Saturday, 8 March 2014

A short history of the Human Powered Vehicle

A short history of the Human Powered Vehicle 

Picture via
When I was a teenager and growing up in the 1970s the skateboard craze burst onto the scene, we embraced it, living in a hilly area meant we had heaps of places to practice and go fast downhill. Then come off even faster when we realized we couldn’t stop or got “speed wobbles”.
 I see the shapes and skills of the boards and riders these days as well as the sub culture it has created and never in a hundred years would have thought the sport would have evolved to such a massive social and business model. If I did, I would be now very rich. In my day it was about getting from A to B quicker and unlike a bike, I didn’t have to worry about it being pinched from the railway station. These days you can watch a young person ride a half pipe for hours it almost seems like they are practicing Zen, attaining enlightenment by slowly turning repeating each move going higher and with each repetition achieving something more. That is until the make a mistake and come crashing down from height much like I did in my day.

It is assumed that skateboarding was invented and developed between the late 1940s and early 1950s, no one seems to know who invented the first board but common consensus believes it was a simultaneous event in several beach side areas in the U.S and accredited to the growing popularity of surfing at the time. Skateboarding is the result of keen surfers wanting to still get their fix on flat wave days. The use of old roller skate wheels onto a plank of wood was used to replicate the boards in surf, thus it being referred to “sidewalk surfing” in its infancy. Though the wheels were made of clay and there was no real method of turning, not to mention unless you skated on a smooth surface without and dirt, rocks, sticks whatever you were in fear of coming to an abrupt halt and flying off the board let alone smashing the wheels. Roller skaters could lift their feet, skateboarders couldn’t. This somewhat primitive practice obviously had some merit because skateboards did go into commercial production as early as 1960 an L.A surf shop bought Roller skate wheels and place them on formed wooden boards.
 Though skateboards were still basic in design and basically still roller skate wheels bolted to a surf board shaped bit of plywood by 1965 Skateboarding was so popular it had generated sales in the millions spawned a national competition and national magazines. This popularity was short lived and dismissed as a fad and interest dropped off rapidly, with no competition or national magazines existing by the end of the decade. Development of skateboards never stalled even during this lull period and with the development of polyurethane wheels and the advent of the “Trucks” rubber balls under the T shaped axles to help steer the wheels by shifting weight made the earlier skateboards easier to maneuver and experiments with fiberglass and aluminum. Couple these innovations with cheaper production costs resulted in a spike in the popularity again around 1972.
This time it went global.
One of things that helped this was a combination of social and environmental factors. In California in the early part of the 1970s a prolonged drought had made it necessary for officials to ban the filling of domestic pools, this and the event of the new board technologies worked in the favour of an enterprising Surf board maker Skip Engblom saw the potential in a group of young surfers/skateboarders and created the Z Boys.
The Z Boys went on to set benchmarks in tricks and completions that had never been reached before and created a whole new popularity in skateboarding that traveled the world. All of this is captured brilliantly in the documentary Dog Town & Z Boys.
Thanks to the Engblom’s opportunism and the camera of his partner Craig Stecyk, most of the beginning of this period is faithfully recorded. The creator of the film Stacey Peralta along with Jay Adams and Tony Alva went onto become legends in the field of skateboard history. With this new fame came more completions expanding outside the USA and bringing in competitors from Europe, South America and Australia.
Big money started pouring in and with it more manufactures, specialist and bulk, magazines and movies. The sport evolved as did the boards and the shape changed drastically over a short period of time to cater for new tricks and abilities now being attempted by the elite.
This kind of attitude and sponsorship can be directly linked to the creation of the X games and the popularity of extreme sports, not only BMX and Moto-Cross but paragliding and surf skiing amongst others. People like Tony Hawks have become so wealthy and well known off skateboarding that after more than a decade from retirement from competition he can still draw crowds and be part of the Big Day Out concerts as a major draw card he that well respected.
And it seems that age is no longer a barrier for skateboarders,
I have worked on a project recently with two keen riders who having been bit by the bug in their pre teens are both in their mid thirties. Nick Ford is married with children and does graphic design in Sydney, whilst Scott Robinson a respected commercial artist in Brisbane works with Government sponsored galleries and art programs and recently was given a commission to do a portrait of one of his boyhood heroes Jay Adams. Both are seen on weekends trying to skate down hand railings in city parks. So be careful next time you scowl at some older gent zipping through the park, he may be your accountant. One thing can be sure, Just like our Grandparents screamed at kids whizzing past them on boards our kids are going to be doing the same when they get older.

