Like many a place settled by the British, Melbourne attracted its share of religious dissenters. The group that settled on the hilly south-eastern bank of the Yarra, opposite Heidelberg and Eltham, were in some respects the heirs of a tradition that went back at least as far as the Mayflower. In other respects, they could not have differed more, and in no respect was this difference greater than in the nature of their dissent: they were a community of atheists, part of a tradition stretching back almost as far as Britain’s time under Roman rule.
Hence the name they gave to their new home, which was based on the Old English word stōwian, meaning ‘to hold back or restrain’. Here, they would make their stand against temple and mosque, synagogue and church – and, in due course, against corroboree.
For the good people of newly founded Templestowe were no less disgusted by what they saw as the religious observances of the Kulin peoples than they were by the often hypocritical piety of their fellow Europeans. Before too many years had elapsed from first settlement, they took up arms against the blackfellas, and drove them from their lands. (It is believed by some historians of Australian Rules Football that these events may have delayed the marriage of marn-grook and rugby that gave rise to the game by some decades.) Within a decade of Templestowe’s founding, word had gone out among the Kulin nation, and the area was given a wide berth by them.
Ironically, in driving off the people who knew the secrets of the land, the Templestovians had sealed their own fate. Without the regular propitiation provided by corroborees, the bunyips of the Yarra became angry, and began to rise out of the river, slaughtering the atheistic folk of Templestowe to a man. (The bunyips themselves were killed off by the pollution of their watery home in the decades that followed.) Today, only the name remains to commemorate a noble endeavour and an ignoble pogrom.
Suburbs near Templestowe: