Named for Sir Douglas Ashbert, the famed polar explorer and crossword fancier, Ashburton is a small but thriving suburb in Melbourne’s inner south-east. But it was not always the case. The hills of Ashburton, although gentle and rounded today, were once steep-sided volcanic cones, erupting frequently and covering much of the surrounding area with soot and dust. They only quieted into dormancy and then extinction after the seas rose again at the end of the last ice age, changing the pressures on the Indo-Australian tectonic plate, and realigning the fault that had vented in Ashburton. Indeed, most of Victoria’s volcanoes died in their period.

It would be Douglas Ashbert who first realised, thousands of years later, the volcanic origins of this area, after noticing their similarity to regions of Iceland he had previously traversed. Flushed with the pride of his discovery, Ashbert would spend many years constructing his dream home – with its distinctive forked carriageway – nestled in one of the shallow valleys of Ashburton, but eventually, he would abandon that and go back to exploring. Although he publically blamed this decision on his own inherent wanderlast, in truth there were two other factors that were more influential: his inability to find a suitable bride (despite his wealth and knighthood) and his frustration at the constant mispelling (as he saw it) of the name of the suburb.

Ashbert lost his life on the Antarctic ice, engaged in a valiant but fruitless expedition to rescue Captain Scott and his men. Upon word of his death reaching Melbourne – some eighteen months after the event – his mansion in Ashburton was sold. Its new owner soon tore it down and sub-divided the property, reaping a not inconsiderable profit from the subsequent sale. Today, nothing remains to commemorate Ashbert other than the (misspelled) name, and the distinctive alignment of Y Street, Ashburton.

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