Metropolitan Farm

Metropolitan Farm, also known as Werribee Farm, is 35 km. south-west of Melbourne, between the western bank of the Werribee River and Corio. It borders Port Phillip Bay and has an area of 10,800 ha.

In 1892 the Melbourne and Metropolitan Board of Works established a sewerage filtration system on 3,580 ha. of land west of the Werribee River. The sewage was transported from the metropolitan area by a main which was assisted by a pumping station at Spotswood. The initial sewage-treatment process was the flooding of low-gradient land with untreated effluent, and its effectiveness was improved in 1926 with grass filtration, when evaporation is weakest during the winter months. A proportion of the land was available for livestock grazing.

Because of the area’s isolation employees were housed in a village which by 1910 had a post office and a population of about 300 persons. By the early 1920s there were three primary schools and a public hall. The schools were Cocoroc (1894), Cocoroc South and Cocoroc West.

Beef production became a profitable sideline, despite a scare about beef measles during the 1930s. Prize-winning bulls were produced on the Farm. Sheep grazing was usually done by bringing in flocks during the summer.

By the 1960s the availability of private transport increasingly enabled employees to live away from the Farm. The township was shut down by the early 1970s.

In addition to the land and grass filtration systems there are about 1,500 ha. of coastal lagoons for sewage purification. They have become a haven for birdlife and have been designated as a wetland of international importance by the International Union for the Conservation of Nature.

Metropolitan Farm’s census populations were 379 (1933), 477 (1947) and 129 (1966).

Further Reading:

  • Dingle, Tony and Rasmusden, Carolyn, Vital Connections: Melbourne and its Board of Works 1891-1991, Penguin Books Australia Ltd., 1991.

Little River

Little River is a rural township 44 km. west-south-west of Melbourne, on the train route to Geelong.

The Little River (shorter than the Werribee River to its east and the Moorabool River to its west), has headwaters in the Brisbane Ranges. It was also known as the Cocoroc Rivulet, Cocoroc being a locality near the area later occupied by Metropolitan Farm.

The road from Melbourne to Geelong crossed the Little River and the Travellers Rest Inn was opened there in about 1840. In 1852 a township named Rothwell was surveyed in the vicinity of the Inn, on the west side of the Little River. However, when the railway to Geelong was built the line crossed Little River about one kilometre north of Rothwell, and the railway station and goods shed (1857) were built on the other side of the river. A township developed near the station and the Rothwell survey fell by the wayside. (The railway station and goods shed, and the Rothwell Bridge built for the old Princes Highway in 1866, are on the Register of the National Estate).

An Independent Denominational school and St. Michaels Catholic school were opened in 1856 and 1858 respectively. By 1865 the township had three hotels and a mechanics institute. The surrounding land was good for grazing, with some dairying carried out. It had been one of the Port Phillip Association’s pastoral runs (the first occupier being James Simpson), and later a large part of the district was included in the Chirnside estate centred on Werribee. Small farmers had the benefit of an eight-thousand hectare common for grazing, and there were sufficient settlers for solid bluestone Anglican, Presbyterian and Independent churches to be built.

In 1903 The Australian Handbook described Little River as –


Little River remained virtually unchanged for several decades, known principally as an agricultural district on the way between Melbourne and Geelong, and as a resort for sportsmen. The substitution of the Princes Freeway for the Geelong Road took passing traffic further south of the village.

Little River has a few shops, a post office, a service station, three reserves, the mechanics institute, the primary school and its churches. A larger reserve exists where Rothwell was surveyed, and the Rothwell cemetery is further south. Little River’s census populations have been 4 (1861), 121 (1871), 294 (1911), 358 (1954) and 191 (1966). The estimated population in 1993 was 670.


Goods shed and railway station, Little River, 1997. J. Young.

Further Reading:

  • Wynd, Ian, “So Fine a Country: A history of the Shire of Corio”, Shire of Corio, 1981.


Werribee, about 27 km south-west of Melbourne, is midway on the Princes Highway to Geelong.It is situated on the Werribee River, which has its headwaters north of Ballan.

Early pastoral leaseholds included members of John Batman’s Port Phillip Association. Rural amalgamation began in the early 1850s, shortly after a village reserve was surveyed.

The village was named Wyndham, apparently at the suggestion of the owner of the new village inn, Elliott Armstrong, who knew Sir Henry Wyndham, a soldier who had distinguished himself at Waterloo. The name Werribee had already been given to the river, however, and overtook Wyndham as the town name (1884) and the shire name (1909). Werribee is though to be derived from an Aboriginal word for spine or backbone, which describes the strong visual curve of the river over the nearly treeless plain.

Rural amalgamation around Werribee was massive. Thomas Chirnside was attracted to the open plain’s suitability for grazing and its proximity to the Melbourne markets. By 1863 he controlled more than 28,300 ha. in the Werribee district. W.J.T. (“Big”) Clarke of Sunbury also had a substantial holding in the district. Pastoral dominance reducedthe number of smaller holdings as they were bought up by Chirnside in the1860s. The town grew relatively slowly, but steadily. A railway line wasopened between Newport and Geelong in 1857, with a station at Werribee.A Church of England school, opened in 1855, was replaced by a National schoolin 1861, the year in which a Catholic church was opened.

On 10 October, 1862, the Wyndham Road District was proclaimed, and wasreplaced by a shire council on 11 March, 1864. The shire extended from Footscrayto the Little River, and northwards to the Melton Reservoir. The area was276 square miles, or 715 square kilometres. It contained the places nowknown as Balliang, Exford, Hoppers Crossing, Laverton, Little River, Manor, Mambourin, Mount Cottrell, Tarneit, Truganina, Werribee South/Point Cook, and Wyndham Vale. The shire also included Altona until it was severed on 29 May, 1957, to form a separate shire. The name change to Werribee shire occurred on 15 December, 1909, and proclamation as a city took place on 20 March,1987. On 15 December, 1984 when Victorian council boundaries were restructured,the name was changed back to Wyndham, and a small part in the north was transferred to Melton shire.

