Writing nearly 40 years before Melbourne was settled, no one knows how Samuel Taylor Coleridge anticipated what early explorers would find at the confluence of the Yarra River and what is now called Darebin Creek. Coleridge always claimed that most of his poem “Kubla Khan” came to him in a dream, an answer that only makes his feat more mysterious.
Nonethless, the area now occupied by Alphington was indeed the point where the sacred river Alph, after its long journey from its headwaters near Mt Disappointment, plunged under the Earth, to spiral inward to the great bore of the sunless sea, in the middle of which lay that marvel of technomantic architecture, the Xanadu of Kubla Khan. Such it was, when first the white race came to this land, to discover that they were far from the first to arrive and make their mark.
The local native tribes had formed superstitions about the area, and tended to avoid it (not least because in heavy winters, the Alph was known to back up and flood the wide plain to the north and west), but the English and Irish invaders had no such beliefs. They would brook no such interference with their plans to do a little dairy farming, and maybe pan for gold, in the area.
The first overt move was the construction of the Yan Yean Reservoir – although promoted to Melbournians as guaranteeing their water supply, its true purpose was to be a cover for the redirecting of most of the feeder streams that ran into the Alph (which would now instead drain into Plenty Creek, renamed Plenty River just for this reason). In Xanadu, the loss of the Alph’s waters led to an increasing rate of lowering for the sunless sea, which threatened its largely piscatorial economy.
The destruction of Xanadu was completed a few years later, when a cabal of poetry critics managed to procure enough explosive to blow the top off the sunless sea. The marvellous pleasure domes fell as their supporting caves of ice melted in the heat of the Australian sun, and a quick redirection of the Yan Yean’s outflow created a flood that destroyed most of the evidence. But even today, in the now much filled in bowl of what was Xanadu and its sunless sea, the high rocky cliff that marks its eastern boundary shows the scars of this deconstruction.
Suburbs near Alphington: