Industrial Land

And Wetland


The relationship between the natural environment and industrialization in Melbourne's Western Region



Gary Vines


with Brett Lane








Industrial Land And Wetland


The relationship between the natural environment and

industrialization in Melbourne's Western Region.


©, Gary Vines.












         1.1 Study objective

         1.2 Rationale

         1.3 Management

         1.4 Study Area

         1.5 Method




         2.1 Pre-European environment

                   2.1.1 Landscape

                   2.1.2 Flora and Fauna




         3.1 Moonee Ponds Creek

         3.2 Batman's or West Melbourne Swamp, Coode Island and Yarra River

         3.3 Maribyrnong River

         3.4 Lower Yarra (HobsonLs River)

         3.5 Stony Creek and Backwash

         3.6 Kororoit Creek and Cherry Lake

         3.7 Skeleton Creek







Appendix   Summary list of industrial sites



This study addresses the effect of historical industrial development on the natural wetland systems in Melbourne's Western Region, particularly in areas of the lower Maribyrnong River, Kororoit Creek, Moonee Ponds Creek and Batman's Swamp.


The study involves a survey of background literature to establish the historic environment of the region before modification by European settlement and industrialization, assesses the effect of that settlement and industry on the wetland systems and identifies the physical evidence of the transformation and remnants of wetlands in the region.




1.1 Study Objective


The primary aim of the project is to study the relationship between historic wetlands and industry on the region's waterways. The specific objectives are:


1. To describe the process by which natural wetland and riverine environments have been modified by the development of industry of the banks of the rivers and swamps and to document the inter-relationship between the wetland and industrial environments. (for example, the drainage and filling of swamps, the use of rivers fro transport and water supply and the effect of industrial pollution.)


2. to raise public awareness of the areas heritage value and the historic changes to the environment of wetlands and streams.


3. to identify remnants of natural wetland systems.




Natural Heritage


to survey historical literature regarding the flora and fauna of historic and surviving wetland areas in the vicinity of the region's waterways.


Industrial heritage


to survey and describe sites, features and artifacts relating to settlement and industrialization of wetland areas in the vicinity of the region's waterways.


1.2 Rationale


This study is based on the premise that the waterways of Melbourne's Western Region are important for their environmental, cultural and social significance in that they contain sites and artifacts of industrial heritage of regional, state or national significance, in association with an important and complex remnant wetland eco-system which are unique in Victoria.


Because the wetlands and waterways of the region are now receiving considerable attention from local residents, Government bodies and developers, they have great potential for projects to enhance urban nature conservation zones such as Stony Creek Backwash, Newell's Paddock, and Cherry Lake, and the consequent enhancement of the urban area. This study is an important step in developing options for the future of the regions wetlands for which several management plans are currently being developed.


1.3 Management


The study has been carried out by Gary Vines of Melbourne's Living Museum of the West Inc. and Brett A. Lane, consultant biologist with a grant for the Department of Conservation and Environment 'Grants to voluntary, community-based, conservation, cultural heritage and environment groups program 1989/90.


1.4 Study area


The area which this report looks at comprises the tidal reaches of the Maribyrnong River between Maribyrnong and Williamstown including adjacent backwashes such as Stony Creek and Greenwich Bay; Moonee Ponds Creek and the Railway Coal Canal; the site of Batman's Swamp, Kororoit Creek between its mouth and Sunshine; Cherry Lake, Altona; and Skeleton Creek in the vicinity of the Laverton Saltworks. These localities are marked on the accompanying location map, fig ...


1.5 Method


The study was conducted over 18 months from September 1990.


It was not possible to carry out a systematic field survey of past and present flora and fauna. However, a literature search was conducted which revealed the general nature of the flora and fauna in the study area during the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. This concentrated on the field naturalist and specialist scientific literature. Some additional information regarding the earlier period was obtained through general literature references, i.e. histories, newspapers and the like.


Historical industrial development was researched through oral, documentary, photographic and archaeological evidence. Data collected from these sources has been used in conjunction with map and aerial photograph interpretation as a basis for developing an outline of the changes to the natural environment of the waterways and to design an appropriate field survey program.


Field survey built on the findings of the literature review and consultation. The survey data was used to compile maps showing historical and present land use, the area of original wetland habitat, and present area of viable or potential habitat.



2.1 Pre-European Environment


2.1.1 Landscape


The wetlands of MelbourneLs urban western region are generally located on the alluvial deposits formed in the valleys and deltas of streams. These streams have eroded deeply incised valleys through the basalt which forms the predominant land form in the region and where they reach the bay they have formed alluvial deltas. The basement rocks of folded and faulted Ordovician and Silurian marine sediments are overlaid by Tertiary sands and gravels and older volcanics. Between one and five million years ago volcanic eruptions buried most of these older sediments west of the Maribyrnong River under basalt lava flows. However the erosive force of the river has cut through the basalt to expose the older sediments. The older volcanic lava flows, capped by the Pliocene 'Red Bluff Sands' outcrop north of the Yarra estuary at Kensington and North Melbourne. Batman's Hill near Spencer St. appears to be the southern edge of this exposure. [1]


Slumping of the Port Phillip basin  resulted in the formation of the bay and drowning of the river mouth which was subsequently filled by estuarine and fluvial sedimentation. These recent and Pleistocene sediments now form the flood plains of the Maribyrnong and Yarra Rivers and the lower reaches of Moonee Ponds Creek as well as the flats between Melbourne and Footscray, extending south from the basalt ridge of Kensington to the Bay. Soils on these floodplains included silt deposited by floodwaters and swamp deposits of fine sand and silty clay. Raised beach ridges from wind-blown and wave-deposited sand were formed south of the Yarra River over much of Port Melbourne. [2]


The name West Melbourne or Batman's Swamp was originally applied to a large salt-water lagoon fed by Moonee Ponds Creek and the floods of the Yarra River but later came to refer to all the marshy ground between Melbourne and Footscray. At least part of the swamp was sufficiently dry for grazing animals while the lagoon occasionally dried out. The lagoon was described as having a bottom of solid blue clay and laying at the high water level while the flats surrounding it were about one metre above high tide. Floods across this area were common with as much as seven feet (2.1 metres) of water covering the land. [3]


The Kororoit Creek/Cherry Lake and Skeleton Creek wetland systems were formed somewhat differently. These streams did not cut so deeply into the basalt so that the remained narrow incised valleys along most of their courses. Only at their mouths where they emptied into the bay were major areas of sedimentary deposits formed. This occurred because the basalt slopes south west and dips under the bay. Raised beach ridges formed along the coast backing up the waters of the streams which deposited silt and formed fresh and saltwater swamps. At Skeleton Creek parallel sand ridges interspersed by swamps and depressions have formed across the delta.


to be completed


2.1.2 flora and fauna


The delta formed by the Yarra and Maribyrnong Rivers was a rich bird habitat with 92 species breeding or visiting.  This was predominantly saltmarsh, swamp and sand dune, created by both marine and riverine sediments. The adjacent higher ground west of the Maribyrnong was formed by the edge of the basalt plain and supported an extensive she-oak forest about a kilometre wide extending from Williamstown to Maribyrnong. In the wetter parts of the basalt plain, in depressions, Eucalyptus rostrata and Swamp Gum E. ovata occur,  in the eastern parts Grey Box E. hemiphloia and E. Melliodora occur, while near the river itself, River Red Gum E. camaldulensis dominates, but was always rare downstream of the rock bar which divided the fresh and salt water near Avondale Heights. Otherwise the plains vegetation was composed of grassland plants, both common grasses such as Kangaroo and Spear Grass, and many flowering plants, from the thorny Blue Devil to the most delicate orchids. [4]


The geological formations of Melbourne have been identified as having an impact on the types and variety of bird and animal life common to the region.[5] The basalt country stretching west of the Maribyrnong is habitat to the dry plain birds known as Eyrean. These are typified by the Plain wanderer, Bustard, Regent Honeyeater, Striped Honeyeater, Grass Parrot, Grass Owl and Banded Stilt. East of the Maribyrnong the Silurian bedrock supports Stringybark forest which in turn  supports a range of forest birds, examples being Black-and white Fantail, Blue Wren, Red Wattle-bird, Rosella, Kookaburra, Pipit and Welcome Swallow.


James Backhouse recorded one of the few very early accounts of wildlife along the rivers when he visited Melbourne in 1837. His account describes the Yarra River, "Fringed with shrubs and trees the whole way". He observed the "Nonkin Heron [Nankeen night Heron?]... Emus,...Native Companion [a Crane]... Bustard, Yellow-tailed and Red-tailed Black Cockatoos, round-headed White Cockatoos, Parrots of various kinds, Pelicans, Black Swans, Ducks of various kinds...White Hawks, Greater Laughing Jackasses, Kingfishers, Quails, and various other birds, not to omit the Piping Crow, with its cheerful note and the Black Magpie."[6]


The huge numbers of waterbirds which inhabited wetlands to the west of Melbourne can be gauged from the returns of Wildfowl numbers. In 1864-5 a total of 47 tons 13 stone 3 pound 16 ounces of wildfowl were shipped on the Government Railway. While the bulk of this was shipped from Geelong Station, Little River accounted for over a ton. The Victorian Year Book also records number of wildfowl in its returns of sales at Melbourne Markets.[7] An average of about 60,000 brace of Teal and Duck were sold between 1886 and 1898 falling to between 20 and 30 thousand in the early twentieth century and down to one to three thousand in the 1920s and 1930s.[8]

2.2 Effect of Settlement and industry on Wetlands


Geographic factors have had an enormous influence on the location of settlement and industry in Melbourne. The original choice of the first white settlement depended on the presence of fresh drinking water and elevated land at the furthest navigable point up the tidal estuary of the Yarra River.


