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Good News Bill

31 May 2016

Docklands Library hosts a historical group that meets the last Thursday of each month. The library provides a rich community service supporting local interest groups. Part of this is a series of free informational sessions and these are open to the general public.

On Wednesday, May 25, a group of people with an interest in the history of Melbourne were taken on a journey through Dockland’s past.  Dr Gary Presland, an authority on Aboriginal history and natural history of Melbourne, gave an insight into why Melbourne came to be built here.

The walk proved extremely popular as it was booked out weeks before the event. More than 20 people gathered to hear what Dr Presland had to say.

Gary started off his tour by talking about Batman’s Hill. Artists of the day considered it a natural beauty spot and many paintings were made of the area. It had been touted as a possible site for a botanical gardens.  

As is often the case, commercial interests took priority and Batman’s Hill was, instead, excavated to make way for Spencer St railyards and the connecting rail link to Flinders St. Now Batman’s Hill is but a name of a precinct in Docklands.

For those who care to look from the top of the Collins St extension bridge, there is a pole in place near the Eagle statue that shows the original height of Batman’s Hill. Coincidentally, the height closely aligns with the high point of the bridge that spans Wurundjeri Way.

As we travelled down Collins St to Webb Bridge, we learned about the large tract of wetlands in the area that provided an abundant source of food and materials for local tribes. The area was a popular meeting place for the purposes of sharing knowledge and building relationships between neighbouring tribes. This explains why the Docklands development has re-created wetland spaces along Harbour Esplanade.

When the settlers first arrived in 1835, they chose the area for vastly different reasons. They were looking for suitable port facilities, fresh water and farm land. The wetlands were of no value and were considered as swamps that could be better used for depositing rubbish. Tanneries and meat processing facilities moved into the area and, before long, the pristine wetlands became a smelly place of disease.

This transformation was disastrous for the local people. With the effective depletion of their habitat, their ability to depend upon the land for sustenance was greatly diminished and this would have contributed to the growing disharmony that inevitably ensued.  

The discovery of gold in the 1850s sparked the growth of Melbourne and by the 1880s Melbourne had developed into a bustling shipping port and business district. To accommodate the growing demand for shipping, the river was excavated removing 2.3 million cubic metres of earth to create Melbourne’s ports and improve the land around the dock by filling in the West Melbourne Swamp.

The informational walking tour highlighted the rich history of Melbourne and contributes to visitor enjoyment of Docklands. We look forward to more interactive activities of this kind that teach people about Melbourne’s past, preserving it for enjoyment and appreciation of future generations.

Information about Docklands history is available through a variety of sources. In particular, refer to the Docklands Library, Places Victoria and Melbourne Water.  Further reading from Dr Gary Presland include The Place for a Village and First People.

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