As so often in Australia’s history, Melbourne was founded through deception when adventurer John Batman, an Australian fluent in several aboriginal dilects, made a “deal” with aborigines to lease land on behalf of investors.
While offering the Aborigines any compensation at all was progressive in a colonial culture that preferred to simply run them off the land, the fact that the native people had little understanding of rents, leases or indeed, the concept that land was something to be bought, sold and leased at all, made his arrangements no less exploitative. In return for a long term lease of 240,000 hectares of the finest grazing land in Australia, Batman gave the aborigines axes, salt, flour, blankets and jewelry. The total value of the goods was said to have been around £200.
Colonial rulers later declared his leases illegal, claiming that the government, not the Aborigines, were the true owners of the land. After paying Batman compensation, they took over the territory and founded a settlement as the seat of Victorian regional government. The settlement became the city of Melbourne in 1837, named after Viscount Melbourne, the British prime minister at the time.
A sensible grid plan
Melbourne s location was its strongest feature. While the “acquired” farmland was of excellent quality, the citys location on the banks of the Yarra River and well protected Port Phillip Bay contributed to its rapid commercial development. The influx of energetic immigrants and eager investors from England were factors in the economic growth of the young city.
Once the city had 5,000 residents, city planners intervened and imposed a strict grid plan to check chaotic growth in every direction. Melbournes planners decreed that every main street would be exactly 30 metres wide, with perpendicular side streets one third that width. The strict grid plan has been in place ever since.
Melbourne became the capital of the new Victoria Colony in 1851. As luck would have it, miners in the outback came upon a rich seam of gold just four days later. Melbourne prospered like no other city on the continent, even after the gold rush waned.
A second boom was sparked by industrial development and immigration after World War II. Melbournes population more than tripled, and the plains around the Yarra River gradually grew crowded as 3 million people from 140 nations arrived to claim their piece of the Australian dream.
City planners again stepped in, authorising the construction and development of suburbs and satellite towns. In the downtown commercial districts, Melbourne began building upward and skyscrapers appeared on the horizon.
A rather unassuming city, Melbournes grand sights are few in comparison to trendy Sydney. Of course, there is still a great deal to see, including the Melbourne Museum, the State Parliament, the royal exhibition buildings, the Stock Market, majestic St. Patrick s Cathedral and Flinders Street Station. Freshwater Place is a luxury residential complex, with a striking, elegant design that makes it Australias thinnest building as well as one of its tallest.
Melbourne is well known for book shops, live shows and the arts. Many northerners desperate for culture travel south to Melbourne for their arts fix. Melbourne hosts a world class writers festival and comedy festival.
Melbourne is also renowned for sports. The annual Melbourne Formula 1 Grand Prix held at the Albert Park Circuit is famous around the world, but there are many more sporting highlights to experience.
The professional tennis season starts here with the Australian Open, drawing the best players in the world to compete in the first of four major tournaments. Local sports attract an even greater following.
When the Magpies, Bombers and Kangaroos take the field, life is put on hold. Melbournes football players have always been their sports heroes, but cricket and rugby are also popular. The Grand Final of the Australian Football League (AFL) takes place each year at the Melbourne Cricket Ground. One of the eight Melbourne teams usually participates.
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