Located in the northern reaches of Melbourne, Thomastown today is a sleepy suburb. But this was not always the case. The story of Thomastown begins nearly 1800 years ago on the far side of the world.
In AD 252, during the empire-wide persecution of Christians under the Roman Emperor Decius, a small band of Christians fled their homes in Egypt. Under the leadership of the charismatic St Toma of Bogana, they fled to Aden, where they pooled their remaining money to purchase a small flotilla of ships. On June 13, 252, they sailed out of Aden harbour, and were lost to Western history, apparently forever.
The ships they had bought were old and leaky, small sailboats made from mahogany worn out from years of constant use. Historians have traced their likely route, south and slightly west across the Indian Ocean until they reached a latitude of approximately 40 degrees south. Here, their sails were filled with the winds of the Roaring Forties, which blew them almost due west until they were blown ashore on the south western coast of what would one day be Victoria.
Salvaging what they could from the ships, they moved further inland, eventually settling on the excellent dairy farming land bordering Edgar’s Creek, some 19 km north of the coast. Unfortunately for them, there would be no dairy cattle in this area for another 1800 years. Undaunted by this lack of milk and beef, the hundred or so remaining members of Toma’s congregation built a small township.
Their relations with the natives were never good, however, and the Tomasians were further handicapped by a lack of knowledge of the local flora and fauna. In the winter of 317 AD, after a dispute arising from a game of marn grook, Toma’s town was destroyed when members of the Wurundjeri wilam clan stampeded a herd of diprotodons, destroying the buildings and scattering the few surviving settlers. Most of the settlers either died of exposure after the attack, or were absorbed into the local tribes. Ironically, marn grook was never again played at the site of Toma’s Town, as the land was said to be guarded by vengeful bunyips.
In 1848, Christian settlers returned to the area, this time to stay. A majority of them were Germans led by Garth von Backpfeifengesicht, who founded a settlement to the east of modern Thomastown. Von Backpfeifengesicht, an archaeologist who had been forced to flee Europe after his involvement in the Kinderhook plates hoax, uncovered evidence of Toma’s settlement, and set about persuading his countrymen to rename their settlement. He was partially successful in this, and the area known as West Garth’s Town was renamed Thomastown (the mispelling appears to have been intended as a deliberate snub by members of the Victorian colonial government, notably Peter Lalor).
After Vatican Council II in 1965, St Toma was no longer recognized as a saint, due to what the Vatican claimed was a lack of historical evidence of his existence. However, as the good Catholics of Thomastown were rather more concerned about the similar de-recognitions of Saints Christopher and Nicholas, little if any outcry resulted.
From 1984 until 1992, Thomastown was the location of the world headquarters of the Italo-Australian Petrolhead Assocation. The first president of this group, Gino Tagliatelle, relocated to Dallas (Dallas, USA, not Dallas, Broadmeadows) in 1991, and later became briefly famous when he became the first person to be executed by the state of Texas for excessive unpaid speeding fines.
Suburbs near Thomastown: