Happy Melbourne Day

August 30th is the anniversary of the first settlement to be established in the Port Phillip district, now known as Melbourne.

August 30th is the anniversary of the first settlement to be established in the Port Phillip district, now known as Melbourne.

Much has been written on the history of this settlement, including a fabulous book called “Bearbrass – Imagining early Melbourne” by Robyn Annear first published in 2005. This book is a wonderful re-imagining of what Melbourne may have been like in the early settlement overlaid with how Melbourne is today.

Swanston St Bridge with the flag of Melbourne included as the Melbourne City Council Coat of Arms.

The Red Cross is a reference to the St George Cross, expropriated from mother England. The images relate to primary production and trade which was the foundation stone of Melbourne.

Much of Melbourne’s history focuses on two characters – John Batman and John Pascoe Fawkner. Both these individuals came across from Van Diemen’s Land in search of grazing land. Both came to the settlement without official government sanction and indeed Batman signed the first transfer of land for the purchase of 240,000 hectares of grazing land from the representatives of the Kulin Nation – the first peoples of the area. This was subsequently over-ruled and was voided – stymying one of Melbourne’s great property swindles.

The reason August 30 is selected as the day is that that is the day that Fawkner’s party arrived and set up camp near the Old Custom’s House on the corner of William and Flinders Streets. This site on the river subsequently became the Turning Basin and was the hub of much of early Melbourne trade and activity. In turn it also became the site adjacent to Hoddle’s grid. Batman on the other hand, was located on “”Batman’s Hill” in the area now occupied by Docklands.

The “landing place” of Fawkner’s party on the Yarra. There’s a bit more ecological biodiversity on show here than what there is today. Nor are there any litter traps as plastic bags and bottles hadn’t been invented in 1835.

Fawkner’s party arrived on the Enterprize – a purpose built ship constructed for the purpose of bringing the party of 9 men and 1 lady, with sufficient provisions and tools to establish the settlement. Apart from the ship’s captain there was a focus on building talent (with a plasterer and carpenters) and a ploughman. There were also servants and domestic animals including a cat!

The woman on board, Mary Gilbert was six months pregnant and gave birth on 29 December 1935. There is a statue in her honour located at the Fitzroy Gardens.

The reason Fawkner himself wasn’t on board was because he was held up in Launceston by creditors due to some unpaid debts, probably relating to the construction of the Enterprize. He eventually arrived 16 October 1835 with his family who were passengers on the Enterprize’s second voyage.

Batman arrived in April 1836 with his wife and seven daughters. With the Melbourne population being dominated by males it would be a fair bet to say that those girls would have been a popular addition to the social set.

There was a census held in March 1841. Somehow I think that it may have run a bit smoother than the 2016 census. With the old fashioned approach of pen, paper and a bit of open communication between the census collector and the general public, it would have been a snip.

The results of that census showed that there were 769 houses with a population of 4,479. The number of tents were not recorded, however there would have been numerous temporary camps set up.

Batman’s Cottage on Batman’s Hill near the present day site of Southern Cross Station. As was the fashion of the time, the original simple dwelling was constructed and subsequent ground floor extensions added as resources permitted.

The good (or bad) news is that the population of Melbourne is now 4.44 million and climbing. It was recently voted the world’s most liveable city by the Economist Magazine for the sixth year in a row. Anyone who has to commute from the outer suburbs may question this accolade due to the increasing congestion and reduced open space per head of population that is a direct result of this success.

The ranking has been done on five main criteria – Stability, Healthcare, Culture and Environment, Education and Infrastructure. Melbourne scored an average of 97.5. Lucky there was no consideration of affordability.

But for now, the status is well deserved. So happy Melbourne Day, let’s keep the flag flying.

Melbourne skyline at night taken from the King St Bridge looking to the spot of the original settlement of Melbourne. The Banana Alley Vaults are the low rise structure on the bank of the Yarra.