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What's on City of Melbourne

Streets and roads

In this section:

Well-designed roads and, in particular, the CBD grid, have been an important feature of the City of Melbourne from the beginning.

In 1836, Sir Richard Bourke, the governor of the Colony of New South Wales, appointed surveyor Robert Russell and two assistants to identify the features of the Port Phillip district. Russell studied the settlement, noting the natural features such as the course of the Yarra River and existing dwellings that had been built by settlers. These landscape features guided the first settlement in Port Phillip and formed the basis for the ongoing development of Melbourne.

In 1837, Governor Bourke appointed surveyor Robert Hoddle to accompany him to the district of Port Phillip to further the progress of survey work started by Russell. The Governor directed Hoddle to carry out the full survey of the settlement.

Hoddle produced the first surveyor's plan in 1837, laying out the streets of Melbourne in their present position – known as the Hoddle Grid. Later that year, the township of Melbourne was formally declared.

The wider Melbourne grid originated at Batman's Hill, from which two primary section lines were mapped. Hoddle set out the two primary section lines from Batman's Hill near the new Spencer Street Railway development. The lines travelling one mile north and two miles east formed the basis for all land sales and today’s Melbourne metropolitan road network.

Collins Street

Collins Street, running through the heart of the CBD, is Melbourne’s most famous shopping strip, home to high-end jewellery, fashion and luxury goods.

It is named after Lieutenant-Governor David Collins, who led an expedition of 308 male convicts, 16 married women, 10 children, 50 soldiers and a number of public servants to establish a settlement near Sorrento on the southern shore of Port Phillip Bay. The settlement was abandoned in 1804. David Collins later became the first Governor of Tasmania.

When La Trobe arrived in Melbourne in late-1839, he found that Melbourne consisted of a collection of small, rundown brick buildings, small huts and tents scattered over the block bordered by Collins, Spencer, Bourke and King streets. Early Government buildings, as well as houses and barracks for police and troops, were set up by Captain William Lonsdale in the same block, which became known as Government Block.


1837 John Batman builds a two-story house at the south-west corner of William and Collins Street. Further down the street, halfway down from Queens Street on the south side of Collins Street, is a site that was bought for 19 pounds in the first auction sales in the city on 1 July 1837. The Old Royal Hotel was built on the site. It was here that the first Melbourne councillors elected the first mayor of Melbourne, Henry Condell, who also gave his first dinner there. In 1853, the Royal was renamed the Criterion.

On the north-east corner, the Angel Inn was licensed for trade in 1837 and was later renamed the William Tell Inn. The E. S and A Bank, later replaced the William Tell Inn, which is now the only bank at the intersection and is known as the ANZ Gothic Bank.

1838 The Derwent Banking Company, Melbourne’s first bank, opens its doors on 8 February. It was soon absorbed by the Union Bank. On another corner, the Bank of Australasia opened on 28 August 1838. This later became the ANZ bank.

1839 The Melbourne Club, a club for those of aristocratic birth or wealthy professionals was founded using John Pascoe Fawkner’s public house on the corner of Collins Street and Market Street. In 1858, it was moved further up Collins Street to the precinct inhabited by wealthy professionals such as doctors, surgeons and dentists. The Mechanics Institute (now the Athenaeum Theatre) was founded on Collins Street between Swanston Street and Russell Street.

1840 Collins Street was described as, “ slushy and sticky that often to cross from any portion of the now flagged and fashionable “block” one required to be equipped in a pair of leggings or long mud boots”.

1842 A Market Commission was established and a general market, later known as Western market, began operation in 1842 on what is now the National Mutual Site in Collins Street.

1844 The Imperial Hotel was opened. Later called the Grand Imperial, the notorious actress Lola Montez used to perform there.

The Mechanics Institute was built near the Town Hall in 1842. It was the scene of some of the liveliest declarations of polls, meetings and debates. It is now called the Athenaeum Theatre.

About the same time and almost next door, the Baptist Church was built. Today, the church is reached by a flight of steps, which show the original level of the once steep hill. Even after several thousand tonnes of rock and stone had been blasted out to make the gradient more comfortable, a writer of the day wrote, “…it remains a precipice down which Her Majesty’s subjects are at liberty to break their necks.”

1845 William Paterson, a watchmaker, put up a small gas plant at the back of his shop and attempted to provide artificial light. 

1847 The Council established another market called the Eastern Market on the corner of Exhibition Street and Bourke Street. By this time, central Collins Street had become a banking precinct, while the medical precinct was located around Dr. Richard’s Howitt’s house in Collins Street East.

