Exploration Lane is located between Russell and Exhibition streets, extending north from Little Lonsdale to La Trobe streets. It is located directly opposite Jones Lane on the north side of Little Lonsdale Street, and connects with Evans Lane on the east side. Exploration Lane was named for the nearby Exploration Hotel on Little Lonsdale Street, which was probably named after the ill-fated Burke and Wills Expedition of 1860-61. The lane was predominantly used for residential and commercial purposes, and was also the location of the Leitrim Hotel in 1895, along with a retail shop and newspaper stand.
Melbourne's laneways were designed to provide access routes and rights-of-way between buildings located on the major roads of the city's grid. However not all lanes provided full access for these buildings. In 1891, a petition was signed by residents of Exploration Lane, McCormick Place, Cumberland Place, and Casseldon Street requesting the creation of an entrance from McCormick Place to La Trobe Street.
Many of Melbourne's lanes had reputations for being the site of illicit activities such as vagrancy and robbery. In 1914, a Police Department file details a request for additional lighting in Exploration Lane following a complaint about nuisances caused by drunken vagrant women and men 'making a rendezvous of an untenanted factory'.
In 1891, the City of Melbourne received a letter from a father of a large family, wishing to bring their attention to a group of about 20 Indians living in a two-room house opposite his own on Exploration Lane. There did not appear to be cause for any complaint, the letter writer simply wanted to 'acquaint the authorities of it'. The presence of immigrant influences on Exploration Lane was increasing in the late 1890s. According to Weston Bate, Italian names were also appearing in the area surrounding Exploration Lane, 'prefiguring social changes through migration'.