Subsequent settlement was confined to higher flood-free ground with large expanses of swamps separating communities. Initial settlement  was established at three main locations:


1. On the north bank of the Yarra between Batman's Hill immediately west of Spencer St. and Spring St. now the Central Business District.


2. On the west  side of the Maribyrnong River above its confluence with the Yarra. The site of Footscray


3. On the peninsular of land jutting out into HobsonLs Bay. i.e. Williamstown.


The swamps and lagoons of the Yarra/Maribyrnong estuary were a barrier to development for over a hundred years. The low lands near the rivers and creeks were abandoned to the least desirable uses such as rubbish dumps, abattoirs, noxious trades and other industries. However, even these uses required particular conditions. Filling the swamps was impractical so higher ground was settled first.


Mud flats, saltmarsh and tea tree scrub alternated along the river banks with a few areas of higher ground. Downstream of the main settlement of Melbourne, Batman's Hill formed a suitable site for early industry such as the Gas works and boiling down establishments. Natural flood banks adjacent to the river provided suitable sites with the swamp behind hindering expansion. North of Batman's Swamp, industries located in the rising ground of North and West Melbourne and Kensington and backed onto the ponds which formed the outlet of Moonee Ponds Creek.


The nearest suitable ground to the west occurred at Footscray where the western basalt plain rose up from the river flats. Footscray itself was established between marshes.
The Maribyrnong was navigable to small craft for a considerable distance  (about 17 km. from the mouth) so above Footscray a few industrial sites were developed in apparent rural isolation. South of Footscray was a swampy area at the outlet of Billy Button Creek. Rising ground which provided sites for industries requiring large areas with river berths was found at Yarraville and Spotswood. Apart from these small areas the river bank was low and marshy. Large mud flats existed at the Stony Creek backwash and Greenwich Bay near Williamstown. On the east side of the river at Fishermen's Bend and Coode Island, low sand dunes alternated with marsh and almost all of the land was flood prone. The remaining watercourses in Melbourne's west, Kororoit and Skeleton Creek were sufficiently remote to avoid industrial development until the mid 20th century.


Aboriginal Occupation


Records suggest that the area around Batman's swamp and the rivers and creeks was a very important environment of Aborigines. They exploited this environment for food and materials for clothing, tools etc. Little is recorded of their activities but when Fawkner came across a group of Aborigines near Batman's Swamp he noted ...'the Blacks at first alarmed, the women in particular. When I drove towards them  threw themselves into strange but pleasing positions and bellowed loudly'. [9]  Aboriginal artifacts have been recorded on the banks of the Maribyrnong River upstream of Footscray, and on the creek banks within the metropolitan area. However, most of their camping sites have long been destroyed by European settlement.


Batman's Hill appears to have been a focus for Aborigines, both as a rich source of food and a ceremonial and spiritual site. This evidently led to additional conflicts between Aborigines and Europeans. The Yarra River appears to have been a boundary between the Aboriginal groups of the Bunerong and Woiwurung/Wurundjeri tribes. The particular clan which probably frequented the lower Yarra and swamp was the Yalukit. willam but other clans probably had rights to use this area.


Early settlement


Knowledge of Port Phillip Bay came to navigators and settlers in New South Wales only 14 years after settlement had begun in Australia when on January 5 1802 Lieut. John Murray aboard the Lady Nelson observed what was 'apparently a fine harbour of large extent' through the heads which guard the entrance to Port Phillip Bay. Two months later on a second visit he entered the bay and took possession of the port in the name of George III. Seven weeks after this Captain Mathew Flinders, aboard the Investigator, sailed into the bay and reported an 'extensive harbour' surrounded by country which had 'a pleasing, and in many places a fertile appearance'. [10]


On the basis of the reports from Murray and Flinders, Governor King dispatched his Surveyor-General, Charles Grimes with instructions to explore the shores of the Bay. On 2 February 1803 Grimes and his party rowed a small boat up the course of the Yarra River to its tidal limit. Flemming, a member of his party later, described this place as 'the most eligible place for a settlement that I have seen'. [11]


Melbourne's first white settlement was in the vicinity of Batman's Hill  This area can be located today only from documents and no physical evidence of the first period of settlement is likely to be found because of the extensive excavations and reclamation associated with river improvements, railway construction and city buildings. However, the topographic features which identified the site such as the high ground adjacent to the river and swamp can be identified by the informed observer. Russell's 1837 map of Melbourne shows three long narrow buildings at the top of a ridge which led down to the river with paddock  a garden and cultivated ground. [12]


When the Government survey was carried out under Hoddle's supervision the streets were laid out around the existing huts to the east of Batman's farm to take advantage of the high ground on the north bank of the Yarra and avoid the swamps altogether. This geographic influence continued to determine all future land use in the area. As land around Melbourne was surveyed and sold, the higher and more fertile areas were given preference and the swamps and riverbanks were reserved for future public purposes.


3. discussion


3.1 Moonee Ponds Creek


Moonee Ponds Creek originally ended in a flood plain north of Batman's Swamp where a series of small ponds periodically flooded and dried out. While this area was predominantly used for grazing up to the 1870s, its rapid industrialization demanded considerable modification of the natural waterway resulting in the conversion of the creek to a drain between about 1870 and 1885. [13]


North of Mt. Alexander Road the creek runs through a narrow valley deeply incised into the tertiary sediments and older volcanics. South of this point the creek opens into a wider valley composed of alluvial sediments produced by floods from both the creek itself, and backup of the Yarra River. The creek channel disappeared at this point and a series of shallow lakes extended to the south. The three largest lakes were located at the present Debney's Park, between Racecourse Road and Sutton St. and the site of the present McAuley Station respectively. These ponds  gave the creek its name, it originally going by the name of the Moonee Moonee Chain of Ponds.[14]


The native vegetation of the lower reaches of the creek was very quickly wiped out by European settlement. As in other  places, the timber was cut for fuel, scrub was burnt off, introduced livestock destroyed the native grasses and introduced plants and animals crowded out the natives. Pre-settlement vegetation comprised two main habitats. On the swampy valley bottom marsh plants such as Gahnia filum  and  Muehlenbeckia cunninghamii  were interspersed with red gum trees Eucalyptus camaldulensis  and spear grass Poa labillardieri on the higher and drier ground and along the swamp edges. Further back from the creek and in the narrow valley, a woodland habitat took over dominated by Eucalyptus  species including red gum,  yellowbox E. microcarpa and E. melliodora. Acacia species and She Oak Casuarina stricta would also have been prevalent along with a range of smaller shrubs including bottle brush Callistemon paludosa  and Phragmites australis.


The 1872 Royal Commission found the creek: flood times sends down an enormous quantity of water... together with the fetid drainage from West Melbourne, Hotham (now North Melbourne) and Flemington stagnates in the shallow lagoon in the swamp, the level of the bed of which lagoon is below that of the high water in the Yarra.' 


The factory wastes which fed into the streams and rubbish and even night soil dumped in the swamp added to the pollution. [15] 


The Royal Commission recommended that the outlet of the creek be excavated, canals dug and pumps installed to drain Batman's Swamp. By 1877 this work had been completed. South of Swamp road the old channel was further excavated to form the coal canal in the late1880s. This canal was about 130 metres wide and about 1500 metres long and provided access for coal barges to a landing stage near the North Melbourne Locomotive Depot located between North Melbourne Station and the canal. The canal survives south of Footscray Road although it has been narrowed and has silted up since it was last used some time in the 1930s.


The section of the creek between Racecourse Road and the northern end of the coal canal near McAuley Rd. was made into a bluestone lined drain in about1884. This work was carried out at the same time as the construction of the Upfield Railway line which follows the east side of the wide grassed floodway.


The area known as 'Flemington Bank' was located near the chain of ponds which formed the outlet of Moonee Ponds Creek between Mt Alexander Road and Dynon Road. Many tanneries were established here in the late nineteenth century. The availability of fresh water and local wattle stands were probably the main factors on this particular industry, but from the 1870s, public and government pressure to improve the quality of the Yarra upstream of the city lead to many of the tanneries in Richmond and Collingwood relocating west. Many of these moved to Flemington Bank. [16]


The largest of these tanneries was Debney Brothers, located in the site of the present Debney Park off Mt Alexander Road. This area was originally the southern limit of Moonee Ponds Creek as it became a series of ponds between here and Batman's Swamp. Other large factories in the vicinity were Main's Belt Factory, Gunn & Hiskin horsehair drawers and curlers, and Barnett Glass Rubber


Land was reserved for rubbish incinerators for Melbourne, Footscray and Flemington Councils by the 1890s in association with the rubbish tips on the swamp. It appears that only Melbourne constructed their incinerator, which was known as a desiccator. This was located south of the Swamp or Dynon Road west of the Coal Canal. A jetty was constructed to allow loading of refuse for dumping in the bay and possibly for unloading coal and other combustible material for firing the desiccator. Slaughter house and market waste may also have been dried in the desiccator for making fertilizer. On the north side of Swamp Road the council had a substantial stables for its horses used in collecting rubbish from the city.



