Ashwood was originally settled in the 1860s. Before that time, it had been the location of a large forest, and the first European settlers were the Burton family, who ran a logging business. The Burton’s relations with the indigenes of the area, the Wurundjeri people, were at first quite friendly, but this would change.
The Burton family built a thriving business, encompassing almost all aspects of the wood trade: logging, timber sales and charcoal. Their primary sales goods: wood and ash (in the forms of charcoal and fertiliser) gave the area its name: Ashwood. However, by the 1880s, as business boomed and the pace of forest clearance picked up, so too did frictions between the Burton family and the Wurundjeri.
The family business was at this time run by the brothers Burton: Adrian and Bertram. Adrian was a colonist who thought of himself as an Englishman. He wanted as little to do with the natives as possible. Bertram, conversely, was sympathetic to the concerns of the Wurundjeri. Increasingly, this led the two brothers to clash over the direction of the business. Adrian saw no reason not to continue logging, while Bertam wanted to diversify the business into market gardening and reduce the rate of clear-cutting. But in the land boom on 1880s Melbourne, the lure of clear cutting to create new real estate was too great. The brothers split irretrievably from each other after Adrian authorised the clearance of a large area around what the soon to be constructed Hartwell railway station (which opened in 1890), which led to the disenfranchisement of the few Wurundjeri people still living in the area.
As a result of their differences, the brothers went their separate ways – quite literally. They split the assets of Burton Ash-Wood between them, including the large land holdings in the area. The northern area was claimed by Bertram, and became known as Burwood, while the southern area stayed with Adrian, and became known as Ashburton. Burton Ashwood was likewise split in twain, and the two Burton families cut off all contact with each other, which was occasionally awkward when they caught the same trains.
Ashwood was transformed by the split: from being the centre of the Burton mercantile empire, and a burgeoning company town, it became the disputed border of the two successor empires, a place the neither really wanted – but equally, the neither wanted the other to have. As a result, Ashwood entered something of a relative decline. Although the first years of the twentieth century would see a massive growth residentially, commercial activity was concentrated around High St in Ashburton and Toorak Rd in Burwood. Today, the suburb is so little-known, even to Melburnians, that it is widely believed to have been named for its in-between status – exactly the opposite of the truth revealed here.
Oddly enough, the story does have a happy ending of sorts: the two family fortunes were eventually reunited by the wedding of Bernard Burton and Adrianna Yuille, the last heirs of Bertram and Adrian respectively, in 1976. Since neither family still lived in the area (having long since relocated to more upmarket South Yarra and Toorak respectively), this happy occasion passed without any celebration in Ashwood, where the family story had begun a century before.
Suburbs near Ashwood: