Capital City of Victoria State
Melbourne is Australia's second largest city with a population of about 4 million. It's located on the the banks of the Yarra River and the shores of Port Phillip. The essence of the city was forged in the 1850s when it was the largest, and most affluent settlement in Australia as a result of its proximity to the vast goldfields of Ballarat, Bendigo and literally dozens of other smaller mining settlements in Victoria.
This period of wealth resulted in the construction of a large number of gracious homes and commercial buildings and a perception (which still persists) that Melbourne is the economic and financial centre of Australia. The result was that many of Australia's largest commercial organizations (BHP, Fosters etc) established their head offices in the city. This was compounded at Federation when, while Canberra was slowly evolving into the national capital, many Federal Government departments, continued to have their head offices in Melbourne. As late as the 1960s, for example, the Department of Civil Aviation head offices were still located in Melbourne.
For the first time visitor Melbourne is an easy city. It is basically laid out in a grid system which means that if you miss a street you can drive to the next street, do a right or left hand turn, go around the block and pick up the street a few blocks further down.
Uniquely it has maintained its tram system which is efficient and which adds greatly to the appeal of the city. And, in shopping terms, it has maintained a love affair with arcades and narrow streets which means that it is quite different from other modern cities where huge malls and skyscrapers are the norm.
History of the City
Like most Australian colonies. the original reason for the British occupation of Victoria was the fear of possible French settlement. By the end of the eighteenth century the coast had been explored extensively by both British and French adventurers. Reacting to a perceived French threat Lieutenant David Collins, accompanied by a party comprising both convicts and free settlers, landed on the shores of Port Phillip (near the modern day site of Sorrento south of Melbourne) in October 1803 and a short-lived colony was established. By May 1804 Collins had gained permission to move the colony to Van Diemen's Land and his brief attempt at settlement had been abandoned.
Through the 1810s and 1820s Port Phillip was regularly visited by whalers and sealers who worked the coast from Van Diemen's Land to South Australia.
The real impetus for permanent settlement came as a result of the land-based explorers who, having explored south from Sydney, had crossed the Murrumbidgee River and pushed on towards the southern coast. Hume and Hovell reached Port Phillip in 1824. They mistook it for Western Port and two years later, acting on their incorrect advice, a military and convict outpost was established on Western Port. It lasted thirteen months.
Around this time the entrepreneurial John Batman, who was living in Van Diemen's Land, tried to gain approval from the Governor of New South Wales to settle the area around Western Port. He had been encouraged by reports that the land was fertile and the pastures rich. The Governor, fearing problems if a second colony was created, denied Batman permission. This proved to be a hollow gesture. Eight years later, in November 1834, Edward Henty ignored the rulings of the New South Wales governor and settled at Portland Bay. In early 1835, spurred on by Henty's example, Batman crossed Bass Strait and in June 1835 infamously 'purchased' the land on the western shore of Port Phillip from the local Aborigines.
At this time Batman explored the shores of Port Phillip and chose a site for a village. Within a year the township of Melbourne began to grow on the banks of the Yarra River.
In 1837 the township of Melbourne was surveyed and named and a magistrate, Captain William Lonsdale, was sent from Sydney to maintain law and order. The attempts to stop the settlement had clearly failed and the administration of New South Wales was forced to deal with Victoria as a successful, and semi-autonomous, colony. This was converted into a reality in September 1839 when Charles La Trobe, the newly appointed Superintendent of the Port Phillip District, arrived from England. In his wake the colony established a separate police force, a customs office and, perhaps most importantly, a separate Lands Office.
By 1 July 1851, when the colony of Victoria was officially proclaimed, there were already more than 80,000 people living south of the Murray and Murrumbidgee Rivers and over six million sheep were being grazed on well-established properties.
In theory Victoria would have remained a rural economy (although in 1851 it was true that more than 20,000 of the state's 80,000 people were living in Melbourne) but the discovery of gold changed everything.
The Gold Rushes
By November 1851 alluvial gold had been discovered at Clunes, Anderson's Creek, Buninyong, Ballarat, Mount Alexander and Bendigo, which at the time was known as Sandhurst. The streets of Melbourne were virtually deserted and, by early 1852, ships from all over the world were disgorging eager miners on the wharves of Melbourne.
By 1854 the colony's population had grown from 80,000 to 300,000, the value of imported goods had reached an extraordinary £18 million, and everything needed for mining, from food to houses and equipment, was being shipped into the colony. In 1856 more than 86 million grams of gold were mined. This would form the basis for unprecedented development which would establish Melbourne as Australia's major financial centre and Victoria as an extremely wealthy colony.
A total of more than £100 million worth of gold was won from the earth in the 1850s.
In 1855 a Legislative Council and Legislative Assembly were created to administer the colony. The problem was that membership and voting rights were tied to ownership of substantial tracts of land. Thus, the first parliament was made up almost entirely of lawyers, successful businessmen, affluent squatters and merchants. They may have represented the 80,000 people who lived in the state in 1851 but they hardly represented the 300,000 in 1855.
Although Melbourne was to experience depressions in both the 1890s and 1930s it was basically a prosperous and successful city. Its vitality and dynamism of the state continued after World War II when, as a result of Australia's active attempt to attract migrants from Europe, large numbers of non-English speaking settlers (particularly from Italy and Greece) arrived. It is often claimed (not entirely accurately) that Melbourne is the second-largest Greek city in the world (it has recently been changed to third largest city) and the largest Italian city outside Italy. Certainly Lygon Street, famed for its international cuisine, is a symbol of the cultural diversity of the city.