Melbourne is a beautiful city full of iconic landmarks which embody many of the cultural, social and historical elements that make the city so unique. Whilst you can get plenty of enjoyment wandering around the city and taking in the sights, many of these landmarks have hidden histories which make them even more interesting and speak volumes about the city’s past as well as it’s character. This week, we thought we’d enlighten you with the hidden history of four iconic Melbourne landmarks.
Flinders Street Station has a ballroom
Australia’s oldest train station was first opened in 1854 and when the main station building was constructed in 1909, it was fitted out with what was then considered to be the epitome of social gathering spaces: a ballroom. The ballroom exists on the top floor of the main building and was used for balls, dance classes and the occasional movie screening until it was closed off from the public in 1985. Also, upstairs from the station entrance were a billiard room, a gym and a library. In the 1950s and 1960s the ballroom was regularly packed out for dances, which always finished just in time for partygoers to catch the last train home. Although it has fallen into a state of disrepair, the ballroom is scheduled to receive a makeover as part of the major station refurbishment currently being undertaken.
Queen Victoria Market is built on a cemetery
Although it is one of Melbourne’s great heritage sites, the Queen Victoria Market, is partially built over an even older landmark, The Old Melbourne Cemetery. Established in 1837, the cemetery was divided up according to religious denominations (Church of England, Judaism, Presbyterians, Roman Catholics, Quakers, Methodists, Independents) with half of the Quaker allocation later changed to use for the burial of Indigenous people. The Queen Victoria Market was built nearby in 1869 and in 1878, the market began to expand into the cemetery. Although numerous pieces of legislation were passed requiring all bodies to be exhumed and reinterred, only 914 graves out of the 10,000 burials were relocated in the 1920s. Today, around 9,000 bodies remain buried under the market’s carpark and produce sheds with some buried as shallow as 1.5 metres deep.
The first test cricket match in the world was played at the MCG
Established less than 20 years after the founding of Melbourne, the MCG (Melbourne Cricket Ground) is often referred to as the ‘beating heart’ of the city, but it also holds historical significance as the site of the first official Test match between two countries in 1877. This was the year that England (then captained by James Lillywhite) sent out a team of just 12 players to tour Australia and New Zealand. Separately, the Australian teams were considered too weak to meet this team on equal terms, so a single Australian team was made up with 22 players from opposing sides. Australia won by just 45 runs, but their victory was hard won with simmering tensions between the Victorian and New South Wales players on the team who were usually rivals. At several points during the test these tensions boiled over including when the great fast bowler, Fred Spofforth refused to play because he disapproved of the wicket keeper. Nonetheless, at 1pm on a sunny day in March 1500 spectators came to the MCG to watch Englishman Afred Shaw bowl the first ball, and the rest is history.
Fitzroy Gardens is home to an incredibly rare scarred tree
On the edge of Melbourne’s CBD is Fitzroy Gardens, a tranquil park established in 1848 and laid out to resemble the Union Jack. The Gardens are best known for being home to the cottage of Captain Cook, but they are also the location of an extremely rare piece of Indigenous history- a scarred tree. Scarred trees are trees where Indigenous Australians have removed the bark to create canoes, shelters, shields, containers and baby carriers. Most scarred trees were cut down by settlers when Melbourne was founded, but the scarred tree in Fitzroy gardens is one of very few which miraculously survived European settlement. The tree collapsed in the 1980s, but the stump with the scar survives and is an important archaeological, historical and cultural artefact of the Wurundjeri people who are the traditional owners of the land which Melbourne is built on.
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