3.2 Batman's or West Melbourne Swamp, Coode Island and Yarra River


Between Melbourne and Footscray was a swamp and saltmarsh environment on alluvial sediments formed by the deposition of silt from Moonee Ponds Creek and the Yarra and Maribyrnong Rivers. The principal features of the area were:


-A large salt-water lagoon variously known as Batman's Swamp or the West Melbourne Swamp,

-Marshy flats surrounding the lagoon and on either side of the Yarra River,

-The river itself which had natural raised levee banks with a scrub vegetation of saltmarsh and tea tree,

- An escarpment to the north and east which includes the remnants of Batman's Hill and a tongue of lava flow to the north.


The West Melbourne Swamp was an irregular shaped shallow salt-water lagoon about two kilometres east to west and one and a half kilometres north to south. Its southern shore was about 500 metres from the River Yarra and its western end a kilometre from the city. Between the river and lagoon was an area of tea-tree scrub while the remainder of the flats appear to have been treeless grass and marsh. The openness of the country is evident from John Pascoe Fawkner's comment that he took the first ride in a chaise... [going] down to the salt lagoon and returned back another way very good driving and although through the trees found no inconvenience from the dead wood.[17]


Solid blue clay formed the bottom of the lagoon and underlay the alluvial silt which comprised the deltaic deposits of the Yarra. The alluvial flats were about one metre above sea level and the lagoon was barely above the high water level of the River and so up to the 1890s floods were quite common with as much as seven feet (2.1 metres) of water covering the land. During summer the lagoon often dried out. [18]


The term 'Batman's Swamp' appears to have been originally applied only to the lagoon, but later both Batman's Swamp and the alternative West Melbourne Swamp referred to all the low lying land north of the Yarra and west of the main North Eastern Railway.


Batman's Hill, also called Mount Pleasant, was a low mound of resistant sedimentary rock rising from the bank of the Yarra. It fell away to the river flats on three sides and was connected to high ground by a saddle on the north east and a narrow ridge ran south almost to the river bank. It was at the top of this ridge that John Batman established his selection. [19]


An escarpment, steep in places, ran roughly north west form Batman's Hill coming within about 200 metres of the lagoon and then following the east side of Moonee Ponds Creek. On the west side of the creek a tongue of basalt rock from lava flows extended south to the very edge of the lagoon terminating in a steep cliff. [20]


This environment was rich in birdlife and aquatic species of flora and fauna and would have provided a valuable food source for Aborigines. Reference is occasionally made to the abundance of wildlife in the area, and even into the 20th century the isolation afforded by the swampy nature of the ground and the river barriers protected nesting waterfowl from predators. Thousands of  ducks nested on the swamps into the 1900s and[21]


Coode Island


Coode Island was created as a result of the excavation of the Coode Canal in 1886 between a point on the river just below the Victoria Dock to just above the Stony Creek Backwash, cutting off a bend of the Yarra previously known as Fishermen's Bend, and a stretch known as Humbug Reach and reducing the trip from the bay to the Melbourne docks by about two miles. The old course of the Yarra remained as a shallow channel for many decades, creating an area of about 240 acres surrounded by water. The Island was then effectively isolated from major human impact from the 1880s to 1950s. As such it became a sanctuary for wildlife.


The original vegetation as described on early survey plans, was dominated by Tea-tree Scrub, salt marsh, swamp and sandy waste with a small stand of trees, possibly swamp Paperbark, which was destroyed when the canal cut through it. The swamps harboured a variety of species of plant , animal and insect life. Of the latter, new species of mosquito,  Culex labeculosus and scale insect, Pulvinaria salicornae,  were described early this century along with some more common scale insects. Of native plants, Black Wattle, and Coast Wattle, Acacia longifolia, Climbing lignum, Muelenbeckia adpressa,  New Holland Daisy, Vittadinia australis,  Sea Blight, Myoporum viscosum,  Smooth Sea-heath, Frankenia pauciflora, and, Angular, Rounded and Small Pigface, Mesembryanthemum australe, M. aequilaterale, and M. tegens, were found by Tovey in 1908 and 1909, along with a vast array of exotic plants probably introduced from ships ballast which had been dumped on the island. The Small Pigface was apparently more common on the north side of the old river course around the West Melbourne Swamp.[22]


In regards the exotic species, there were also many introduced species of rock found on the south east portion of the island from foreign ships dumping ballast. The locality was noted as a good site for obtaining geological specimens which were otherwise unprocurable elsewhere in Victoria, some examples being gneiss banded with crystallized red garnets, granite porphyries, schist, limestone crowded with fossils, varied sandstones and quartzite. It was remarked that they ...would constitute handsome educational cabinet specimens of types of rock difficult to procure otherwise except at some expense..L.[23]


One of Coode Island's few residents Bill Lemarquand, who was born  on the island in 1901 and lived there until the 1940s, recalls how,


The sky was ablaze with skylarks...every few yards there were nests on the ground. Springtime was full of their music. Sometimes there were dolphins in the river. The most beautiful thing I have ever seen was the pigface growing on the island in spring. It was a swamp in the middle before they drained it. I will never forget that pigface.[24]


As a boy, Bill caught bream, mullet and eels in the rivers as well as rabbits, and he recalls that wild ducks were abundant.


The encircling moat formed by the old course of the Yarra River, which was not entirely filled until the 1950s or 60s, The Maribyrnong and the Coode Canal provided an effective barrier to cats, dogs and foxes, making Coode Island one of the few places in Australia were ducks nested naturally on the ground, free from all fear of any depredations. It is likely that such feral animals were kept out by an eradication program to prevent any possibility of contagion spreading from the animal quarantine station. Human visitors were probably deterred by the presence of a sanatorium for bubonic plague patients.


Coode Island was once a significant breeding and feeding ground for thousands of wader and other birds. Local ornithologists such as "Gerygone" (Jack Jones), Margaret McKenzie, Laurence OLConnor and Ralph Kenyon recognized the area's importance, as did the many field naturalists, and bird watchers who made regular club excursions to both the Coode Island and Fisherman's Bend areas. The area was of sufficient note for the head of Severn Wildlife Trust, Peter Scott, to visit it during a trip to Australia,


Forty Years ago over 40 species of Australian birds were found breeding at Coode Island while many more species found food, shelter or rest there, either as part of a wider range, or during stopovers on continental migrations. Footscray's First Hundred Years  provides lists of breeding species as well as frequent and rare visitors, making particular mention of the almost extinct Australian Bustard, and several other rare birds. The brightly coloured Blue Winged Shoveller was often seen in Spring on the Coode Island swamps and occasionally on the Maribyrnong River .[25]


          Species  Found Breeding -


Banded Plover, Marsh Crake, Hoary Headed Grebe, Whiskered Tern, Silver Gull, Spur Winged Plover, Red Capped Dotterel, White Headed Stilt, Black Swan, Black Duck, Grey Teal, White Eyed Duck, Black Shouldered Kite, Welcome Swallow, Willie Wagtail, White Fronted Chat, Golden Headed Fantail Warbler, White Plumed Honey eater, Pipit, Raven, White Backed Magpie, Magpie Lark.


          Frequent Visitors -


Black Cormorant , Little Black Cormorant, Little Pied Cormorant, Pacific Gull, White Ibis, White Faced Heron, Chestnut Teal, Blue Winged Shoveller, Swamp Harrier, Whistling Eagle, Little Falcon, Peregrine Falcon, Brown Hawk, Nankeen Kestrel, Boobook Owl, Barn Owl, Blue Winged Parrot, Palled Cuckoo, Blue Kingfisher, Straw Necked Ibis, Fire-tailed Finch, Shrike-Tit, Gang Gang Cockatoo, English Thrush.


          Infrequent Visitors. -


Stubble Quail, Spotted Crake, Australian Coot, Dusky Moorhen, Eastern swamp hen, Little Grebe, Australian Pelican, Crested Tern, Red Kneed Dotterel, Double Banded Dotterel, Red Necked Avocet,  Royal Spoonbill, Yellow-billed Spoonbill, White Egret,  White Necked Heron, Nankeen Night Heron, Brown Bittern, Maned Goose, Mountain Duck, Pink Eared Duck, Musk Duck, Brown Goshawk, Black Falcon, Red Backed Parrot, Fork Tailed Swift, Spine Tailed Swift, Tree Martin, Fairy Martin, Grey Fantail, Black Faced Cuckoo Shrike, Yellow Tailed Thornbill, Brown Song Lark, Blue Wren, Grey Backed Silver Eye, Butcher Bird, Cape Barren Goose, Cuckoo Shrike, Little Cuckoo Shrike, Tawny Frog Mouth, Green Finch, Reed Warbler, Rufus Fantail, Musk Lorikeet, Landrail, Powerful Owl, Spotted-sided Finch.


Early Industry


Because of its cheap leases, convenience to water transport and relative isolation from, but at the same time, proximity to Melbourne, the land on the perimeter of the West Melbourne swamp and the banks of the lower Yarra River became the preferred site of several early industries including an abattoir, gasworks, tanneries, fellmongeries, railway installations, an explosives magazine and the North Melbourne pottery.


This process of industrialization was begun in the 1840s but made only a small impact on the area. Melbourne's first explosives magazine was positioned on the west side of Batman's Hill by 1840, the intervening hill possibly providing blast protection for the city in the event of an explosion. By 1859 It had been relocated to Footscray due to public concern. [26]


The North Melbourne Pottery was established by about 1855 in the northern edge of Batman's Swamp to utilize the local clay which was otherwise such a liability. By 1864 several small huts had been built near the railway line possibly associated with clay digging.




