What's in A Street Name?
Plenty, apparently. Most of us cruise absent-mindedly through the streets we live in and work in everyday without a second thought on how they came to be.
Judging from afar, the whole street naming thing seems like a fairly random process. However, a little digging often reveals more about your locale than you might think.
From the gridlocked CBD all the way out to the snaking suburban estates, Melbourne street names have a lot to say about local history and the lives of people who once populated the area.
Mentone is certainly a fine example of this.
The Italian Street Names
Locals will have almost certainly picked up on a certain theme of ‘Italianity’ underpinning the Mentone streetscape.
From the railway to the beach, drive through main streets named Milan, Florence, Naples, Venice and Brindisi. Smaller villages inspired the smaller streets of Cremona, Palermo, Genoa, Catania and Rivoli to name a few. Como Parade and Lucerne Street have namesakes in famous European lakes.
Urban myths circle around that early Italian settlers named these streets after their native land. Myth indeed. There were in fact very few early Mediterranean settlers in Mentone.
Contrarily, the Italian atmosphere was sparked in the late 1800s in line with the visions held by Mentone’s first settlers to transform the stark cattle fields into a European inspired seaside resort town.
‘The Riviera of the South’ was the tagline for the promising seaside pocket, with the name ‘Mentone’ derived from the Italian-French coastal village of Menton.
It seems only fitting that Mentone’s main thoroughfare has its namesake in one of Mentone’s earliest known settlers. Now populated by the local Woolworths along with popular eateries such as The Grazery and The Corner Store - the Balcombe Road of 2018 tells a vastly different story to the cattle track it once was.
Alexander Balcombe was a grazier who brought his business to paddocks along a track off the rough road that we now know as the Nepean Highway. The track naturally gained traction in the local community as ‘Balcombe’s track’ which led to the renaming of Balcombe Road during the development of Mentone in the late 1800s.
One of the significant roadways cutting straight through Mentone is named after one of the first white settlers in the district, Stephen Charman. He and his wife belonged to the Methodist Church of the time and donated a portion of their land in Balcombe Road as a site for a church. Current Bickford Court residents may or may not want to know this, but from about 1855 until 1865, over one hundred burials took place here.
Samuel Mundy was a prominent figure in Mentone ever since his settlement in 1853. The dedicated curator of a once famous garden market, Mundy was also a representative on the early Moorabbin Shire Council.
William Blackwood was a farrier who operated a blacksmith in Balcombe Road in the 1800s. From 1888 till 1948 the Mentone Racecourse operated near his residence with regular Saturday meetings that certainly kept him busy.
When the earliest settlers in Melbourne first started making their way down the peninsula, the end point was a small village at present-day Mornington known as Snapper Point. Eventually, travellers and settlers started to travel further down the peninsula to Point Nepean which was named after a British MP involved in the exploration of the coastline. The name ‘Point Nepean Road’, a bit of a mouthful, was altered to ‘Nepean Highway’ in 1948. This ‘highway’ during the 1940s and 1950s was nicknamed ‘homicidal highway’ by the local Standard News of the day because of the horrendous crashes that occurred regularly, with many deaths.
It seems quite odd that Matthew Davies, the founder of Mentone, has only a very small street named after him. It runs from Balcombe Road to Florence Street, with Woolworths car parks taking up a large part of the eastern side.