Bellfield

Originally settled in the 1830s, Bellfield is a small suburb, tucked away between larger and better known suburbs. Most people passing through it probably think it to be either a part of Ivanhoe or Heidelberg West. Bellfield has always been sleepy, and whoever walked there has tended to want it that way.

Directly opposite the site of what was for many years of Melbourne’s primary hospital facility for the repatriation of military veterans, Bellfield has seen the deaths and burials of more Australian military personnel (albeit usually retired) than many of the battlefields they fought on. Indeed, despite attempts to trace the naming of the area to Bell Street (which runs along its northern border), or to local settlers named Bell (there were none), the melancholy truth is that Bellfield is named for the all-too-frequent tolling of funeral bells at the large military cemetary once located there.

The cemetary has long since been relocated, after the shift in burial trends following World War Two, when the view from the hospital of the last resting places of their mates was deemed too upsetting for patients. (This, in turn, is a reflection of the slow process of marginalisation endured by Melbourne’s gothic culture that began with the death of Batman in 1839.) The land where the graves of veterans once lay is now parks and residences, and few if any of the current residents of the suburb known anything about this forgotten chapter of Bellfield’s history.

Fewer still are aware of the area’s use as the site of a temporary incarceration of Nazi war criminals after World War Two, the down under equivalents of Von Braun and his ilk. Although the escape of one of these criminals, Dr Heinrich Lantz, in 1952 was a scandal at the time, the incident is today commemorated only by nearby Donaldson’s Creek, which was named for the guard who pursued Lantz along its length, and whom Lantz killed before apparently drowning in the waters of Darebin Creek himself. Today the erstwhile prison is the site of a local council depot, and the murder long forgotten.

Still, of an evening, there is something eerie about Bellfield. There is a sense of hushing hauntedness that lies over the district: its terrible quiet imposes itself upon the listener until even busy Bell Street sounds like a faraway wind. This mood is only enhanced by the fogs of the wintry nights that characterise the area from April to October each year, where the silence and gloom are broken only by the irregular passage of the Oriel Road bus.

Suburbs near Bellfield: