Neil Johnson is a descendant of Mernda pioneer Moses Thomas.
He is so passionate about local history he started the Lost Mernda Facebook page.
What’s your connection to Mernda?
My connection to Mernda is through my great-great-great-grandfather Moses Thomas who was an early pioneer and considered by many to be the father of Mernda. He came to Mernda in 1851 and is responsible for building the Bridge Inn Hotel, Mayfield Presbyterian church and the very first Mernda state school, amongst other things.
What do you like about Mernda?
I feel as though I really belong here and I couldn’t imagine living anywhere else. I think the Mernda/Doreen area has lots to offer. Even though you hear about the difficulties of living here, things like traffic congestion and the lack of infrastructure, I believe in the future things will improve.
What, if anything, would you change?
If I had a magic wand, I would love to see all of the pieces of infrastructure finished. Things like the train line and Mernda station, and of course the roads are a priority. It would be nice to see the incredible rate of growth slow down a bit. While I have that magic wand in my hand, I’m desperate to see Mayfield Homestead on Plenty Road restored to its former glory. There’s no reason why Mayfield can’t become the jewel at the centre of Mernda’s heritage precinct.
How long have you been running the Lost Mernda Facebook page and why did you start the page?
My wife Andrea and I started the Lost Mernda page about three years ago. We have always been interested in history and because of my family links with one of the Mernda pioneers and having a reasonable knowledge of Mernda, it just seemed to make sense to share our knowledge with others, but there are lots of times that we are learning from others in the community. It’s great when someone comes up with a little golden nugget of information that triggers memories for others and the conversation just grows, we all get a huge kick out of that. The page has just on 4000 members now.
Tell us something about the history of Mernda that people might not know …
Mernda wasn’t always called Mernda. It was previously known as Morang, then South Yan Yean before being renamed Mernda by the then governor Lord Somers in 1928. It’s a little weird because many new residents to the area see Mernda as being a “new” suburb, the reality is that it’s actually quite old with a history that goes back to the very early days of Melbourne.
What drives your passion for preserving local history?
It’s about respect. Respect for the struggles endured by people like my great-great-great-grandfather. I can barely imagine how difficult things must have been in the 1850s. The other thing that drives me is something that I believe could be of real benefit to the community. I have a dream of having a heritage trail through the Plenty Gorge Parklands. I think the Plenty Gorge Parklands is an untapped source as there are numerous places throughout the gorge that hold significant historical value. Some people interpret my obsession of heritage issues as me being “anti-progress” which is wrong, I’m certainly not anti-progress, but more accurately “progress is necessary, but not at the expense of losing our shared heritage”, I would love to see more developers embrace heritage places in our suburbs and use them as potential assets.
Where is your favourite place to spend time?
I often wander through the Plenty Gorge Parklands dreaming of how great it could be. I also love spending time at Carome homestead, sometimes sharing a meal with an elderly friend Keith Power, who’s family owned Carome from 1922 until the 1960s and Keith loves to recall his memories of his childhood growing up in the house. I could sit and listen to him for hours. LePage homestead is another of my favourite places.