Last updated:

June 21, 2021

Did you know that the first attempt to settle Melbourne was in 1803? Or that Melbourne was the first capital city of Australia? Two new displays at the Old Treasury Building, presented in partnership with Public Record Office Victoria, trace the growth of Melbourne from the earliest European settlements to Federation, when Melbourne became the interim capital city of the newly formed Commonwealth of Australia. Original records from our archives on display include Charles Grimes’ Survey, Robert Hoddle’s field books, the Hoddle map and first census. 


Melbourne: Foundations of a City

From fledgling village to bustling metropolis within a generation, this is the story of the astonishing growth of Melbourne. Dramatic panoramic pictures of the city from the 1840s to 1900 trace the extraordinary emergence of a city. When a visiting English journalist coined the phrase ‘Marvellous Melbourne’ locals were delighted. To outsiders, Melbourne seemed like a modern wonder. With its wide boulevards of gracious buildings, its cable trams, coffee palaces and dance halls, Melbourne was the premier city in Australia. But of course there was a downside as well. The creation of Melbourne rested on the dispossession and systematic exclusion of the local Aboriginal people. And the environment suffered too. Despite its glittering outward appearances, Melbourne was a dangerous city. The drains stank, the water was polluted and typhoid fever was rife. Until a deep sewerage system was finally completed in 1898, ‘Marvellous Melbourne’ was also popularly known as ‘Marvellous Smellbourne’. But for all that, Melbourne was the wonder of the age. This new exhibition at the Old Treasury Building shows us why. 


Melbourne as National Capital, 1901-1927

In 1901 the six independent colonies of Australia united to form the Commonwealth of Australia. The first Federal Parliament was sworn in at the Exhibition Building in Melbourne. But there was, as yet, no capital city. Until one could be agreed on, Australia was governed from Melbourne. This was a period of great optimism and social experimentation. Legislation passed in these years defined Australia throughout the twentieth century. Women’s franchise, aged and invalid pensions, an Arbitration Court to settle industrial disputes, a minimum wage (for men) and a maternity allowance, were all introduced before the First World War. Sadly so was the Immigration Restriction Act, better known as the White Australia Policy. This was also a time of great technological advancement. Electricity, the motor car, the first sky scrapers and pneumatic lifts transformed Melbourne in these years. And two lasting icons of Melbourne were built: Flinders Street Station and Luna Park. Both have stood the test of time.



Old Treasury Building, Spring Street, Melbourne



Image Gallery

Black and white image of a police officer standing outside flinders street station
On display: Constable Scanlon in front of Flinders Street Station c1900, image from the Public Record Office Victoria collection.