The development of the land between Melbourne and Footscray was dependent of the drainage and reclamation of the Batman's Swamp. This work was a long process begun in a small way in the 1850s and has continued right up to the present day with a few remnants of the old swamp still being subject to filling operations.


In the 19th century Batman's Swamp was both a barrier to travel west of Melbourne and an impediment to westward expansion of the city. Development in the vicinity of the swamp was confined to its margins prior to the second world war. Most of the land south of Swamp (Dynon) Road and north of the Yarra was left empty except for rubbish tips. The Melbourne City Council, Melbourne Harbour Trust and Railways Department all operated tips in this area, which by the 1930s provided a lively hood for fringe dwellers living in the shanty town of 'Dudley Flats'. The banks of the Yarra for about a mile downstream of Spencer Street were leased out to boiling-down works, bone mills and fellmongers from the 1850s to the 1880s when the Harbour Trust resumed the land for river widening. [27]


The first filling of the swamp occurred with the construction of the Wiliamstown, Geelong and Mt Alexander and Murray River Railways, commencing in 1854. The earthworks required to carry the line across the swamp and flood prone land involved fill being taken from cuttings at North Melbourne. By 1863 the Swamp Road had been constructed just south of the railway, and it too required substantial embankments across the northern edge of the swamp. [28]


Complete drainage and filling of the swamp was proposed from the 1860s due to it having become a vile cesspit of sewerage, stagnant pools, and refuse of every description.  By the 1870s the grid of channels redirecting Moonee Ponds Creek and other drains into the Maribyrnong River opposite Footscray creating a relatively flood free meadow. The area was then leased to dairymen for grazing milk cows and became a major source of milk for the city.  A notice from the Lands Department  in 1881, called for Tenders for grazing quiet milch cows on portions of West Melbourne Swamp... for the right to depasture from the 1st August 1881 to 31st July 1882, quiet milch cows, caves and yearlings only within the portions of West Melbourne Swamp...[29]


Probably the first reclamation of the swamp was associated with the construction of the railway and gasworks. The gasworks was built on the bank of the river on flood-prone land in order to take advantage of transport and population factors.  The City of Melbourne Gas and Coke Co. was founded on  28/8/1850 but construction was delayed until 1854-5 when work was carried out under Alex Kennedy Smith who was contracted as design manager. A special gasworks dock was excavated on the north side of the river in July 1854 and on 1/12/1854 the foundation stone was laid In October 1855 the 195 foot chimney stack completed and a commemorative breakfast was held on top of the stack. Gas was turned on to Melbourne on New Years Day 1856,


The railway to Williamstown, Geelong and Bendigo had to first negotiate the swamp land on route to a crossing of the Maribyrnong. The route took it over the northern edge of the swamp across a causeway and across the tongue of high land near the present Lloyd St Kensington requiring vast amounts of fill and ballast obtained from cuttings at North Melbourne and Kensington. This was probably the greatest earth moving operation undertaken in the colony at that time.  An additional causeway was constructed to take the Swamp Road, later Dynon Road, from North Melbourne to Footscray.


Drainage of the swamp was tied to several larger issues being canvassed in Melbourne in the 1850s 60s and 70s. One was the effect of flooding of the Yarra, another was the nuisance of noxious trades and their consequent effect of the health of Melbourne and pollution of its waterways, and the third was the provision of adequate port facilities.


A Royal Commission was set up in 1873 to:


'enquire into the best means of making available the low lands adjacent to the western and southern sides of the City of Melbourne, situated on both banks of the Rive Yarra to suggest what portions of the above lands ought to be specifically reserved for canals, docks, wharves roads, tramways and other works of public utility.'


The commissioners reviewed three schemes for river and dock improvement, identified the causes of flooding on the banks of the river, assessed the cost, worth and practicality of draining and reclaiming the swampland, and took evidence of the navigation hazards.[30]


[The Commissioners]...arrived at the conclusion that it would be inexpedient to incur the enormous expenditure requisite to render any portion of the low lying ground west of the railway eligible for the extension of the city. The West Melbourne Swamp  should be enclosed and drained for ... recreation as a park or cultivation or grazing but not in any case for residences or as sites for manufactories' [and the] low land on both sides of the river...should be reserved from sale'


Proposals for the use of the land included the reservation of:


'100 acres adapted for residential purposes in connection with the extension westward of the City of Melbourne. The rendering of a large extent of ground fit for the establishment of manufactories and stores in the vicinity of he Yarra and of the proposed dock. [The remainder being] well adapted for growing ordinary garden produce, sugar beet, Lucerne, grasses etc. and rendering salubrious a disgusting swamp as repulsive in its present aspect as it is pestilent in its influence, [Unreclaimed land was to be used by dairymen and] a considerable extent of such ground could be reserved for a public park for West Melbourne. It would be the finest piece of grassland in any park in Melbourne.' [31]


The basic recommendations of the Royal Commission were in fact carried out and remained the general approach to land use in the area for the next fifty years. The drainage scheme appears to have been successful and resulted in the provision of grazing ground for Melbourne's milche cows and parcels of reserved land were used for various public purposes such as the Victoria and Appleton Docks, Bubonic Sanatorium, Railway Canal and yards, etc.


Fill from excavation of the docks was used to build up adjacent land and to form a new road to Footscray. This followed the old north bank of the Yarra and was later replaced by New Footscray Road, following the present route. During 1892 Dudley Street was formed to drain the railway yards, as a sustenance scheme to alleviate the plight of local unemployed. [32]


By 1912, an additional 470 acres of the West Melbourne Swamp on the east side of the Maribyrnong River had been reclaimed. This was carried out by the contractor Mr. M. Walsh at the cost of £83 an acre, using a centrifugal pump to move silt a distance of up to three quarters of a mile. This method of land reclamation appears to have been common in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. Several contemporary photographs show large pipelines depositing silt dredged from the river and docks, on to the swamp.[33]


The remnants of the drainage system constructed to drain the swamps can still be found. One of the main channels follows the south side of Dynon Road, where part has been planted out as a bird habitat. Elsewhere the drains are now underground and out of site. The construction of the Coal Canal altered the pattern of drainage and provided fill to raise the land either side. Dredging operations by the Harbour Trust and ash dumps from the railway locomotive depot provided further fill. Today the only remnant of the original land level is to be found adjacent to the Coal Canal.



Noxious Industry


Because of its isolation from Melbourne and unattractive environment for building, the land adjacent to the swamp and along the Yarra River and Moonee Ponds Creek became the preferred location of many noxious industries. Fellmongeries, meat and meat by-product works, tanneries, blood and bone desiccators, council rubbish depots and destructors.


As early as 1855 an abattoirs was constructed on the river bank below the Spencer Street Dock to supply meat to Melbourne. When established it was probably suitably removed from places of habitation and convenient to the existing river wharves for shipment of hides and tallow but it was the precursor of many meat and animal by-product works to take up riverbank leases downstream of Melbourne.


Beyond the gasworks several small sheds were constructed for the fellmongeries where the wool was removed from sheep skins obtained from the abattoirs and washed. They included Brown's, Gollin & Co. W. Brown Junior and Walker. The wastes of course went into the river. Some of these works had primitive docks where small boats bringing skins and hides from the abattoirs and meatworks along the Yarra and Maribyrnong could be unloaded on the banks.


On the south side of the river were the Sandridge abattoirs, boiling-down works and bone mills. These included C. Fitts, The Australian Bone Mills, Hester, Cockbill and Mullinger (who later had works in Newmarket and Braybrook) and Baster. The last three were located on land later excavated for construction of the Coode Canal and most of the other sites disappeared in river widening. In 1873 there were about 20 noxious trade licenses for soap and candle works, boiling down works, fell mongers and wool washers on the Yarra.[34]


Henry Walker conducted separate works for tallow melting, soap and candle making and stearine candle making from about 1856. One works was on the river below the gasworks and another facing the swamp in West Melbourne. In 1867 he was fined for polluting but later claimed to have renewed his plant and was no longer a nuisance. Eugene Ascherbergs boiling-down, bone dust and artificial manure establishment nearby was probably typical of the factories having several buildings of timber and iron without stone foundations of paved floors. Only one, where the machinery was installed had an asphalted floor while offensive drainage oozed over and through the soil and 'a quantity of filthy rubbish and a heap of hoofs was exposed on the ground without cover of any kind.' At J.B. ScottLs works men filled vats with sheep's heads from which the fumes were carried by pipe to the furnaces and the only odors came from the carbolic acid and ammonia used as a deodorizer. In 1873 their were 14 by-product works on the lower Yarra employing 232 hands. [35]


Even in the 19th century there was considerable public concern about the pollution of the area and in some respects it was seen as the worst effected part of Melbourne taking the drainage of Moonee Ponds Creek which was lined with tanneries at Flemington . However the efforts to rid the more populated areas of noxious industry were not carried through to the Lower Yarra and Batman's Swamp which, if anything, became even more polluted as industries located further downstream and moved from the eastern to western side of Melbourne. Several convictions were made against the boiling down works but it was really only with the compulsory removal of the works for river improvements that any change was effected. But still in the 1870s it was said that:


'at the very threshold of Melbourne immediately below the gasworks a boiling down establishment diffuses a sickening stench and shocks the sight with a reeking mass of putrescence and mire where filthy swine and some scarcely less filthy human beings find congenial habitation.' [36]


In 1877 the Harbour Trust began to terminate or refuse renewal of leases and licenses as a precursor to dredging and realignment of the river banks down stream of the gasworks. [37]


Industrial Expansion And Transport Development


Like all other parts of Melbourne and Victoria, the Docklands area received an immense stimulus from the demands imposed by and the wealth created by the gold rushes of the 1850s and 60s.


