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(3058, 8 km N, Moreland City, Darebin City)

A suburb on Sydney Road, Coburg was Woi wurrung land, their possession disputed in 1835 by the imprint of John Batman's boot. After European settlement, the area was sold in 11 lots to speculators in 1839. The village reserve was named Pentridge in 1840.

Several Melbourne gentry soon created large estates in the area, notably Dr Farquhar McCrae's La Rose. His bluestone farmhouse (in Le Cateau Street, Pascoe Vale) built in 1842-43 is the oldest Victorian private residence extant. Small farms and market gardens, with wattle-and-daub huts and stone houses made out of uncut basalt floaters, gave a settled appearance. The area was a granary, producing over a quarter of Port Phillip's grains and potatoes.

In 1850 a penal road gang lodged in a temporary stockade. But the abundance of local bluestone and the rising criminal population of gold rush Victoria transformed the temporary stockade into a permanent penitentiary for the next 146 years. Pentridge Prison soon provided a fifth of the area's employment. However, after frequent escapes and the stigma of possessing Victoria's premier prison, residents petitioned for a new name for the shire. In 1870 the government consented to 'Coburg', in honour of the royal house of Prince Albert, Queen Victoria's late husband.

Small farming continued with 40% of Coburg under crops by 1870, mainly hay for the Melbourne horse market, with a scattering of orchards, vineyards, and Chinese market gardens by the Merri and Moonee Ponds creeks. The other major industry was winning and dressing stone from the bluestone quarries and carting it to Melbourne for use in foundations, channelling, or as road metal. The shire's only major industries were within Pentridge's walls, where a woollen mill, shoe factory, tailors' shop and a small foundry operated. The inmates also worked the large prison farm.

Suburbanisation reshaped Coburg in the 1880s land boom, when boosters termed it the 'Toorak of the North'. Central Coburg was subdivided, purchased, sold and resold. The (free) population of Coburg increased by 150% in the decade, serviced by train to Melbourne after 1884 and a horse tram connection to the cable tram at Brunswick after 1887. However, speculators rather than settlers purchased most land. When the crash came, over 5000 allotments remained vacant. They were colonised by thistles and weeds, food for herds of wild goats.

After 1910 a modern suburb arose. Parks and ovals emerged and a weir was built on the Merri Creek adjoining Pentridge in 1915, to form a popular artificial lake and swimming area. The municipality was the first to subsidise pure Willsmere milk for infants and funded the first Truby King Infant Welfare centre in Victoria. Coburg's population reached 20 000 in 1922, enabling city status.

Many were employed in new industries attracted to the suburb, especially textile mills, small machinery factories and modest foundries. Its working-class population, two-thirds of whom were home-owners, adhered strongly to values of self-improvement. Most shunned the communists in the depression, supported independent Australian Labor Party candidates and returned a local council dominated by small businessmen.

The 1950s and 1960s witnessed renewed suburban expansion as owner-builders, the Housing Commission and the War Service Homes Commission filled in the suburb. In 1960, McKays, the last Coburg dairy farm, was sold to modernity as land for the Kodak factory and the Coburg drive-in. The human face of Coburg changed as well after 1950, as Southern Europeans, Lebanese, Turkish and Asian newcomers arrived in succession, boosting the level of overseas born from 9% to 34% of the population between 1947 and the 1980s. Coburg, symbolised by coffee shops, pizzeria and a Muslim school and mosque, experienced the tensions and riches of modern multicultural Australia.

Coburg changed again, as its population peaked at 70 000 in 1961, before sliding to about 50 000 in the 1990s. Its textile and footwear industries wilted before import competition from the 1980s. Coburg's housing is currently being gentrified, a process accelerated by development of the former Pentridge prison land.

Richard Broome

Broome, Richard, Coburg, between two creeks, 2nd edition, Moreland City Council and Coburg Historical Society, Melbourne, 2001. Details