One of the most attractive features of this neighbourhood is its proximity to the Maribyrnong River. We can go for a walk along its banks morning, noon or night, rain or shine. It is best to get out early now that Spring is here. The afternoons are often turbulent, bringing wind and showers. When the sun is out, there are often a few runners gliding along in shorts and tights. The birds and frogs are definitely convinced it is time to find a mate. The water gives off an opaque sheen, often looking a muddy brown. When Melbourne came into its own as a real city, the Maribyrnong river was an industrial sewer. Now, there are fishermen.


The river that put Melbourne on the map is called the Yarra. It was the river of entry to this whole area. I have been making my way slowly through a fascinating historical book called: “1835: The Founding of Melbourne and the Conquest of Australia,” by James Boyce. it appears the landscape underlying this city has been so transformed that it would be virtually unrecognisable to any aboriginal or early settler. The Yarra River, from the Botanic Gardens to Port Phillip Bay now flows through an almost entirely artificial channel.

Two hundred years ago, the lower Yarra was dominated by swamps, lakes and lagoons. The river was tidal up to a rocky ledge where Queen’s Bridge now stands. At that point the river was ninety-metres wide (about 270 feet) wide. The ledge acted as a barrier, ensuring that upstream of the rocks there would be a permanent source of fresh water.


“Of all Australia’s major cities, the natural environment of Melbourne before British settlement is perhaps the most difficult now to imagine. This is in part a product of the city’s size and flat topography, but also reflects the extent to which the the region was dominated by swamps and grasslands – the two ecosystems that were most comprehensively transformed by conquest.”


What attracted the settlers from Tasmania (then known as Van Diemien’s Land), was the open grassland to the west and north of the site of what is now called Melbourne. Those vast, temperate grasslands have almost completely vanished. What impelled the first settlers to come here was the exhaustion of good grassland in Tasmania. Convicts and ex-convicts had been living there independently since 1805, and the Crown had been generous with land allotments in the early days of settlement.

The aboriginals had been forcibly removed and there were no dingoes, so the problem was white people. Most of the land was too wet or wooded for pastoral pursuits. The vast “empty” grasslands just across the Bass Straits on the souther coast of Australia was a natural magnet.



It would be an illegal settlement, of course, since the settlers would be occupying Crown land, but the Governor of Tasmania saw it as the perfect opportunity to do the local aboriginals a favour, noting that “nothing would individually afford me greater satisfaction than being instrumental in aiding in the occupation of the coat by means which might tend to secure the protection and promote the civilisation of the Aborigines.” In addition, England could count on a vast new supply of wool and yet another potential “home” for shipping undesirables.



In the end, the Crown turned a blind eye to the brazen new settlement, instantly negating a policy of restrained growth. Between 1835 and 1838, more land and people were conquered than in the preceding half-century. By the end of the 1840’s squatters had taken twenty million hectares of the most productive Aboriginal homelands. It was one of the fastest land occupations in the history of empires.

All this came with the founding of Melbourne, a bold trespass that changed history.