Rarely acknowledged but always present in Melbourne history is the deep divide between Catholics and Protestants. Until the 1970s, these two groups roughly aligned with racial groups – the Catholics were predominantly Irish, working class, often convict-descended and staunch Labor voters; the Protestants were mostly English, upper class, inclined to pretend to an aristocracy they did not actually possess and just as staunch at voting for whoever wasn’t Labor (which changed pretty frequently in the first 45 years of Australian independence). Occasionally, this fault line would flare into outright war.

One of the best known occasions on which this happened was during World War One, when the subject of whether or not the government should be permitted to conscript men for the war effort was the burning issue of the day. It respective champions, for and against, were Prime Minister of Australia, Billy Hughes (Anglican) and Archbishop of Melbourne, Daniel Mannix (Catholic). Hughes held a plebiscite on the matter in 1916, which was defeated, and then tried again a year later, and was defeated even more decisively.

But that wouldn’t stop the little Digger or his followers. In a declaration of support for Hughes’ policies, the strongly Anglican west Oakliegh area broke away from their neighbours, forming a new suburb around the nexus of the Poath Rd level crossing (which at that time lacked a railway station). Naming this new area Hughesdale in honour of the Prime Minister, the area celebrated Hughes’ return from the Versailles Peace Conference in 1919 with was noted as perhaps the most sedate, well-mannered and orderly street party of all time, which finished at 8pm and was completely cleaned up, no trace of it remaining on Poath Road, a mere half hour later.

For some time, the local council tried to prevent the adoption of Hughesdale as a name for the region, but once the railway station was constructed and given that name in 1925, the name was fixed forever. Billy Hughes, and the divisive issue that he had championed, would be commemorated in this name for all time. Assuming anyone remembered its origin, that is.

Suburbs near Hughesdale:

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