Melbourne: History and Heritage

The City of Melbourne has a remarkably rich and diverse heritage, which is of importance locally, nationally and internationally. Traditionally the country of the Kulin Nation, the land on which the City of Melbourne was built, retains many places of importance to Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people, some relating to the ancient past, some more recent.

Melbourne was the place where Victoria’s colonial settlement officially started, and the first seat of government in Australia. It is renowned as one of the world’s great Victorian-era cities. The city contains many intact streetscapes, parks and buildings recognised as important heritage places.

In addition to this, the city has some outstanding architecture and collections from the 20th century.Much of what makes the City of Melbourne distinctive comes from its rich history as a capital city. The urban fabric of the city reflects significant periods in Melbourne’s history.

Melbourne's heritage is expressed through places – buildings, landscapes, publicparks and gardens, infrastructure, monuments, public art and more. The layout of the city, the grid and the suburbs, the port, the clusters oflong-established activities and uses,the patterns of lanes and arcades,transport and other infrastructure, are all part of our city’s heritage.The landscapes of the city are acombination of the natural landformsand waterways, combined with designs and plantings from the 19th and 20th centuries.

Heritage is also represented in objects, artefacts, archives, photographs, maps, drawings and other items. Some of these items are in public collections; others are privately held.Some heritage is harder to see– for example, the archaeology of the city, the Dreaming stories, and the more subtle marks of past people and their cultures. Heritage includes traditions, events and celebrations, people’s memories, artists’ expressions, monuments and memorials. Heritage is dynamic - what is valued constantly changes as society, culture and memories change.Other aspects of heritage are reflected in culture, traditions, events, stories and memories.

Melbourne's Urban Environment
The City of Melbourne lies on the north bank of the Yarra River, about 11km upstream from where the river empties into Port Phillip Bay. It occupies a natural basin fringed by wooded hills to the east and north, but with relatively flat and windswept basalt plains to the north and west. Ancient lava flows lie beneath the city, for the western side of Melbourne touches the far eastern edge of a vast volcanic plain. South of the present-day city, the volcanic prominence of Emerald Hill (South Melbourne) protrudes from otherwise flat country.

The Names of Melbourne
The names of rivers, coastal features, districts and their streets tell a lot about the history of a place. They weave a splash of colour into the tapestry of the city's growth and development and add fragments of detail that would otherwise have been lost. Dotted in between the aristocratic names on the map of Melbourne are those of the middle and working class, people who worked hard to better their lot in life and in so doing, contributed towards the building of the city.

    Laying Out The City
    On 1st October 1836 Colonel William Lonsdale arrived in Melbourne in HMS Rattlesnake to take up his aqppointment of Police Magistrate at 'Bearbrass on Yarro Yarro', the early name of the settlement that would become the City of Melbourne. At that time, it consisted of 43 dwellings, 224 European inhabitants and pastures accommodating 40,000 sheep. Within five years the colony had grown in size to 5,000 people and land speculation was rife. Lonsdale predicted the rush soon after arrival and commissioned surveyor Robert Hoddle to lay out a townsite.

    The town plan was a standard one approved by the British Colonial Office for new settlements overseas - an uncomplicated grid of streets crossing one another at right angles. In the case of Melbourne it was slightly varied to provide service lanes (named after their corresponding thoroughfares, but with the prefix 'Little') running parallel to the main east-west thoroughfares.

      Melbourne's Lost Railways
      Melbourne is a city of phantom railways, lost lines that are no more. There are those that were built and then removed, those that were built and then altered and those that were proposed and then left in purgatory, something that Government's of every stripe have done from time to time. Some of these phantoms have left their mark on the landscape while others have simply disappeared, effectively into the footnotes of history.

    Heritage Buildings

    A cross section of some of Melbourne's most cherished and culturally significant heritage-listed buildings.

        Industrial Heritage

        For much of its history Melbourne has been Australia's largest single centre of manufacturing. Once the gold rushes of the 1850s increased Melbourne's population more than fourfold in a decade and a policy of import protection was implemented in the 1860s, manufacturing became the biggest sector of the Melbourne economy and the main source of employment. Protective tariffs probably contributed to the pre-eminence of manufacturing in Melbourne.

        From the mid-1970s, a globalised 'new economy' created investment and job opportunities in a broad range of industries, but heralded the beginning of the end for manufacturing in Australia, and Melbourne in particular. Many of Melbourne's iconic industrial buildings have been adapted for other uses.

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