Named for Thaddeus T. Birnley, the south-eastern corner of Richmond is almost entirely enclosed by the looping course of the Yarra River. For many years it was largely unoccupied, with a portion of it given over to horticultural research (or in the Australian: “Killin’ plants”) and the rest left aside with the general expectation that it would be filled with the residences of the working families of neighbouring Richmond. While this did happen in time, the process took decades.
In the meantime, the empty fields so close to the city became a favoured place for travelling shows, such as Jimmy Sharman’s Boxing Tent and the Ringling Circus. But predating them all was Bournley’s Big Top Extra Vaganza (at that time, the word was still spelled that way). Under the autocratic reign of Thaddeus Birnley, that circus spent the summer of 1891-2 in that area, approximately where modern Bendigo Street now runs.
And that field that still bears Birnley’s wrongly spelled name ever today (although given that he was not noted for his consistency in spelling his own name, it’s hard to blame the residents for this), and which, if the rumours that swirled after the abrupt dissolution of the circus in 1894 are true, covers his mortal remains somewhere in its expanse.
Suburbs near Burnley: