History of Port Phillip

View of St Kilda Foreshore from port Phillip Bay, c1861, pp1997.27.278

Pre-colonial history

The earliest inhabitants of the area now covered by the City of Port Phillip were the Yalukit Wilum, one of the five clans of the Boon Wurrung, known as the coastal tribe, and who were members of the Kulin nation. They inhabited the swampy areas below Emerald Hill and the sandy-ridged ti-tree covered coastline, which extended from St Kilda to Fishermans Bend (Port Melbourne). The Aboriginal inhabitants knew the St Kilda area as Euro-Yroke a name they used to describe the red-brown sandstone found along the beach. Yalukit Willam: The river people of Port Phillip, provides an Aboriginal history of the area.

Local recommended reading

A selection of these titles are available through the City of Port Phillip Library Service.

  • Aboriginal Melbourne: the lost land of the Kulin people / Gary Presland
  • First people: the Eastern Kulin of Melbourne, Port Phillip & Central Victoria / Gary Presland
  • The land of the Kulin: discovering the lost landscape and the first people of Port Phillip
  • The central business dreaming: Melbourne's indigenous arts and culture / Lisa Bellear; edited by Virginia Fraser; compiled by Barbara Hall
  • Aboriginal Communities: The Colonial Experience, Port Phillip District, Melbourne, State Library Victoria, 1986
  • Keeping Culture Strong: Women’s Work In Aboriginal Australia – Resource Kit / Lindy Allen and Louise Whiting, Museum of Victoria, Melbourne, 1993
  • Untold Stories: Memories and Lives of Victorian Kooris / Jan Critchett, Melbourne, Melbourne University Press, 1998

Colonial history

The City of Port Phillip was formed in 1994 by the amalgamation of the three former cities of South Melbourne, St Kilda and Port Melbourne.  European settlement in each of these cities dates from the mid 19th century. Grand architecture and worker's cottages, community organisations, arts organisations and cultural sites together with sporting groups and grounds are still present today. Each city was renowned for its individual identity .

South Melbourne

South Melbourne was first known as Emerald Hill, because the hill on which the town hall now stands was a green island surrounded by swamps. The Hill was a traditional social and ceremonial meeting place for a number of Aboriginal tribes. A great gathering had been witnessed there in 1840 by a number of the early European settlers.

In 1851 when gold was discovered in Victoria, fortune seekers flocked to a tent city which had been erected on the south side of the Yarra, between Emerald Hill and St Kilda Road; this was known as Canvas Town and was laid out in streets with shops, residences and pubs, all under canvas. The first land sales at Emerald Hill took place in 1852. In 1854 Canvas Town was dispersed and many of the inhabitants moved up to the Hill.

In 1854 a residents' meeting was convened to agitate for independence from Melbourne. At this time an act for providing separate municipal boroughs had been drafted and became law on December 14, 1854. Early in 1855 amendments were made to the Act and on May 26, 1855, Emerald Hill became the first area outside the City of Melbourne and Geelong to be declared a municipal district. This was reflected in the town's motto In Ordine Primum, translated as 'first in the field'. On July 4 the first council met and Mr James Service, later to be Premier of Victoria, was elected chairman. In 1863 Emerald Hill became a borough and in 1872 it was proclaimed a Town. In 1883 Emerald Hill became a city and also changed its name to South Melbourne.

St Kilda

On July 15 1842, the Executive Council of the Government of New South Wales, having fixed upon a site for a village to be known as Fareham, approved a plan to change the name of the proposed village to St Kilda. Tradition has it that the name of St Kilda was taken from the schooner Lady of St Kilda which was anchored near the foreshore for a sufficiently long time in 1841 to associate the shoreline with the schooner's name.

The first sale of Crown Lands in St Kilda was held on December 7, 1842. At this time the village of St Kilda came under the jurisdiction of the Corporation of the Melbourne Town Council. The St Kilda residents were unhappy with their lot and from 1845 agitated for better representation. This was finally achieved when St Kilda was proclaimed a municipal district in February 1857. On March 9, 1857 the first St Kilda Council elections were held. Two days later the seven member council held their first meeting in a room adjoining the Junction Hotel, and elected Councillor Benjamin Cowderoy as Chairman. St Kilda became , a borough in 1863 and was proclaimed a city in 1890.

Port Melbourne

Port Melbourne was first called Sandridge after the ridge of sand dunes along the beach. In 1839 Wilbraham Frederick Evelyn Liardet arrived with his wife and family and set up home at the beachfront. Liardet has been called the father of Port Melbourne for his many innovative and entrepreneurial ventures which included building the first rudimentary jetty, and providing a mail service to Melbourne from the port.

In 1850 the first land at Sandridge was sold, although the area had been surveyed as early as 1839. The most distinguishing feature of Sandridge at the time was the great saltwater lagoon as large as the settlement itself. The importance of Sandridge as the port for the metropolis was underlined when the first passenger railway in Australia was opened on September 12, 1854. It ran from Melbourne to Sandridge. On July 13 1860, after some agitation for self-government, the municipal district of Sandridge was proclaimed. William Morley, a local coal merchant, became the first chairman of the Council. Sandridge became a borough in 1863, and in 1884 changed its name to Port Melbourne. In 1893 Port Melbourne became a town and on May 14 1919 was proclaimed a city.

City of Port Phillip

In June 1994 the City of Port Phillip was formed from the old municipalities of South Melbourne, St Kilda and Port Melbourne. The borders of the new municipality were diminished by the annexation to the City of Melbourne of a large portion of Fishermans Bend and all of Southbank. Both these areas were formerly in Port Melbourne and South Melbourne.

The Victorian State Government appointed three Commissioners to act in the place of Councillors. In 1996 the first Port Phillip Council was elected and the administrative centre for the city became the St Kilda City Hall.

Port Phillip was such a diverse mix of cultural landscapes that it was recognized early on by the Council that in order to keep these vibrant old suburban communities separate but cohesive was to inaugurate a neighbourhood plan. This was a strategy that has worked well, the City of Port Phillip currently has nine neighbourhoods: Elwood-Ripponlea, Albert Park, Middle Park, Balaclava, East St Kilda, St Kilda/St Kilda West, Port Melbourne, Garden City, Ripponlea, South Melbourne, Sandridge/ Wirraway and Montague, each with a distinct cultural flavour.

In 2016 the City of Port Phillip had an estimated population of over 108,558

Local recommended reading

These titles are available through the City of Port Phillip Library Service

South Melbourne A History, Susan Priestley

 History of South Melbourne, Charles Daley

 History of Port Melbourne, Noel Turnbull and Nancy U’ren

The History of St Kilda, John Cooper

St Kilda, The Show Goes On,  Anne Longmire, Volume III of The History of St Kilda.

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