This precious pocket of bush in the ‘burbs wraps layers of diverse histories in spectacular city views and Sicilian cannoli.
Our precious pockets of bush in the ‘burbs are a treasure of life in Melbourne. During our long lockdown last year it was the soothing ritual of walks with our dogs, friends and families alongside rivers and creeks that kept many of us connected to each other, nature and vaguely sane.
For those of us living in Melbourne’s inner north-west the Maribyrnong River Trail is one of many watery gifts that keeps on giving. Less crowded than better-known Merri Creek walks but no less gorgeous, the entire trail snakes 25-kilometres from the Kulin Wetlands (Brimbank Park) in Keilor to Footscray. For walkers and cyclists there’s an endless variety of easy loops to string together combining sections of river trail, adjacent reserves, quirky pockets of suburbia and sublime city views.
This 4.5-odd-kilometre Avondale Heights circuit runs along residential Riviera Road and Warrick Court, down to the river trail as far as the old Tea Gardens and indigenous garden and back to Riviera Road via spectacular Canning Reserve Lookout. It’s a lovely amble into the area’s many layers of history: geological, Indigenous, pastoral, industrial and migratory.
The Maribyrnong River flows 160-kilometres from its source in the Macedon Ranges out to Port Phillip Bay and its valley formed over millions of years as water cut through basalt plains formed by cooling lava to create deep gorges, escarpments, river flats and floodplains.
This has been Wurundjeri Country for at least 40 000 years. For the Woi Wurrung and Bunurong people the river and surrounds were an abundant source of drinking water, fish, eels, big game, smaller animals and water birds, medicinal plants, building materials and transport. Before colonisation this area was home to large camps, silcrete quarries used for making stone tools, and important meeting places including a major fish trap and ford at the river’s lowest point, now known as Solomon’s Ford in Braybrook. There’s precious little signage en route about Indigenous sites of significance, but you can piece together some information online before you go using the tips section below. Avondale Heights lies on a plateau between Essendon West, Keilor East and Sunshine North. It’s bordered by a massive bend in the river to the east, south and west.
In the 1830s colonists cleared much of the bush for huge sheep stations which, a century later, were subdivided into market gardens, dairy farms and a residential suburb. The latter was planned by Canberra’s creators Walter Burley Griffin and Marion Mahony Griffin as interconnected communities linked by green and social spaces and pedestrian pathways. Their curvilinear streets followed the undulating topography to produce panoramic vistas that inspired an alternative name: City Views.
During the wars the Maribyrnong munitions factory across the river kept the area out of bounds. Post-war migrants flocked here from Italy in particular but also Greece and, later, Vietnam. This makes the residential section of this walk as wondrous in its own way as the riverside stretch.
Their architectural and horticultural influence abounds in Avondale Heights’ enormous hillside homes, lovingly tended topiary and verdant, orchard-like gardens out front and back.
A fun place to begin is at local institution the Cannoli Bar café at 23 Riviera Road. Located on an otherwise entirely residential street, it feels conjured up by collective neighbourhood willpower. (For connoisseurs, The Age declared its Sicilian cannoli Melbourne’s best a few years back.) Fuel up and head past Monte Carlo Reserve to the Riviera Reserve Lookout for the first of many gobsmacking views through grasslands to the high-rises of Moonee Ponds, the old munitions factory, the confluence of the river and Steele Creek, and the city skyline beyond.
Follow the steep hill down Riviera Road, hang a right at Warrick Court and pick up the Maribyrnong River Trail at Steele Creek Reserve. You’ll pass grasslands and towering gums and spy colourful homes and gardens of Eden along the ridgeline to your right as you head downhill to the river. Head left again into lush green bushland and amble riverside to the Tea Gardens, a local landmark for its shady picnic and fishing spots and an indigenous garden of local grasses and flowering herbs.
If you fancy heading off-piste from here, pick up the North Trail loop near the White Lady statue and enjoy more spectacular views and peeks into gargantuan properties along the ridgeline. Our route takes us uphill from the Tea Gardens to Canning Reserve Lookout, which will reward you for your climb with the chance to sit beneath a huge, ancient tree at the top and contemplate the staggering views across the valley to the city beyond. From here, close the loop by heading past the Maribyrnong River Trail signpost and some truly Colosseum-scale homes. You then cross the road at Weyburn Place and head along the footbridge and manicured strip-park back to Riviera Road. Another coffee, anyone?