The history of Melbourne is filled with a rich Aboriginal culture, a Gold Rush and continued stories of migration from around the world. 

First Nations People 

We acknowledge the Traditional Owners of the land, the Wurundjeri Woi Wurrung and Bunurong Boon Wurrung peoples of the Eastern Kulin. We pay respect to their Elders past, present and emerging.

Wominjeka / Womindjeka means ‘welcome’ in the Woi Wurrung language of the Wurundjeri people and Boon Wurrung language of the Bunurong people of the Eastern Kulin.

The Wurundjeri-willam people of the Kulin Nation are the Traditional Owners of the land. Their relationship with the land extends back tens of thousands of years. Back to when their creator spirit ‘Bunjil’ formed their people, the land and all living things.

The state of Victoria is home to ancient rock art and the world’s oldest aquaculture system at Budj Bim. Today, Aboriginal culture continues to adapt and evolve, 60,000 years after it began.

Visitors to Melbourne can experience our country’s Indigenous culture through immersive experiences in the city. 

Early European settlement

The large inlet now called Port Phillip Bay was discovered by Europeans in 1802. Europeans had first settled in Australia roughly a decade earlier. Therefore the bay was part of an area that was ruled by the colony of New South Wales. The then-governor, Philip Gidley King, gave instructions to examine the shores of the bay. His view was to identify sites for future settlement. 

However, permanent settlement in the area did not occur until 1835. This was when pioneer settler John Batman negotiated a treaty with the Aboriginal elders for the purchase of 500,000 acres at the head of Port Phillip Bay. A few days after the treaty was signed and Batman left. Then, two months later a party led by another pioneer, John Fawkner, settled on the banks of the Yarra River.

Within four years of signing his treaty Batman died, at the age of 38. Fawkner lived to the age of 76 and spent many years establishing hotels, a newspaper and a bookselling business in the area. He also acquired large areas of land and held a seat on the Legislative Council for 18 years. Therefore he is perhaps more relevant to Melbourne’s history than Batman.

Melbourne booms from the Gold Rush

Melbourne became a town in 1842 and a city in 1847. But its first main surge in growth came in the early 1850s following the discovery of gold nearby. The discover of gold in this remorse colony drew the attention of the world. It wasn’t long before the area was flooded with migrants. 

Miners arrived in the thousands. Townships popping up overnight. The riches laying the foundations for Victoria’s future. In the three years following the discovery of gold the population of Melbourne increased fourfold to 80,000. At one stage, the gold output was greater than in almost any other country in the world. 

Melbourne’s central position within Victoria, in addition to its port facilities, allowed it to capture most of the region’s trade. Between 1856 and 1873, railways were built to outer regional towns. In 1883 a link with the New South Wales rail system was established.

20th Century Melbourne

In the early years of the 20th century Australia became a commonwealth. Melbourne served as its federal capital until 1927, when the city of Canberra was established. World Wars I and II encouraged the growth of manufacturing. Then, after 1945 European immigrants began to arrive in significant numbers.

During the 1970s and early ’80s the appearance Melbourne’s CBD was transformed. Old buildings were replaced with multi-story office structures and hotels. The revitalisation of central Melbourne continued after 1990 as the residential population grew. 

Melbourne today

Today Melbourne is a booming, multicultural city often ranked amongst the top ‘most liveable’ cities in the world. Visitors to Melbourne can experience the history of the city at many different locations. If you are visiting Melbourne and want to know more about the Aboriginal history, European settlement and Gold Rush – consider visiting these locations:

Indigenous Experiences in Melbourne

In Melbourne you can uncover some of the city’s most revered places of Indigenous significance. You can also engage with the locals who were, and still are, central to Aboriginal existence.

Learn more about their stories by dining at the Mabu Mabu eateries or touring the Bunjilaka Aboriginal Cultural Centre. You could also visit the Royal Botanic Gardens Aboriginal Heritage Walk or exploring the Koorie Heritage Trust.

In addition you can visit Melbourne’s many art galleries, which showcase Aboriginal art, both traditional and contemporary.

Melbourne Museum – Melbourne’s Story

Visit the Melbourne Museum to explore icons of the city’s past and present. Hear tales of heroes and scoundrels, growth and decline. Plus, the changing ways Melburnians live, work and play. Big stories—of Aboriginal activism, of gold that built grand buildings, of waves of migration—sit alongside quieter tales of everyday life in the big smoke.

Immigration Museum 

Melbourne’s Immigration Museum is an important part of acknowledging and sharing the city’s rich history. It is the place to explore themes of migration, identity, citizenship and community through multiple perspectives. The museum engages with communities and creatives therefore producing powerful opportunities for social interaction, empathy and debate.

On Tour with Go West

On a Go West Tour you have the opportunity to learn more about the history of Melbourne. Find out how the city has grown and developed over the years. Learn more about the First Nations people who lived in the areas surrounding Port Phillip Bay. Also discover how the city today celebrates its rich and diverse history.  

If you are interested in the Victorian Gold Rush, our Grampians National Park Day Tour features a stop in the historic gold mining town of Ballarat. Our morning tea break is held at the location of the Eureka Rebellion, where thousands of miners took a stand to defend their rights. It was an important moment in the Gold Rush era, and in the history of Australia. Then the rest of our tour visits a wonderful national park with mountains, wildlife, waterfalls and walks amongst nature. 


Written by: Leah Furey – Digital Content Coordinator