The township of Cocoroc was created in 1894 at the Metropolitan Sewage Farm (now the Western Treatment Plant) to house the workers it employed. The name 'Cocoroc' means 'frog' in the language of the Wathaurung people — the Traditional Owners of the land the treatment plant was built on.
Cororoc: then and now
Located within the unique cultural landscape of Western Treatment Plant, there once was a township called Cocoroc.
1894: A plan of the township shows there were 72 allotments.
1897: There were 32 houses, a town hall, football ground (and football team, pictured below), swimming pool, tennis courts, four schools and a post office.
Early 1950s: The township reached its peak with nearly 100 houses located around the Farm: the majority being wihin Cocoroc.
Early 1970s: Some 500 people were living in Cocoroc.
As it became too expensive for the Melbourne and Metropolitan Board of Works to subsidise, Cocoroc was abandoned. By 1973, most of the houses and other buildings were demolished or moved to Werribee.
All that is left now of Cocoroc are two small empty concrete swimming pools, change rooms, a sports pavillion, farm hall and a heritage-listed water tank.
Cocoroc now resembles something of a ghost town; however, there are many fascinating stories if you know where to look.
Working at the farm
A day's pay was not easy for the employees at the farm. In its early days, most of the agricultural work was carried out by teams of horses which drew ploughs and scoops, which was incredibly physically demanding. However, the farm did own a piece of prized machinery, its Caterpillar.
By the mid-1950s, lagoon treatment and agricultural mechanisation revolutionised labour at the site, bringing an end to the days of the draft horses.
Some of the machinery used on the farm along with other pieces of equipment acquired by Melbourne Water are now stored for conservation purposes at Cocoroc.
A place for the whole family
A thriving community
Cocoroc was not just housing for the workers of the farm, it was a thriving community made up of the workers and their families. The first school at the farm was opened in 1895 and employed a great number of teachers in its 77-year history. Community events were commonplace, with dances being held at the school hall and an annual picnic held to raise funds for equipment at the school's end of school party.
The community also boasted its own swimming pool, sports pavillion, oval with goal posts for football and cricket pitch, park, tennis court, church and post office.
The pool (pictured, left) was much loved by the residents of Cocoroc and still remains a visually striking feature of the site's modern landscape.
Not just a job
Recreation played an important role in the life of the residents of Cocoroc, with sport being a central part of town life.
Living and working on a sewage farm meant that there was often stigma associated with residents of Cocoroc and their sporting teams but the community was able to turn these negative sentiments into a source for solidarity and local pride. This was exemplified by the local football team, the Herefords; this photo (pictured above) is the inside of the football shed.
The legacy of this team lives on today in the work of local artist Shane McGrath who holds an annual football event at Cocoroc.
The Cocoroc Town Hall was perhaps the most significant place within the township, playing a consistent role in weekly activities of its residents. First built in 1903, the hall that burned down around 1924 was rebuilt and moved to its current location in 1975.
It functioned as a library and community hub, and was also a place of entertainment with dances on Saturday nights, euchre (a popular card game) on Monday nights, the annual school concert, and a place for weddings and parties.
While the hall is now disused and abandoned, Melbourne Water have no plans to carry out conservation works and once again use this building as part of the organisation.
Generations on the farm
This building was originally used as a workshop and then a stable during the height of Cocoroc. For some of the residents of Cocoroc, living and working on the farm became interwoven with family histories, with multiple generations finding themselves on the MMBW payroll. Today, some of these families remain locals of Werribee.
Men would work in positions like fencing, carpentry, stablemen, watermen, stockmen, tractor drivers and nursery workers, while women also made a valuable contribution to the daily activities of the farm as housewives, mothers, secretaries and cleaners.
In this way, Cocoroc represented a place of secure employment, often at times when work was difficult to come by. But it was also something much more. For many residents, Cocoroc was a place of strong community ties, friendship, identity and a source of pride.
Cattle: the prize of the farm
While the main function of the farm may have been the treatment of Melbourne's sewage, the extensive grazing pastures and access to a year-round supply of water allowed the farm to develop a very successful cattle breeding program.
The farm's prized Angus studs were particularly celebrated, winning all prizes at the Royal Melbourne Show between 1926 and 1930. Despite this success, pressure from other beef producers and an outbreak of Beef measles (Cysticercus bovis) saw an end to the breeding program until 1942 when wartime beef shortages saw the government overturn the ban on the selling of beef for human consumption.
The pride in the quality of cattle was exemplified in the name of the farm's football team 'the Herefords'.
The historic water tank
Erected in 1854, this water tank was originally located in East Melbourne and stored water from the Yarra River in Melbourne’s early days. In 1892, the tank together with its bluestone stand were dismantled and re-erected at the Cocoroc farm at a cost of 1,128 pounds.
The water tank was decommissioned in 1925 after the township was connected to mains water, and finally drained in 1929. For many years, soil used by the treatment plant’s tree nursery was stored beneath the tank.
Now heritage listed, the water tank has a new lease on life after an extensive restoration project. It was converted into an interpretive centre, which, together with remnant buildings and structures from the former township, is used to house displays interpreting the rich cultural history of the site.