1875 Mayor James Gatehouse planted the first shade trees in Collins Street near the Town Hall on Empire Day.

1929 The T & G Building, on the corner of Collins Street and Russell Street, opened with the first high-speed lift in Melbourne. The lift was capable of moving people at a rate of 600 feet (183 metres per minute). The building was destroyed by fire in 1987.

1930 Scots Church (Melbourne’s tallest building between 1873 and 1883) was struck by lightning and its 221 foot (64 metres) spire was reduced to 171 feet (52 metres).

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Exhibition Street

Exhibition Street has been extended across the Yarra River to link up with the southern link of Melbourne’s freeway system CityLink.

It was originally called Stephen Street and changed to Exhibition because of the International Exhibition held at the Royal Exhibition Buildings in 1880. It was officially changed by the City Council on 5 December 1898.


1840 The Female Penitentiary was built at the corner of Exhibition and Little Collins Street on part of what later became the Western Market Site. A watch house was completed at the north-west corner of Little Collins Street and Exhibition Street.

1842 A Market Commission was established and a general market later known as Western market began operation in 1842 on what is now the National Mutual Site in Collins Street.

1847 The Council established another market called the Eastern market on the corner of Exhibition Street and Bourke Street. This became the official hay and corn market, then a general market in 1847 and soon afterwards a weighbridge was installed in Exhibition Street.

1880 Stephen Street was renamed Exhibition Street. The name change applied to Stephen Street north of Collins Street, while the southern part of Stephen Street was renamed Collins Place. Collins Place was officially renamed Exhibition Street in 1963.

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Elizabeth Street

Elizabeth Street was named after Elizabeth Bourke, the wife of Richard Bourke, the Governor of New South Wales from 1831-1837. Some contend it was named after Queen Elizabeth I.

Elizabeth Street is located in a small depression formed by the flowing of a creek named William’s Creek that flowed into the Yarra. William’s Creek was also known as Townend River, because most of the very early settlement was to the west of Elizabeth Street.


1840 Elizabeth Street, along with Swanston Street, was described as “...shallow gullies, with deep and dangerous ruts every 20 yards...” The condition of Elizabeth Street in winter was so bad that it was seriously proposed to establish a punt service to transport goods and passengers. It was reasonably common for pedestrians and horses to become bogged.

1841 Work began on a proper drain in Elizabeth Street. The inhabitants of Melbourne emptied their waste into cesspits, which were supposed to be properly built and lined, so that wastewater could not escape.

However this was not often the case and in the early years before proper sewerage systems were installed, William’s Creek was a very unpleasant watercourse. This creek also discharged into the Yarra, which was the town’s source of drinking water.

1842 The retailing heart of Melbourne began to be centred between Swanston and Elizabeth Streets.

1852 Two young men, George Robertson and Samuel Mullen, who had bought two huge cases of books with them, opened the boxes on the wharves and sold all of them on the spot. Encouraged by this, they opened a bookshop in 1860 at a site in Elizabeth Street. Shortly after, their partnership dissolved, but relatives of the two men combined to bring together the names once again. In 1960, the firm of Robertson and Mullen was bought by Angus and Robertson and the site in Elizabeth Street is still occupied by booksellers.

1859 The General Post Office building, dating from 1859, is on the corner of Elizabeth Street and Bourke Street, although its use has now changed. It is generally considered to be the central point from which distances are measured.

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Swanston Street

Swanston Street is the city’s civic spine and main parade route. It is an eclectic collection of buildings and businesses, shops, shoppers, buskers and public sculpture.

It is Melbourne's geographical and symbolic heart since the time surveyor Robert Hoddle drew up his blueprint for the city in 1837.

It is named after Captain Charles Swanston, who owned the Derwent Bank of Hobart, which was the first bank to open for business in Melbourne (1838). He was also a member of the Port Phillip Association formed by John Batman for the express purpose of exploring and claiming the Port Phillip District.


1840 Swanston Street, along with Elizabeth Street, was described as “...shallow gullies, with deep and dangerous ruts every 20 yards...” A watch house was built in Swanston Street just north of the site of the Town Hall.

1842 The retailing heart of Melbourne began to be centred between Swanston and Elizabeth Streets. Work began on establishing the Melbourne Hospital on the north-east corner of Swanston Street and Lonsdale Street.

1849 The watch house was replaced by a more extensive building containing a storeroom, two cells and an office.

1846 The foundation stone for Princes Bridge was laid in 1846 and the bridge was opened in 1851. It was known as Lennox’s Bridge until it was replaced by a stone bridge in 1888 and renamed Princes Bridge. The bridge link over St Kilda Road sealed Swanston Street’s position as Melbourne's commercial hub.

