Constructed in two stages (1859-60 and 1870), these yards, on a 57-acre (23 ha) site between Racecourse and Epsom roads, Flemington, north of the City Abattoirs, opened when the Melbourne City Council began to transfer livestock sales from the first municipal marketplace (on the north-west corner of Elizabeth and Victoria streets) in 1861. Newmarket gradually won acceptance, with increased use of railway access from Newmarket station and siding (named and opened in 1860), introduction of the public auction system (1894), provision of a stock underpass beneath Epsom Road to the City Abattoirs (1911), and construction of major private abattoirs in the western suburbs (to which stock could be walked along Geelong Road).
The saleyards gave their name and a distinct ambience to the neighbourhood. Livestock were driven through the streets, with local footpaths and gardens protected by metal railings, breakaway cattle occasionally lending an element of drama and danger. Partial relief came in 1964 with the construction of a livestock overpass from Newmarket rail siding across Racecourse Road. Boarding houses, cafés, and hotels catered for the drovers, sellers, agents, auctioneers and tallymen who thronged Newmarket virtually all week. There was stiff resistance to proposals (made from the 1880s and made insistently from the 1900s) to remove the saleyards.
By the 1930s Newmarket was Australia's premier livestock centre, a status confirmed by the commencement of nation-wide direct radio broadcasts of livestock prices. Records were set in 1944 for sales of 2.5 million sheep, three million lambs and almost one million store sheep, and for 650 000 cattle in 1973. Having survived numerous inquiries and shutdown attempts, by the 1970s Newmarket faced a serious challenge from regional saleyards with modern facilities. Protests and resistance following its official closure on 30 September 1985 resulted in the extension of auctions until 1 April 1987, but by then most of the life had already drained from what had been one of the world's largest livestock saleyards. The site has been used for housing, and administration buildings now house a school.