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PROVguide 6: Property and Building Research

Land, Places and Local History – Property and Building Research at PROV

Public Record Office Victoria (PROV) holds a wide range of records for researching buildings and properties in Victoria.  This PROVguide provides an introduction to some of the most relevant records and research resources available through PROV for research into properties.  To access detailed information about records referred to in this PROVguide you can consult pages on PROV’s online catalogue through the hyperlinks in each section. 


Example record
An excerpt from an 1856 rate book record from the Victorian town of Belfast, now known as Port Fairy.
PROV, VPRS 12979/P1 Rate Books, Unit 1.

Locating a property

Parish and township plans

Created by the Victorian Lands Department, parish and township plans show Crown reserves, such as cemeteries, school sites, church and police reserves, as well as the names of the original purchasers of land from the Crown.  A digitised set of parish plans, VPRS 16171 Regional Land Office Plans Digitised Reference Set are available on PROV’s online catalogue.  See PROVguide 30 Parish and Township Working Plans Online for details.  Parish plans are also available on microfiche in the Victorian Archives Centre (VAC) and Ballarat Archives Centre (BAC) reading rooms.

Postal directories and electoral rolls

They contain listings of businesses and individuals in Victoria, according to streets or localities.  Directories are also available in many local libraries and genealogical centres and an extensive collection can be found at the State Library of Victoria.

PROV holds electoral rolls for a small number of municipalities, listing people eligible to vote in council elections.  Details include; voter’s name, residential address and occupation, and location and property.  The State Library of Victoria holds a comprehensive collection of electoral roles.

Hint: Electoral or voters rolls can be located on PROV’s online catalogue by searching for an agency, such as a municipality, then locating the roll in the inventory of series, or searching for a series that contains the words “voter”, “electoral”, or similar terms.

Wills and probate

Wills and probate records often contain information about property owned by a deceased person and their beneficiaries and may include an inventory of the deceased’s estate.  Details about properties can include parish, section and allotment number, folio number, value of property and improvements made, for example, buildings, crops and quality of the land.  

PROV holds wills and probate records from 1841.  As a general rule probate records created within the last seven to ten years are accessed through the Probate Office of the Victorian Supreme Court.  For information about accessing wills and probate records through PROV please see our Accessing Wills and Probate Records web page.

Hint:  Parish, section and allotment numbers found on probate records may lead to further research into properties that can be found in land records held by PROV. 

Land records

In addition to parish and township maps PROV holds an extensive range of land records including historic maps and plans, pastoral run and selection files, correspondence files and land sales registers.  See PROVguide 55 Land Records for information about PROV holdings.

Public building files

Buildings that were used for recreation, entertainment and education purposes (excluding state primary and secondary schools) were inspected by the Health Department who referred to them as public buildings.  These include a range of buildings such as community halls, churches, theatres, sporting facilities, mechanics institutes and non government schools.  For records relating to government primary schools see VPRS 795 Building Files: Primary schools.

Files from VPRS 7882/P1 Public Building Files (1874 – 1988) can include sketch plans of the building, inspection reports, certificates of occupancy, correspondence to and from the health department and applications for registration.  A database index to these records is available online.  Once you have obtained the unit details from the index, an order can be placed through PROV’s online catalogue.  See PROVguide 21 Ordering Records for instructions.

Public Works Department / Building Services Agency

Plans of government buildings designed or maintained by the Public Works Department and subsequently the Building Services Agency (BSA) are available on aperture cards in the VAC reading room.  A database index to the plans is available online. 

Please note, researchers wishing to access plans of court houses, police stations, the Victorian Parliament or prisons must first provide written authority from the government department responsible for the building’s original function.  Please refer to PROVguide 28 Public Works Department – Building Services Agency Plans for information about ordering BSA plans and accessing restricted plans.

Researchers can also refer to the inventory of records created by VA 669 Public Works Department for other series that relate to the construction and maintenance of government buildings, such as VPRS 10516 Photographs and Negatives of Government Buildings (1926-1965).

Local government

Rate books and valuation records

PROV holds a wide selection of rate records for Victorian municipalities.  These records are referred to by various names such as rate or valuation books, records, or cards.  Rate and valuation records typically list the address, the name of the owner, a brief description of the dwelling, the rates paid and sometimes the occupant’s name and the name of the house.  These records were created annually and are often arranged by streets within council wards and ridings.  They are an excellent resource for determining the date of construction of a property, significant changes to a property and changes in ownership and sometimes occupancy.

Some rate records are available on microfilm and microfiche in PROV reading rooms and do not have to be ordered.  See PROV’s guides to Microfilm, Microfiche and Online Resources at the Victorian Archives Centre, and Microfilm, Microfiche and Online Resources at the Ballarat Archives Centre for more information about accessing records on microfilm and microfiche.

