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What if…

September 18, 2012

Every one of us wants to go and see Melbourne as it is now. Cities change, the people there change, the architecture changes, the systems change, and even beliefs and traditions change… my scientist friend tells me that even the geographical location may change and so does the annual pattern of the weather.

‘Was the weather of Melbourne as fickle and changing… often windy even a thousand years back?’ my mind goes in such loops sometimes, ‘would the Melbourne of the past also known to have four seasons in a day?’

Well, if it did, then it would be a mighty strong reputation for the city. But this thought leads me on to think how nice and wonderful it would be to know a city as it was at various points of time. I wish the City Council of Melbourne could invent and give away as a prize some contraption that took you around the city in different times and then brought you back to see how and if something of that past could still be spotted.

40,000 years back and nearer

I read in online encyclopaedias and printed books that the place where the present city is, used to be the home of the Kulin tribes. Obviously I mean the area around Port Phillip and the Yarra valley. Surely those times must have witnessed a great confluence… or maybe great fights and struggles between lots of language groups of the area.

No roads, no traffic worries, no right and left turns to care for… just so many languages to learn and… well, I’d love to go to the university and see what their anthropology department and their languages department has to tell me about this. I know there is no way I can go rushing into the heart of the past – but I can surely get into the libraries and the museums and the university to get near those times.

Much later when the Europeans came down under, the population of the indigenous inhabitants was estimated to be under 20,000. I wish I could be friends with the hunter-gatherers from the three tribes that existed then – the Wurundjeri, Boonwurrung and Wathaurong. How would the present day Melbourne introduce me to these tribes? What will their archives have to read and see and feel as if I am somewhere in the times when they were there?

What if… I could go back in time and see Melbourne as it was then.
What if… Melbourne could show me what it was then.
Wish the city said: ‘It’s your time to visit Melbourne NOW!’

The Grimes story

John Murray entered Port Phillip in 1802 in a ship called lady Nelson. Matthew Flinders followed soon. There were others like Charles Grimes who reached in 1803. Wikipedia says: ‘On 30 January, Grimes and his party landed at Frankston and met around thirty of the local inhabitants.’ There is a plaque at the site of this landing… and this is another thing that is going to take me flying back in time to such a memorable event in history.

Wikipedia talks about an interesting fact when James Flemming, who happened to be in the area during the dry season, reported that ‘from the appearance of the herbage that “there is not often so great a scarcity of water as at present”. He suggested that the “most eligible place for a settlement I have seen is on the Freshwater (Yarra) River”. Grimes returned to Sydney on 7 March 1803 and, in spite of Flemming’s opinions, reported adversely against a settlement at Port Phillip.’ So history tells me that despite the gameplay by Grimes, the city did come up. Now this is another little fact that I will try and talk about with the old timers when I am here in Melbourne.

What if… I could go back in time and see Melbourne as it was then.
What if… Melbourne could show me what it was then.
Wish the city said: ‘It’s your time to visit Melbourne NOW!’

12 August 1842

I wish there was some way I could relive that day in the life of Melbourne! This was the day when the city ‘was incorporated as a “town” by Act 6 Victoria No. 7 of the Governor and Legislative Council of New South Wales. On 25 June 1847, the City of Melbourne was declared by letters patent of Queen Victoria.’ The glorious 1840s of Melbourne would be worth a visit… a time when it had a population of barely 11,738… and maybe the experts can tell me if I should be actually referring it as Port Phillip.

These were the years when Charles La Trobe was appointed as the Superintendent of the district and made sure that the city had a lot of parks and Gardens. So yes, the Treasury Gardens, the Carlton Gardens, the Flagstaff Gardens, Royal Park and the Royal Botanic Gardens are a reminder of the artistic and scientific inclinations of this man Trobe!

What if… I could go back in time and see Melbourne as it was then.
What if… Melbourne could show me what it was then.
Wish the city said: ‘It’s your time to visit Melbourne NOW!’

The gold rush of the 1850s

If it is real adventure that you seek, then you should be visiting this place in the 1850s during the time of the great gold rush! Victoria must have been witness to the maximum influx of outsiders during this period… with most of the treasure seekers coming by the sea route. It is reported that ‘the town’s population doubled within a year. In 1852, 75,000 people arrived in the colony and this, combined with a very high birth-rate, led to rapid population growth.

Unfortunately, history also points out that this was the period that saw the maximum reduction in the population of the Aborigines.

References tell me that the Railways ‘was built in Melbourne in 1854. Also, in 1854, the government offered four religious groups land on which to build schools. These included the Wesleyan Methodist Church, and the Anglican Church. These resulted in Wesley College and Melbourne Grammar School being built in St Kilda Road a few years later. The University of Melbourne was founded in 1855 and the State Library of Victoria in 1856. The foundation stone of St Patrick’s Catholic Cathedral was laid in 1858 and that of St Paul’s Anglican Cathedral in 1880.