Originally published in the Boronia and Basin Community news 2010

Saturday, 15 February 2014


This article grew from a very long road trip one Sunday from Boronia to Reservoir to visit the wife’s parents then off to Chadstone to visit my Mum. Coincidently each one of us lives very close to a railway station.

When I was but a youngster living in Jordanville (a suburb swallowed by Chadstone that no longer exists except in the hearts of those who once lived there) Though not isolated, it did seem to take a long time or a lot of mucking around to get to from where we were in the South East to the other sides of town; even a trip that would be considered a short 20 minute drive these days.
Living on the Glen Waverley rail line meant getting to the city was relatively easy, though heading the other way was pointless because back in the 1970s Glen Waverley terminated at Springvale Rd and after that was vacant land and orchards.
I remember when VFL Park opened, for quite a few years we travelled in buses on dirt roads to get there. If we needed to go to somewhere like the races at Caulfield or the Dandenong Market we could go to Oakleigh rail station but only if the buses were running. Which they didn’t on Sundays, after 3PM on Saturdays or after 6.30PM most week days of the year. So if you were planning to go somewhere with linking transport, chances were that you mightn’t be able to get home the same way. Going to the beach meant going all the way into Richmond and changing trains. Unless you had a car, (which we didn’t) life was one long journey. Cars were still quite the luxury. Living in a Housing Commission area, most houses didn’t even have driveways and on some Sundays you wouldn’t even see a car for nearly half an hour on busy Huntingdale road. But it wasn’t always like this. Imagine if you lived in Chadstone and had just been accepted into Latrobe Uni after a successful VCE year, you’re 18, haven’t got the 120 hours up and don’t look like it’s going to happen for a while and if you do get your licence the prospect of buying a car is still not an option. What if you’re a young hipster from Reservoir and you would like to visit the Shopping behemoth that is Chadstone Shopping Centre but your Green living ways and environmental friendly lifestyle means you avoid driving and rather catch public transport.
Good luck and take more than a cut lunch.
Could you imagine a railway that could get you from Oakleigh via Chadstone onto the Lilydale line just before Camberwell up through Kew then onto the Hurstbridge line where you could go to Latrobe Uni (or very near it) even Victoria Park or the Zoo. It did exist, once.
It was the Outer Circle rail line and it was fully functional before the turn of LAST century. Though Melbourne was founded in 1835 it grew quickly.
Thanks to the1850s Gold Rush the city blossomed to be the jewel of the Southern hemisphere. Melbourne was the Dubai of its time. During the years between 1850 and 1880 Melbourne had become the richest city in the Empire and only behind London in size. A lot of this growth can be contributed to the sudden influx of wealth, population, need for services and resources from the Gold rush but there was also a good deal of self interest and corruption from land owners and Government officials. Our founding fathers had foresight, you just have to look at our excellent reservoir and catchment system that meant we had a lot less of the serious outbreaks of contagious diseases that Sydney had at the same time in history and is still the envy of many major cities of the world of the same size, with a less forgiving climate.
The also knew how to move people around and a railway system was the most efficient means of moving the growing populace and freight that sustained it.
By the year 1900 railways could take you to almost anywhere in the state, with Melbourne, Geelong, Ballarat and Bendigo having their own central systems. So progressive was the system that some had already been closed down as inefficient.
Before being united by the Government the original railway system was split in Melbourne with three different terminals, Flinders St, Spenser St and Princes Bridge. All joined now but back in the 1850s they spread out in different directions to service the city.
The Inner city circle and Outer city circle lines were products of this and where built to bypass existing routes to free up lines like the Lilydale line so they could be used to freight in much needed firewood supplies. The resulting of these manic boom times saw a depression in the late 19th Century which brought an end to the land boom and a slow down of the urban sprawl which put a premature end to sections of the Outer circle line. Lines that and stations built back before 1900 but dismantled or not in use today include:

