Australia's multicultural hub
The settlement of Melbourne commenced in 1835 when settlers from Tasmania "purchased" land on Port Phillip Bay and the Yarra River from the local Aboriginal tribes. The streets of central Melbourne were carefully laid out in 1837, with some streets 30 metres wide. The first British lieutenant-governor, Charles La Trobe, arrived in 1839 – his cottage still stands and can be visited in the Kings Domain. The year 1851 was a landmark for Melbourne - the colony of Victoria was separated from New South Wales and very soon after, gold was discovered in Victoria, sparking a huge goldrush. Aspects of the goldrush history can be seen at the Gold Treasury Museum, housed in the Treasury Building built in 1858.
Gold was the catalyst for several decades of prosperity lasting through to the late 1880s and examples of the ornate Victorian-era structures built during this time still stand. In 1888, the property boom collapsed and Victoria suffered the depression of the 1890s. Throughout the gold and building booms, Melbourne managed to retain its many spacious parks and gardens and these remain to this day.
In 1901, the British colonies of Australia became an independent federation and Melbourne the de facto capital of Australia, with the Federal Parliament meeting in the Parliament House of Victoria until 1927 when the new Federal capital of Canberra was founded. After World War II, Melbourne grew rapidly, with its mainly Anglo-Celtic population boosted by immigration from Europe, particularly from Greece and Italy.
Today Melbourne has the biggest Greek city population (over 800,000) outside Greece and the biggest Italian city population (over 230,000) outside Italy. The significant pre-war Jewish population was also boosted after the war. From the mid-70s, many immigrants came from South-east Asia, particularly Vietnam and Cambodia. Melbourne has had a Chinese population since the goldrush of the 1850s and Chinatown has existed from that time but the population of Chinese and other East Asians has also been boosted by immigration in recent years. New high-rise buildings replaced many of Melbourne’s interesting old structures in the construction boom of the 1970s and 80s.
Melbournians belatedly recognised the loss of their architectural heritage and steps were taken to protect what was left. Construction of the huge Crown Casino (briefly the largest casino in the world) in the 1990s upset some Melbournians with its introduction of a gambling culture. Melbourne’s development continues in the 21st Century with the opening of the Melbourne Museum, Federation Square and the Docklands precinct.