A collaboration between the Metro Tunnel Creative Program, North and West Melbourne Association and the Hotham History Project.

This illustrated timeline charts the evolution of North and West Melbourne in and around the construction site of the new Arden Station. It is a story of transformation: the once-pristine Blue Lake, home to the local Kulin people for millennia, into a wasteland known as West Melbourne Swamp within 20 years of European settlement; the development of the railway, industry and public transport; and the demographic shift of the area into gentrified real estate. This evolution continues with Arden Station, linking into the Metro Tunnel network of five new underground stations and due to open in 2025. True North is a nod to Arden Station’s true location in North Melbourne, as the existing North Melbourne Station is actually in West Melbourne.



Stretching away from the base of the Flag-Staff Hill [now known as Flagstaff Gardens], lay a beautiful blue lake ... a real lake, intensely blue, nearly oval, and full of the clearest salt water; but this, by no means deep. Fringed gaily all round by mesembryanthemum (vulgo, ‘pigs-face’) in full bloom, it seemed in the broad sunshine as though girdled about with a belt of magenta fire.
George Gordon McCrae, 1912

Blue Lake, which once lay where the Metro Tunnel Project’s Arden Station construction site now sits, was the stuff of legend, with its rich, abundant flora and fauna, and waters that extended over a bed of solid blue clay. Fed by Moonee Ponds Creek (formerly known as Moonee Moonee Chain of Ponds) and the Yarra River flood tide, this wetland was known by many names: Blue Lake, Saltwater Lake, Lagoon, Batman’s Swamp, North Melbourne Swamp and West Melbourne Swamp.

In the 1840s, it was considered one of the prime beauty spots of the northern suburbs. Early European settlers gave many evocative descriptions of the lake and its resource-rich ecology. In 1916, Albert Mattingley, who arrived in the Port Phillip district in 1852, recalled:

On the waters of the large marsh or swamp lying between North Melbourne and the Saltwater River graceful swans, pelicans, geese, black, brown and grey ducks, teal, cormorants, water-hens, seagulls and other aquatic birds disported themselves; while curlews, spur-winged plover, cranes, snipe, sand-pipers and dottrels either waded in its shallows or ran along its margins; and quail and stone plover, particularly the former, were very plentiful on its higher banks ... Eels, trout, a small species of perch about 2 inches long, and almost innumerable green frogs inhabited its waters.
Albert Mattingley, 1916
For millennia before European settlement, the abundant seasonal resources in and around the wetland sustained and nurtured the life and cultural traditions of local Aboriginal people. As well as water plants, birds, eels and fish, the area provided foodstuffs such as tubers, medicinal plants and reeds for basket-making. The productive features of the wetland supported the regular gathering of Aboriginal people to conduct important social and ceremonial practices.

Further Reading

  • Lenore Frost (curator), The Swamp Vanishes, a digital exhibition, Royal Historical Society of Victoria
  • Rod Giblett, ‘Lost and Found Wetlands of Melbourne’, Victorian Historical Journal, vol. 87, no. 1, June 2016, pp. 135–56
  • George Gordon McCrae, ‘Some Recollections of Melbourne in the “Forties”’, The Victorian Historical Magazine, vol. 2, no. 3, issue 7, November 1912, pp. 114–36
  • Albert Mattingley, ‘The Early History of North Melbourne. Part 1’, The Victorian Historical Magazine, vol. 5, no. 2, issue 18, December 1916, pp. 80–92
  • Gary Presland, 'The Place for a Village: How Nature Has Shaped the City of Melbourne', Museum Victoria Publishing, Melbourne, 2008
  • Nelly Zola and Beth Gott, 'Koorie Plants, Koorie People', Koorie Heritage Trust, Melbourne, 1996

From Wetland to Wasteland

With the discovery of gold in Victoria in 1851, news of spectacular finds reverberated across the globe, gold fever gripping Britain and Europe. In 1852, the enormous flood of immigrants to the colony placed immense pressure on limited accommodation facilities. The newly completed Benevolent Asylum, straddling North and West Melbourne and established to house the aged, infirm, disabled and destitute’, provided temporary lodging for gold-seeking immigrant families.

