Adjoining the eastern boundary of Carlton, 2 km. north-east of Melbourne’s centre, Fitzroy was Melbourne’s first suburb. The eastern boundary of Fitzroy adjoins Collingwood.

The name comes form Sir Charles Fitz Roy, Governor of New South Wales, 1846-1855. Alexandra Parade divides the former Fitzroy municipality into Fitzroy North and Fitzroy South.

In 1839 the area of Fitzroy south of Alexandra Parade was subdivided into lots of about 12 ha. and offered for sale. The area was called Newtown (which tended to extend eastwards into present-day Collingwood), and Newtown subsequently was called Collingwood. Present-day Collingwood was East Collingwood. In 1850 the area now known as Fitzroy was made the Fitzroy Ward of the Melbourne City Council. Three years after East Collingwood became a municipality, a separate Fitzroy municipality was created on 10 September, 1858, by severance of the ward from Melbourne. By then its population was about 10,000 persons.

The layout of streets was mostly in the lands of private subdividers: the government surveyor had prescribed only main arteries such as Nicholson, Brunswick, Smith, Gertrude and Johnston Streets. Building types were a mixture of masonry, timber and prefabricated, a few mansions and predominantly terraces after the gold rushes. Several terraces in Gore Street, Victoria Parade and Gertrude Street are registered buildings.

Early religion and education had a strong Wesleyan component. There were three Wesleyan/Methodist schools (1841,1858,1862) and a church at the corner of Brunswick and Moor Streets (1842). The earliest surviving church is St. Mark’s Anglican, Gore Street (1855), with the Christian Israelite church in Fitzroy Street being only six years younger. Fitzroy’s earliest surviving building is the delicensed Devonshire Arms hotel in Fitzroy Street (1850).

Brunswick Street became the main commercial sector, and Smith Street less so but lying on the route to Heidelberg. The route skirted Fitzroy North, which was laid out in the mid 1850s as a more gracious suburb.

Fitzroy (south) was well positioned for working men’s housing, as they could walk to work locally or in Collingwood, Carlton, North Melbourne or Melbourne. Local work site included flour mills, footwear factories, a brewery, joinery works and timber yards. There were cricket and bowling clubs, but in 1865 football was some time off.

The Presbyterian church opened in 1851, moving along Napier Street to a new building in 1871, and the Mercy Sisters Convent in Nicholson Street was formed around Bishop Goold’s house (1850). Non-church schools began in 1855. The present primary school in George Street dates from 1855. A town hall was built in Napier Street in the early 1870s. In 1875 The Australian Handbook described Fitzroy as –

During the 1880s Fitzroy (south) became increasingly working class. Mansions became boarding houses, and the single men in them attracted prostitution as a local industry. Other local industries included sly-grogging, cocaine dealing and internecine activities between pushes of under-employed larrikans. Coinciding with the descent into unlawful activity the Churches increased the charitable activities, focusing on ragged children, facilities for single women and the relief of distress. Much of the philanthropic initiatives, though, came from organisations outside Fitzroy.

In 1883 the Fitzroy Football Club was formed from the remnants of the local Normanby club. It joined the Victorian Football Association and was one of the break-away clubs which formed he Victorian Football League in 1896. Like the Collingwood club, Fitzroy’s best years were its early ones, winning five premierships before 1914.

In 1886-7 three tramlines were opened through Fitzroy – Nicholson Street, Brunswick Street and Smith Street. The Smith Street route extended beyond Fitzroy’s borders by 1890 and had retail catchments in Collingwood and Northcote. It became a regional shopping strip. Foy and Gibsons, beginning as a drapery business in the 1870s, later became a landmark department store. In 1884 the Fitzroy side of Smith Street had several large furniture emporia. Names lasting until the next century included Clauscens furniture, Treadways drapery and Moran and Cato’s grocery chain. Gertrude, Brunswick and Smith Street were nearly all retail, commercial or licensed premises. Railways, on the other hand, were in Fitzroy North, with a spur line running southwards to near the Brunswick Street oval but not reaching beyond Alexandra Parade.

