The Historic Streets of Melbourne

Well-designed and laid-out roads have been an important feature of the City of Melbourne ever since the early days of settlement. In 1837, Sir Richard Bourke, the governor of the Colony of New South Wales, appointed surveyor Robert Hoddle to carry out a full survey of the settlement. Hoddle then went about producing the first surveyor’s plan, which laid out the streets of Melbourne in the positions they are still in today. The grid of roads originated at Batman’s Hill, which would evolve into today’s Melbourne road network.

Today, walking these roads will give you brief glimpses into time past, such as with the cobbled laneways and some of the old architecture that still remains on these now busy streets. There are even many day tours in Melbourne that attract people from all over the world to come and take a trip down memory lane. The following are some of Melbourne’s more historic streets.

Collins Street

Running right through the heart of the CBD is Collins Street — Melbourne’s most famous shopping strip. The street is named after Lieutenant-Governor David Collins, who was the first Governor of Tasmania. By 1839, the area around Collins Street was scattered with small, run-down brick buildings, small huts and tents, which were soon joined by houses and barracks for police and troops.

A street that was once described as being “…so slushy and sticky that often to cross from any portion of the now flagged and fashionable ‘block’ one required to be equipped in a pair of leggings or long mud boots,” is now home to stores filled with high-end jewellery, fashion and luxury goods.

Exhibition Street

Exhibition Street, which was originally called Stephen Street, was the sight of the first Female Penitentiary, a watchhouse and large organised markets. Today, the street has been extended across the Yarra River to link up with the southern portion of Melbourne’s freeway system CityLink.

Elizabeth Street

Elizabeth Street was named after Elizabeth Bourke, the wife of Richard Bourke. The Street is located in a small depression that has been carved out by the flowing Williams Creek, which empties into the Yarra. While the street started out as a muddy, rut-filled, and somewhat grimy street, it soon developed into a centralised hub for various shops.

Bourke Street

Modern Bourke Street is home to the Bourke Street Mall, which is a short pedestrian and tram strip that is recognised as Melbourne’s shopping heart. The street was named after Sir Richard Bourke, who served as the Governor of New South Wales from 1831-1837.

Swanston Street

Today, Swanston Street is where it’s all happening and has served as the main parade route and the civic heart of the city since Robert Hoddle first drew it up. Named after Captain Charles Swanston, this street has a fun collection of buildings, businesses, shops, shoppers, buskers and public sculptures.

Even though the street was the retail centre from day one, the boom times during the gold rush era between the 1850s and 1880s resulted in Swanston Street becoming the busiest of all. It became the home of some of the most important historic buildings that are showcased on every Melbourne day tour: the Town Hall, the State Library, the Museum of Victoria, St Paul’s Cathedral and the former Queen Victoria Hospital.

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