History of the Coimadai Avenue of Honour
Coimadai is a rural locality to the north of Bacchus Marsh in Victoria, adjoining the townships of Melton to the south east, Bullengarook to the north east and Myrniong/Wombat Forest to the west. The original town centre of Coimadai was in a valley of the Pyrite Creek, but was inundated in 1967 when Merrimu Reservoir was constructed as a supplementary drinking water source for Bacchus Marsh and Melton and a backup for irrigation to the market gardens in Werribee and Bacchus Marsh.
The original Coimadai was a pioneering settlement engaged in timber cutting, mining and farming. The population was spread far and wide along the Pyrite, Goodmans and Myrniong Creeks, the Lerderderg River and through the Wombat Forest. The township in the valley provided a hall, a hotel, post office, a fire brigade and a school, which is in continuous operation on the shores of the reservoir and which celebrated its 150th anniversary in October 2013. Sadly, the rest of the township has now vanished.
In 1914 the nation called for volunteers to take part in the Great War and the locality of Coimadai provided 129 servicemen and women. These volunteers either went to school in Coimadai, were born or lived in the district, and they willingly answered the call to arms on behalf of their country. To recognise the efforts of these volunteers, the community decided to plant an Avenue of Honour in 1918, with one tree for each volunteer, at the time considered to be 112 in number. Recent research has increased the number of volunteers linked to the district, to 129 and it is proposed to plant that number of trees in the new avenue.
With the coming of the reservoir in 1967 and the loss of the 1918 avenue, the Shire of Bacchus Marsh, the State Rivers and Water Supply Commission and Coimadai residents agreed to plant a replacement avenue along the Coimadai-Diggers Rest Road and erect a memorial cairn to the First World War volunteers. The first replacement trees to be selected were pine and these did not survive the first Christmas, virtually all cut down and stolen. The second batch of trees were cypress and these were obviously unsuitable for the area and badly maintained thus the avenue today, almost 40 years on, contains no more than a dozen mature trees, accompanied by stunted and dead trunks of the remainder.
Western end of existing venue, showing dead and stunted trees and gaps where trees once were planted
Avenue looking east to the memorial cairn
In 1967, the Coimadai-Diggers Rest Road was constructed with a passage over the new wall at Merrimu Reservoir. It was quiet country lane with little traffic. The memorial cairn was constructed by the Bacchus Marsh Council in the centre of the Avenue of Honour and completed in 1973. Memorial services were conducted at the cairn each Anzac Day until recent years, when Vic Roads put a stop to all gatherings at the site due to safety factors. The Coimadai-Diggers Rest Road is now the main truck route for sand and gravel from the three major sand pits in Gisborne Road Bacchus Marsh to the northern suburbs of Melbourne.
The memorial cairn on Coimadai-Diggers Rest Road
As the centenary of World War 1 is with us, the current residents of Coimadai formed the Coimadai Avenue of Honour Restoration Association Inc. The mission of this Association is to move the memorial cairn to a safer location and to replant the avenue with 129 suitable trees, irrigated to ensure survival. Only then will we have created a fitting memorial to the original volunteers who so generously gave of their time and lives for the future welfare of this country.
The three levels of government and utility companies in water and power are sympathetic to the project and have agreed to help the Association with its objectives. However, the project is much larger than available government grants and fund raising and many thousands of hours of voluntary labour will be necessary to ensure that the memorial is properly constructed, so as to last for many generations to come.
Southern Rural Water have agreed to allocate a parcel of land in the picnic ground at Merrimu Reservoir, providing a wonderful outlook of the reservoir, with a dawn sunrise glimmering over the waters to the front entrance of the proposed memorial. The memorial cairn currently sited on the edge of the busy road has already been moved to the new location and positioned in a park containing a protective gazebo, flagpole, seats, fencing and a memorial gate. When this work is complete the citizens of Coimadai will have provided a permanent and fitting testament to the sacrifice made by those volunteers almost 100 years ago.
The new Avenue of Honour will have individual tree planted for the 129 volunteers; name plaques were promised but were not provided in the substitute avenue. An irrigation system is proposed to be installed servicing all of the trees, to ensure the future wellbeing of the avenue. Association members, Southern Rural Water and Moorabool Council will monitor the avenue closely in the early years, to give every tree the best chance of reaching a healthy maturity.
North easterly aspect from memorial site
Previous attempts to provide, construct and maintain a suitable replacement Avenue of Honour have not been particularly successful and the approaching centenary of World War 1 reminds us how years have slipped by, without this task being completed successfully. There is certainly no “honour” in the existing avenue and now is the time to correct this oversight and provide a memorial that adequately recognises so many local people who served and, in a number of cases, made the ultimate sacrifice on behalf of us all.
The Association is seeking help from residents and businesses in the Bacchus Marsh area and surrounds, by calling for members and for donations. Membership is available for $10 per person, or $20 per family per year and membership application forms can be obtained from the Association at firstname.lastname@example.org , or attached to this website. Membership enables you to take part in this memorable project, to receive regular newsletters and updates and join us at the new site for remembrance services and the Christmas barbeque.
Close families of the World War 1 volunteers have all passed on and with the disruption caused to the Coimadai community by the flooding of their town centre, a lot of families moved from the area and the task of establishing this memorial rests with the current residents. Bearing in mind that the third generation from these servicemen and women are now in their sixties and seventies, the next generations may not remember the significance of the sacrifices of the volunteers. Coimadai has already changed from a pioneer settlement a day and a half’s walk from Melbourne, to a satellite town of hobby farmers, trades people and others, 40 minutes by freeway from the city.
The area formerly known as Coimadai is already fractured; its localities being also called Merrimu, Long Forest, Hopetoun Park and Darley and unless we, the incumbents, leave behind a suitable memorial to jog everyone’s memory at least once per year, the spirit that these 129 volunteers fought so hard to protect and preserve might be lost forever.
The Association is currently incorporated and registered as a charity under the Australian Charities and Not-for-profits Commission and is registered as a Deductible Gift Recipient by the Australian Tax Office for tax deductibility of donations.