Following the construction in the mid 1850s of the first rail line along the north and east edge of the swamp, the study area began to take on a transport oriented character. During the 1860s and 70s the rail system expanded with the subsequent need for additional sidings, yards, freight and passenger facilities and engine and carriage workshops.


From the 1870s, following the establishment of the Melbourne Harbour Trust, the Melbourne docks underwent the massive redevelopment to meet the needs of the fast growing import/export industry.


Victoria Dock and the Coode Canal transformed the port and drew other transport and industrial facilities to the area.


Other Government Facilities


Nearly all of the surrounds of Batman's Swamp is and has always been crown land administered by the Victorian State Government. However some Commonwealth facilities have been located in the area including a Bubonic Sanatorium, Customs and quarantine facilities and an airfield. The Melbourne City Council maintained a refuse destructor and sanitary depot (as did some other local councils) as well as a stables, probably for its night soil and rubbish collection service.


One of the few residents on Coode Island was Bill Lemarquand who was brought up on the island because his father worked at a dock in the island repairing lighters (barges) The only other family were the Hobson's, the father of which was caretaker at the animal quarantine station. The Lemarquand household comprised parents four sins and one daughter and their house was made of ships' timbers, with the daughters bedroom created from a ship's cabin.


Because much of the study area has been historically a waste land, it has occasionally been occupied unofficially and illegally. Squatters camps of homeless and unemployed people have grown up during times of depression, particularly in the 1890s and 1930s. The squatters camps were transitory affairs built of old timber and corrugated iron, even lino was used to provide shelter. These humpies were located on the south end of Dudley Street in an area known as Dudley flats in the 1930s. Periodic raids by police and possibly Harbour Trust officers moved the people out and demolished the huts. Their occupants were the unemployed and underemployed labourers used by the shipping agents to fulfill peak demands for labour but otherwise left to scavenge an existence as best they could. Even today it is possible to find the occasional humpies built by the homeless on the waste land of the port.


The worst pollution of the swamp and river came from the boiling-down works and bone mills located on the north bank of the Yarra. Henry Walker had the largest of these works and although his was one of the better operated works, blood and offal was allowed to run over the ground from the boiling down vats and piles of bones left in the open air. [38]


The North Melbourne Pottery was located on Laurens St. backing onto the swamp while other factories and warehouses were constructed on the high ground of West Melbourne and the small tongue of land around Lloyd St Kensington. The proximity of the main rail lines to the north and west of the state made this the preferred location for flour mills (Kimpton, Brunton, Gillespie, Minnifie) and wool stores, (New Zealand Loan and Mercantile, Younghusband, Goldsborough Mort). [39]


The location of the swamp and difficulty of filling or flood proofing it resulted in a large tract of land remaining unused well into the twentieth century. By the 1950s, changes in goods handling on the railways and docks meant that large land areas were required for storing and trans-shipment of cargoes. Reclaiming the swamplands finally became an economic proposition with the development of the rail yards, container terminals, new docks and warehousing. The Victoria Dock was the first major facility to be constructed in the area of the swamp. It was completed in 1906 and joined in the 1920s by the Appleton Dock to the west. The next major development was the Swanston Dock, begun in the 1950s and only achieving its projected size in the last few years. The swamps also provided land for the Melbourne fish and wholesale markets when the city sites became inadequate. [40]


3.3 Maribyrnong River


Footscray lies on the west bank of the Maribyrnong River for a clear historical reason. Traffic from Melbourne to Geelong and the rich grazing country of the Western District had to skirt the swampy ground at the lower reaches of the Yarra and Maribyrnong. The first practical place to cross by boat or punt was above the junction of the two rivers where the basalt plain came right down to the river. Here, a punt was established as early as 1837. West of the Maribyrnong, and Melbourne's swamps, was a quite different environment of open grasslands with few stands of trees.


Along the banks of the river the Swamp Paperbark grew in profusion, and along with tea tree are shown to have covered much of the flats on the east side of the river and further up stream near the present Footscray Park. During reclamation of the latter for the Footscray botanic gardens the remains of Swamp Paperbark trees were unearthed. Further Upstream, River Red Gums were prolific with many very old and large trees. The last of the pre settlement trees stood about where the canoe club jetty is located. Fishermen referred to that part of the river as the "Tree Hole" which was purported to be a good site for catching Silver Bream.


On the higher ground Lightwood and Drooping She Oak were common in a belt of woodland running from Wiliamstown to Maribyrnong and about 500 metres thick on the east side of the river. Isolated Eucalypts also occurred, mainly Grey Box. By the 1950s, none of the originals of these trees survived in the Footscray district, having succumbed to the demands of building, clearing and firewood.  However, park and street trees of the same species were planted and it is said that the lightwood germinated from buried seeds following disturbance of the soil.[41]


Among the Kangaroo grass which dominated the basalt plain, and on the lower wetter ground, a number of species of small flowering plants came to the notice of early observers, but are now entirely missing from the district. These included the Dwarf Rice Flower Pimelea Humilis, Mutton-Wood Rapanea Variabilis  which grew plentifully along the creek banks, Corea or Native Fuscia, which grew among the rocky cliffs along the creek sides, Misimbujanthimums or Midday Flowers which grew over many acres of the River Flats and the banks of the Maribyrnong River covering the ground with their colourful pink or rose flowers. The Lobe Seed Daisy Brachycome calocarpa (dentata) carpeted large patches with dainty white daisy-like flowers, Golden Billy Buttons Craspidia uniflora and C. Chrysantha were common in open fields after good autumn rains. The Austral Herebell Wahlenbergia gracilis,  once presented a mass of blue-bell like flowers giving some writers to compare Footscray with its namesake in England. [42]


Several Rare Orchids survived into the twentieth century in inner suburban locations. These included Proud Diuris, which grew along the railway line between Footscray and Tottenham as recently as the 1950s, Diuris Alba, further west and still preserved in a rail reserve near Tottenham, Greenhoods such as Swan Greenhood, Ptirosylis Cycnocephala, Brittle Greenhood, P. Truncata and Sharp Leaf Greenhood, P. Robusta as well as the Spotted Sun Orchid, Thelymitra Ixioides.[43]


Of the birdlife in the district, a similar story can be told. Once the sky around Footscray:


...was darkened with flocks of tens of thousands of wildfowl [and] it is recorded that two men once shot 15,000 water fowl "for the table" within a season on the river edge bordering what is now known as Coode Island...wild geese were so plentiful on the low land where the Colonial Gas Association works are now situated that the area was known as Gosling Flat. [44]


Even in the 1950s Footscray was regarded as having surprisingly numerous birdlife, having "one of the closest natural sanctuaries for aquatic birds within the boundaries of any capital city.  Ninety Five species of Australian birds were recorded near the Maribyrnong at Footscray in the 1950s and a dozen or so introduced birds. Some of the rarer species were the Australian Bustard, Banded Landrail, Great Crested Grebe, Banded Stilt, Spotted Harrier, Flame Robin and Rufus Song Lark.


Footscray was on the migratory route of the Sharp Tailed Sandpiper on its journey to Siberia. An interesting comment in Footscray's First Hundred Years is that atomic and other experiments in the U.S.S.R. caused the sudden and sharp decrease in its numbers following World War II. A more plausible explanation might be the destruction of habitat, and pollution caused in the Lower Maribyrnong and Coode Island area by the growth of industries, and in particular noxious and chemical works. These sandpipers now seem to confine themselves to wetlands further west at Laverton and Corio Bay.


The Eastern Golden Plover and Marsh Sandpiper also made long migrations to Footscray, the first from North America and the last from England.


At Newell's Paddocks, a large freshwater lagoon provided habitat for many wetland plants and animals. This pond, possibly created by scouring of the floodplain by floods of the river, appears on the earliest maps, and was still in much the same form between 1900 and the 1950s when the site was in use by the Angliss meatworks as holding paddocks for livestock. The lagoon was then used for watering stock but was eventually filled with waste from the meatworks. Recent revegetation following demolition of the meatworks has established a new wetlands habitat. Species found there today include, native reeds and rushes such as  Phagmites australis, Typha orientalis, Juncus acutus, and Bolboschoenus medianus growing in the water,  Saltmarsh species including Austral sea-blight,  Suaeda australis, and pigface, Disphymia crassifolium on the edges of the saline wetland. Birdlife has also returned with the Pacific black duck, chestnut teal, white necked herons, sacred ibis, little pied and black cormorants, silver gulls and welcome swallows found in the wetland areas, silvereyes and blue wrens in the thick scrub, cisticolas, willy wagtails, songlarks and magpies in the grass lands and birds of prey such as black-shouldered kites and Australian kestrels hovering above.. [45]


The Maribyrnong River, north of its natural junction with the Yarra, was chosen as the site of several pioneering industries in Victoria. Concentrations of industry were to be found at Footscray, where punts provided access between Melbourne and the west, and Braybrook where noxious trades moved in the 1890s.


