I love Melbourne’s history and think it’s very exciting. Hopefully, some of that excitement is conveyed through the posts on this blog. But I think it’s fair to say that much of Melbourne’s history is hard to find – you have to work at it, scratch the surface, do a little archaeological digging.
I was in Sydney last week and my visit only reinforced my impression that Sydney’s history is much more “in your face”, especially around Sydney Cove where the First Fleet came ashore in 1788. The head of Sydney Cove – Circular Quay – was white Australia’s first port and remains a very busy maritime location with its ferries, water taxis, harbour cruises and even huge ocean liners.
Much of white Australia’s first residential precinct in The Rocks has been preserved. It’s great to see so many original buildings and homes (yes, people still live there) so close to the centre of the CBD.
And in what I think is a really nice touch, authorities have embedded hundreds of small brass plaques in the paving around Circular Quay marking the location of the shoreline in 1788 and at some other points in history. It’s that kind of detail that helps give history life and meaning.
Contrast that with Melbourne. Our first port was on the Yarra, where the river widened just downstream of the falls (since obliterated) about level with Market Street, not that you’d know it today. Melbourne’s first settlers lived in what is now the southwest corner of the CBD, but little of that time in Melbourne’s history remains. Authorities, in their wisdom, even removed a key landscape feature known as Batman’s Hill during the 1860s in order to make more room for the Spencer Street railway yards.
Melbourne’s major Government and public buildings – customs, police, jail, law courts and even the cathedral – were at the western end of the city, but sadly today that part of Melbourne has no “feel” of it being the original centre of town.