1850s and 1880s Boom times and gold rushes resulted in Swanston Street becoming Melbourne’s busiest street. Swanston Street became home to some of our most important and historic buildings: the Town Hall, the State Library, the Museum of Victoria, St Paul's Cathedral and the former Queen Victoria Hospital.

1990s In 1991, the City of Melbourne closed it to general traffic to create a more people-friendly space. The result was a vibrant and bustling street, significantly improved for pedestrians and public transport users during the day, but an empty area at night.

In a bid to revitalise the street, Swanston Street was reopened to general evening traffic from 7pm to 7am daily in November 1999.

21st century The new forecourt to the State Library, Federation Square, the giant TV screen and other upgraded shops are all evidence of Swanston Street's continued development. Australia's most famous pub, Young and Jackson's, was renovated.

In December 2008, Melbourne City Council requested a report exploring the range of options for the future redevelopment of Swanston Street, from re-opening it to through traffic to further pedestrianisation. In 2009, the Swanston Street consultation commences.

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Bourke Street

Bourke Street is home to Bourke Street Mall – a short pedestrian and tram strip recognised as Melbourne’s shopping heart. It is always pulsating with shoppers, buskers and city workers.

Bourke Street was named after Sir Richard Bourke, the Governor of New South Wales from 1831-1837. Sir Richard Bourke was the governor when Melbourne was first settled and appointed the first police magistrate for Port Phillip District which was later renamed Bourke County.


1837 Within three years of the first land sales in 1837, practically every block in the street had been sold. The cheapest, at 19 pounds an acre, was next to one purchased by John Pascoe Fawkner for 20 pounds, opposite another bought by John Batman for 36 pounds on the present site of Myers at 314 Bourke Street. Part of the land where David Jones, now stands at 310 Bourke Street was exchanged for a passable horse and foal.

1840 Two blocks were brought for 900 pounds by Victoria’s first surveyor general Robert Hoddle. On one near the corner of Bourke and Spencer Streets, Hoddle erected a substantial brick house with flower and vegetable gardens surrounded by a high wall. On the other block, which had been Hoddle’s cow paddock, the Government later built a General Post Office. Opposite the General Post Office, Hudson’s Stores, a hardware shop, was built.

1842 A Market Commission was established and a general market later known as Western Market began operation in 1842 on what is now the National Mutual Site in Collins Street. In 1847, the Council established another market, called the Eastern Market, on the corner of Exhibition Street and Bourke Street. This is where the Southern Cross Hotel was located.

1845 Bourke Street still contained over a thousand tree stumps, mostly towards the eastern end. Victoria’s first parliament, the Legislative Council, was opened on 13 November 1851 in St Patrick’s Hall at No. 470 Bourke Street. The Cornwall Arms, which stood in the present Bourke Street Mall, was the starting place of Clarke’s Union Line of coaches to the northern goldfields. The Bull and Mouth, now the Centrepoint Mall, took over the old Eagle Tavern. Across the road was the Albion Hotel, which served as the terminus of long-distance coaches.

1855 The Royal Theatre, between Swanston Street and Russell Street, was opened.

1860s The Goldsborough Mort Wool Store was constructed on the north-east corner of Bourke and William Streets. Countless millions of pounds worth of wool were sold for graziers, who often concluded their business deals in Menzies Hotel opposite, now replaced by the tall BHP House.

The White Hart Hotel – now part of the Windsor Hotel, opposite Parliament House on the corner of Spring Street – was renowned for it sports meetings such as football, as well as goat and pig races which were held on the present site of Parliament House.

1869 St Augustine’s Church was built and Royal Arcade opened. It was built because there were no small north-south streets between Collins Street and Bourke Street. The site was first sold for 20 pounds and its frontage was occupied by Duncan’s original pie shop.

1889 In response to pressure from the local storekeepers and warehouse owners, the Bourke Street West Police Station was constructed, next to St Augustine’s Church. A stronger police presence was needed to counter the increase in criminal activity around the railyards and the docks.

1933 The Royal Theatre was demolished.

1972 Part of Bourke Street between Swanston Street and Elizabeth Street was closed to traffic in 1972 - forming the Bourke Street Mall.

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Spencer Street

Spencer Street, the westernmost street of the CBD grid, has been home to the Spencer Street Railway since 1865.

It’s named after Earl Spencer, distinguished British politician and first Lord of the Admiralty between 1794-1800. Spencer Gulf in South Australia was also named after the Earl.


