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(3072, 9 km N, Darebin City)

The City of Preston, a former local government area that included other suburbs, became part of the City of Darebin in 1994. The first white settlers in the Preston area arrived in the 1840s and began displacing Aboriginal peoples who lived along Merri and Darebin creeks. Those settlers occupied lands that had been sold by auction in Sydney in 1838 and 1839. The first settlers were farmers who sold their produce in Melbourne.

The name Preston came into use in the 1850s, largely because of the influence of the Wood family, who operated the first post office from their general store. They and their Particular Baptist friends who had come with them from the English village of Brighton recalled that for their annual church treat back in England they had 'all marched out of town with [their] banner and flags to a gentleman's park at Preston'. They decided to name their post office after the Sussex village of which they had such happy memories.

Preston, a major farming area in the 1860s, began to attract new settlers as secondary industries were drawn to the area by the water pipeline from the Yan Yean dam to Melbourne. The bacon industry began in 1862, and the tanning industry in 1865. Both needed large volumes of water for their operation.

The area's ample clay deposits also attracted brick, tile, pipe and pottery industries, which developed rapidly during the 1880s. Preston people were badly affected by the slump of the 1890s, when the demand for building materials collapsed.

Until 1887, the only public transport between Preston and Melbourne was by coach. The position improved a little in that year, when Melbourne's cable tram system reached Northcote Bridge at Clifton Hill, and even more in 1890, when it reached Dundas Street, the accepted southern boundary of the suburb. There was also an improvement in the late 1880s when the railway line from Melbourne to Whittlesea passed through Preston.

These improvements in public transport made Preston a more desirable residential suburb. This, along with the growth in the number of local industries, led to steady growth in Preston's population. By 1890 Preston had been swept up in the pace and vigour of Marvellous Melbourne and was a fully-fledged suburb of that great metropolis. The land boom came to Preston in a big way. The suburb suffered badly in the depression that followed, and many of the allotments sold in the boom were to remain vacant for decades.

In the 1900s Preston was the centre of the suburban Shire of Preston. After a quietly prosperous period during the first decade of the new century and the horrors of seeing its sons go away to World War I, from which many did not return, Preston boomed in the 1920s. Two new electric tram lines - one in Plenty Road and one in Gilbert Road, both more or less north-south and parallel to the railway line - added to its attraction as a residential suburb. So too did electrification of the railway in 1921. Preston was declared a city in 1926.

Preston suffered in much the same way as other Melbourne suburbs during the 1930s depression and the years of World War II. Then the 1950s and 1960s were decades of rapid development. Many English immigrants settled in the area. Later, Preston attracted a wide ethnic mix of newly arrived immigrants, and retains large Greek and Italian communities. These people provided a readily available source of labour, and this led to many manufacturing industries setting up in or near Preston. For some decades, that seemed to be a positive development. It left Preston vulnerable, however, to the problems that came with economic restructuring in Australia, and by the early 1990s many of its formerly prosperous industries, particularly in the textiles, clothing and footwear field, had been forced to retrench many workers. Preston came to have a higher-than-average unemployment rate. Some industries adapted to the changing times and found new marketing niches, particularly in supplying components for car manufacture.

Brian Carroll

Carroll, Brian, and Ian Rule, Preston: an illustrated history, City of Preston, Melbourne, 1985. Details
Forster, Harley W., Preston, lands and people, 1838-1967, Cheshire, Melbourne, 1968. Details