To search for rate records, the first step is to identify the relevant council or councils that created them.  A listing of councils for which PROV holds records can be found in VRG 12 Municipalities on PROV’s online catalogue at When you have located the page in the catalogue for the council you are seeking, click on the Related Series tab for a list of Series held at PROV created by that council.

Building permits; applications and plans

Applications for building permits contain a range of details about buildings including architectural plans, additions, renovations and correspondence between council and the owner or occupier.  Building permit applications cover private residences, factories, public buildings, offices and shops.

You can determine whether PROV holds permit records for the council you are seeking by navigating to the relevant council Agency page on PROV’s online catalogue.  See VRG 12 Municipalities for a list of councils registered on PROV’s online catalogue.  Remember to search for the council that created the permit, which may not be the same as the council who may now have responsibility for that area.

If you find a relevant council on the online catalogue navigate to the Records list on the Agency page and scan the list for a permit series, then read the ordering instructions on the series page.

For building permit records not held by PROV, contact the relevant local council.  If, on PROV’s online catalogue there is a relevant permit series obtain the permit number from the council that currently has jurisdiction for that area, and order the records from PROV’s online catalogue. See PROVguide 20 Searching for Records Online and PROVguide 21 Ordering Records for details.

City of Melbourne

PROV holds building permit records, notices of intention to build, rate books and an extensive range of records for VA 511 City of Melbourne, many of which are on microfilm or microfiche and do not have to be ordered.  See PROVguide 64 City of Melbourne for details about accessing these records.

Melbourne and Metropolitan Board of Works (MMBW)

In 1892 the MMBW commenced a survey of the Melbourne metropolitan area as the first step in establishing the city’s sewerage system.  As a result of the survey, records such as VPRS 8601 Detailed Base Plans and VPRS 8600 Survey Field Books were created to plot water, sewerage and drainage infrastructure.  They show streets, buildings and property boundaries, and sometimes the outline of gardens and other features.  Browse the page about VA 1007 Melbourne and Metropolitan Board of Works on PROV’s online catalogue for an inventory of records created by the MMBW.

Digitised plans

A selection of digitised MMBW detailed base plans covering central areas of Melbourne, and a digitised copy of the MMBW Index Map Book can be accessed through the State Library of Victoria’s website available at  These maps can vary from those held by PROV.

Online and microform records

A range of digitised records and archival finding aids relating to property research are available online through PROVguide 23 PROV’s Digitised Records and Online Indexes.  See also PROVguide 30 Parish and Township Working Plans Online for information about accessing parish plans online.

A range of records relating to property research, such as parish and township plans, a selection of rate records and the City of Melbourne building application plan index, are available in PROV reading rooms on microfilm and microfiche without having to be ordered.  See PROV’s guides to Microfilm, Microfiche and Online Resources at the Victorian Archives Centre, and Microfilm, Microfiche and Online Resources at the Ballarat Archives Centre for more information about accessing records on microfilm and microfiche.

Other sources for property research

Title records

Certificates of title can be obtained through Land Victoria:  PROV holds some title records: VPRS 460 Applications for Certificates of Title 1862 – 1969 which relates to the conversion of general law titles to Torrens titles from 1864.  The records are accessed by application number available from the Land Victoria Information Centre.

Government Gazettes

Digitised Victorian Government Gazettes are available on computers in PROV reading rooms and online through the State Library of Victoria.  Gazettes list land sales, auctions, tenders and contracts for government buildings and the gazetting of crown land and reserves.

State Library Victoria

State Library Victoria holds architecture publications and surveys, maps, an online photographic collection and MMBW plans in its collection:

University of Melbourne Archives and Faculty of Architecture

Holds records relating to architecture, architects, business and private organisations, maps and photographs

Local historical societies and local libraries

Historical societies and libraries can hold collections and histories related to their local area.  See the Royal Historical Society of Victoria’s list of affiliated historical societies

The National Trust of Australia (Victoria)

The National Trust (Vic) is an independent not-for-profit organisation dedicated to the conservation of culturally significant places in Victoria. Explore the Trust’s online register of heritage places in Victoria:  Their 2004 publication, The National Trust Research Manual is an invaluable resource for property researchers in Victoria.

Heritage Victoria

Heritage Victoria is the Victorian government agency responsible for maintaining the Victorian Heritage Register which lists places and objects protected under the Victorian Heritage Act 1995:

TranzInfo – Department of Transport Library

TranzInfo holds copies of conservation and heritage studies for places in Victoria

Picture Australia/TROVE

Search and view images online from the collections of Australian libraries, museums, archives, galleries and universities including PROV through

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