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Port Melbourne

(3207, 4 km SW, Port Phillip City)

An industrial and increasingly residential suburb, Port Melbourne is bounded by the West Gate Freeway and Yarra River in the west and north, Hobsons Bay to the south, and Pickles and Montague streets (South Melbourne) to the east. Its European history formally began in 1839 with the arrival of Wilbraham Frederick Evelyn Liardet, who built the first jetty and established postal and ferry services to Melbourne. Port Melbourne took its original name of Sandridge from the ridge of sand dunes along the foreshore.

A large and noxious saltwater lagoon dominated Sandridge. After the first land sales in 1850, Sandridge grew in importance as a port and was the terminus for Australia's first passenger railway, which opened on 12 September 1854. Despite acting as the landing spot for prospective miners and settlers, Sandridge was relatively neglected during the gold-rush years. After some agitation, it broke away from the Melbourne City Council to become a municipal district in 1860. It became a borough in 1863, changed its name to Port Melbourne in 1884, and became a town in 1893 and a city on 14 May 1919. In 1994 it was somewhat controversially amalgamated with the neighbouring cities of South Melbourne and St Kilda to form the City of Port Phillip.

From 1860 to 1890 the city took on its distinctive working-class character. Its football and cricket clubs (both originally known as Sandridge and affectionately known as 'the borough') shared the North Port Oval. The Wesleyan Methodist Church was opened in 1853, and its school a year later. The Holy Trinity Anglican Church began in 1854. Catholic education dates from 1857, and St Joseph's Catholic Church opened in 1881. Nott Street School was the first state primary school, opening in July 1874, but there was no local secondary school until 1968. Port Melbourne was home to countless hotels, 48 built before 1876. The Town Hall was built on Bay Street and opened in December 1869, with the first mayor, William Morley, a coal merchant, previously elected in 1860.

Port Melbourne has provided labour for less-skilled and often lower-paid occupations in the manufacturing, shipping and transport industries. As such it has been heavily affected by successive depressions. During World War I a significant proportion of Port's young male population enlisted, despite overwhelming support for the Australian Labor Party and the large Catholic community's rejection of conscription. The later depression afflicted Port Melbourne severely, with high rates of unemployment and widespread poverty, particularly among the wharf labourers. During the 1920s and 1930s unemployment was estimated at between 75% and 90%. Yet the depression served to create a lingering sense of solidarity and community, captured in Criena Rohan's 1963 novel Down by the dockside.

Port Melbourne's residential character is largely derived from the Victorian and Edwardian eras, although Garden City was built in the 1930s as a housing estate for workers. Extensive Housing Commission flats were built on Nott and Princess streets and at Fishermans Bend during the 1950s. Development (and more recently environmental degradation) has prompted persistent controversy. The West Gate Freeway, Webb Dock and extensive housing developments such as Beacon Cove have all changed the area's dynamics. No longer a major port, its historic Princes and Station piers - the first port of call for immigrants until the 1960s - now operate as the termination point for ships such as the Spirit of Tasmania.

Nearly half the growth of the City of Port Phillip between 1996 and 2001 took place in Port Melbourne, which has been transformed by gentrification and demographic change. Its beaches, lifestyle and proximity to the city have attracted couples without children, with the proportion of the population aged 25-34 years growing by 76.5% during the period 1996-2000, while its previously large Greek population has declined. Historically working class, Port Melbourne is in the process of becoming one of Melbourne's most 'fashionable' middle-class neighbourhoods.

Nick Dyrenfurth

U'Ren, Nancy, and Noel Turnbull, A history of Port Melbourne, Oxford University Press, Melbourne, 1983. Details