North Melbourne was well positioned to become a supply and staging post en route to the goldfields. Local businesses were established, and the first land auctions took place to take account of the influx of gold seekers. The first house was built in 1852, and tents and other dwellings rapidly followed.

When the Geelong and Melbourne Railway Company constructed a railway line between the two cities, the northern portion of Blue Lake was reclaimed in 1854–57, impacting on the drainage and flow of the Moonee Ponds Creek and causing flooding. The vast bed of clay beneath the lake attracted potters and brickmakers, such as North Melbourne Pottery (1854–72) and Phoenix Brick Works (1856–68), which established themselves nearby. It supported a local economy in manufacturing drain pipes, sewerage pipes, bricks, and chimney and flower pots.

Following the opening of North Melbourne Railway Station in 1859 the number of residents living close to Blue Lake increased dramatically. By the 1860s the population of North Melbourne had expanded by 90%; in 1861 it was home to more than 7000 people.

Melbourne’s burgeoning community spoilt this important wetland, transforming it into a dumping ground, a receptacle for industrial and household waste that included sewage. Within 20 years of European settlement, the once picturesque undulating countryside and the pristine Blue Lake had become a wasteland known as West Melbourne Swamp.

Further Reading

  • The Benevolent Asylum’, The Argus, 6 September 1849, p. 2
  • Lenore Frost (curator), The Swamp Vanishes, a digital exhibition, Royal Historical Society of Victoria
  • Rod Giblett, ‘Lost and Found Wetlands of Melbourne’, Victorian Historical Journal, vol. 87, no. 1, June 2016, pp. 135–56
  • Mary Kehoe, 'The Melbourne Benevolent Asylum: Hotham’s Premier Building', Hotham History Project, Melbourne, 1998
  • Gregory Hill, 'Victoria’s Earliest Potteries', Gregory Hill, Victoria, 2019
  • Houseless Immigrants. The Benevolent Asylum’, The Argus, 25 September 1852, p. 4
  • John Lack, ‘Worst Smelbourne: Melbourne’s Noxious Trades’, in Graeme Davison, David Dunstan and Chris McConville (eds), The Outcasts of Melbourne, Allen & Unwin, North Sydney, 1985, pp. 172–200
  • Gary Presland, ‘A Boggy Question: Differing Views of Wetlands in 19th century Melbourne’, Victorian Naturalist,vol. 131, no. 4, August 2014, pp. 96–105

Draining and Reclaiming

Noxious trades established themselves along the edges of West Melbourne Swamp and lined the banks of the Yarra River and Moonee Ponds Creek (formerly known as Moonee Moonee Chain of Ponds). Effluent from abattoirs, fellmongers, meat by-product works, tanneries, bone mills and council rubbish depots flowed into the waterways and, eventually, into the swamp, resulting in a putrid stench and the spread of disease. Melbourne became known as ‘Marvellous Smelbourne’ and West Melbourne as ‘Worst Smelbourne’ and ‘Worst Smeldom’.

Although proposals had been made to drain the swamp and reclaim the land as early as 1849, it was not until 1877 that work commenced. A steam-operated pump was set up near Brown’s Hill, in South Kensington, and drains were dug along Dynon Road (formerly known as Swamp Road), connecting to West Melbourne. Drainage projects continued to the early 1900s, with the northern portion used for railway land, which had increased to 487 acres by 1890. This land accommodated freight and passenger facilities, additional sidings, and engine and carriage workshops.

Coode Canal was excavated in 1886 to remove the long bend in the Yarra River known as Fishermans Bend and to straighten the course of the river. This would mitigate flooding, improve access for cargo ships to Melbourne’s main river docks and reduce travel time up the river.

