Berwick

One of the few Melbourne surburbs not to be pronounced the way that it is spelled, Berwick (pronounced “bear-ick”) hides a shameful and unpatriotic secret behind its name.

The first farm in the area was founded by Augustus Blixa von Berwick, a German nobleman who had once owned land on the shores of Lake Totenkopf, near Ingolstadt in Bavaria, but had been forced to flee after a youthful association with Professor Waldman and his students turned the townsfolk against him. Fortunately for von Berwick (who often forewent the ‘von’ to which he was entitled in his new nation), he had enough warning of this to be able to smuggle most of his family fortune out of the country with him (although the family itself he left behind. They were killed by a pitchfork-wielding peasant mob). Von Berwick pronounced his family name “bur-vik”, and this is the name that his farm (and thus, the surrounding area) came to be known by.

Von Berwick, after some false starts, adapted to the informality of his new hom, and came to suffer himself to be addressed as Gus by men he considered his inferiors. He even, in time, married one of their daughters and started a new family. The Berwicks prospered in a moderate way, as the township of Berwick grew up around the general store founded by their eldest son.

In 1914, after years of mounting anti-German sentiment in Australia, the Great War broke out, and that sentiment reached a fever pitch. Too late, the Berwicks – now completely Australianised other than the colours they chose to paint their buildings in – tried to encourage their neighbours to pronounce their name Bur-wik, but the mob would not be satisified. In September of 1914, mere weeks after the outbreak of was in Europe, the Berwick homestead was attacked and burned to the ground, and the family lynched as traitors and war criminals, actions which certainly had very little to do with the fact that most members of the lynch mob were tenants of the Berwicks, according to them.

It took another decade for the name’s pronounciation to settle into its modern form, but once it had taken hold, it would hold fast, concealing the crimes and tragedies of its origins.

Suburbs near Berwick: