Friday 2 September 2016

Marvellous Melbourne - A Short History

For a few years I had an app called Melbourne Historical on sale in the Apple and Android app stores. Alas the app is no more, as the company which commissioned it has closed down.

However, the content lives on. As a backgrounder within the app, I wrote a potted history of my city, Melbourne. It had to be detailed enough to be interesting, but snappy enough to be readable on a phone screen; no small challenge to create.

As Tuesday this week was Melbourne Day, the annual commemoration of the city's founding on 30 August 1835, I thought I'd share...

The Turning Basin in the Yarra River, where the first
European settlers of Melbourne landed in 1835.

The following brief timeline will help you place events, people and places within Melbourne's relatively short but eventful history. Though it's one of Australia's youngest state capitals (second only to Adelaide), it's packed a lot of excitement into its life so far.

40,000 years ago:
Members of the Kulin nation, an alliance of five Aboriginal peoples, settle the area now known as Melbourne. The Wurundjeri people inhabit inland areas while the Bunurong live along Port Phillip Bay and the southeast coast.

Melbourne is established by settlers from Tasmania. The first to arrive is John Batman, who claims to have negotiated a treaty with the local Aborigines. He's followed soon after by a more substantial settlement party led by John Fawkner.

1851: Victoria separates from New South Wales and becomes a separate colony of the British Empire. Almost immediately, the richest goldfields in the world are discovered west of Melbourne at Ballarat, leading to enormous immigration from around the globe.

Oppressed by unjust taxes and corrupt officials, a multinational group of miners stages an armed rebellion against British authorities at the Eureka Stockade in Ballarat. Though bloodily quashed by the military, public opinion turns against the Governor, hastening the introduction of democratic rule in the following year.

1860s: Melbourne's population surpasses that of Sydney for the first time.

1880s: Melbourne's wealth reaches its peak in the era known as "Marvellous Melbourne". For a time the city is the second largest in the British Empire. Great international exhibitions are held and mighty buildings are erected, and it seems the prosperity will last forever.

1891: The economic bubble caused by rampant property speculation bursts, causing a spectacular crash. Businesses fail, investors lose their cash, and unemployment soars. Victoria enters a prolonged depression, and by the early years of the 20th century Sydney has regained its title as Australia's largest city.

1901: The six Australian colonies federate into a new nation, the Commonwealth of Australia. By the terms of the constitution, Melbourne will serve as the capital until a new city is established for the purpose between Sydney and Melbourne.

1914: Australia enters the First World War, sustaining enormous losses as a proportion of its population - from Victoria alone there are 19,000 casualties. The most resonant battlefield is that of Gallipoli, Turkey, where troops from Australia, New Zealand and Britain fight a losing campaign for nine months from April 1915. Though it ends in defeat, Gallipoli helps cement Australia's national identity.

1927: Australia's new capital city, Canberra, is finally established as the seat of power, and the federal government departs Melbourne.

1939: Australia enters World War II at the side of Britain. The direct threat to Australian territory from Japanese forces results in a much closer relationship with the USA; after the fall of the Philippines, General Douglas MacArthur directs the Allied forces' Pacific campaign from Melbourne.

Melbourne hosts the Olympic Games, the first in which the athletes of all nations mingle during the closing ceremony.

1950s-1970s: Massive postwar immigration from around the world changes Melbourne's ethnic mix dramatically, transforming it into a multicultural city.

1991: A severe economic recession hits Melbourne particularly hard, with a property market crash and business closures. The surfeit of empty office space prompts authorities to encourage residential development in the downtown area.

The Black Saturday bushfires ravage rural Victoria, killing 173 people and skirting Melbourne's outer suburbs.

2010: Two decades after residents began to return, the wheel has turned full circle. Melbourne's city centre has become as lively as it was in the 19th century, drawing visitors to sporting events, shopping outlets, arts productions, restaurants and its thriving alleyway bar scene.

The story continues...

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