Between 1860 and 1890 Werribee had two centres of gravity, the township and the Chirnsides’ Werribee Park. Thomas’ brother, Andrew, joined him in1875 in acquiring land around Werribee, ultimately enlarging the holding to over 37,600 ha. By 1878 the brothers had completed the building of theWerribee Park mansion, about three kilometres south of the Werribee township and 500 metres east of the Werribee River. The dry, rain-shadow property was augmented by wind-pump wells, and it became the site of coursing, hunt-clubs, elaborate annual picnics and a volunteer troops encampment for colonial defence. The Chirnside Battery’s drill ground was south-west of the mansionon a flat beside the river. In 1884 Thomas Chirnside donated land for St.Thomas’ Presbyterian church.

The suicide of Thomas, the Laird of Werribee Park, in 1887 and his brother’sdeath three years later resulted in the property being divided between Andrew’stwo sons. A second mansion “The Manor” was built by the son whoinherited the property north of the township.

By 1881 about one-quarter of the shire’s population lived in Werribee township. Apart from hotels the principal recreational venues were the racecourse(1879) and the mechanics’ institute (1883). The Australian Handbook, 1893, described Werribee as –

Shortly after the Werribee Park estate came in the sons’ hands, land taxes persuaded them to bring in tenant farmers. The cleared grazing land was readily converted to cropping and dairying. During the early 1900s some tenant farmers became freeholders, and all told about 130 farmers were living on land that had recently been a family sheep walk. In 1892 the Melbourneand Metropolitan Board of Works acquired 3,580 ha. from the Chirnside estate for the metropolitan sewage farm, the site later being named Metropolitan Farm..

The Werribee township formed a progress association in 1910, to quicken the pace of change and improvement of amenities. Reticulated water was suppliedby the State Rivers and Water Supply Commission until 1929, when the YanYean supply finally connected.

In 1904 the State Government acquired land for closer-settlement farms,and the Commission’s irrigation improvements brought about successful settlement eight years later. It ushered in a community of Italian market gardeners,as well as orchardists and poulterers. The State Research Farm (now the Animal Research Institute) was begun in 1912. Soldier settlers took up farms after the first word war, and in 1925 the area was renamed Werribee South.

The Werribee Park mansion and 404 ha. of land was sold to the Catholic church, and became the Corpus Christi seminary for the training of priests.Some of the grounds were let to Italian farmers. Both the Chirnside sons left the district, moving to Brandon Park, Waverley,and to Chirnside Park. During the inter-war years the township’s population increased by about one-third, to a little more than 3,000 persons,sufficient to patronise a picture theatre (1928) and for the opening ofa higher elementary school 91923). Shortly after the second World War The Australian Blue Book, 1949, described Werribee shire as –

The township had four hotels, four churches, two savings banks and branches of two others, market yards and an agricultural and pastoral society. The cooperative milk factory was the only large industry that had been attracted.

Post war population growth was at first mostly in the eastern (Altona) end of the shire. Werribee township’s rapid growth began in the 1960s, thepopulation more than doubling between 1961 and 1971 to over 12,000 persons. The township acquired additional recreational facilities, new churches and denominational schools, two more State primary schools and a district hospital.I ts growth had been acknowledged by the construction of the Maltby By Pass, taking the Melbourne to Geelong road out of the town’s centre.

A new suburb adjoining the Melbourne side of Werribee, Hoppers Crossing,was commenced. It grew rapidly, acquiring a drive-in shopping centre in 1981, along with pre-school facilities and State and church primary schools.Four years after the Hoppers Crossing shopping centre the Werribee Plaza,about three times as big (39,000 sq. metres), was opened, but actually onthe edge of Hoppers Crossing. This left scope for the strip shopping centrenear the Werribee railway station to be enlarged and for a village shoppingcentre to be built on the other side of the railway line.

The Corpus Christi seminary closed in 1973 and the Werribee park property was sold to the State Government. The mansion and outbuildings have beencarefully preserved along with the formal gardens. A zoological park, theState Rose Garden and the State Equestrian Centre have been included inits grounds. The closure of the seminary did not herald the diminution ofthe Catholic community. The St. Andrews church had two active school campusesand a third one under consideration in the mid 1990s, and the McKillop secondarycollege was opened.

There is a linear park along the Werribee River, and elsewhere watercourses drain into swampy basins which are being made into recreationalwetlands. In addition to these large spaces there are ball-game courts andovals on two other reserves.

House prices in Werribee have been below the metropolitan median pricebetween 1987 and 1996, resting at about 80%. A survey of children on povertyin 1997 showed that 38% of Werribee children were in families on welfarebenefits or classed as working poor. It was not as well off as Altona (29%),but considerably better than the metropolis’ highest figure of 61% in Footscray.

The census populations of Werribee township andits immediate environs were 366 (1871), 693 (1901), 2,301 (1911), 3,348(1947) 8,228 (1966) and 12,872 (1971). The shire’s census populations were1476 (1871), 7853 (1933) and 16,114 (1954). Altona was severed in 1957 andthe new shire’s census populations were 13,689 (1961), 30,246 (1976) and72,230 (1991).

Further Reading:

  • Allom Lovell Sanderson Pty. Ltd., Werribee Park Metropolitan Park Conservation Analysis, 1985.
  • James, K. N. (ed.) Werribee: The First One Hundred Years, Werribee District Historical Society, 1985.