Art & Design


The Streets of Melbourne

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Many Melbournians and tourists view Melbourne as a metropolis and often compare it to a European city. People swarm everywhere to frequent their favourite cafes, bars and shops. But the glamorous streets of Melbourne were not always like this. Like everything in life, the streets of Melbourne had to start somewhere.

Flinders Street
Without a doubt, the most well known street in all of Melbourne. The street was named after the explorer Matthew Flinders. While naming the dead centre of Melbourne after him was a great tribute, it is perhaps also appropriate that the Yarra River is right next to Flinders Street Station, roughly where first river port was situated.

Swanston Street
Perhaps an even more significant street (or is it a walk?) to Melbourne, being where the city’s most significant historical buildings are located including the Town Hall, the State Library of Victoria, and St Paul’s Cathedral. Parades often go down this street, namely those on Moomba, Grand Final Week and ANZAC Day .

Lesser known facts about Swanston Street are that it was named after Captain Charles Swanston who owned the Derwent Bank of Hobart (the very first bank to open in Melbourne in 1838). Though the Gold Rush is normally associated with Ballarat and Sovereign Hill, Swanston Street was also affected by the Gold Rush frenzy, making it the busiest street in Melbourne. Not much has changed in that department.

Collins Street
A popular destination what with all those upscale jewellery and fashion shops to choose from. But before it became the street for all things fashion in Melbourne, Collins Street used to be where the elitist Melbourne Club were situated, using John Pascoe Fawkner’s public house on the corner of Collins Street and Market Street to conduct their meetings during the mid and late 19th century.

Historical buildings such as the Federal Coffee Palace, the Colonial Mutual Life building, the City of Melbourne Bank building and other significant establishments on Collins Street were demolished during the 1950s and 1960s when the street was being redeveloped into the street it is today. The street was named after Lieutenant-Governor David Collins who became the first governor of Tasmania, then known as Van Diemens Land. So Collins Street has always had some sense of elitism in one form or another throughout the years.

Exhibition Street
Originally called Stephen Street, the name was changed in 1898 because of the very successful International Exhibition that was held at the Royal Exhibition Buildings on that street in 1880. While it doesn’t have a very imaginative name, that certainly doesn’t mean its history is uneventful. The Female Penitentiary was built on the corner of Exhibition and Little Collins Street that eventually became the Eastern Market Site, which eventually closed because of its lack of business thanks to the Queen Victoria Market.

Bourke Street
Named after the Governor of New South Wales Sir Richard Bourke in 1837, is known for the Bourke Street Mall and the Myer Christmas windows that have been going since 1956. Despite being the busiest shopping mall in Melbourne, the mall has only been around since 1983 and was opened by Prince Charles and Lady Diana, so even royalty feel the Bourke Street Mall is worth their time.

Spencer Street
Named after John Spencer, the third Earl Spencer, Chancellor of the Exchequer, was once considered to be an unattractive end of town. Thought part of it was originally being to be a 50 acre Botanical Garden near Batman’s Hill in 1842, these plans were changed when Governor Charles La Trobe decided that shipping wharves and industrial buildings were needed instead. However, once the ugly industrial buildings there were demolished, places such as the Docklands, Southern Cross Station and a huge shopping complex sprung up like daisies, or weeds depending on your point of view.

Whenever you are in the city next, complaining about public transport not running on time, just think: people used to ride on a horse and carriage and endure swamps back in the pioneer days!

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