The Fitzroy council opened a pioneering free public library in 1877. The following year Fitzroy was proclaimed a city and in 1888 it substantially added to the town hall building to provide for the library and a court house. Fitzroy was described in 1893 in The Australian Handbook as –

At about that time Fitzroy’s pre-eminent entrepreneur MacPherson Robertson returned from America to introduce new kinds of confectionery to the boiled-lolly business he had begun in 1880 in the bathroom of his family’s Fitzroy home. The “Great White City” factory for MacRobertson’s confectionery in Smith Street occupied half a hectare by the 1920s. Robertson became a renowned philanthropist, particularly during the Melbourne centenary celebrations in 1934.

In Victoria Parade in 1893 the Irish Sisters of Charity began St. Vincent’s Hospital, which within twenty years became the second busiest in metropolitan Melbourne. One hundred years later it remained in inner Melbourne while several others had been closed or moved to outer suburbs, although the prospect of removal was canvassed in 1997. The Free Kindergarten Union (1908), began with a kindergarten in Fitzroy, and the Salvation army and the Presbyterian church established refuges for women. The impoverishment of the inner suburbs drew philanthropy, and the depression of the 1930s kept it there. The Methodist church’s Frederick Cato, a Fitzroy boy who established his grocery chain’s main warehouse in Brunswick Street, supported the Methodist Mission. The Aboriginal community had support from Pastor Doug Nicholls, who played for Fitzroy Football Club, 1932-37. The Brotherhood of St. Laurence, founded by Gerald Tucker in Newcastle in 1930, began in Fitzroy in 1933 when Tucker took over the Anglican Mission Church of St. Mary. He organised for the relief of distress and declared war on slums.

Tucker’s activity coincided with F. Oswald Barnett’s Slum Study Group, which led to the establishment of the Housing Commission in 1938. Fitzroy’s slum reputation was accompanied by the decline in the shopping areas as central Melbourne (Bourke Street) grew stronger and modern strips were built in newer suburbs.

When the Housing Commission built modern estates in outer suburbs in the postwar years some of Fitzroy’s population took advantage of the new houses. Their places were often taken by postwar immigrants. By 1954 about 12% of Fitzroy’s population was Italian-born; in 1966 33% were Italian or Greek-born, and Australian-born had fallen from two-thirds to one-half. The Italian-born and the population with an Irish background constituted a strong Catholic body. Within ten years, however, the numbers of Italian-born and Greek-born residents had halved and within another ten years they had halved again.

The first Commission estate was the mid 1950s St. Laurence Estate, off Hanover Street. The second was the high-rise block at Brunswick and Gertrude Streets, obliterating several streets of small cottages, mostly built before the more substantial terraces further east, but which would have been acceptable to gentry renovators in ten years time. The high-rise estate’s corner touches a Conservation Area which is on the National Estate Register. Moving up Brunswick Street from the estate there is the number-one store of the Cox Brothers retail empire which failed after the 1960s credit squeeze. Moran and Cato’s massive warehouses remain, but much else of Brunswick Street has been remodelled and redecorated to become an eateries and entertainment strip, picking up from Lygon Street, Carlton, where rents had forced out the zany and the esoteric.

Between 1947 and 1991 Fitzroy’s population fell by 44%, to 17,885. The non-Australian born component, however, moved from 42% in 1947, to a high of 49% in 1966 and back to 40% in 1976 and 1986. The ethnic composition moved from noticeably Italian/Greek to a wider range, with nearly 9% from Asia.

Fitzroy (south) has Catholic primary and secondary schools and a State primary school. Post-primary schooling is confined to the William Angliss College of TAFE.

In 1987 the median house price was 125% of the Melbourne median, and in 1996 it had moved to 175%. In 1997, however, it was reported that 49% of children in Fitzroy were in families on a welfare benefit or classified as working poor. This statistic reflects the long-term existence of people in Fitzroy who are on low incomes and who have experienced social inequality. In the 1970s secular welfare organisations were created – the Fitzroy Legal Service (Australia’s first independent free community legal service), the Aboriginal Legal Service, the Aboriginal Health Service and the Aboriginal Child Care Agency.

Fitzroy has class and ethnic diversity, the Brunswick Street retail and entertainment strip and housing stock ranging from solid bluestone foundations to high-rise estates on concrete columns.

Fitzroy municipality’s census populations were 11,807 (1861), 23,118 (1881), 34,938 (1921), 29,399 (1961) and 17,885 (1991).