The early industries at Footscray were meatworks and animal by product works. In 1847 Joseph Raleigh established a large boiling down works on the banks of the Maribyrnong, upstream of Footscray. This was probably the first major manufacturing establishment in Australia. The location was chosen for its convenience to Melbourne and the pastoral districts of the west and north west and for the access provided by the river, which was navigable for small boats. The river also provided a suitable drain for disposal of wastes but the slow currents and narrow tidal range often conspired to return any effluent to its source at each high tide. The tidal nature of the river also meant that fresh water for the factory had to be obtained from tanks built into the hill above the works.


In 1868 the Melbourne Meat Preserving Company, recognised the attractions of the site and took over the now empty factory for its canning works. This was one of the first and largest of several companies using a new method of preserving meat in tins using a vacuum cooking process. While the works was noted in its time for its hygienic methods, the unused offal, blood and other effluent was still washed into the river. The majority of the meat preserving works were located on the Maribyrnong River. They included the Australian Meat Preserving Co. just west of Hopetoun Bridge on Dynon Rd., the Flemington Meat Preserving Co. near Fisher Parade, Ascot Vale, The Victoria Meat Preserving Co. at Yarraville, the Australia Felix and Port Phillip Meat Preserving Companies.


A wider range of industries were established in the 1870s and 80s to take advantage of the by-products of these works. Soap and candle works used the  tallow from the boiling down works. The Apollo Stearine Candle Co. was the largest such works in Victoria, and possibly Australia. It was built in 1874 on the east side of the Maribyrnong in Kensington. Mowling's candle works, originally located near the city on the Yarra, moved to Footscray in the 1880s.


The Melbourne City Abattoirs were built adjacent to the Newmarket Saleyards in the 1860s to provide an outlet for stock from the market and provide fresh meat to Melbourne. Its location, on river flats opposite Footscray, was a key to the concentration of the noxious trades near Footscray and its waste products were taken up by factories such as Cockbill and Glues and By-Products glue works, tanneries like Michaelis Hallenstein, fellmongers, tripe makers, and manure works.


Private abattoirs also took advantage of the proximity of saleyards for a supply of live cattle, and by-product works for a market for their wastes. The Angliss Imperial Freezing works was the largest of these companies and built its factory on the Footscray side of the river in 1904, opposite the City Abattoirs. It was later joined by many other meat works to the west of Footscray, including Borthwick's, Gilbertson's, Smorgan's and Ralph's.


While the meat industry dominated the Maribyrnong River there were many other factories carrying out a wide range of manufacturing. When the Government gunpowder magazine was relocated from Royal Park to Footscray in the 1850s and then a larger magazine constructed further up the river in the 1870s, Footscray and Maribyrnong were destined to become a major explosives and munitions manufacturing centre. The Colonial Ammunition factory on the grassy flats near the Maribyrnong gunpowder Magazine were joined in the early 20th century by the Government Ammunition, Explosives and Ordnance Factories.


Wharves were constructed along the west bank of the river downstream of the Swamp Rd. Bridge in the 1880s. These were principally to serve local industry in Footscray and possibly the ballast trade. McPherson's Jute works and the Michaelis Hallenstein tannery were located south and north of the wharves respectively, the Footscray Steam Stone Cutting works, Henderson's bacon Curing works and the Gas works were also located on the higher ground near the river and boat builders operated from the river bank. [46]


With public pressure causing the tanneries and by-product works close to Melbourne to be closed down and moved, the Maribyrnong received a new wave of noxious industries. On the high escarpment, south of the river at Braybrook, new factories were erected for treating skins, boiling down the abattoir wastes to produce tallow and processing various by-products to make soap, candles, margarine, sausage casings, tennis racquet strings. Industries in this area had less effect on the immediate environment. While waste still drained into the river which was still tidal at this point, the smaller tidal effect and greater effect of fresh water currents ensured the pollution was washed further downstream. Above Maribyrnong township the river runs between steep banks without the mudflats and flood plains which typify the lower reaches.


The pollution created by these industries and the quarries, a pottery, pipe works and munitions factories on the banks of the river lead to the worst degradation of the Maribyrnong since the meat preserving boom of the 1870s. By the second world war few fish were found in the river and the swimming clubs and pleasure boats had ceased to operate. [47]


The restoration of the Maribyrnong only came with the slump in industry in the 1970s when many of the factories closed down or relocated, and public campaigns were launched to clean up the river.



3.4 Lower Yarra (Hobsons River)


The lower reaches of the Yarra, from the junction of the Maribyrnong River to  the mouth was known in the past as Hobson's River. This section of the river has been the location of some of Melbourne's largest early industries, but it was also one of the best habitats for wetland flora and fauna, and consequently an important food resource for Aborigines.


Although alterations to the natural course of the Yarra began in the mid nineteenth century with the construction of training walls, removing snags and trees from the river bank and dredging the river bottom, these changes had only minor impact on the surrounding mud flats, salt marshes, swamps and other estuarine land forms. It was not until the large scale land reclamation and filling from the Second World War, that the area lost its predominantly natural character.


In 1898 the mouth of the Yarra was noted for its diverse and rare flora. Thirty species were recorded by one observer, many of which were noted as occurring only in the one spot or not found to the east of Melbourne.[48] The species noted included:  


Frankenia laevis, Alternanthera triandra, Sagina apetala, Atriplex Muelleri, Enchylaena tomentosa, Salicornia arbuscula, Muehlenbeckia Cunninghamii, Eutaxia empetrifolia, Tillaea purpurata, Hydrocolyte hirta, H. tripartita, H. callicarpa, Pimelea clauca, Calotis scapigera, Angianthus Preissianus, Cotula filifolia, Lobelia platycalyx, Sebaea albidiflora, Samolus remens, Convolvulus sepium, Wilsonia humilis, W. rotundifolia, Myoporum deserti, M. humile, Azolla ficuloides.


Excursions by field naturalists to FishermenLs Bend continued well into the 1940s. For example in 1949 the Bird Observers Club recorded Double banded Dotterels, Little Stints, Red-capped Dotterels, and a lone Hooded Dotterel on the beach front, while on the sand bar were a few Crested Terns and one Fairy Tern. On the Flats, however, there was evidence of birds nesting including White fronted Chat, Red-capped Dotterels, Banded Plovers, Little grass Birds, Black Fronted Dotterels. Other species noted included Hardhead Ducks, Black Ducks, Little Grebes, Eastern Swamp Hens, Dusky Moorhens, Black Swans and Marsh Crakes. This particular outing recorded 35 native and 7 introduced species altogether. It is interesting to note that the various swamps, ponds, and other landscape features, mostly formed by intermittent filling and sand quarrying, were all known by different names such as the Bittern Pond, the Pit, the Butte Pond, the Crake Pond and the Old Butts.[49]


A more comprehensive list of birds was printed in the BOC a little earlier:[50]


Stubble Quail, Fairy Penguin, Marsh Crake, Dusky Moor Hen, Eastern Swamp Hen, Great Crested Grebe, Little Grebe, Hoary-headed Grebe, Cape Petrel, Black Cormorant, Little Pied Cormorant, Australian Gannet, Australian Pelican, Marsh Tern, Caspian Tern, White fronted Tern, Crested Tern, Fairy Tern, Silver Gull, Pacific Gull, Artic Skua, Turnstone, Pied Oystercatcher, Sooty Oyster Catcher, Red-kneed Dotterel, Spurwing Plover, Banded Plover, Golden Plover, Double-banded Dotterel, Red-capped Dotterel, Black-fronted Dotterel, White-headed Stilt, Eastern Curlew, Bar-tailed Godwits, Curlew Sandpiper, Red-necked Stint, Sharp-tailed Sandpiper, Australian snipe, Australian White Ibis, White Egret, White-faced Heron, White-necked Heron, Nankeen Night Heron, Brown Bittern, Maned Goose, Black Swan, Mountain Duck, Black Duck, Chestnut Teal, Grey Teal, Blue-winged Shoveller, Pink-eared Duck, Hardhead, Musk Duck, Swamp Harrier, Whistling Eagle, Little Falcon, Peregrine Falcon, Brown Hawk, Nankeen Kestrel, Blue-winged Parrot, Pallid Cuckoo, Narrow-billed Bronze Cuckoo, Welcome Swallow, Tree Marten, Grey Fantail, Willie Wag Tail, Flame Robin, Magpie Lark, White-fronted Chat, Brown Son Lark, Little Grass Bird, Australian Reed Warbler, Golden-headed Fantail, White-naped honeyeater, White-plumed Honeyeater, Pipit, Australian Raven, White-backed Magpie. (introduced birds) House Sparrow, Tree Sparrow, Starlings, Indian Myna, Turtle Dove, Goldfinch, Greenfinch, English Sky Lark.


The preponderance of wildlife at Fishermen's Bend even came to the notice of the Government bureaucracy when in 1909 the Governor in Council authorized the proclamation of the ground  of the Victorian Golf Club at Fishermen's Bend as a sanctuary for animals and birds. The Area comprised about 130 acres, near the south bank of the Yarra, leased by the club from the Crown. The club intended to plant the area with trees for ornament as well as providing shelter to native birds. This scheme eventually faded when the land reverted to other Government uses, eventually becoming part o the Aircraft factory and runways.[51]




In about 1871, MacMeiken's bone mills were relocated from South Melbourne to Yarraville on a site which later became Cumming Smith & Co. and more recently Pivot Fertilizers. While MacMeiken manufactured artificial manure by treating blood and bone an other slaughterhouse wastes with acid, the later fertilizer factories used imported phosphate rock form South Pacific Islands to produce super phosphate. Cumming Smith was joined around the turn of the century by other fertilizer companies, such as Wischer & Co. and Mt Lyell. In 1929 these firms were amalgamated in Commonwealth Fertilizers, later to be taken over by ICI. [52]


The Colonial Sugar Refineries factory was built near the bone mills in 1875. At the time of its construction, the eight story bluestone and brick refinery was probably the largest industrial building in Australia. Other firms located in the vicinity to supply the needs of these large factories. For example, Murphey's cartage contractors and Millers ropeworks gained a large proportion of their work from the sugar refinery and fertilizer works.


