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A Brief History of Melbourne

Your 5-minute Melbourne 101

Quick facts


Established in 1854 as the Melbourne Public Library, State Library Victoria is Australia’s oldest public library and one of the first free public libraries in the world.

British colonist and Tasmanian farmer, John Batman, arrived in the urban Melbourne area in 1835 to take the land that would eventually become Melbourne from its original Indigenous owners, the Wurundjeri people of the Kulin nation, evidence of whose inhabitance dates back nearly 40,000 years. This occupation of Wurundjeri land at the mouth of the Yarra resulted in a colony temporarily named Batmania, before it was declared a city by Queen Victoria in 1837 and officially named ‘Melbourne’. There are ongoing disputes regarding colonisation and land rights, both in Melbourne and across the whole of Australia, which we acknowledge are still yet to be resolved.

While Victoria’s more notorious historical figures have tended to include bushranger Ned Kelly, the story of the two Indigenous men who were the first people officially executed through criminal prosecution in Melbourne is dwarfed by Ned Kelly’s national mythology and the emblem of larrikinism he epitomises in white Australia’s national identity. Tunnerminnerwait and Maulboyheener were brought to Melbourne from Tasmania in 1841 by British dignitaries on a ‘civilising’ mission, the first experiment in what would become a century-long political campaign of cultural ‘assimiliation’ of Indigenous peoples to Anglo practices. The two men, along with three women – Truganini (known today as the last full-blooded Tasmanian Aboriginal Australian), Planobeena, and Pyterruner – overpowered their military escort and evaded capture for eight weeks, continually raiding stations from the Dandenong Ranges to Cape Paterson.

Gold was discovered in 1851 at Buninyong, in close proximity to Ballarat. Throughout the 1850s, the Gold Rush brought a huge mid-century migration wave. It was in this period that the first wave of post-British migration began to Southern Australia, which resulted in the large established Chinese community in Victoria. By 1865, it had overtaken Sydney as Australia’s most populous city. This economic boom peaked during the 1880s and Melbourne had become the richest city in the world.

Australian Rules Football was established in Melbourne in the late 1850s, played on cricket ovals as a way to keep cricketers fit in the off-season.

The National Gallery of Victoria is the oldest largest and most visited art public art museum in the country, founded in 1861.

The world’s first feature film, The Story of the Kelly Gang, was shot in Melbourne in 1906.

Melbourne was the birthplace of the Australian impressionism art movement in the 1920s.

Melbourne was the first Australian city to hold the Olympic Games in 1956, and the first host outside Europe and North America. The Commonwealth Games were held here 50 years later, in 2006.