On 22 June, 1994, Fitzroy city was united with Collingwood and Richmond cities to form Yarra city. On 18 November, 1993, part of Carlton North had been transferred from Melbourne city to Fitzroy.

Brunswick East

Brunswick East is an inner-urban suburb 6 km north of Melbourne. It lies between Lygon Street and the Merri Creek, and adjoins Carlton North and Fitzroy North at its southern border.

Brunswick East is within 900 metres of Sydney Road which formed the spine of Brunswick when it was first settled. An early industry in Brunswick East was bluestone quarrying, and there were numerous farms. In 1882 land subdivision centered on Evans Street was released for residential purposes.

The swampiness of some of the land was modified by drainage works, and a primary school near Lygon Street (named Brunswick South), was opened in 1886. Another subdivisional sale at the northern end of Lygon Street occurred in 1887, and another school opened in 1888, and the East Brunswick Omnibus Company began its horse bus service along Lygon Street the next year.

Lygon Street became a successful shopping strip, wider than Sydney road, and retaining its period character one-hundred years later.

An old stone quarry was filled in and became Fleming Park, the home of the East Brunswick cricket and football clubs (1919). In 1916 the tram along Lygon Street was electrified, putting the site of Brunswick’s first textile factory, Prestige Hosiery (1922), within easier reach of its workforce. A returned servicemen’s housing area was begun in 1923, identifiable by the Maori Street names, probably in acknowledgment of the Anzac War tradition.

There are eight neighbourhood parks and reserves in Brunswick East, with another being formed over the former Brunswick tip. Next to the Merri Creek is the Brunswick Velodrome, and in the 1980s the Council began its support of CERES, a site for low-energy demonstrations and sustainable ecology, also near the creek.

Another tram service, along Nicholson Street, was opened in 1956.

Brunswick East has a primary school (1893), and the Brunswick East Secondary College, which closed in 1992, was actually in Brunswick.


Northcote is a residential and industrial suburb 8 km. north-north-east of Melbourne. Until 1994 it was a municipality,bounded on the west by the Merri Creek and on the east by the Darebin Creek. Its northern and southern boundaries adjoined Preston and Fitzroy / Collingwood/ Kew respectively.

The land surface of Northcote is a mixture of basaltic and mudstone/clay, the latter having a considerable bearing on Northcote’s economic development.

Much of the former Northcote municipality was sold at a Government land sale in October, 1839, in lots as large as 115 ha. Two original purchasers have left their names on places or landmarks:Ruckers Hill, west of the Northcote town hall (from William Rucker), and Penders Grove, Thornbury, on the north-eastern border.

All the lots were long and narrow, mostly running east-west. Their configuration has imposed the predominant east-west street pattern.

The Northcote township was surveyed in 1853 immediately north of a bendin the Merri Creek where Westgarth is now situated. It is now thought thatthe name Northcote was bestowed by the Surveyor-General, Sir Andrew Clarke, possibly as a compliment to Stafford Henry Northcote, barrister, private secretary to Gladstone and co-author of the famous Northcote-Trevelyan report on the reform of the British civil service (1853).

Whilst the surveyed township nestled beside the creek it was William Rucker’s land to the north which attracted the eye. He built a mansion in1842 in Bayview Street, at the top of Ruckers Hill which slopes down tothe Merri Creek. Land sales in 1853-4 after the gold rushes did well, andwell-to-do houses were built. High Street was the spine of the district, joined to Melbourne by a bridge (1850) over the Merri Creek. A Wesleyan Church and school were opened in High Street between Mitchell and Bastings Streets, their premises functioning as a community centre for several years.The Anglican church was opened in Westgarth, nearer the creek, in 1860,along with a school. The Peacock hotel was opened just south of the Wesleyan church in 1854, along with the Shannon to the north of the church.

Until the land-boom 1880s, Northcote remained rural, with occasional mansions or large homes. It was beyond the ring of metropolitan developmentbefore the land boom. Notable establishments along the river valleys werethe Fulham Grange Orchard and preserving factory, Lucerne Farm and the Yarra Bend metropolitan lunatic asylum (1848).

