Facts about Melbourne History

While white Melbourne history is short compared to other world cities, facts reveal that it has become indeed a world-class city. Gold rush, Chinese dragons, little Italy, art and sports.

Following is the most relevant information on Melbourne.

Melbourne History of Indigenous People

The first people occupying the Melbourne area were people of the Woiwurrung language group, specifically the Wurundjeri people.

They belong to the Kulin nation and have lived in the area for approximately 30,000 years. They have sustained themselves by fishing, hunting and gathering.

With the arrival European Colonisation, the Wurundjeri people bear the brunt of the effects of their settlement. They are hard hit by introduced diseases, mistreatment and alcohol. Surviving Woiwurrung speakers are moved out of the city area and forcibly resettled.

Today there are only a few remnants of the Kulin culture. There is a canoe tree near the Melbourne Cricket Ground, from which bark for a canoe was cut; and some middens (accumulations of seashells at feasting areas) around the shores of Port Phillip Bay.

19th Century Melbourne History

Various settlers explore the area around Port Phillip Bay from 1800, but there is no permanent settlement for Melbourne history at that time.

1835 - John Batman , a successful Tasmanian farmer, sails to the mouth of the Yarra, strikes a shrewd deal and buys 600,000 acres of land from the local Wurundjeri with blankets, knives, looking glasses, tomahawks, scissors, handkerchiefs, shirts, flannel jackets and flour, and the promise of a yearly tribute or rental payment.

Together with Tasmanian convict son and businessman, John Pascoe Fawkner, he founds Melbourne, which temporarily is called Batmania.

Melbourne is unique in that it is an Australian settlement of free people, not of convicts.

In the following years of Melbourne history government buildings are built, the city grid is established and first plots of land are sold. Most buildings from that time are timber constructions that have not survived.

The Melbourne Cricket Club is founded, and a seaport and market are opened.

In the 1840s, Melbourne City Council is formed; the first Princes Bridge is constructed, and Melbourne is declared a city by Queen Victoria.

In the 1850s, Victoria breaks away from New South Wales becomes a separate colony. It is the Australian centre of wool export.

Gold Rush years

Gold is discovered in 1851 at Buninyong, near Ballarat. This discovery leads to a huge influx of migrants, most of them arriving by sea. The population of Melbourne grows exponentially as the gold fever takes hold.

Melbourne history tells stories of Gold Nuggets being picked up without even digging. This contributes to a craze of seekers and overseas migrants. The gold rush brings an enormous influx of wealth.

Melbourne develops into a service and manufacturing centre to serve the goldfields and inland towns. Victoria becomes the richest state in Australia.

Despite large migration, Victoria suffers from an acute labour shortage. Wages are pushed up until they are the highest in the world. Victoria was known as the paradise of the working man.

Boom years

These are forty years of boom, an era known as marvellous Melbourne. It is accompanied by a rapid growth of schools, churches, learned societies, libraries and art galleries.

Many heritage buildings and historical Melbourne attractions are from this period.

The first Australian steam railway is established between Flinders Street and Port Melbourne; the Queen Victoria Market is founded, and city streets are lit by gas lighting. The GPO construction begins.

The 1850s Melbourne history also sees the first game of Australian Rules football. The first football club, the Melbourne Football Club is set up.

In the 1860s, the National Gallery of Victoria is established, and construction of the current Town Hall begins. You can witness the first Melbourne Cup and visit the Royal Melbourne Zoo.
During the 1870s, you can watch the first Test cricket match at the Melbourne Cricket Ground, the MCG. It is also the first season of the Victorian Football Association.

In the 1880s the Royal Exhibition Building opens and the Melbourne International Exhibition is held.

The first cable tram line starts operating and the current Town Hall is completed.

The gold rush boom is reflected in the ornate Victorian architecture. Melbourne Chinatown is also established during the gold rush.

Melbourne overtakes Sydney and becomes the largest city in Australia.

