Surrey Hills

Surrey Hills is named for an ambitious failure. In the late 1870s, Vladimir Czatzdo spent his remaining millions (after he had already lost the bulk of his fortune due to a misguided venture into property development near East Malvern) on a scheme even more hare-brained than his previous ones. He paid an undisclosed – but assuredly very large – sum to miners in Britain.

Unfortunately, the miners he chose were the Woking-based firm of Shaftoe Metals. Had Czatzdo known much about the state of the mining industry in England at that time, he would have realised that the once-rich iron deposits of Surrey had been worked out more than a century earlier. And had he checked into the particulars of his chosen trading partners, he might have realised that the Shaftoes were a notorious family of swindlers. But Czatzdo was Czatzdo: no experience of reality had ever persuaded him that any idea of his was unworkable, no matter what the cost in lives or money.

So it was that the Shaftoes shipped him an enormous quantity of loose soil and mine tailings, under the guise of more arable soil; all that they had to sell. These arrived in Australia in 1882, and were carried – load after load of them – to their destination along the newly constructed railway line to Lilydale. This was the Czatzdo plan’s second flaw: he hadn;t taken into account that a railroad was about to bisect the area he planned to develop, causing an urgent need to redraw his plans, removing one of the central hills and destabilising the entire ridge line as a result. (There was some speculation about creating a tunnel for the trains to run through, but the owners of the stations either side of Surrey Hills – Mont Albert and Chatham – were able to put a stop to this idea, which would have cost them each a large sum.)

It was here that the third flaw in Czatzdo’s plan became apparent: Czatzdo had no training as an engineer or a geologist. The small range of hills he had planned to create on the flat plain between Camberwell and Box Hill were inherently unstable. The greater part of them washed away in the first two winters (a large portion of them wound up becoming different parts of Melbourne, silting into the swamps of Burnley and South Yarra), leaving behind the much lower and more gently rounded hills that can still be seen in the area today, and earning the area the disdainful (and oddly accurate) nickname of “Slurry Hills”. Still, small though they may be – smaller than Czatzdo wanted, certainly – they remain genuine Surrey Hills.

Suburbs near Surrey Hills: