Toorak is a residential area 5 km. south-east of Melbourne. Its social boundaries have been precisely fixed by its postal district boundaries (SE2 and 3142), which are Williams Road, Malvern Road, Glenferrie Road and the Yarra River. The only authentic part of Toorak outside these boundaries is the railway station, just south of Malvern Road, and its situation is verified by the Armadale North post office, being in the shops beside the station.

The name is derived from Toorak House, a residence built by James Jackson, a merchant, in 1849. The word may have been derived from Aboriginal words of similar pronunciation meaning reedy swamp or black crow. Toorak House, with its Italianate tower, and now in St. Georges Road set the architectural style for Toorak. Jackson died in 1851, and Toorak House became Government House until 1879. It is now the Swedish Church.

Road access to Toorak House was along the Gardiners Creek Road, now Toorak Road, and it was the first good road through the area. Subdivisions occurred along it and a hotel was built in 1855 on the site now occupied by the Tok H in the Toorak Village shopping centre. Toorak continued to be the site for elegant residences in spacious grounds.

East of the village three churches were built: St. Johns Church of England (1862), St. Peters Roman Catholic church and the Presbyterian church (1876). The Methodists built west of the village (1887) and their church was illegally demolished in the early 1990s. A tramline along Toorak Road was opened in 1888. In 1890 the Toorak Central School was opened. Toorak was described in The Australian Handbook, 1893, as –


The population figure of 6,000 is probably an exaggeration, perhaps early evidence of residents vying for the best address. The census figure for 1911 was 3,630, and the estimate for 1920 was 5,700 after considerable subdivision of the large estates had occurred.

Financial depression, increasing costs of upkeep and taxes on property resulted in several sites having their gardens subdivided for suburban allotments or the houses converted into flats. Some subdivisions had new houses put on then but many had flats. Toorak remained an excellent address and a flat was a way of achieving it. Flat development was continuous during the 1920s and 1930s, and by the end of the 1930s there were almost as many flats in Toorak as houses. In the postwar years the process continued, with high rise structures becoming notable in the 1970s.

Trade and industry in Toorak are confined to the shopping area. The rest is residences, churches and schools. Secondary schools for boys are mostly outside Toorak, but Glamorgan Preparatory was opened there in the early 1920s when travel and boarding were not preferred for younger pupils (although boarding was available if wanted). It has become the primary school for Geelong Grammar, has attendances in excess of the State primary, and has been co-educational since the early 1970s. St. Catherine’s non-denominational (1922) and Loretto, Mandeville Hall (1924) provide girl’s secondary education. The Toorak College (1897) for girls was moved to Malvern in 1918. At the northern edge of Toorak where it is skirted by a railway line, the Heyington railway station delivers boys to the Catholic St. Kevin’s College (1918). Next door is the Kooyong Lawn Tennis Association, venue for international tennis contests until the opening of the sports and entertainment centre in Flinders Park, Melbourne.

Toorak’s prestige is undiminished, despite some of its grand residences being confined by newer houses and flats. The village is a major shopping centre, notable for its reliance on dining out, fashion and decorative homewares. Its streets are undisturbed by public transport except along Toorak Road. Several of the remaining grand residences, two churches, the State school and a block of flats (1948) are on either or both the Commonwealth or State historic buildings registers.

The median house price in Toorak during 1987 and 1996 has varied between four and seven times the median for metropolitan Melbourne. The high median of over $1 million in 1989 was affected by the sale of a more than usual number of high-value properties.

Further Reading:

Robb, E.M., “Early Toorak and District”, Robertson and Mullens Limited, 1934. (With illuminating pictures of spacious residences, published when many were being subdivided or pulled down).

Wilde, Sally, “The History of Prahran, 1925-1990”, Melbourne University Press, 1993.

South Yarra

South Yarra is a residential suburb extending from St. Kilda Road to Williams Road, Toorak, bordered on the north by the Domain, the Botanic Gardens and the Yarra River, and on the south by Commercial Road, Prahran. Its prestige as a residential address approaches that of Toorak. Its railway station, 3 km. from Melbourne, is about in the middle of South Yarra. The western part of South Yarra is in Melbourne city and the other in Stonnington (previously Prahran) city. That has been a cause for the western part wanting to secede from Melbourne at various times.

South Yarra was the location of the first of three Crown land sales for Prahran, the subdivisions beginning south of the Yarra river in 1840s and ending at Dandenong Road ten years later. A purchaser in 1840 was Lieut.-Colonel Charles Forrest. He built two residences on Forrest Hill, the most northerly becoming the site of the Melbourne Boys’ High School. Local clay supplied the bricks, and later became the site of the South Yarra brickworks. West of Punt Road in 1846 the former Norfolk Island Commandant Lieut.-Colonel Joseph Anderson acquired the choice site of the South Yarra Hill which overlooked the St. Kilda Road track which straggled through lower-lying sandy and swampy terrain. Anderson Street is named after him. Access to South Yarra was by boat or punt – hence Punt Road – until Princes Bridge was opened in 1850.

Shortly before the 1846 land sale the site for the Botanic Gardens was reserved. The western part of South Yarra thereby achieved the dual advantages of elevation and a first-class pleasure ground. The erection of the new Government House in part of the reservation in 1879 added to South Yarra’s desirability.

A good many original homes of South Yarra west (c.1860-1900) survive, although some have been removed for the building of flats. The sites were smaller than those in Toorak and less prone to subdivision of the grounds or internal subdivision of the houses into flats.

In addition to the Botanic Gardens there is Fawkner Park, reserved in 1862 but abbreviated by the development of the strip fronting St. Kilda Road. The allotments, however, were large, attracting correspondingly large residences to take advantage of the St. Kilda Road boulevard. In the postwar years they became the site of the southway extension of the central business area.

The major institutional buildings are the primary school (1877) on the site of a Presbyterian church school (1854), Christ Church at the prominent corner of Punt and Toorak Roads (1857), and Melbourne Grammar School (1858) on a site chosen in 1854 when the school at St. Peter’s Hill, East Melbourne, looked to its future.

A small shopping centre is served by the tram as it rounds the corner at Domain Road and Park Street.

South Yarra east of Punt Road was connected to Melbourne by railway in 1859, and joined to Caulfield and Gippsland in 1879. The two commercial spines are Chapel Street and Toorak Road, and their intersection had business premises by the mid 1850s. In 1880 a cable tram engine house was built at the corner, later to become the Capitol Bakeries building (1928) and then a retail and entertainment venue (1988).

The northern part of South Yarra was favoured by elevation and larger residential allotments. The southern part approached the swampy part of Prahran and had workers’ houses. In 1893 The Australian Handbook described South Yarra as –


The most notable grand residence is Como built between 1847 and 1855 with grounds extending to Toorak Road. The grounds were subdivided in 1911, but the house preserved and taken over by the National Trust in 1959. Elsewhere in the northern area of South Yarra the desire for a good address stimulated the building of flats along Alexandra Avenue, particularly during the 1930s. Compared with the later high-rise blocks their designs are ornate. The northern section of Chapel Street (Forrest Hill) was industrial, with the Hecla/Electrolux factory (1922) and the brickworks. They become the site of the Como shopping and apartments projects, beginning in the 1980s and unfinished a decade later. The Melbourne Boys’ high school on the other side of Chapel Street was built in 1927, the successor to a co-educational State continuation school originally in East Melbourne. Southwards in Chapel Street the Victoria Preserving Company began operations in 1874 in the building which came to be known as the Jam Factory. It was operated until 1970 by I.X.L. (Henry Jones), becoming a shopping complex in 1979. Although Chapel Street is generally known as being in Prahran, the part north of Commercial Road (which includes the Prahran Market and the Horace Petty housing estate) is in South Yarra’s postcode area. Hawksburn is also in South Yarra.

Whereas the grand churches are west of Punt Road and eastwards in Toorak, the Catholic St. Josephs church (1888), school and community centre is behind Chapel Street, in Fitzgerald Street. Nearby the evangelical Church of Christ was opened in 1908 in unpretentious premises.

South Yarra, like Prahran, was caught in the predicament of higher-density postwar housing in the form of flats. The Prahran council arrested the population decline with Housing Commission high-rise flats, but with considerable public resentment. The resentment became strong opposition in the 1970s when developers persuaded the Council to permit high-rise private developments generally throughout the municipality. The South Yarra Anti-High Rise Group secured restraints on the building heights.

Toorak Road, South Yarra, has a strong shopping strip, with emphasis on fashion, dining out and entertainment. Its viability has been maintained by the creation of rear car-parking lots during the 1980s and 1990s.

South Yarra has numerous places and buildings on historic building registers. The Royal Botanic Gardens, Government House, the former Melbourne Observatory and La Trobe’s cottage (all in the Domain area), are on the Victorian Heritage Register. Melbourne High School (1928), Melbourne Church of England Grammar School (1856), Christ Church and six residences area also on the Register.

Between 1987 and 1996 the median house price in South Yarra was about 92% above the median for metropolitan Melbourne.

Further Reading:

Malone, Betty and Slater, L. Oscar, “Walking Tour of South Yarra Central”, Prendergarst Publishing, 1988.

