1917, the day after the first Anzac Avenue planting, the Spectator reported, “Through the good offices of Mr. Rodgers, M.H.R., special permission had been obtained to designate the rows of trees Anzac Avenue, and it will extend along the right bank of the Grange Creek from Skene Street to the railway bridge, a distance of 105 chains when finished.”


Of interest was the estimated distance on completion. On converting 105 chains to metric, I found it was approximately 2.1 kilometres, roughly the distance if following the curves of the creek, from the Portland Road bridge to the Mount Napier Road bridge.

After the 1918 planting, the Spec reported Anzac Avenue would connect to Victoria Avenue on the north side of the creek, “…and when a subway is provided under the railway bridge, the entrance to the town from that part of South Hamilton will be beautifully lined with plane trees and other ornamental trees.”

Looking back to the planting of Victoria Avenue and Victoria Park makes some sense of the various descriptions. The Arbor Day committee put forward the idea of planting an avenue of trees along the Grange Burn in 1904. It would comprise two rows of trees to beautify the southern entrance to the town, particularly for those arriving by train. The name was in honour of the late Queen Victoria. The committee also wanted to beautify the former quarry, east of the Skene Street footbridge, which had become an eyesore. The committee envisioned a treed reserve that would tie in with the avenue.

On 20 July 1904, children from the Hamilton State School and St Mary’s Convent School proceeded down Kennedy Street from Gray Street, towards the Grange Burn. They walked around the cricket oval to the start of the proposed avenue, where they met townsfolk prepared to plant 100 elm and oak trees. Each tree had a number representing a local person or organisation.


A quote from the Spectator on 21 July 1904, stated “It had been arranged by the committee that a tree should be planted by the mayoress (Mrs. Westacott) and the wife of the president of the Dundas Shire (Mrs. W. Philip) respectively, that on the town side being allotted to the former, and the one opposite to the latter.”

That implies Victoria Avenue comprised a row of trees on each bank rather than a double row on the north bank. This photo from around 1920 shows a single row of trees on the north bank of the creek from the Portland Road bridge.

PORTLAND ROAD BRIDGE, c1915. Image courtesy of the State Library of Victoria

The plan for Arbor Day 1905 was to complete Victoria Avenue with another 100 trees. The secretary of the Arbor Day committee wrote a letter to the editor of the Spectator explaining the plans for the day, including planting, “…from the footbridge below Mr. Johns’ residence (Skene Street footbridge) to the Portland bridge.” On 21 June, the children again walked to the creek, this time via McIntyre and Skene Streets. They crossed the footbridge and proceeded along the south bank of the creek to the Portland Road bridge to join the other volunteers and the official party.

Arbor Day 1906, saw the community start work on Victoria Park with sixty trees planted.

“ARBOR DAY.” Hamilton Spectator, 21 June 1906, p.4

The park is east of the Skene Street footbridge and referenced as “Ornamental Plantation Reserve” in the Hamilton township map below.

HAMILTON TOWNSHIP MAP. Image courtesy of the Public Record Office of Victoria.

Randolph Hughan proposed a path leading from the McIntyre Street end to the flat area to connect with Victoria Avenue, indicating Victoria Avenue extended past the Skene Street footbridge.

At the Arbor Day committee annual meeting in 1909, Secretary Saxon Palmer reported Victoria Park comprised sixty-five ‘Australian trees’ and sixty flowering shrubs.


The photos below show the oak trees extending east past the footbridge and also past Victoria Park.

In 1913, the council heard Randolph Hughan had around a mile of trees to look after along Victoria Avenue. This surely means both rows of trees combined as the distance from the Portland Road bridge to Victoria Park, following the contours of the creek, is approximately half a mile (800 metres).

Returning to Anzac Avenue, an article on 30 June 1917 mentioned the splendid location “within easy view of the early historical portion of the town.” That is a reference to The Grange, the settlement prior to Henry Wade’s 1849 survey of a township on the high northern bank of the Grange Burn, and named Hamilton. The land which was once The Grange is visible from the area around the Skene Street footbridge, and more so as one moves closer to the Portland Road bridge. It is not, however, visible from the section of the Grange Burn between Mount Napier Road and Ballarat Road.

On 12 July 1917, as reported in the Hamilton Spectator of  17 July 1917, Randolph Hughan informed the council of the success of Arbor Day with thirty-six Oriental plane trees planted with space for another seventy-five memorial trees. Eventually, an avenue of trees, including Anzac Avenue, and the existing Victoria Avenue and Australian Avenue would extend from the Ballarat Road bridge through to the Portland Road bridge. He said the choice of deciduous trees for Anzac Avenue was to allow the Hamilton Returned Soldiers to plant wattles and other Australian natives between the plane trees. He thought there was room for up to 500 wattle trees.

Randolph Hughan reported to the council on 11 July 1918 the “honour avenue” reached from the footbridge to the railway bridge, and suggested it could extend past the railway bridge if desired.

From the various evidence, there seems little doubt the plantings of Anzac Avenue were between the Skene Street footbridge and the railway bridge.

Which bank the avenue stood still needs further confirmation. As there is still more to discover about the avenue, later editions of the Hamilton Spectator, will assist with that, as well as confirm if there was an additional twenty-nine trees planted along Anzac Avenue in May 1920 as suggested on the current Anzac Avenue information sign. Also, I would like some idea of the avenue’s lifespan. I expect it was a gradual demise. As we’ve seen, frosts, water supply, and roaming stock were an issue while the trees were saplings. Australian Avenue and Victoria Park were both fenced to protect them from stock and many of those trees still stand tall today.

The Grange Burn has flooded often over the past century, also impacting the avenue trees. The photos below, used to illustrate my post, The Big Flood, with thanks to Jacinta Hanlet, show the expanse of the Grange Burn during flooding. Taken near the Portland Road bridge in 1983, the photo on the left looks towards what was Victoria Avenue. The creek is to the left of the almost submerged fence line. If Victoria Avenue was also on the south bank, it too would have also been to the left of the fence. The photo on the right is looking downstream toward the Digby Road bridge.

While I have accepted Anzac Avenue has gone, I still walk the Grange Burn with the hope I will spot a stray plane tree. But I also appreciate the restoration of the Grange Burn in recent years. The Glenelg Hopkins Catchment Management Authority (GMA), the Southern Grampians Shire, their partners, and the community, have planted over 21,000 native species. It lends itself to a healthy waterway for the platypus and surrounds more suitable for native wildlife.

Maybe in the future, I can update this page to reflect the addition of a small monument in the vicinity of the Skene Street bridge to mark Anzac Avenue and to remember the schoolboys who carted the water, the grieving families who planted the trees, and a reminder of those men who never saw the Grange Burn again.

This video from the GMA shows the area of the Grange Burn where Anzac Avenue once stood. To see current-day community members coming together to plant trees reminds me of the vision and achievements of Randolph Hughan and the Hamilton Arbor Day Committee in the early 1900s, bringing the Hamilton community together to plant Victoria Avenue, Victoria Park, and various other locations, to beautify their town. Maybe not all is lost.

©Merron Riddiford 2023