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Prahran

(3181, 5 km SE, Stonnington City)

George Langhorne, who from 1836 ran a mission station in the area south of the Yarra River around Punt Hill, called this area Pur-ra-ran, using local Aboriginal words believed to mean 'land partially surrounded by water'. Surveyor General Robert Hoddle later rendered the name as 'Prahran' on an 1840 map of the Port Phillip District.

The first sale of Crown lands took place in June 1840. Hoddle had divided the area into rectangular lots of about 20-25 acres (8-10 ha) between Punt Road, Toorak Road (then called Gardiner's Creek Road) and the Yarra. In June 1849 the land between Toorak Road and Commercial Road was sold in 50-55-acre (20-22 ha) blocks, and the remaining Crown land in what was to become the City of Prahran was sold in May 1850.

The area is hilly and the lower lying areas were notoriously swampy. Purchasers of Crown allotments built large houses for themselves on the hills, subdividing the lower lying areas for working-class housing. This resulted in an area of considerable social diversity, which has remained an important characteristic of Prahran. In 1887 the city was divided into four wards: Toorak, South Yarra, Prahran and Windsor. Until at least the 1960s, significant areas of the last three wards were solidly working class. However, the property-based municipal government electoral system ensured a conservative council for generations, only changing with increasing levels of owner occupation, particularly among European (predominantly Greek and British) immigrants, who came to Prahran in large numbers from the 1950s.

The early postwar years saw a boom in private flat development. During the 1950s and 1960s, the Housing Commission, with the co-operation of Prahran Council, redeveloped areas of Prahran and Windsor. Despite opposition from local residents, high-rise flats were built using components manufactured at the commission's Holmesglen factory. Extensive areas of cottages remained in Windsor, Prahran and South Yarra south of Toorak Road. Councillors representing residents' groups were elected, and from 1972 the council's planning code imposed building-height restrictions. Despite a council that continued to have strong representation from residents' groups, this success was short-lived. In the early 1980s, the State Government effectively overrode the local planning code in allowing the Como development of multi-storey flats and offices at the South Yarra end of Chapel Street.

Chapel Street, Prahran's main thoroughfare, runs from the Yarra River through South Yarra and Prahran to Windsor before crossing Dandenong Road into St Kilda. The South Yarra end began as an area of brickworks and swamps. As the brickmakers levelled the hills, factories were built. Further south, Prahran was a centre for the rag trade, furniture-making, brewing, baking and jam-making. Windsor was served by a railway line as early as 1859, and South Yarra and Prahran stations were opened soon afterwards. From 1879, with the opening of the first stage of the line to Gippsland, there were also stations at Armadale, Toorak and Hawksburn. Cable trams first ran on Toorak Road and Chapel Street in 1888, and Chapel Street became a major shopping centre. Leading chain stores opened there after the turn of the century, including Maples and Foy & Gibson. From the 1960s the street suffered a decline as customers turned to the car-based shopping centres, though Prahran Market and the shops serving a more local clientele continued to flourish. From the 1980s, with the gentrification of the surrounding areas of housing, Chapel Street experienced a revival based around specialty shops, caf├ęs, night-clubs and fashion. From the 1920s Leggett's Ballroom was a very popular dance venue in Greville Street, which is now a niche retailing strip of second-hand clothes, jewellery and book stores.

Prahran was proclaimed a municipal district in 1855, a borough in 1863, a town in 1870 and a city in 1879. The Prahran Town Hall on Chapel Street opened in 1861. In 1994 Prahran City Council merged with Malvern to form the City of Stonnington.

Sally Wilde

References
Cooper, John Butler, The history of Prahran: from its first settlement to a city, revised 1924 edn, Modern Printing Co, Melbourne, 1912. Details
Wilde, Sally, The history of Prahran: 1925-1990, Melbourne University Press, Melbourne, 1993. Details