In 1889–90, excavations of Railway Canal (also known as Coal Canal) widened the outlet of Moonee Ponds Creek and linked the Yarra River and the North Melbourne railway yards. The canal was 1.6 kilometres long and ran through the middle of West Melbourne Swamp. It diverted flood waters from the swamp and allowed the ships carrying coal from Newcastle direct water access to the coaling facilities at North Melbourne Locomotive Depot.

Reclamation of West Melbourne Swamp and the cutting of Coode Canal and Railway Canal allowed the railway system to expand its facilities, deliver goods more efficiently and support new railway yards and lines connecting with northern Victoria. Today, the Metro Tunnel Arden Station construction site and the Docklands precinct occupy the site formerly covered by West Melbourne Swamp.

Further Reading

  • John Lack, ‘Worst Smelbourne: Melbourne’s Noxious Trades’, in Graeme Davison, David Dunstan and Chris McConville (eds), The Outcasts of Melbourne, Allen & Unwin, North Sydney, 1985, pp. 172–200
  • Miles Lewis, 'Melbourne: The City’s History and Development', City of Melbourne, Melbourne, 1995
  • Gary Presland, ‘A Boggy Question: Differing Views of Wetlands in 19th century Melbourne’, Victorian Naturalist, vol. 131, no. 4, August 2014, pp. 96–105
  • Gary Presland, ‘Dredging Up History: The Remaking of Melbourne’s Swampy Landscapes’, Remaking Cities Conference Proceedings, 2018, pp. 410–19

Living and Working Near the Railways

The development and expansion of the North Melbourne railway yards created the means for supply and distribution of primary products. The proximity of the main railway lines to the north and west of the state made this the preferred location for sawn-timber yards, firewood yards and meat industries, with the cattle yards and markets nearby.

Flour millers and biscuit manufacturers developed along Laurens Street in North and West Melbourne, and, facing the railway, they became major industries with a direct rail connection. In 1874, Smith & Sons established a biscuit factory on the corner of Miller and Anderson Streets (backing onto Laurens Street); it was bought out by A.J. Brockhoff and Co. in 1882. Thomas Brunton and Co. Australian Roller Flour Mills and Grain Stores joined them in 1888, and T.B. Guest and Co. in 1896.

A.J. Brockhoff and Co. was a biscuit, cake and self-raising-flour manufacturer. Until the First World War, self-raising flour was its main business, and it eventually became the largest manufacturer of self-raising flour in Australia. After a disastrous fire gutted the factory building in 1928, it discontinued the self-raising flour business and concentrated on biscuits, which proved a successful venture.

Thomas Brunton and Co. was one of the first millers to introduce a modern roller flour grinding process in Victoria, leading to flour becoming one of Australia’s major exports. Brunton had a shed in the North Melbourne railway yards, which could store 20,000 bags of wheat when its own granary was full. A siding ran across the road into the mill, where trucks could be unloaded at a platform.

T.B. Guest and Co. was founded in 1851 in Sydney, and subsequently moved to Melbourne. It manufactured cakes and biscuits, establishing Milk Arrowroot, Marie, Coffee, Ginger Nuts and Small Rice as early favourites. It was one of several companies in Australia that produced the iconic Teddy Bear biscuits.

The ‘charming lady … with smiling face and eloquent gesture’ in the Brunton flour advertisements, the cheery Brockhoff chef and Guest Teddy Bear biscuits became household identities and products.

The landmark buildings of these manufacturers still exist today. Thomas Brunton and Co. is now known as Weston Milling, while the Brockhoff and T.B. Guest buildings were converted into apartments in the early 2000s.

Victorian Railways, various goods yards, flour mills and biscuit manufacturers became major employers of the local community in North and West Melbourne. The workers occupied simple cottages that sprang up around the factories, reflecting the characteristically close relationship between workplace and dwellings in working-class suburbs up to the Second World War.