Industries began in the 1870s, including slaughtering yards, piggeriesand claypits. (For a while the area around the Wesleyan church was calledNewmarket, possibly a reference to butchers and associated activities.)An early claypit was operated by the Patent Brick Co. east of the corner of High and Separation Streets (1873). It was the forerunner of the NorthcotePatent Brick Co. Ltd. (1886) with three Hoffman kilns. Finally becomingthe Northcote tip, the former quarry sites are now occupied by the NorthcotePlaza shopping centre and Kmart. In 1874 the State school in Helen Streetwas opened, replacing the Wesleyan and Anglican schools.

On 25 May, 1883, Northcote became a borough. Before then it had beenpart of Jika Jika shire in union with Preston, which in turn had been part of a larger Darebin shire (1870) and Epping Road District (1864).

When the land boom came Northcote was effectively without any publictransport. The railway had no direct connecting corridor the central Melbourne,having to rely on a circular route from Spencer Street via Flemington, CarltonNorth and Fitzroy North, which linked to the Heidelberg line (1888), butnot to a line through Northcote until 1891. The direct connection to central Melbourne through Clifton Hill and Richmond came in 1901-3. Even trams were late coming, the High Street cable tram opening in 1890 under the aegisof the Clifton Hill to Northcote and Preston Tram Co. Its promoter was GeorgeClauscen, German-born, Fitzroy mayor 1886-7, chain-retailer of furnitureand sometime Northcote councillor.

The absence of public transport during the 1880s meant that land saleswent for low prices, either with a view to profit from later subdivisionor to buyers with limited means. Either course predetermined Northcote asa working person’s suburb. Cottages and row houses sprang up, but builtwith brick rather than timber as had often been the case in neighbouringCollingwood. In 1893 The Australian Handbook described Northcote as –


By then High Street had a substantial commercial strip with seventy businesspremises between the town hall and the Carters Arms hotel and SeparationStreet next to the brickworks. Another State school had opened in WalesStreet in 1891 and the Little Sisters of the Poor opened the first of threebuildings on the spacious grounds they had acquired in St. Georges Road.The borough was proclaimed a town on 12 September, 1890, the year the newtown hall was completed.

During the 1890s Northcote’s population stagnated at about 7,000, inthe next decade it nearly doubled and in the 1920s it did the same again.At last Northcote and a direct-railway link had been discovered.

In 1898 the Northcote Football Club was revived, and played its homematches at Northcote Park from 1904. Pony racing was begun at a racecourseoff St. Georges Road between the Croxton and Thornbury railway stations on a site oddly called the Fitzroy racecourse, one of the three owned by John Wren (the others being at Ascot Vale and Richmond). High Street was the opening of the Northcote Picture Theatre in 1912, one ofAustralia’s earliest in terms of its size and ornamentation. Southwards, near the town hall, a free library was opened in 1911, funded by the American millionaire, Andrew Carnegie. Northcote town was proclaimed a city on 13March, 1914.

In 1907 an argumentative fruit picker for the Goulburn Valley began hawkingfruit and rabbits in Northcote, and opened a fruit shop in High Street in1911. He joined the Labor Party, was elected to the Northcote council in1915 and entered the State Parliament’s lower house as the district’s representative two years later. John Cain became Premier of Victoria in 1943, 1945-7 and1953-5.

In 1920 Northcote got a third north-south public transport route, thetram along St. Georges Road. Residential settlement spread east and westof the tram lines, and several churches were built. Northcote high schoolwas opened in 1926. The football club won its first premiership in the Victorian Football Association in 1929, with its star Aborigine Douglas Nichols. Nichols later played for Fitzroy, returned to Northcote, became a Church of Christ pastor, activist in the Aborigines Advancement League and Governor of South Australia in 1976.

The Victorian Municipal Directory, 1946-7, described Northcote’s mixture of industrial, commercial and residential activity as –


Within a decade Northcote was in the midst of profound change. Italian migrants settled in Northcote (9.5% of the municipality’s population was Italian born in 1961), along with other nationalities. In people’s mindsNorthcote was becoming joined with neighbouring Collingwood as an innersuburb. Verandah posts, tress and old buildings became a nuisance to progress.The Anglican church, which had been built on the site of Ruckers mansionin 1926, was sold to the Eastern Orthodox Church in 1966. Besides having overseas-born residents, Northcote’s school-age population began to fall in the 1960s. The Italian and Greek communities began to challenge the Labor party’s Anglo-Celtic membership.

