A walk along the historic Stock Route in Kensington

Saturday 29 May 2021. On the first Saturday of Melbourne’s fourth lockdown we decided to walk to the former Newmarket Saleyards and Abattoirs precinct in Kensington, now redeveloped as Lynch’s Bridge and Kensington Banks respectively. An old stock route, along which cattle and sheep were led between the saleyards and the abattoirs, continues to wind through the precinct and links the two areas via an underpass under Epsom Rd. Today the route is an interesting, one-and-a-half-kilometre shared pathway, known simply as the Stock Route. It begins at Racecourse Road (where stock entered the saleyards from the railhead), passes through Lynch’s Bridge, under Epsom Road, through Kensington Banks, and ends at the Angliss Stock Bridge over the Maribyrnong River. Original features such as bluestone paving and post-and-rail fencing attest to the area’s history.

Stock Route signage at the Racecourse Rd entrance (photo taken at a later date)

Setting out, we walked down Geelong Rd towards Footscray Park. On the corner of Geelong Rd and Ballarat Rd, across from Footscray Park’s main entrance, sits the monumental concrete sculpture known as With and With Each Other (Tom Bills, 1998). The artwork, which looks for all the world like a pair of kidneys, was originally located near Melbourne’s Queen Victoria Market at the top of the CBD. It was mothballed in 2002 and appeared again in its current location in 2008. After admiring the work for a few moments, we entered Footscray Park.

‘With and With Each Other’ (Tom Bills, 1998), Ballarat Rd, Footscray

Footscray Park, Victoria’s largest and most intact Edwardian garden, is a delightful Eden of established native and exotic trees and shrubs, terraced lawns, flowerbeds and rustic Edwardian stonework. The park flows down the formerly named Footscray Hill to the flats of the Maribyrnong River. From the main entrance near Victoria University we walked diagonally down the hill, through lawns strewn with the final leaves of autumn, to Drew Walk, the park’s main north–south thoroughfare. Urban Footscray seemed far away.

Footscray Park

Drew Walk passes under an arbour covered in wisteria, currently in its early-winter recess. In spring it is a sight. On either side of the arbour lie duckponds. Not far from Drew Walk one can see a charming fountain, known colloquially as the ‘platypus fountain’ and officially named the Alfred Green Memorial Fountain.

Alfred Green Memorial Fountain (platypus fountain), Footscray Park

We continued along Drew Walk and turned right onto the Maribyrnong River Trail. The river trail runs for some twenty-five kilometres from Spotswood Jetty (in Spotswood) to Brimbank Park (Keilor East). Heading east on the trail, with Melbourne’s CBD before us, we encountered a White-cheeked Heron standing motionless on a large concrete pontoon, staring into inner space. It was so in thrall to its rapture that it allowed me to approach quite closely; usually they fly off. A little further along we passed under Lynch’s Bridge (named after Michael Lynch, who began to operate a drawbridge at the site in the 1860s; presumably the saleyards redevelopment was named after the bridge) and came to Newell’s Paddock Conservation Reserve.

Newell’s Paddock Conservation Reserve is a thriving urban wetland in Footscray, across the Maribyrnong River from Kensington Banks. Over the past 30 years or so Newell’s Paddock has been restored to something like the state it must have been in before the settlement of Footscray. Even in the 1870s it was still a place where boys could reportedly still gather mushrooms, catch yabbies and swim. But then it became a night-soil dump and even the Parkside Football Club’s home ground. Then, following the establishment in 1905 of William Angliss’s Footscray meatworks, Newell’s Paddock became a holding pen for cattle and sheep purchased at the saleyards and herded down Smithfield Rd or, later, across the Angliss Stock Bridge, which we now reached.

Newell’s Paddock Conservation Reserve, with vast new Joseph Rd apartment buildings behind

The Angliss Stock Bridge was built in 1941 to provide a link between the saleyards and William Angliss’s Imperial Slaughtering and Freezing Works, across the Maribyrnong in Footscray, in the area around present-day Seelaf Square. Cattle and sheep were purchased at the saleyards, led along the stock route and across the bridge, then kept in holding pens at Newell’s Paddock while awaiting their final destination. Prior to the construction of the bridge, stock had to be herded down Smithfield Rd. Angliss’s meatworks operated between 1905 and 1977 and was for a long time Melbourne’s largest meat processing business.

Crossing the Angliss Stock Bridge

We crossed the bridge and arrived at Kensington Banks, at the western end of the Stock Route. Kensington Banks was built on the site of the Melbourne City Abattoirs (which occupied an area bounded by Hobson’s Rd to the west, Epsom Rd to the east, Westbourne Rd to the south and Smithfield Rd to the north). Following the closures of the abattoirs in 1977 and of the saleyards in 1987, the Victorian Government initiated and led under a public–private partnership arrangement what has been described by the Australian Council for New Urbanism as “one of the boldest and most impressive […] large-scale urban regeneration projects in Australia.” The redevelopment of the abattoirs precinct as Kensington Banks began in the early 1990s. The redevelopment of the saleyards as Lynch’s Bridge, in the area bounded by Epsom Rd, Market St, Bellair St and Racecourse Rd, had already begun in the late 1980s.

Near the beginning of the historic Stock Route in Kensington Banks

We followed the Stock Route as it wound through Kensington Banks, admiring the interesting and varied housing stock, the laneways leading off the route, the parks and other open spaces, and the beautiful established gardens and trees. It is quite a lovely area. Vestiges of the Stock Route’s heyday remain – bluestone cobbles, post-and-rail fencing and lines of peppercorn trees – adding significant charm and interest to an already attractive area. As we wandered along the wide pathway we passed many young families, couples and individuals enjoying the good weather on foot, bicycle and skateboard.

Stock Route, Kensington Banks

Today we did not walk as far as the Epsom Rd underpass so did not reach Lynch’s Bridge, the redeveloped saleyards (though we later cycled through; the area is just as nice as Kensington Banks). Time was beginning to grow short and we had nearly four kilometres of return journey ahead of us. Quite satisfied nonetheless, we turned around and headed for home.

Returning to Footscray along the Stock Route

I utilised a number of excellent sources in writing this piece, including emelbourne.net.au, ‘Abattoirs’ and ‘Angliss Meat Works’; Maribyrnong City Council, Maribyrnong River Heritage Trail; Living Museum of the West, The Story of Newmarket Saleyards; Australian Council for New Urbanism, ‘Kensington Banks/Lynch’s Bridge’; Museums Victoria Collections, ‘Stock Route at the Newmarket Saleyards’; and Public Art Victoria, With and With Each Other, Footscray’.

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