The Melbourne Glass Works took advantage of a riverside location at Spotswood by constructing a wharf for unloading silica sand and other raw materials for class making. This wharf was later obliterated by earthworks for the West Gate Bridge. Adjacent to the glass works, the Spotswood sewerage pumping station was constructed in the 1890s. Along with the network of underground sewers and the treatment farm at Werribee it provided the means to eventually free industry, and particularly noxious industry from their traditional streamside locations.


Between Greenwich Bay and Stony Creek backwash the river has undergone substantial realignment as a consequence of dredging and the straightening carried out in the 1880s. The original course of the river followed a meandering path around Batman's Swamp before joining the Maribyrnong opposite Footscray. With the cutting of the Coode Canal the new junction was created opposite Yarraville. Bends at Stony Creek and the mouth of the river were evened up to make a continuous curving alignment from the bay to Melbourne. The large areas of tidal mud flats on either side of the river were then gradually filled while the old outlet of the river silted up to form the present Greenwich Bay.


3.5 Stony Creek and Backwash


The banks of Stony Creek and the backwash at the confluence of the creek and the Yarra were already industrialized in the 1870s. The area was exploited for its bluestone which was easily quarried in the outcrops near the water. Barges were used to transport the stone down river to ships at anchor to provide ballast for their unladen return trips to Britain and America. The quarry reserves extended along both banks and barrow runs were built over the tidal flats to small timber wharves. The walkway across the backwash is built on piles left over from the ballasting days and the remains of a ballast barge can be seen in the mud. Good building stone was also quarried form this area. [53]


The original form of the backwash has been dramatically altered and its size reduced by the realignment of the river, the construction of a causeway to carry Hyde St. through to Spotswood, filling of the sections west of Hyde St and on the northern edge and the creation of an embankment between the river an backwash for a railway siding. The construction of the West Gate Bridge has further altered the local landscape with the diversion of a section of the creek, the creation of landfill on the south side of the creek, filling old ballast quarries and filling near the bank of the Yarra to provide access to the bridge pylons.


Many early industries were located in this area in the late nineteenth century. By the 1880s there was a smelting works and cement works, and oleomargarine factory and the glass bottle works on the south side of the creek, the Melbourne Woolen Mill was located on the north side beside the railway line and the Victorian Patent Blasting Company and Victorian Meat Preserving Company had their works. The first factory in this section of the river was probably Joseph Raleigh's boiling-down works which operated for a few years in the 1840s before a more substantial works was built at Maribyrnong.


More recent developments have seen the construction of the Holden oil dock which provides berthing for ships discharging at the Mobil oil terminal. This terminal was originally constructed in 1924 by the Vacuum Oil Company and was the genesis of the oil storage facilities which have come to dominate the Spotswood/Yarraville area.



3.6 Kororoit Creek and Cherry Lake


The Kororoit Creek survived the effects of industrialization longer than most of the west's waterways. The fact that it is not navigable nor particularly close to Melbourne delayed occupation of its banks by all but a few industries until the 1930s or later. However, a small slaughterhouse was erected before 1864 on the north side of the creek in what is now the Rifle Range or Jawbone Reserve. [54]


Cherry Marsh, and the lesser Simmie's March near the Newport Freezing Works provided habitat for several water bird species, particularly Shelduck, Black Duck Grey Teal, and when the water level was high, Hard duck and Musk Duck.[55]


Industry developed adjacent to Kororoit Creek following the construction of the first oil refinery in 1922. The Commonwealth Oil Refinery was built on the north side of Kororoit Creek Road  by a joint venture between the Anglo Persian Oil Co. (now B.P.) and the Australian Government. This was the first oil refinery in Australia and it formed the basis of the petrochemical industry which has grown around it. In 1947 the P.R.A. complex was constructed nearby which was followed by several petrochemical companies dependent on the refineries product for their raw materials. [56]


While the original choice of location of C.O.R. may have been influenced by the presence of the creek as an emergency water supply, the later plants have simply utilized the existing infrastructure created by that initial refinery.


To some extent, the presence of the refineries have now protected the creeks by establishing buffer zones around the plants where no development is allowed to take place.


3.7 Skeleton Creek and Cheetham Saltworks


Skeleton Creek has been influenced by just one industry, but that has had an overwhelming effect on the creek and estuarine lagoons. In 1924 the Cheetham Salt Company established a salt works on the low lying land adjacent to the creek, constructing salt crystallization pans and modifying the natural wetlands to form evaporation ponds with numerous channels to control the distribution and concentration of salt water. Rather than destroy the natural bird habitat, these works appear to have increase the available wetland by pumping water to artificial ponds which would otherwise have remained dry land.


The area has long been regarded as prime bird habitat, along with the adjacent wetlands of the Truganina Swamp or Altona Golf Links Marsh, Spectacle Ponds and Lignum Marsh at Point Cook, where grey and chestnut teal, Shelduck, Black Duck, were noted by naturalists. [57]


As an example of the interest of bird watchers in the saltworks, the Bird Observers Club conducted regular outings to the area from at least the early 1930s.[58] On one such outing in February 1950, a flock of between one and two thousand Banded Stilts was observed flying about. On this outing 40 species were noted with nesting Silver Gulls, Pelicans, and Marsh Terns singled out for special mention.[59]


The salt production process requires large areas of evaporation ponds where salt water, pumped from the bay is stored until its salt concentration reaches about 9 %. From these ponds it is transferred to precipitation ponds where the salt concentration rises by further evaporation to 18 percent and gypsum drops out of the solution. The brine is then transferred to the crystallization pans where further evaporation occurs and at around 24% salt concentration the salt forms crystals on the base of the pan. following draining of the pans this salt can then be harvested.


The ponds and crystallization pans are shallow and formed by earthen and sometimes timber embankments. Narrow gauge tramways have been used to transport materials around the saltworks and specifically to transport the harvested salt to a stockpile adjacent to the refinery. At the refinery, the salt is processed to remove dirt and impurities. [60]


The prime reason for the attractiveness of the saltworks to birdlife is the shallow saltwater lagoons created by artificial embankments, and the fresh or brackish ponds which form following flood or heavy rain. These are ideal for mud and water feeders. In addition the area retains considerable original vegetation, with the saltmarsh species having extended its coverage over the artificial as well as original natural wetlands. Amongst the plants providing the most utility to the birds are the dwarf salt-marsh plant Salicornia australis, Sea Crab-grass, and Awned Sword-sedge, Gahnia trifida,  which provide useful nesting sites, while the dried algae makes a suitable soft nesting material. This was first noted along with the first recording in Victoria of the White-headed Stilt in 1912. Also common is the Grey Glasswort, a rare saltmarsh plant and an important food source of the Orange Bellied Parrot, itself a rare and endangered bird. The Tuff Scurf Pea survives at Skeleton Creek, one of the last places in Victoria where it can be found. [61]


The artificial wetlands created by the saltworks, also provided an emergency habitat for birds from inland areas during drought. This often results in unusual sightings such as the Freckled Duck, Bar-tailed Godwits, white egret, Royal Spoonbill,  Blue-winged Parrots, and a nesting colony of 30-40 pairs of Silver Gulls.  As well as these sights, the saltworks have commonly been home to large numbers of Greenshanks, Banded Stilts, Silver and Pacific Gulls, Cormorants, Hoary-headed Grebes, Crested and Caspian Terns, Sharp-tailed and Curlew Sandpipers, Red-necked Stints and Red-capped Dotterels. The Freshwater of Skeleton Creek, banked up behind a weir constructed by Cheetham to control the freshwater flow, provides habitat for Black Swans, Chestnut-breasted Shelduck, Teal, Maned Duck and Freckled Duck. The local observer recorded seventy seven species in the area.[62]





Appendix    Summary list of industrial sites


Much of the information for this section is reproduced from the study of industrial sites in the Western Region by Gary Vines. Sites are included which demonstrate the link between early industry and wetland areas. These sites have either survived substantially intact of retain sufficient of their structure and context to enable their interpretation in the history of industrial development in Melbourne.





Minnifie's Flour Mill                       Lennon St. Kensington

New Zealand Loan and Mercantile Lloyd St. Kensington

wool store

N.B. Love/ Brunton's Flour Mill     Laurens St. North Melbourne

Guest's Biscuits                               Laurens St. North Melbourne

North Melbourne railway depot      off Footscray Rd. Melbourne

Victoria Dock                                           Cowper St. Melbourne

Appleton Dock                                         Appleton Dock Rd. Footscray




Younghusband Wool Store             Chelmsford St. Kensington

Kimpton's Flour Mill                      Elizabeth St.

Victorian Oat Producers                           Langford St. North Melb.

Burge Bros.                                               135-57 Racecourse Rd. Kensington

Henderson's Springs                        279 Racecourse Rd. North Melb.