Slater, L. Oscar, “Walking Tour of South Yarra West”, Prendergarst Publishing, 1987.

Wilde, Sally, “The History of Prahran, 1925-1990”, Melbourne University Press, 1993


Collingwood, an industrial and residential suburb, is 3 km. north-east of Melbourne. Its western boundary is Smith Street, Fitzroy, and its southern boundary is Victoria Parade.On its east are Clifton Hill and Abbotsford, both included in the former Collingwood municipality. It was named after Admiral Lord Collingwood, who fought at Trafalgar.

Along with Fitzroy, Collingwood was subdivided in 1838 into allotments each of about 12 ha. At that time both districts were generally known as Collingwood, although the Fitzroy part was differentiated by being known as upper Collingwood or Collingwood west.

It was the elevated part, as the land falls away to a plain about 200 metres east of Smith Street, otherwise known as the Collingwood flat. Storm water drained from the elevated part along today’s Alexandra Parade and thence south-east from Smith Street to near the Victoria Park football ground into the Yarra River. The entry to the Yarra was a swampy area.

Buyers of the 12 ha. allotments set about further subdividing them for resale, and by 1854 nearly all but the swampiest parts were cut up. Settlement intensified after the gold rushes, and the area was exempt from building control laws, which encouraged the concentration of cheap houses on small blocks of land. The flat topography made subdivision easy. Increasing urbanisation in elevated Fitzroy increased storm water run-off, and east Collingwood was frequently flooded. The impervious subsoil caused stagnant sheets of water. Calls for drainage were neglected by Melbourne City Council, which had jurisdiction over Collingwood. On 24 April, 1855, Collingwood became a municipality. It was called East Collingwood until1873, when it was proclaimed a town.

Between 1856 and 1860 primary schools were opened by the Methodist, Independent, Free and Catholic churches. Collingwood’s early civic and commercial centre was in Johnston Street, which was a route to the eastern suburbs via the bridge (1857) over the Yarra River. A town hall and police court were built on the site now occupied by the TAFE.

The Yarra River on Collingwood’s east attracted industry. In 1840 John Dight hewed out a mill race through the basalt rocks in the river near where the Merri Creek joins it. He operated a mill for flour making, with varying success. A more productive use was harnessing the water for wool washing. Local councillors advocated the repeal of laws for Yarra River water purity, arguing that effluent from noxious trades was merely an addition to the sewage from Fitzroy and the Collingwood flat.By 1857 the Reilly Street drain (now under Alexandra Parade), had been built,and discharged into the Yarra with reasonable efficiency except when over-filled with storm water or brewers’ waste. The purificationists struggled against the advocates for “unlocking the Yarra”, to provide employment for workers after the gold boom.

Beginning in the 1860s several churches built their future permanent structures: St. Phillips Anglican Church, Hoddle Street(1863-1969); the Methodist Church, Hoddle Street (1874); St. Georges Presbyterian Church, Wellington Street (1859) and the Baptist Tabernacle, Sackville Street(1878). Practical help for Collingwood residents was provided by Doctor Singleton from his dispensary, Wellington Street, 1869-1932, later becoming a Council health clinic. In 1875 The Australian Handbook described Collingwood as –


The reference to drainage and health was more a preoccupation with the problems than their solution.)

On 14 January, 1876, Collingwood became a city.

During the 1850s Wellington Street was the busiest commercial strip, but it was overtaken by Smith Street which ran into Queens Parade and drew custom from Northcote and Heidelberg. By the 1870s Smith Street was a major retail thoroughfare, by when Mark Foy had opened his drapery store which was the forerunner of the Foy and Gibson retail empire.

A tram service from the city to Smith Street was opened in 1887, adding to Smith Street’s regional shopping role.

Train services to Collingwood were not of much convenience to its resident workers. No direct connection to the city was available for some time, the line being an indirect one which ran from Heidelberg via Fitzroy, Carlton and North Melbourne to the city (1888). Consequently residents’ employment was concentrated in local factories. Footwear, hats and garments were locally made in large quantities. Collingwood’s famous John Wren (tote operator and sporting entrepreneur) was a boot clicker in his early working life.

The Collingwood Football Club was founded in 1892, formed from the Britannia Club. It joined the Victorian Football Association in 1892 and was one of several which broke away to form the League in 1897. A forerunner of the Britannia Club played in 1880 in an area near the Reilly Street drain.

Victoria Park, Collingwood, c.1910.
(Image courtesy Tony Davies, London, U.K.)


Advertisement for T.W. Sherrin Sporting Goods, c.1904.
(Image courtesy Tony Davies, London, U.K.)