A further sign of change was when the New Northcote Brick Co. sold its quarry to the council for a tip. The Northcote Plaza was opened on the unquarried land in 1981 and expanded when the tip was filled. With an area of 14,000square metres (Kmart and 41 shops), it has drawn passing trade form theonce dominant High Street which succumbed to non-retail uses and vacancies.

By the 1980s the spread of gentrification crossed the Merri Creek fromFitzroy North. The local brickworks had bestowed a solid terra cotta buildingstock. Northcote’s median house price in 1987 was 93% of the median formetropolitan Melbourne and in 1996 it was 116% of the metropolitan median.Many houses are double-fronted, or weatherboard California bungalow.

In 1996 the median personal weekly income of Northcote residents fifteenyears or more was $282. The metropolitan median was $293. In 1997 45% of children in Northcote belonged to families on a welfare benefits or classedas working poor.

The Northcote municipality contained Croxton, Dennis, Merri and Thornbury,and, after 1 October, 1962, when part of Heidelberg city was annexed, Alphingtonand Fairfield. On 22 June, 1994, most of Northcote city was united with Preston city and a small part of Coburg city to form Darebin city.

Northcote’s census populations were 163 (1861),1,316 (1881) and the municipal populations were 7,100 (1891), 17,519 (1911),30,519 (1921), 44,746 (1961) and 59,303 (1971). In 1996 the census population for nearly the same area as the former municipality was 43,956.

Further Reading:

Fitzroy North

Fitzroy North, 4 km. north-east of Melbourne, is separated from Fitzroy (South) by Alexandra Parade. Its other boundaries adjoin Carlton North, Brunswick, Northcote and Clifton Hill.

It was laid out in the 1850s, by and large to a design developed by government survey staff in contrast to the under-dimensioned thoroughfares and allotments arising from private speculation and development south of Alexandra Parade. The design was fitted around the north-easterly thoroughfares of Queens Parade and St. Georges Road, the latter running over the Yan Yean water-supply pipe (1857). An unrealised suburban design from the government survey department was “Merriville”, but the name is acknowledged by the locality of Merri in Northcote, just over the border. The border is, in fact the Merri Creek.

Suburban allotments were not sold until the 1860s and 1870s. Near Merri is Rushall, the site of a housing development begun in 1869 by the Old Colonists’ Association. The idea of the Association and the houses seems to have been that of the theatrical entrepreneur, George Coppin, who was concerned about accommodation for elderly Port Phillip pioneers and for retired actors. The two hectare site has houses ranging from bluestone cottages to 1960s home units.

In the middle of Fitzroy North is Edinburgh Gardens, a circular site with a sports oval at its southern end. The oval was the home ground of the Fitzroy Football Club from its formation in 1883, entry to the Victorian Football League in 1897 until its departure from the oval in 1967. The Gardens had the Brunswick Street/St. Georges Road tram alongside (1887), and railway lines from Preston and Carlton North, which converged on a spur which ran through the Gardens. The railway line from Carlton North was part of the inner circle which became superfluous when radiating suburban lines were finally run through other inner suburbs to connect directly with central Melbourne.

Churches and schools were opened: St. Luke’s Church of England (1874), the Alfred Crescent primary school (1875) and St. Brigid’s Catholic church and school in Alexandra Parade (1880s). In 1891 the Merri primary school in the very north of the district was opened.

The tram in Nicholson Street, along the western boundary, was begun in 1887 and the service along Queens Parade in the same year. Shopping strips developed along the three tram lines, Nicholson Street, St. George’s Road and Queens Parade, the last one being the strongest and having the attraction of a plantation and service road protecting it from the main traffic.

In 1915 a central school was opened in Falconer Street, becoming a high school/secondary college in 1956 and changing in 1992 to a campus of the John Batman TAFE.

The inner-circle railway lines were kept for goods traffic, but in the 1980s and 1990s they were given over to linear parks. The spur line down to the former Fitzroy station has been treated in the same manner. The football club’s homeground became a community oval.

In 1987 the median house price in Fitzroy North was 14% above the median for metropolitan Melbourne and in 1996 it was 46% above the metropolitan median. Housing types in Fitzroy North are similar to those in Clifton Hill – mainly brick with a solid look about them – and their price levels and movements closely mirrored those in Clifton Hill.

Further Reading:

Barrett, Bernard, “The Inner Suburbs: The evolution of an industrial area”, Melbourne University Press, 1971.