Thus these were times when plenty of architectural growth came about… and I’m sure a walk through the area where these buildings are situated will be so invigorating!

What if… I could go back in time and see Melbourne as it was then.
What if… Melbourne could show me what it was then.
Wish the city said: ‘It’s your time to visit Melbourne NOW!’

The expansion years!

The 1880s and the 1890s are also called the expansion years as a lot of the city tended to come up during this time. The population of 280,000 in 1880 went up to 490,000 in 1890 making Melbourne the second largest city in the British Empire! Only London was larger than Melbourne then… wow! I said to myself, isn’t this wonderful?

It is said that Australian cities tend to have an infectious suburban sprawl and Melbourne was experiencing this at that time! These were times when older areas like Fitzroy and Collingwood turned into slums… this was because the ‘wealthy built huge mansions beside the sea or in the picturesque Yarra Valley’ and also because ‘most of the new heavy industry was concentrated in the western suburbs.’

Quite expectedly these times also experienced a certain degree of unemployment… no, not a pleasant time to go for a pleasure trip, but the urban transformation during this period would be worth a bit of time travel surely.

What if… I could go back in time and see Melbourne as it was then.
What if… Melbourne could show me what it was then.
Wish the city said: ‘It’s your time to visit Melbourne NOW!’

Bet you didn’t know that Melbourne was Australia’s Capital too

Yes, that’s true… Melbourne was indeed Australia’s Capital in the period 1901-1927. Well, it was always Canberra that was to be the Capital, but there were some administrative delays and Melbourne was asked to continue until 1927. The Wikipedia states that ‘this had important long-term consequences. Melbourne became the centre of the Commonwealth Public Service, the Australian Defence Forces,  the diplomatic corps (very small until World War II), and also to a large extent of  the legal profession, all of which reinforced the supremacy of Melbourne University  and exclusive schools such as Scotch College, Melbourne Grammar School and Xavier  College.’

How I hope there is something somewhere still in the city that may make me relive this period from the history of this great city. Melbourne, the Capital is surely going to be different experience altogether!

What if… I could go back in time and see Melbourne as it was then.
What if… Melbourne could show me what it was then.
Wish the city said: ‘It’s your time to visit Melbourne NOW!’

The seventies and the multiculturalism

Well, there was a great rush of different ethnicities during the gold rush… but the seventies also saw a lot of influx of people from Cambodia, China, and Vietnam. Multiculturalism became a buzz-word and Melbourne changed not just its skyline but also its cultural and social fabric and weave. The city was getting a lot of Muslim population too during this time… and there must have been moments of strife co-existing with a lot of compromises! A time when Melbourne was in a way re-discovering its multicultural edge!

It is this sense of adjustment with multiculturalism that seems a great idea to see and understand. There will be lessons for all us others who may still be harbouring so much intolerance in pour hearts. The Wikipedia adds that ‘the official policy of multiculturalism encouraged Melbourne’s various ethnic and religious minorities to maintain and celebrate their identities. At the same time, the practice of mainstream Christianity largely declined, leading to a secularisation of public life.

What if… I could go back in time and see Melbourne as it was then.
What if… Melbourne could show me what it was then.
Wish the city said: ‘It’s your time to visit Melbourne NOW!’

Will the present Melbourne have this sort of a time-machine?

I’m sure Melbourne has the sort of time machine that takes visitors down the lanes and pathways of history right into the heart of all the action from the past. There are, as I said earlier, the libraries and the museums, the intelligent students and faculty at the university… but wait, there are other things that tell more than them all.

The buildings have seen it all and heard it all; the plots and the counter-plots and know where the truth lies.

The old trees that have heard the urgent whispers and have stored them all in the rings within.

The waves that have bobbed up and down and washed the shores know who has come and with what intent.

The pebbles have meekly watched every moment unfurling before their eyes. The stones have known the harsh truth as they were set one on top of each other to build what exists today.

Yes, it will be fun to be here in this city and take a walk down the corridors of time to see a history that will be unforgettable.



Melbourne  in history is just as charming as the Melbourne of today…
Visit Melbourne. This post is written for a contest “It’s your time to visit Melbourne NOW!” on Indiblogger.

Sangita Passey
18 September 2012


Note: My husband and I read some history of the city together and we decided on the facts that we wanted to include in the post. Then he kept telling me which words needed to be replaced and which sentences needed a change. This post was really a joint effort… it just happens to be on my blog.


From → Travel Point

  1. Very well researched take. Excellent.

  2. Wow!! Amazing reseach! And this is a new viewpoint – kudos to both of you on coming up with something so unique!! All the best.

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