Click here for a thematic overview of Melbourne’s fascinating history.
The ebbs and flows of fortune
Melbourne the boom city of the 19th century
Volcanoes and lava
Lava has played a major role in the shaping of Melbourne.
This lava flow in Williamstown was volatile enough, at least 50kms from its volcano, to blow a gas bubble 5 metres across.
The entire peninsula upon which Williamstown is situated is a great tongue of lava.
John Batman’s “Treaty” was signed in Northcote.
Aboriginal land management techniques made the region perfect for sheep grazing.
Watch Bill Gammage discussing Aboriginal land management practices.
Paradise with volcano.
Artist Nicholas Chevalier made a tidy fortune painting the estates of Victoria’s pastoral elite.
The Northcote Brick Company was a major public corporation. Its bricks built much of boomtime Melbourne.
Note the cottages on the right.
Northcote connects with the world.
Railway viaduct over the Merri Creek, 1871.
Someone asked me why there was such a diversity of facades on the boomtime shops of High St.
That is an excellent question for which I didn’t have a ready answer.
I can now suggest that these facades were an expression of pride of ownership and of course one-up-manship.
They were built by owner occupiers as premises for their own businesses. These businesses were self owned and self managed. Their owners were independent entrepreneurs, not branch office managers or franchisees. They answered to no one. They succeeded or failed according to their own decisions. They believed themselves to be independent.
And for them, this was a blessed estate worth aspiring to. And worth celebrating, which they did with exuberant facades.
A stranded bank
This ever-so-solid bank peddled oh-so-dodgy money.
William Smith, Pork Butcher and Lord Mayor
25 Prospect Grove, Northcote
“Grand View” was built in 1892, during the Marvellous Melbourne period, by William Smith, a Glaswegian butcher, who built the house on what was known then as Bastings Street Hill (now known as Northcote Hill), overlooking his bacon factory on the flats of Fairfield.
The house has two facades – a private entrance in Prospect Grove and what appears to be the business entrance in Mitchell Street, which also features a fenced, cast-iron, veranda.
The house includes many original features including ceiling roses, marbled mantelpieces, recessed cornices, and scrolled arches. Both doorways have sidelights of ruby and cobalt blue glass, depicting thistles – a sign of Mr Smith’s ancestry.
Northcote, Melbourne’s first “Toorak”
In 1854, real estate agents extolled this location as only real estate agents could.
Graziers divide the spoils
Detail of map showing extensive holdings at top of Rucker’s Hill.
John Gull Johnson, merchant and grazier, built Beaumont in the 1860s.
In 1888, Johnson decided to cash in on his now valuable land.
George Plant, city father and master of revels
George Plant took full advantage of cooling breezes.
George Plant’s revels
The Lazar House of the colony
But powerful interests had other plans for Northcote — the “Lazar House of the colony”
The geographical concentration of squalor was patterned by the scarcity of water.
Social conscience and culture wars.
The Dennis family sought traditional means to combat novel problems.
The Borough of Northcote separated from the Shire of Jika Jika in 1883 over the issue of noxious land use in the southern tip of the shire.
Northcote refused to incorporate this region into its borough. Jika Jika took little interest in it.
Eventually, the City of East Collingwood, concerned about the social, economic, and environmental consequences of this neglect, incorporated the long panhandle along the Yarra.
To this day, this skinny strip of land remains part of the City of Yarra.
The Larrikin Scourge
In this unincorporated, ungoverned region arose a disturbing, dangerous class. Rootless, idle and violent youths rejected the norms of materialism, religiosity and respectability.
In 1871, Larrikins became a cause célèbre and this brand new word entered the national lexicon.
And more precisely, you can see that 1870 was the year when discussion of larrikins suddenly consumed public attention. Why?
Melbourne Punch, 1871. The magazine of Melbourne’s possessing classes depicts larrikins for almost the first time, while pointing to the vulgarity of two famous radical leaders.
The radicals funded Victoria’s expensive infrastructure by dispossessing the squattocracy and taxing imported goods enjoyed by the rich.
George Plant’s ruin
In 1889 George Plant was the first mayor to preside in Northcote’s splendid Town Hall.
In 1893 he was ruined when his property collapsed in value and he could not repair his collateral.
This story was repeated thousands of times all over Melbourne.
Gentrification and politics
2016 Federal election booths. Boomtime Melbourne is Greens Melbourne.
The Merri Creek.
The key to Melbourne.