Melton and Melton South

Melton is a residential township 35 km. west-north-west of Melbourne on the Western Highway to Ballarat. It was characterised as a satellite town during the 1970s, and to some extent was still that in the 1990s, as Rockbank to its east was sparsely settled in a residential sense.

Melton is on undulating basaltic and alluvial plains, dissected by the Toolern and other creeks which enter the Werribee River to the south of the township. Eastwards are two basaltic cones, Mounts Cottrell and Kororoit. The name came from Melton Mawbray, England, a place famous for hunting and coursing. Several early settlers ran hounds on their properties, which were also venues for hunt clubs.

Two early settlers stand out in Melton’s history. Thomas Pyke took up a run in 1839, extending from Pykes Creek (west of Bacchus Marsh) to Melton. It was his hunt which inspired the name for Melton. A more enduring settler was Simon Staughton, beginning his career near the junction of Toolern Creek and Werribee River in 1846. His Exford estate comprised 28,400 ha. to the south of the township by 1860, and the Exford homestead is on the Victorian Heritage Register. Staughton became a shire councillor, and his sons farmed the estate until it was broken up for closer settlement in the early 1900s. Three of the four magistrates in the district were Staughtons in 1880.

Minns Hotel Melton, 1908.
(Image courtesy Tony Davies, London, U.K.)

Gold digger’s hut, Bacchus Marsh, c.1909.
(Image courtesy Tony Davies, London, U.K.)

Melton was on the road to the Ballarat gold diggings, a hotel marking the spot early in the 1850s. A primary school was opened in 1858, the year after a Combined Protestants Church was built. On 16 September, 1862, the Melton District Road Board was formed, and the shire was formed on 24 March, 1871.

By the 1870s the Anglican, Catholic, Methodist and Presbyterian churches were established in Melton.

In 1884 the railway line was extended from Sunshine to Melton, as part of the direct line to Ballarat which had to pass over steep hills and deep river valleys. (Before then, rail connection to Ballarat was over flatter land via Geelong.) One of the steep valleys was the Werribee River near Melton, over which a steel girder bridge was built 384 metres long and 38 metres high. The line ran about two kilometres south of the highway, creating scope for two town centres.

Melton settled into a rural existence until the 1960s. The shire’s population varied between 1,200 and 1,500, depending mainly on changes to shire boundaries. (Rockbank was added in 1916.) The town and immediate district had about 300 people. The town’s commerce actually declined, from four hotels in 1900 to two by the 1930s, and from two saw mills to one. Other facilities were a mechanics’ institute, recreation reserves, sale yards and a sheep dip.

Between 1954 and 1966 the shire’s population nearly doubled, and between 1966 and 1971 it more than doubled. The town’s population quadrupled between 1966 and 1971. The State Government identified Melton as one of two locations west of Melbourne that could absorb urban growth that otherwise would go to the over-sized eastern suburbs. By then Melton township had a population of about 4,000, and Melton South, around the railway station, had developed. Its primary school (1911), chaff mills, silo and railway siding were enlivened with a pubic hall and houses with over 1,000 people. By 1981 Melton and Melton South had blended into one, with a population of over 18,000. The Melton high school and a Regional Catholic College had opened.

Melton’s shopping area on the Western Highway was challenged by a drive-in facility about one kilometre westwards in 1973. The traditional centre has prospered, however, perhaps through having the hotels, post office, a market, library and nearby council offices. The drive-in centre with 10,800 square metres (supermarket and thirty-two shops), is the smaller of the two.

Having gone southwards in the 1970s, Melton expanded northwards in the next decade, creating Kurunjang. The shopping centre also grew in that direction, losing much of the highway’s through traffic to the Western Freeway. A large industrial park was formed east of the township, which is to be extended by the Melton East Growth Area along the Keilor-Melton Road.

The watercourse flowing through Melton have provided space for four linear parks. The largest series of spaces is along the Toolern Creek, including a golf club, a reserve with sporting facilities and an historic homestead, The Willows (1855). The second largest linear park is along Arnolds Creek, Melton South, which touches the shore of the Melton reservoir. (The reservoir is for market gardens at Werribee South.)

Melton South was chosen for a campus of the Western Institute (later Victoria University of Technology) in 1987. A Catholic regional college was opened in the west of Melton during the late 1970s.

Melton’s median house price in 1987 was 78% of the median for metropolitan Melbourne, and in 1996 it was 66%. The figures for Melton South were 73% and 61%. In 1997 37% of children in Melton belonged to families on a welfare benefit or classed as working poor.

These modest figures might come as a surprising contrast to the 1996 census figures, which found that the median personal weekly income for people 15 years or more in Melton was $402, substantially better than the $336 a week for the Melton-Wyndham region and better again than the median of $311 for metropolitan Melbourne.

The Melton shire was expanded on 15 December, 1994, by the addition of the Diggers Rest area in Bulla shire and part of Werribee shire. Its name was unchanged.

Melton shire’s census populations have been 1,217 (1911), 1,804 (1961), 4,491 (1971), 12,022 (1976), 28,812 (1986) and 39,169 (1996 – larger area). The township’s census population in 1994 was 33,500.

Further Reading:

  • Starr, Joan, Melton – Plains of Promise, Melton Shire Council, c.1986.

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