Victorian Farmers Co-op                 Mark St. North Melbourne

wool store                                       




Cumming Smith                              Whitehall St. Yarraville

CSR                                                          265 Whitehall St. Yarraville

Mt. Lyell                                                   Whitehall St. Yarraville

Miller's Ropeworks                                  Whitehall St. Yarraville




Melbourne Woolen Mills                         Banool St. Yarraville

ACI glass factory                                      Douglas Pde. Spotswood

BP Lubricants                                           Douglas Pde. Spotswood

Spotswood Pumping Station           Douglas Pde. Spotswood

Mobil Oil/Vacuum Oil                    Francis St. Yarraville

T. Robinson implement works                  Hall St. Spotswood





Kreglinger & Fernau                       56 Cranwell St.

Klipspringers                                            37 Cranwell St.

Ficken Halliday & McLelland

Mullingers boiling down works      Mullinger St.

G.W. Pennel                                             Burke St.

G.W. Dagg Victorian Casing Co.    Burke St.

Pridham                                                    21 Evans St.

Wilcox and Mofflin                                  Cranwell St.


Maribyrnong Sand Pits                    of Prospect St Essendon

Flemington Meat Preserving Co.    off Fisher Pde. Ascot Vale




Glues and By-Products                    Hobson's Rd.

Meggit's linseed oil works               Hobson's Rd.

City Abattoirs                                  Smithfield Rd.



Marnan Wool Industries                           Dynon Rd.

Michaelis Hallenstein                      Hopkins St.

Apollo Candle Works                      166-176 Kensington Rd.

Angliss Meatworks                                   Ballarat Rd.

Powder Magazine                                     Lyons St.

Jones boat shed                               Maribyrnong St.

Port Phillip Mills                             Moreland St.

Henderson's Piggery                        Moreland St.

McPherson's Jute Works                           91 Moreland St.

Footscray Gas Works                      Moreland St.

Maize Products                                Parker St.

Bottrill & Frazer                              Sims St.

Australian Meat Preserving Co.      Sims St.

G. Mowling Soap & Candle works 107 Whitehall St.




Melbourne Meat Preserving Co.     Van Ness Avenue. Maribyrnong

Explosives Factory                                   Cordite Avenue

Ordnance Factory                                     WestLs Rd.


Explosives Magazine                      Gordon St. Maidstone

Ammunition Factory                       Gordon St. Footscray



ICI Explosives Factory/                            Ballarat Rd. Deer Park

Federal Fertilizers



Truganina Explosives Reserve        Queen St.

Commonwealth Oil Refinery          Kororoit Creek Rd.

Petroleum Refineries Australia       Kororoit Creek. and Miller's Rd.

Altona Petrochemical Complex      Kororoit Creek Rd.




Cheetham Saltworks                       Aviation Rd. Laverton





Plan of 7 Allotments in Portion VIII in Parish of Cut Paw Paw County of Bourke as marked by Robert Hoddle, Surveyor October 1844, Sydney C/1 6230.



[1] Geological Survey of Victoria, Melbourne Sheet SJ 55-1

[2] N.J. Rosengren, Sites of Geological and Geomorphological Significance in the Western Region of Melbourne,

   Conservation Forests and Lands, Victoria, 1986.

[3] Royal Commission on the Low Lands South and West of the City of Melbourne (Low Lands Commission) appointed

   August 1872, VPP 3, 62, 1873

[4] R. T. Patton, "Ecological Studies in Victoria, Part IV Basalt Plains Association, Proceedings of the Royal Society of Victoria, 48 Part II 1935, pp172-191

[5] Robert Hall, "The Birds of Port Phillip", The Emu, Vol XXV, 1st April, 1926, pp.239-244.

[6] James Backhouse narrative, 16th November, 1837-43. p.506, reproduced in The Emu, ...p.24-5.

[7] Return of wildfowl shipped on Government Railways, Victorian Parliamentary Papers, 1864-65 Vol. 2.

[8]Victorian Year Book 1895-1898, Wildfowl sent to Melbourne Markets.

[9] Billot P.14

[10] R.D. Boys, First Years at Port Phillip, 1834- 1842. Melbourne 1959.

[11]  Flemming Journal??

[12] Map Shewing the Site of Melbourne...

[13] Map of Melbourne Kearny  1855; Low Lands Commission 1872,

[14] Letters of Victorian Pioneers via Robert M M

[15] Low Lands Commission 1872, evidence of Clement Hodgkinson, p.18; Vic. Municipal Directories, Lack & Ford 


[16] John Lack, 'Worst Smelbourne,' in The Outcasts of Melbourne, edited by G. Davidson, D. Dunstan and C.

   McConville, Sydney 1985, p. 187

[17] C.P. Billott Melbourne's Missing Chronicles by John Pascoe Fawkner. Quartet Books 1982. p.14.

[18] Royal Commission of Low Lands South and West of the City of Melbourne (Low Lands Commission) appointed 12 August 1872: Progress Report VPP 3, 62, 1873;  Evidence of Hon T. Loader, Government Surveyor.

[19]Map Shewing the Site of Melbourne, and the positions of the huts and buildings previous to the foundation of the township by Sir Richard Bourke in 1837. Surveyed and drawn by Robert Russell, Published by Day and Haghe, London.

[20] Geological Survey of Victoria 1860; Cox map 1866?

[21] Footscray's First Hundred Years.

[22] J.R. Tovey, "Some notes on Coode Island and its Flora"' Victorian Naturalist, No.XXVIII July 1911. pp.57-61.

[23]  "Excursion to Coode Island", Victorian Naturalist, No.XXIX  May 1912. pp.5-6.

[24] John Lahey, 'When Coode Island was a paradise for birds', The Age, 15 March 1994 page 7.

[25]  "15,000 Water fowl were shot "for the table," Footscray's First Hundred Years. p.93

[26] Map of Melbourne, Kearny 1855

[27] A. Ward, G. Vines, P. Milner, Docklands Heritage Study, 1991.

[28] Lack & Ford p.42

[29] Tender Notice 22 July 1881, Department of Lands and Survey Melbourne. Port of Melbourne Authority Archive.

[30] Low Lands Commission, (Final) Report VPP 3, 88, 1873, Introduction.

[31] Low Lands Commission Progress Report Summary and evidence of Commissioner Clement Hodgkinson, p.18

[32] R.L. Greenaway, 'Historical Usage of the Lands ... of the West Melbourne Swamp ...'

[33] Footscray Independent Xmas Supplement, December 1912, p.13.

[34] Melbourne Harbour Trust General Plan showing improvements... 1878; Low Lands Commission Evidence of Fredk. Harding, District Surveyor.

[35] Low Lands Commission, Evidence of Clement Hodgkinson, Henry Walker, Sergeant Fullarton, Appendices 2& 3.

[36] Low Lands Commission, Appendix 6, City of Melbourne Health Committee report.

[37] J. Lack, 'Worst Smelbourne: Melbourne's Noxious Trades' in Davidson The Outcasts of Melbourne.

[38] Ward et al.

[39] Vines, Western Region Industrial Heritage Study, LMW 1989

[40] Ward et al

[41] "Indigenous plant life disappearing," Footscray's First Hundred Years.

[42] "Our Blue Bells are Like Those of England," Footscray's First Hundred Years.

[43] "Rare Orchids Found Locally," Footscray's First Hundred Years.

[44] "15,000 Water fowl were shot "for the table," Footscray's First Hundred Years.

[45] "NewellLs Paddock, An Urban Wetland Environment", Board of Works brochure n.d.

[46] Vines, G. Western Region Industrial Heritage Study.

[47] O. Ford & P. Lewis Maribyrnong, Action in Tranquility, Living Museum of the West, 1989. p.20-30

[48] Alex Morrison, "Some Plants found growing at Mouth of River Yarra and at Werribee, The Victorian Naturalist, Vol. 15 1999, p.87.

[49]  "Fishermen's Bend Outing", Bird Observers Club Monthly Notes, Sept. 1949; Jack Jones,  "The Birds of Fishermen's Bend, Bird Observers Club Monthly Notes , February 1938; "Fishermen's Bend Outing", Bird Observers Club Monthly Notes , May 1946; "Trip to Fishermen's Bend" Bird Observers Club Monthly Notes, Oct. 1948.

[50]  "Birds of Fishermen's Bend Melbourne, 1937-1947, Observations by Roy Wheeler", Bird Observers Club Monthly Notes , August 1947.

[51] "A Suburban Sanctuary", EMU Vol. IX July 1909, p.21.

[52]  Vines, G. Western Region Industrial Heritage Study.

[53] Geological Survey Map, Melbourne sheet 1860 SLV Map Collection

[54] Map of Hobson Bay and River Yarra, surveyed by Commander H.L. Cox 1864. SLV Map Collection.

[55] Bird Observers Club Monthly Notes Nov. 1942.

[56] Vines, G. Western Region Industrial Heritage Study.

[57] Bird Observers Club Monthly Notes Nov. 1942.

[58] see for example Bird Observers Club Monthly Notes, October 1936.

[59] Bird Observers Club Monthly Notes, Feb. 1940.

[60] G. Vines & B. Lane, Worth its Salt: A Survey of the Natural and Cultural Heritage of Cheetham Saltworks, Laverton. Living Museum of the West, 1991; "Skeleton Creek and Altona Bay Wetlands", Friends of Skeleton Creek & Altona Bay Wetlands, brochure.

[61]  "Note on the White-headed Stilt, Himantopus Leucocephalus, Victorian Naturalist, Vol XXVIII, Jan 1912, p.182.

[62] Bird Observers Club Monthly Notes, January 1945.