In the 1880s the long boom culminates in a frenzy of speculation and rapid inflation of land prices, the Land Boom, corruption and a mountain of debt on which the boom had been built.

After the Boom

By the 1890s most goldfields are exhausted. The Eureka Stockade, an armed miners revolt over unfair policing and taxation without representation, makes an important contribution to the democratic development in Australia.

The crash of 1891 brings the boom to an abrupt end with bank and business failures, and tens of thousands of workers out of work.

Growth in Melbourne stalls, and Melbourne history shows that by 1905 it has lost its place behind Sydney as largest city in Australia.

During the 1890s city streets are first lit by electric lighting, and part of the mains sewage system becomes operational.

Early 20th Century Melbourne

It takes a long time to recover from the crash, and wages never again reach 1880s levels. Urban poverty becomes a feature of life in Melbourne, with slum areas, organised crime and gang fights spreading through the inner industrial suburbs.

Early, in the new century, the Australian states form a federation, the Commonwealth of Australia. Melbourne becomes national capital.

Melbourne history also bears witness to the Puffing Billy Railway and the first Australian Open championships.
There is the first electric tram service. The General Post Office and Flinders Street station are completed.

However, World War I and the Spanish flu epidemic after the war cost many lives and spread further gloom.

Around 1920, there is the first Electric suburban train service, and the first radio station.

However, the 1920s bring only modest revival before the 1929 Stockmarket Crash. This leads to another Depression and further stagnation, which lasts until World War II.

In the late twenties, Canberra becomes the new national capital.

The first set of traffic light becomes operational at Collins and Swanston streets.

After World War II

The Second World War is followed by a new boom. This is fuelled by high wool prices and high immigration. There are refugees from eastern and central Europe, Jews, followed by migrants from Britain, Italy, Greece and the Netherlands.

Checking through fast facts on Melbourne, in the 1950s you have the first Moomba waterfest and parade, and the first television station.

And then a highlight for Melbourne, the 1956 Olympics.

And on it goes through the 1960s, when many heritage buildings are under threat to be demolished and give way to modern office buildings. Buildings saved from that fate are Flinders Street station and the Regent theatre.

There are new waves of migrants, from Yugoslavia, Turkey and Lebanon. During that time some of the old inner-city slums are bulldozed and the dislocated poor are put into of state-owned high-rise blocks.

The 1970s bring a wave of Asian migration to Melbourne with large numbers of people from Vietnam, Cambodia and China as well as Muslim people.

Multiculturalism and funding for the arts contribute to a boom in Melbourne festivals, theatre, music and arts; and growing tourism also helps make Melbourne the colourful city it is today.

Then there is the construction of the Westgate Bridge, and in the 1980s, the Rialto Towers become the city's tallest building as well as the tallest in the southern hemisphere.

In the 1990s, the Southbank promenade opens, beginning a period of urban renewal. Swanston street is closed to general traffic.

In the later 1990s the Docklands are revamped, CityLink freeways construction begins and the Bolte Bridge as well as the Melbourne Exhibition and Convention Centre open.

Melbourne also wins right to host Australian Grand Prix at Albert Park Lake. The new Melbourne Museum as well as the Crown Casino, Melbourne's first gambling centre, opens.

21st Century Melbourne history

Melbourne is voted most livable city in the world some years in a row.

Melbourne Lord Mayor, John So, wins the global 2006 World Mayor Award.

We see the opening of Federation Square as well as Southern Cross railway station.

The Commonwealth Games are held in 2006.

There is a new wave of migrants from Africa, while the general skilled migrant program encourages further growth and development.

And there is the construction of the Eureka Towers and observation deck, at nearly 300m, the highest residential building in the world.

Melbourne is becoming an information centre and the fastest growing city in Australia - a bussling centre of activity. From the sleepy town in the eighties that I have known, it is no longer at the end of the world but a worldclass city with taste, style and flair.

Do You Have any Melbourne Anecdotes?

Melbourne history is filled with great stories. Do you have any Melbourne historical stories to share? We'd love to hear them!

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