Further Reading

  • Bycroftboy, ‘Brockhoff Biscuits’ (factory video), YouTube
  • Graeme Butler & Associates, 'Arden-Macauley Heritage Review', City of Melbourne, Melbourne, 2012
  • T. Brunton & Co. 'Australian Roller Flour Mills and Grain Stores', John Murray Printer, Melbourne, c. 1894
  • ‘The Story of Our Secondary Industries. IX Manufacture of Biscuits and Cakes’, The Age, 23 January 1937, p. 7
  • William H. Thomas, ‘Brockhoff’s of Australia Family Firm for 90 Years’, Biscuit and Cracker Baker, April 1956, pp. 24–28
  • ‘Where “Victory” Flour Is Made. Messrs. T. Brunton & Co.’s Recent Improvements at North Melbourne’, The Miller’s Journal, 31 March 1914, pp. 82–87

Railway Workshops

The gradual reclamation of West Melbourne Swamp yielded more land for the railways. Railways Reserve, running along Moonee Ponds Creek, expanded incrementally during the 1880s. Affectionately known by ‘steam men’ as ‘the big smoke’ and ‘the hub of the locomotive universe’, North Melbourne Locomotive Depot was built on reclaimed land in 1888. It became the largest depot in Victoria, housing and maintaining the growing number of Victorian Railways steam locomotives.

During this time, new wood yards and sidings were built at Arden and Laurens Streets, and in 1892 a 20-ton weighbridge was installed for trucks, boosting transport-dependent industry. Used to determine rail freight charges, weighbridges were key to goods transportation. The weighing platform enabled goods to be weighed and swiftly loaded onto trains for distribution.

The Metro Tunnel Arden Station construction site, located on the corner of Laurens and Barwise Streets, was where the Victorian Railways Carpenters Shop was constructed around 1913. It was built to support the increasing amount of timber works required to provide for the expanding railways. By 1927, the carpenters shop became the Victorian Railways Printing Works. In 1947, a ticket-printing machine was set up on this site. Railway tickets and timetables were printed here until the early 1970s. In recent times, the building was known as Laurens Hall and housed a timber furniture business and an events space.

Further Reading

  • H.K. Atkinson, 'Suburban Tickets of the Victorian Railways', Regal Press, Launceston, 1991
  • Graeme Butler & Associates, 'Arden-Macauley Heritage Review', City of Melbourne, Melbourne, 2012
  • Henry Pottage, ‘At the North Melbourne Loco. Shed’, The Victorian Railways Magazine, 6 February 1906, p. 8
  • Museums Victoria, ‘Victorian Railways: Celebrating 150 Years of Railways in Victoria’,


Dudley Flats

Located at the end of Dudley Street, on the south-eastern shore of West Melbourne Swamp, Dudley Flats was a shanty town that became home to Melbourne’s poor at the beginning of the 1930s Great Depression. Its residents constructed tents and shacks from materials found on tips. Dudley Flats gained a reputation for fights, petty crime and drunkenness. In the 1940s, following the government’s introduction of waste-recovery schemes to assist the war effort, the area was largely abandoned, as salvage dealers could no longer make a living from the nearby tips.

Dudley Flats housed many interesting people. Elsie Williams (née Carr, 1901–42) was a Bendigo-born singer of Afro-Caribbean origin. She had been a member of the Fisk Jubilee Singers and performed in choruses in Melbourne’s musical theatre productions. Abandoned by her husband, she slipped into a downward spiral of alcoholism, petty crime and, at times, poor mental health. Williams gained a reputation for fighting with her fists and a razor blade. Punitive vagrancy laws and institutional racism saw her face 70 charges between 1922 and 1942.

Lauder Rogge (1874–1949) was a German seaman who lived for decades on a stranded ship at the flats, making a living breeding and selling dogs at Melbourne’s Eastern Market. Soon after buying the schooner John Hunt, Rogge was interned during the First World War. Upon his return to the flats, the area was reclaimed and his ship was stranded on dry land.

