A History of Bentleigh & the Centre Road Shops

Melburnians are renowned for being proud of their city. Our culture, community atmosphere and the natural beauty of our surroundings make it easy to love where we live.

The suburb of Bentleigh, in the city’s south-east, is a quintessential Melbourne suburb. Through the progress of our diverse local residents, working together for over 150 years, we’ve created a vibrant, engaged and growing community. This is our story.

The Early Settlement of Bentleigh

The original name given to the district now known as Bentleigh was Brighton East. Brighton East Post Office was run by the postmaster, the late Mr William Ward Snr. in Centre Road, near where Robert Haye’s Studio stands today. The post office’s name was changed in the year 1906 to Bentleigh in honour of Sir Thomas Bent, who started his career as a market gardener, and went on to become the Premier of Victoria.

Bentleigh 1906 Cnr Jasper Centre RoadBentleigh 1906 – Cnr of Jasper and Centre Road

The First Settlers: Society, Sports & Transport

The first settlers in Bentleigh planted many orchards. These orchards extended down the north side of Centre Road to where the railway station is now located. Market gardeners made significant contributions to both the prosperity, and the religious and social fabric of the young, tight-knit community. The practice of market gardening soon took over the humble orchards and became the primary industry of the locality, which prevails to the present day.

Where the Bentleigh Recreation Reserve lies today once roared the excitement of the Bentleigh Racecourse. In the early days of sporting fixtures in the Bentleigh area, this racecourse saw many a thrilling contest between local and neighbouring districts.

Lest we forget Jimmy and Nancy – now a part of Bentleigh folklore. Jimmy and Nancy Dunbar were popular indigenous locals, and two of the last remaining members of the Bunurong people who occupied the Mordialloc region in the late 19th century. In1872, J. Randell, who had been appointed to be responsible for the indigenous people of the area, said of Jimmy and Nancy and their tribe-folk: “their greatest happiness is perfect liberty to roam free and unconstrained. They are perfectly harmless, and thoroughly trustworthy and honest”.*

Bentleigh Tram Line 1916Bentleigh 1916 – Tram Line

Bentleigh’s Business Community

Small hotels were built in Bentleigh from the 1870’s. Two such establishments were the ‘Hit or Miss’ and ‘Live and Let Live’, which occupied the corners of Centre and Jasper Roads. Unfortunately, these stately old buildings were later destroyed by fire. In 1890, another of the early hotels established was that of Mr J.L. Smith, who commenced business at the corner of Centre and Jasper Roads as a firewood merchant during a severe economic depression. The business was soon extended to a ‘fuel & fodder’ trade, and later became a grain-crushing plant, which operated until 1941. Passers-by were known to comment on the ‘lovely aroma of porridge’ emanating from the steamed oats.

The first school in Bentleigh was St Stephen’s Common School in Tucker Road, opened in 1852. In 1878, the Common School eventually became the East Bentleigh State School. All that remains of the school today is the bell that once called the children in. The bell now sounds its call from the belfry of St John’s Church of England on the corner of Tucker and Centre Roads, East Bentleigh.

In the early 1900s, Miss Mavis Bullow ran a little ‘emporium’ near the train station. The store sold everything from drapery to fireworks, and from lemonade, to goat’s milk and soda. In 1922, Mavis closed her doors for good, and in came Bentleigh’s first bank branch, ES&A Bank. Whilst the bank has long been gone from Bentleigh, this pretty building still stands in all its yesteryear charm, today.

J.L Smith was elected in 1909 to the Moorabbin Shire Council, (which then included the cities of Sandringham & Mordialloc). He was elected President in 1914 when World War I required much organisation and activities of local auxiliaries.

The Moorabbin Hospital, (now a Monash Campus), was built in East Bentleigh in the 1970s.

The East Bentleigh Public Hall was built in 1896, and has been at the centre of Bentleigh’s progress ever since. Within its walls, the ‘welcome home’ ceremony Lance Corporal Thomas Matson upon his return from the Boer War was held in 1902. Many community events ranging from elections, anniversaries, sales, weddings, school concerts and moving pictures, to the first demonstration of wireless broadcasting and the Annual Lamington Ball have been held here, and will continue to do so for many years to come.1929 Off To MarketBentleigh 1929 – Off To Market


The above article was adapted from a hand-written article about Bentleigh’s Early History by brothers Victor and Harry Smith, written for the Moorabbin News, Jubilee Issue, March 25th 1950.

The Society meets at 1.00 pm on the last Sunday of each month from February to November at Box Cottage, Joyce Park Ormond. The Cottage and its historical exhibits are open to the public from 2.00 pm to 4.00 pm following each meeting.

For further information contact Jamie Hyams on 9578 9131 or 0412 915 410