Melbourne's history as a defence centre is best considered as falling into three main periods: from first British settlement until the withdrawal of Imperial troops in 1870, from 1871 until Victoria joined the Australian Commonwealth in 1901, and the following era of Federal defence responsibility. Melbourne was the interim national capital 1901-1927 and continued to house the nation's defence headquarters until 1961.
In the post-World War II years the defence significance of Melbourne declined as that of Canberra increased with the transfer to the national capital in the 1960s of the Department of Defence, and of the national headquarters of the RSL. If the rusting hulk of the Cerberus in Half Moon Bay off Sandringham, the carefully preserved Victoria Barracks in St Kilda Road, and the nearby Shrine of Remembrance still testified to Melbourne's historic role in the nation's defence history, in the era of the Cold War, nuclear weapons rendered major cities like Melbourne likely targets and quite indefensible. Nevil Shute's novel On the beach (1957) employed Melbourne, not as the site of a spectacular atomic cataclysm, but as the melancholy place where the last survivors of global nuclear warfare resignedly awaited their fate.