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West Melbourne Swamp

First known as Batmans Swamp, the West Melbourne Swamp was fed by the Moonee Ponds Creek and the Yarra River flood tide. Europeans first saw the swamp when Surveyor Charles Grimes' party ascended Flemington Hill in 1803; John Batman described it as replete with wildlife in his 1835 diary. Georgiana McCrae sketched it from Flagstaff and her son George recalled it as being in 1841 'a real lake, intensely blue, nearly oval, and full of the clearest salt water'. An impediment to easy traffic, and deteriorating as it became a receptacle for the industrial and household waste of expanding Melbourne, by the 1860s it was a foul-smelling health hazard.

The swamp is shown very clearly in John Noone's 1869 photographs of West Melbourne. Direct roads to Melbourne skirted the swamp on the north, Swamp Road connecting with Arden Street, North Melbourne, and (Old) Footscray Road clinging to the north bank of the Yarra. Ambitious plans to drain and reclaim the swamp began in 1877, with steam-powered pumps at Brown's Hill discharging water to a network of ditches that ultimately discharged to the Maribyrnong River along Swamp Road. When the other outlet through the Moonee Ponds Creek coal canal to the Yarra was closed in the late 1880s, the Maribyrnong became even fouler. Draining and filling of the swamp were completed by the Footscray-based contractor, Michael Walsh, in the early 1900s, with the resumed land progressively used as railway yards. Melbourne City Council assumed control of the swamp territory from Footscray in the 1890s, and the Swamp Road was remade as Dynon Road, connecting to Dudley Street, which gave its name to the shantytown Dudley Flats that was occupied by the unemployed in the 1930s. Until the 1950s there was still a remnant of the swamp on the north side of South Kensington station. Hal Porter describes this 'no man's land' in his autobiography The paper chase (1966).

John Lack