Known as ‘The King of Dudley Flats’, Jack Peacock (1886–1958) worked as a salvage dealer. He began living rough after his wife died, and he became one of the first residents of Dudley Flats. Peacock was a teetotaller and he fiercely resisted authorities’ final clearing of the shanty town.

Social reformer Frederick Oswald Barnett often inspected the area, documenting the dwellings and living conditions. His photo captions referred to some of the dwellings as ‘Dudley Mansions’. Barnett’s government report on slum housing aimed to reform housing conditions in Melbourne and led to the establishment of the Housing Commission.

Further Reading

  • David Sornig, Blue Lake, Scribe Publications, Melbourne, 2018
  • Gary Vines, Dudley Flats Archaeological Investigation, Melbourne’s Living Museum of the West, Melbourne, 1999

Immigration and Gentrification

For the first half of the 20th century, North and West Melbourne housing was in a depressed state and part of the area was considered a ‘slum’. Following the Second World War, properties were subject to rental control in Victoria, and capped rents during a time of rising prices gave landlords an incentive to sell. Unless they could get vacant possession, landlords could only sell to the sitting tenant, which enabled many long-term residents to finally purchase a home. Immigrants, largely from southern Europe, often bought houses soon after their arrival. Owner-occupants took pride in their homes and made improvements.

In 1950, landlords owned 68% of the housing stock, but by 1969 only 18%. In 1950, 90% of North Melbourne’s dwellings were houses. This changed rapidly during the 1960s when the Housing Commission bought and demolished large swathes of houses deemed ‘slums’, replacing them with blocks of flats. By 1970, 36% of dwellings were houses and 64% flats.

Attracted by its proximity to the city and universities, and with an appreciation of its heritage, a younger demographic moved into North and West Melbourne by the 1980s. The City of Melbourne introduced heritage controls and many 19th-century houses were restored to their original state, resulting in gentrification of the area.

During the 1990s, some of the old factories and warehouses were converted into cafes and loftstyle apartments. North and West Melbourne continue to evolve, with a number of new apartment blocks being built on large plots of land previously used for industry.

In 2020, North Melbourne’s population was 17,534 and West Melbourne’s 8,262, and these figures are expected to rise to 36,683 and 17,156 respectively by 2040.

Further Reading

  • Ken Johnson, People and Property in North Melbourne, Australian National University, Canberra, 1974

Fare to Ride

Fare to Ride

Public transport has been essential to the development of the city. North Melbourne Railway Station opened in 1859, and despite the name it was actually situated in West Melbourne.

Australia’s first steam railway was opened in 1854. Steam locomotives were replaced with diesel-electric locomotive passenger trains in the early 1950s, revolutionising engine power and dramatically reducing running costs. Trains evolved through several electric models, from ‘red rattlers’ to Hitachi and Comeng. On the 2025 opening of the Metro Tunnel, 65 new High Capacity Metro Trains, with the latest technology, greater comfort and accessibility, will be operating in Melbourne.

Built in 1873, the Hotham stables, located near the corner of Macaulay Road and Haines Street, was the third of a series of 11 stables established by the Melbourne Omnibus Company for its city and suburban horse-drawn bus services, which began in 1869. As well as housing the horses and omnibuses, the stables had a facility where the horses were trained.

The stables served omnibuses operating on the route from Queensberry Street to Flinders Street Railway Station (formerly known as Hobson’s Bay Railway Station), via Errol, Victoria and Elizabeth Streets. They ran every six minutes and the fare to ride was threepence (equivalent to $1.57 in 2020). Real-estate advertisements often noted if a property was near or on the omnibus route, as this was considered a major selling point. The service closed in 1890, when the local omnibus services were superseded by cable trams. The stables is the only surviving building associated with the company responsible for establishing the first large-scale urban-street public transport system in Victoria.

Melbourne’s first cable tram service ran in 1885 along Flinders Street to Richmond. It was not until 1891 that a line opened to North Melbourne and another to West Melbourne. The introduction of cable trams drove the development of suburban strip-shopping streets. Cable trams also reduced the need of the working classes to live near their workplaces.