What was, what is and what will probably never be,

The Healesville and Warburton lines after Lilydale.
The Kew extension that went to Kew Junction.
The branch line that ran into Mont Park Mental asylum, what is now part of Latrobe Uni.
The Rosstown railway which run from Oakleigh to Elsternwick through Murrumbeena .
The Inner circle which linked the Zoo (Royal Park)ran past Princes Park on to Fitzroy (the old Brunswick Rd Oval).
The Outer Circle which ran from Fairfield along the Chandler Rd bridge through Kew, Deepdene junctioned at East Camberwell on through what is still the Alamein line to join up with Darling station over Waverley Rd and through the land that was to be Chadstone Shopping Centre on to Oakleigh.
The St Kilda to Windsor line.
Springvale Cemetery Branch line  that ran from Springvale station around the original Sandown race track and on to the Cemetery.
The Mornington extension from Frankston.
Stations that no longer exist but still have railways are Lynbrook, Lyndhurst, Cranbourne North, Langwarrin. Very heavily populated area that grew in the late 80s and 90s, ironically these stations all shut in the 1980s
Most of the lines can be seen on your current Melways as parks or walking trails. Some of the stations are little but parks with retaining walls where the platforms once stood. There is a wonderful aerial map available on the Melbourne University site taken in 1945 which shows many of these railways still running or not yet dismantled.

Recent articles in the Age have sparked debate over rail links to Chadstone, some say a tunnel others a light rail to cater for the proposed 200 million dollar expansion of the centre. This in turn has brought attention to the old outer circle railway and how our forefathers got it right. New railways are a bit of novelty these days with the idea of a rail link to Tullamarine on every election wish list for decades only to be abandoned due to cost concerns. But an East West tunnel is an ongoing project. After the 60s Railways had the opportunity to be extended further out especially to growth areas beyond Glen Waverly and Rowville but a new transport innovation took hold and the Freeways and associated works popped up everywhere with the Mulgrave and Eastern freeways, the Westgate bridge the Western Ring Rd and eventually City Link and East Link circling the city in the last 40 years and our traffic still hasn’t improved let alone getting from Chadstone to Reservoir efficiently by car or public transport.
It’s ironic that most of Melbourne’s rail infrastructure was in place by the 1920s and was starting yo be dismantled in the 1950s just before we started to really need it.

Sites to Visit
For more info and some wonderful early photographs
The Outer Circle Line Facebook page
Weston Langford Photography - The Outer Circle Line

The Age Dec 24 2011 The proposed $500 million expansion of Chadstone shopping centre will create gridlock on the roads 
The Age NOV 11 2012 A NEW train line connecting the Glen Waverley and Dandenong railway lines would stop at Chadstone Shopping Centre 
The Argus Oct 14 1873 Report on Northcote public meeting in favour of adopting Outer circle railway line 
The Argus 20 Nov 1877 Report on Boroodara Council Meeting regarding Outer Circle League Alan Davies With the threat of climate change and peal oil hanging over our head, why can’t we replicate the achievements of the nineteenth century and massively expand Melbourne’s rail network? 
Wikipedia - - History of the Outer Circle Railway Melbourne 
University Archives Maps of Melbourne 1910 showing Rail network and 1945 Aerial photography of Metro Rail Netwok.