Yarra walk


Click here for a thematic overview of Melbourne’s fascinating history.

A City Divided

For much of Melbourne’s history, the Yarra River stood as a stark political, economic, social, religious, and cultural frontier.

How did this state of affairs come about?

What have been the consequences for Melbourne and its residents?

Federal electorates, 2007 General Election

Swampy Collingwood

Until the completion of the Upper Yarra Dam as late as 1957, the North side of the Yarra was prone to flooding.

Above is the Collingwood Baptist Tabernacle, Sackville St, Collingwood inundated by a serious flood in 1934. This structure was located at least 500m from the Yarra.

It requires little imagination to understand how disruptive were these periodic floods, and how they impacted property values and amenity of life.

Australia’s industrial birthplace

Europeans took possession of Collingwood, a flat, largely treeless, volcanic plain.

This region soon became the most crowded, most disease ridden region on the continent. Profiting from James McCulloch’s policy of determined protectionism, capitalists made Collingwood the birthplace of industrial Australia.

Dight’s Mill was the birthplace of industrial Australia.

View of the R. [i.e. River] Yarra near Richmond, Henry Easom Davies 1831-1868 artist., ca. 1851-ca. 1868

An urbanised industrial community grew rapidly around Dight’s Falls.


[Clifton Hill and surrounds from Studley Park] [picture]

[Clifton Hill and surrounds from Studley Park] [picture]

Date: [ca. 1882]

Description: painting : oil on canvas ; 38.5 x 53.5 cm. in frame 57.2 x 72.2 x 6.2 cm.

Not dated but ca. 1882. This has been established as the likely date of this work because Ormond College, University of Melbourne, visible in the distance was completed in 1881 and the shot tower at Alexandra Parade is not visible. It was erected in 1882.

Contents/Summary: A view across Abbotsford looking north-west, from Studley Park. The artist has placed a grazing cow in the right foreground, and a fallen tree in the left foreground, providing a contrast between the pastoral area of the park and the crowded suburbs in the distance.

The artist depicts a view to the north-west from a point above the Convent of the Good Shepherd, now the site of the Collingwood Children’s Farm. The Johnston Street bridge is visible in the centre of the picture. Beyond are the factories of the inner northern suburbs where many noxious trades such as fellmongering, tanning and woolwashing operated. The spires of St John’s in Clifton Hill and the newly-completed Ormond College at the University of Melbourne can be seen on the horizon. Between them sits the Metropolitan Gas Company’s gasometer at the corner of Smith Street and Alexandra Parade. The prominent shot tower in Alexandra Parade, which was built in 1882, is not visible in this painting. This indicates that the work was painted prior to this time.

The New Working Class

The new working class enjoyed its new-found power and sense of identity, much to the consternation of many of the prosperous classes of Melbourne.

Collingwood became the centre of many noxious industries because it was the only place near to Melbourne with access to plentiful fresh water.

Cattle were driven through the streets of Melbourne to Collingwood’s slaughter grounds.

South of the Yarra

The residents of the south bank of the river could afford to remove themselves from the noisome Yarra.


Why the possessing classes could shun the Yarra. An extraordinary marvel — piped water from faraway Yan Yean.


Meanwhile, on the northern side of the Yarra, alarming cultural developments.
McCulloch confronts Larrikins.

Ovens and Murray Advertiser (Beechworth, Vic. : 1855 -1918)

Saturday 4 February 1871

The Question of Religion

Melbourne’s poor were overwhelmingly Irish and Catholic. The Church sought to ensure that their poor did not stray from the Faith.

Irish Catholic influence in Melbourne

Working class Melbourne, enmired in filth

The politics and economics of night soil.

Flogging the answer

How the McCulloch government dealt with larrikins

Gately, the celebrity flagellator  of Melbourne, plights his troth to his child fiancée with his hangman’s rope and cat-o-nine-tails.

A distraught Collingwood mother pleads for her son.

Return to Northcote


The politics of economic crisis and poverty.


Radical Melbourne.

Collingwood radicalism.

Until the 1950s, industrial Melbourne clung to the Yarra.


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