The cable tram consisted of a grip car and a trailer. The grip car was fitted with a hand-operated ‘gripper’ mechanism that pulled the tram along the rails. Conductors used a bell punch to collect fares. Instead of issuing tickets, they would punch a hole in the long cardboard trip-slips pinned to their uniforms. At the end of the day, the holes in the bell punch were counted to balance with the money taken.

The North Melbourne Cable Tramway Engine House, located on the corner of Abbotsford and Queensberry Streets, housed huge driving wheels that powered the trams’ underground cables.

This was the most extensive cable tramway in the world operated by a single authority. The site is also significant for containing the only known cable track to survive intact in Melbourne.

In 1935, the North Melbourne line was electrified, the West Melbourne line closed and replaced with buses. Since the early 1980s to the present day, Z3-class trams have operated on tram route 57 through North and West Melbourne.

Further Reading

  • Graeme Butler & Associates, Arden-Macauley Heritage Review, City of Melbourne, Melbourne, 2012
  • Jack Cranston, The Melbourne Cable Trams 1885–1940, Craftsman Publishing, Melbourne, 1988
  • John D. Keating, Mind the Curve! A History of the Cable Trams, Melbourne University Press, Carlton, 1972
  • Robert Lee, The Railways of Victoria 1854–2004, Melbourne University Press, Carlton, 2007
  • Museums Victoria, ‘Victorian Railways: Celebrating 150 Years of Railways in Victoria’,


Arden Station

Arden Station

The new Metro Tunnel Arden Station, near the corner of Arden and Laurens Streets, is part of broader urban renewal efforts in the Arden–Macaulay precinct. Over the next 30 years it is expected the area will become home to 15,000 residents and more than 34,000 jobs directly connected to the train network via the Metro Tunnel. In 2029, Arden Station will directly link with Melbourne Airport.

The Metro Tunnel will create a new end-to-end rail line from Sunbury, in the west, to Cranbourne/Pakenham, in the south-east, with high-capacity trains and five new underground stations. Due to open in 2025, it will enable more than a half a million additional passengers per week across Melbourne’s train network to use the rail system during peak periods.

Arden’s rich industrial history will be reflected in the design of the station, featuring materials such as clay brick, bluestone, timber, steel and glass. It will feature 15 soaring brick arch segments comprising more than 100,000 bricks, all manufactured in Victoria.

Laurens and Barwise Streets will be greener, pedestrian-friendly and public transport–oriented. Landscaped public spaces will be gathering places for locals and passengers alike. Because the broader Arden precinct is prone to flooding, water-sensitive design elements have been incorporated. Drainage at the station has been designed to capture the natural flow of rainwater and distribute it into nearby gardens.

The new station is within walking distance of the North Melbourne Recreation Centre, Arden Street Oval and tram route 57.

About the contributors

Historical content

The North and West Melbourne Association aims to address local community matters and provide an opportunity for those who live and work in the area to contribute to the social fabric and future directions of their local community.

The Hotham History Project is a community group with an interest in the history of North and West Melbourne, formerly known as Hotham.

This project was made possible by the determination and vision of Peter Gerrand, Mary Kehoe and Lorraine Siska from the North and West Melbourne Association and Hotham History Project.

Collection and image support was provided by Heather McKay, Melbourne Library Service, North Melbourne Library; Warren Doubleday, Melbourne Tram Museum Inc.; Robert Green; James Dalton, The Railway Archives, Australian Railway Historical  Society; Ian Jenkin, Newport Railway Museum; Bycroft Boy on Flickr; Public Records Office Victoria; State Library Victoria; National Archives of Australia; The Arnott’s Group; and Anne St George.

Writing and design

Artist: Wanissa Somsuphangsri, @wanisssa
Graphic Designer: Heather Walker, @typebyheather
Curator & Writer: Christine Eid, @towprojects

Website: Sue Scarfe