Collingwood municipality’s population nearly doubled between 1871 and 1891 to 35,000 persons. The town hall was transferred to more opulent premises in Hoddle Street in 1885. Small houses proliferated.South of Alexandra Parade there were fifteen houses per acre compared with about half that density in neighbouring Clifton Hill. Outside of Melbourne,the Collingwood area was Victoria’s biggest brewing centre. The Fosters Brewery (1888) in Rokeby Street generated nearly a monopoly in bottled beer and the Yorkshire Brewery, Wellington Street, was noted for the brick brewing tower which still stands. In 1903 The Australian Handbook described a mature Collingwood –


After 1890 Collingwood’s population stabilised.Some old shacks were demolished for factories, an example being the Foy and Gibson’s factories and Gibsonia woollen mills east of Smith Street.A train service direct from the city to Collingwood was opened in 1901,opening Collingwood’s factories to a wider workforce. A tram also ran along Johnston Street from 1887 to 1939.


Johnston St, Collingwood, c.1910.
(Image courtesy Tony Davies, London, U.K.)

Collingwood gained a reputation for working-class culture and tenacious support for the local football team. It continues to maintain a high level of club membership. Between 1902 and 1936 the club won eleven football premierships, including an unbeaten four in a row in 1927-30. The club also gained an agreement for undisputed use of the Victoria Park oval, formed on Dight’s Paddock by the council.

In 1877 the non-Catholic primary schools closed when the State school was opened in Cambridge Street. State schools were opened in the neighbouring localities of Abbotsford (1877), Clifton Hill (1874 and 1891) and Victoria Park (1889). A technical school was opened in Johnston Street in 1912 on the former town hall site. The Catholic primary school, originally in Ryrie Street (1859) continued in Otter Street and St. Joseph’s boys’ technical school in Nicholson Street continued until the 1990s when it was leased for a Rudolf Steiner inner-city school campus.In 1915 a school of domestic economy was opened in Vere Street, becoming a co-educational high school in 1968 and the Collingwood Education Centre in the 1970s.

In 1949, when Collingwood was regarded as industrial working class, The Australian Blue Book described the municipality as –


The Victorian Housing Commission built numerous estates in outer suburbs in the postwar years, encouraging an exodus of residents from inner suburbs. The inner suburban cottages were taken by postwar migrants. Greek and Italian migrants accounted for 8% of Collingwood’s population in 1954, 21% in 1961 and 27% in 1971. Fifteen years later residents born in Europe and Asia were 23% of the population, and those from south-eastAsia 8.2%. In 1958 the Commission moved into Collingwood, demolishing cottages near Johnston and Hoddle Streets. Three-storey blocks were built, and later twenty-storey blocks (1967-71), for over 2,000 people. They almost halted the municipality’s population decline, but it was renewed by the mid 1970s.

The population decline lessened the local catchment for the Smith Street shops, and the growth of Bourke Street, Melbourne, since Sidney Myer opened there in the 1920s, eroded Smith Street’s regional shopping role. G.J. Coles and Company started its first variety store in Smith Street in 1912, and left there when variety stores were superseded by Kmarts and supermarkets. The density of subdivided land at the rear of Smith Street has discouraged the opening of a drive-in shopping centre, which would probably have drawn patronage away from the strip. The exceptional land parcel is the gigantic suite of industrial buildings once used for Foy and Gibsons garment manufacturing, but some of them are on the Victorian Heritage Register.

By the 1990s Collingwood underwent moderate gentrification. Housing prices reflected the change: in 1987 Collingwood’s median house price was 86% of the median for metropolitan Melbourne, rising to 117% in1996. Abbotsford and Clifton Hill, from higher base figures, behaved much the same. On the other hand, a report in 1997 showed that 21% of Collingwood’s children were in families on a welfare benefit or classed as working poor. Only ten of 57 metropolitan suburbs had more children classed as working poor.

On 22 June, 1994, Collingwood city was united with Fitzroy and Richmond cities to form Yarra city.

Collingwood municipality’s census populations were 10,786 (1857), 23,829 (1881), 34,239 (1921), 25,413(1961) and 13,388 (1991).

Further Reading:

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

“Collingwood Centenary, 1855-1955”, City of Collingwood, 1955.

Hibbins, Gillian M., “A Short History of Collingwood”.Collingwood Historical Society, 1997.

“In Those Days, Collingwood Remembered”,Carringbush Regional Library, 1994.

Taylor, Percy, “Collingwood Football Club,1892-1948”, The National Press Pty. Ltd., 1949(?).

“The Flat and The Hill: Conserving old Collingwood”,Department of Planning and Housing and the City of Collingwood, 1991.