Situated at the apex of Port Phillip Bay in southeast Australia’s Bass Strait, Melbourne is the country’s second city after Sydney and capital of Victoria state. The city enjoys a temperate climate with the Dandenong ranges to the east and basalt plains to the west. Named in honour of the nineteenth century British prime minister, it served as the national capital until 1927 when it was succeeded by Canberra.
Europeans first made an appearance in 1802 when two naval captains, John Murray and Matthew Flinders, led separate expeditions to what is now Port Phillip Bay. The following year the bay was settled by a group of soldiers and convicts under Captain David Collins but, finding conditions hard, they soon left. John Batman secured a land deal with the local Aboriginals in 1835. However, his was a short stay and it was John Fawkner, arriving shortly afterwards, who built a settlement. It developed greatly during his long and prosperous life.
Melbourne was officially named in 1837 and 5 years later it received town status. It was planned on a rectangular grid by Robert Hoddle in 1840. City status was conferred after another 2 years and it became capital of the newly established state of Victoria in 1851. It was around this time that the city population began expanding rapidly on the back of a gold rush. However, as the white population doubled and then doubled again in little more than 3 years, the Aboriginal population fell. By 1860 there were only 2,000 Aborigines in the entire state.
Melbourne is a key financial, communications and political centre. Other important industries include metal work, engineering, biotechnology, food processing and manufacturing, and the city’s role as a port remains vital to Victoria’s economy.
The city is well served by road, rail, sea and air and public transport includes an extensive tram network and a small underground rail system. Melbourne has traditionally been seen as sophisticated but also rather conservative. It is, however, extremely cosmopolitan, a result of the large number of immigrants who have come to the city since the time of the gold rush. Today over 100 nationalities are represented, with large populations of Cambodians, Chinese, Italians, Poles, Turks, Vietnamese and Yugoslavs, and one of the biggest Greek populations of any city in the world. Some 150 languages are spoken in the city.
Melbourne architecture is a mix of fine Victorian buildings alongside state of the art structures, like the 66-floor Rialto Towers, built in 1985. Federation Square, the redevelopment and construction of an entire 3.8 ha city block, was completed in Oct. 2002. It forms a link between the CBD and Yarra River over the Jolimont Rail Yards and has spurred the development of the north bank of the Yarra.
There are many distinguished museums, galleries and theatres, and the annual Melbourne International Arts Festival, first held in 1986, staged over 200 performances in 2001 at a cost of A$16 m. Notable cultural figures who have resided in Melbourne include author Peter Carey, singer Nellie Melba, contemporary artists Howard Arkely and Jeffrey Smart and, more recently, Kylie Minogue. Sport also plays a major role in the lives of most Melburnians, with the city hosting international cricket, the Melbourne Cup, the Australian Tennis Open and numerous top-flight Australian Rules and rugby league teams. The city hosted the Commonwealth Games in 2006.
Places of Interest
The city’s oldest building is the Mitre Tavern, constructed in 1837. Other sites of historical interest are the Old Gaol, where Ned Kelly was hanged in 1880, La Trobes’ cottage, location of Victoria’s first government, the restored ship Polly Woodside, originally built in 1885 and now the centrepiece of the Maritime Museum, and Captain Cook’s cottage. The cottage was transported from Yorkshire and reassembled in Fitzroy Gardens in 1934.
Important museums include the Melbourne Museum, opened in 2000 by Museum Victoria, the State museum which has a collection of 16 m items. There are also museums dedicated to ancient Hellenic culture, immigration, gold, the Olympic Games, and Chinese Australian history. The State gallery, the National Gallery of Victoria, was founded in 1861 and is Australia’s oldest public art gallery.
Popular attractions include Australia’s oldest zoo, which houses 350 species and was founded in 1862, and the aquarium, which opened in 2000. The Crown Entertainment Complex and Victorian Arts Centre are major entertainment venues. The observation deck at Eureka Tower is the highest public vantage point in a building in the Southern Hemisphere, at 285 m.