1835 John Batman built a house on Batman’s Hill adjacent to where Spencer Street would eventually run. Spencer Street was originally part of the field that Batman had cultivated.

1839 The first race meeting was held on Batman’s Hill near Spencer Street.

When La Trobe arrived in Melbourne in late-1839, he found that Melbourne consisted of a collection of small, run-down brick buildings, small huts and tents scattered over the block bordered by Collins, Spencer, Bourke and King Streets.

Early Government buildings, as well as houses and barracks for police and troops, were set up by Captain William Lonsdale in the same block, which became known as Government Block.

1840 In June, the government held its first land sale. Land adjacent to the wharf area, between Flinders, Spencer, King and Collins Streets was sold. Also in 1840, instructions arrived from Sydney for the river land south-west of Batman’s Hill and Spencer Streets to be divided into cultivation allotments. Eventually abattoirs and fell-mongeries were built here and poured their waste products into the Yarra. Today, the World Trade Centre and North Wharf are located here.

1842 Governor La Trobe had decided that a 50-acre Botanical Garden should be established on Batman’s Hill running from Spencer Street down the slopes facing the Yarra and Maribyrnong Rivers to the West Melbourne swamp. The surveyor Robert Hoddle reserved the site, but the depression in 1843 did not allow anything to be done. Even the town council wrote to the governor requesting the conservation of the site for some sort of garden.

After the depression, La Trobe changed his mind because, in his view, the area would be needed for shipping and wharves and rapidly expanding industries such as boilers, candle-making factories and abattoirs. As well as this, access to fresh water was difficult and its exposure to south winds and the flooding of the area from the salt water of the Yarra would make it extremely difficult to maintain a garden.

1843-44 At the foot of Batman’s Hill, just to the west of Spencer Street, there were slaughterhouses set up. In 1843, a boiling house was set up followed by a pressure works in 1844. All these businesses carried out the processes of tanning meat and hide curing, as well as animal oil extraction.

1848 The west side of Batman’s hill became the site of a powder magazine.

1854 Railways were introduced into Victoria. The first locomotive railway was built from Melbourne to the pier at Sandridge (now called Port Melbourne). The Mount Alexander and Murray Valley line was built from Bendigo and Echuca to Melbourne, with the line terminating at Spencer Street. In 1853, a grant of 20 hectares (50 acres) was made to the Mount Alexander & Murray Valley Railway Company in a large block to the north of Batman’s Hill and a narrower strip extending southwards beside it, along Spencer Street to Flinders Street.

However the company got into financial difficulties and was acquired by the government before construction even began. This government body was known as the Railway Department. The Geelong line was acquired and joined to the other so that they both terminated at Spencer Street. The Batman’s Hill Station was opened in 1859, while a large yard area was developed in the northern block.

1856 The Argus newspaper reported that a man had struggled to his death in six feet of mud and slimy water in Spencer Street.

1862 The Railway Department requested that the whole of the Batman’s Hill area be reserved for railway purposes. Some of it was required immediately for the extension of the railway station and a further amount was to be reserved for future use. Despite the Melbourne City Council opposing this, as it wanted the area kept for parkland, the colonial government overruled them and the land passed to the railways.

1863 It was decided that Batman’s Hill needed to be levelled to create further space for the extension of the railway years. This was completed by 1865.

1878 The government acquired the private company that owned Flinders Street Station and Princes Station. They decided they needed to connect the two major stations of Flinders Street and Spencer Street. In 1879, a track was laid along the south side of Flinders Street. This track, at street level, was not very effective for the amount of traffic that was passing through it. In 1889, the Flinders Street railway viaduct (connecting Flinders Street with Spencer Street) was begun.

1893 A power station was built in Spencer Street. The corner of Spencer Street and Flinders Street was lit with gas lamps for the convenience of those travellers always arriving by streamers and trains during the night.

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Melbourne's laneways

1830s Most laneways began as tiny streets that created accessways to the small subdivisions that were springing up within Melbourne's large city blocks.

1895 There were signposts on 158 lanes. A further hundred-odd were unnamed.

Early 1900s The little streets and laneways were associated with crime and nuisances, and was to be avoided at night.

1990s Melbourne's laneways and arcades underwent a revival and were upgraded with bluestone paving, street furniture and lighting. A flourishing bar and cafe culture sprung up and Melbourne's 'hidden laneways' became cool places to hang out.

21st Century Melbourne’s laneways continue to offer a variety of delights, populated by retail and other businesses, cafes and bars and street art, while some retain their original form, offering rare glimpses into the city’s history. The City of Melbourne has a proud history of public art and its laneways provide the backdrop for a wide range of heritage and contemporary artworks.