Urban Melbourne

The region’s beating heart

Urban Melbourne is the region’s most densely urbanised area. It covers 145,000 hectares; about 10% of the region’s total area.

It is comprised of the cities of Frankston, Greater Dandenong, Knox, Maroondah, Manningham, Banyule, Darebin, Moreland, Moonee Valley, Brimbank, Maribyrnong, Hobsons Bay, Melbourne, Port Phillip, Bayside, Kingston, Stonnington, Glen Eira, Monash, Yarra, Whitehorse and Boroondara.

The problems, aims and feasible outcomes of urban land, water and nature conservation here are different to those in rural and wild landscapes. Intact ecosystems and diverse habitats are largely gone from urban landscapes. Hard-surface runoff, water, air and noise pollution, litter, open space fragmentation, physical damage, weeds, cats and foxes are relentless pressures on what remains. 

Melbourne’s public authorities and local councils all express commitments in mission and policy to conserve nature and enhance it as human habitat. But success is not so assured. Urban conservation and loss are decided across hundreds of locations each year in competitions for scarce space and between conflicting demands. Laws and regulations made for species and ecosystem protection in rural and wild environments are often ineffective in urban landscapes.

At the same time, the size and density of Melbourne’s population enables funding for urban conservation schemes that might be unaffordable elsewhere. Examples include the freeway tunnel under the Mullum Mullum Valley, the renewal of the unused Healesville Freeway corridor as parkland, Melbourne Water’s Healthy Waterways program and ambitious plans to grow an urban forest across the city.

A quick look back

The land, coasts and waterways of this area is Kulin Nation country. The Kulin people comprise several indigenous language groups. Archaeological evidence at the Murrup Tamboore site north of Melbourne shows the natural resources of this region were supporting Aboriginal people at least 31,000 years ago and possibly double this time.

Urbanised Melbourne grew rapidly from the arrival of the Port Philip Association’s settlement party in 1835; first east along the Yarra River and north to the heavier soils and grassy woodlands of the Maribyrnong River valley. Later, 19th Century housing and market gardens spread south on the sandy soils and easily cleared heathland on Port Phillip Bay’s eastern coast. Melbourne’s population reached 490,000 in 1890. 

Access to Melbourne’s port, water supply and wastewater disposal in the Yarra estuary led early development west of the river. But the open plain west of Melbourne offered little attraction or shelter, poor soils, few streams and sparse rainfall. It saw little urban development for another 60 years.

Melbourne’s population reached 1 million around 1930. Its suburbs spread north and repurposed the Yarra’s tributaries, Moonee Ponds Creek, Merri Creek, Darebin Creek and the Plenty River as urban drains. 

Post-war industry took advantage of the low-cost, flat land on the western plains. Factories, warehouses, rail yards and new suburbs helped make the Melbourne region’s once vast and abundant native grasslands into a critically endangered vegetation type.

Melbourne’s population reached 2 million in 1963. By the end of the 1970s, most of the Eucalyptus forest and grassy woodlands, east and north-east to the Yarra Valley and the Dandenong Ranges were gone. And the last of fifty square kilometres of the Carrum Carrum swamp along Port Phillip’s eastern shore were finally drained for farms, new bayside suburbs and the Patterson Lakes marinas.