The Pub with three names – Evelyn Arms – Halfway House – Tunnel Camp

Published Feb, 2021

Evelyn Arms Hotel. Nillumbik Historical Society Inc File NHSP2142

The building that was on the road to Greensborough had three names during its sixty year history, each relating to a particular period of its operation and although it was outside the township boundary it was Diamond Creek’s first pub.  It was first licensed as the Evelyn Arms Hotel to Isaac Hawkins on 31st January, 1866, and named after the County of Evelyn that covered the district at the time.

The road was also the main route from Melbourne to the gold fields, so it became a favourite stopping place for travellers going north and east, hence earning the name Halfway House. To find the place where the building stood look for a large, old eucalypt on the east side of Diamond Creek Road, just past the service station and opposite the St Thomas’s complex.

To understand the origin of its third name of Tunnel Camp Hotel we need to go back into the history of Melbourne’s water supply.  In 1849 ex-convict James Blackburn began to construct Melbourne’s first reticulated water supply by damming a swampy area behind Whittlesea, and directing the water through an open channel to Melbourne. Unfortunately Blackburn died before his scheme was completed. Because of Melbourne’s rapid growth, by 1879 Blackburn’s water supply wasn’t keeping up with the needs of Melbourne’s half-million population. Plans were made to bring water from the Watts River behind Healesville, by a series of open channels, syphons and tunnels, to a supply reservoir in Preston. The channel wound around the hills behind Kangaroo Ground and Research, under Diamond Creek Road near McLaughlan’s Lane, across the Plenty River on an iron bridge, then through to Preston. That part of Preston is now in Reservoir.

The complex of channels and tunnels was completed by men who lived in a series of large camps along the route, known as navvie camps. One was located near Diamond Creek Road before it heads downhill towards Greensborough. This camp was more of a small town, complete with all the services the men needed – cook house, blacksmith’s shop, carpenter’s shop, machinery sheds, stables and all the equipment needed for such an immense task. Needless to say, both proprietors and men were delighted to have the Evelyn Arms Hotel nearby, and for a few years it did thriving trade. The magazine Police Life tells us that it was necessary to appoint a very strong Irish policeman named Waldron to the district at this time to keep order. A post office was also established in the building and in 1892 it handled 14,532 letters.

By 1916 the navvies had moved on, improved roads now provided easier access to Diamond Creek and Greensborough and the pub was off-license. There is still a tunnel under the road.

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