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(3040, 9 km NW, Moonee Valley City)

The Parish of Doutta Galla, between the Saltwater (Maribyrnong) River and the Moonee Ponds Creek, was first surveyed in 1839 and Crown land was sold in the 1840s. The district's farming character was exemplified by the formation here of the Port Phillip Farmers' Society, the forerunner of the Royal Agricultural Society of Victoria, in 1848. But the population of the area was small. Gold-seekers en route to the Mount Alexander goldfields disrupted the tranquillity of the district in the 1850s as they made their way along Mount Alexander Road, camping at Moonee Ponds or in Caroline Chisholm's family shelter at Essendon. It was not until 1852 that a government surveyor named two village reserves Essendon and Hawstead. It is presumed that the name of Essendon was derived from the town of Essendon in Hertfordshire, England.

The local population exceeded 300 in 1862 when the Borough of Essendon-Flemington was proclaimed, though most residents were concentrated in the southern portion of the municipality around Flemington and Ascot Vale. Nevertheless the Pascoe Vale National School (now Essendon Primary School), which opened in 1850, boasted 100 pupils by 1852. Local land-holders Hugh Glass and Peter McCracken were major shareholders in the Melbourne and Essendon Railway Co., which opened a railway line from the government's North Melbourne station to Essendon in October 1860. The unprofitable line closed in July 1864, but reopened in 1871 as part of the north-eastern line to Wodonga.

The line to Essendon was duplicated in 1884, during a decade of suburban growth. Many estates near the railway line were subdivided and sold for housing. The population rose from 2833 in 1881 to 14 411 in 1891, notwithstanding the fact that residents of Flemington and Kensington had defected to form their own municipality in 1882. Wedged between the abattoirs and meatworks of Flemington, the quarries and brickworks of Brunswick and the industries of Footscray, Essendon was promoted as relatively industry-free, a delightful retreat where residents could experience nature's delights only a few miles from the centre of Melbourne. This view of Essendon as an 'Eden' among the north-western suburbs persisted into the next wave of development in the first decade of the 20th century, when it was again one of Melbourne's fastest growing suburbs. In 1906 two new tram routes connected the municipality with the city. Progress associations lobbied for the creation of recreation reserves and the Essendon River League beautified the Essendon side of the heavily polluted Saltwater River, planting trees along the riverbank and in adjacent reserves and succeeding in having it renamed the Maribyrnong in 1913.

The City of Essendon was proclaimed in 1909. Three years later, the foundation stone for a higher elementary school was laid. Essendon High School, as it was later called, was one of Victoria's first three state high schools. In 1921 the Essendon Football Club returned to the district whose name it carried. Formed in 1871, the club was part of the Victorian Football Association in the 1880s and one of the founding clubs of the Victorian Football League, but played in East Melbourne from 1882 until 1921 when the Essendon Recreation Reserve, later dubbed 'Windy Hill', became its home ground. Simultaneously with the football club's return, the Commonwealth Civil Aviation Branch purchased land for one of Australia's first civil airports. Though not actually located within Essendon's boundaries, it was called Essendon Airport. It was extended in 1935 and declared an international airport in 1950, maintaining this role until Melbourne Airport's international terminal opened at Tullamarine in 1970. From the 1930s local residents complained about aircraft noise, and controversy over the future of the site continues in the 21st century, with the airport still used for light freight aircraft. During the airport's busiest years in the 1950s and 1960s, the last open paddocks of Essendon - to the north and west - were built on. In 1994 the City of Essendon became part of the City of Moonee Valley, although the former Essendon Civic Centre remains the administrative centre of the new municipality.

Jill Barnard

Chalmers, R.W., The annals of Essendon, vol. 1-3, Essendon Historical Society, Melbourne, 1998-2000. Details