The history of Footscray and surrounds

The area around Footscray was originally home to the Wurundjeri Woi Wurrung and the Bunurong peoples of the Kulin Nation for more than 40,000 years. Maribyrnong is an anglicised version of the Aboriginal term ‘Mirring-gnay-bir-nong’, which translates as 'I can hear a ringtail possum'.

Where the Maribyrnong and Yarra Rivers join was an especially important place as it symbolised the joining of groups who would travel along the river. Many sacred sites have been identified. Read more about Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people in the west.

Saltwater to Footscray

The first recorded visit by a European to the area was by Charles Grimes, Deputy Surveyor-General of New South Wales, in February 1803. Grimes and his small party are thought to have stepped ashore somewhere near the reserve that is named after him at the corner of Napier and Maribyrnong Streets, Footscray.

In 1839 a punt was established on 'Saltwater River' (as the Maribyrnong River was then known) near its junction with the Yarra to provide a crossing point for travellers to Williamstown, Geelong and beyond. A settlement known as ‘Saltwater’ evolved around the punt. This site grew into the city of Footscray, named after an English town. Since this time, the area has seen almost constant change as communities and industries have come and gone.

Industrial growth and regeneration

During the second half of the 19th century, Footscray developed into the central powerhouse of Melbourne's industrial wealth. A decline in the manufacturing industry followed in the 1960s and ‘70s.

Today, industrial areas along the river are being redeveloped into higher density residential areas, with residents enjoying the waterside location and city views.

Multicultural Influence

Until the 1940s, the population of the Footscray area was overwhelmingly Australian-born or from the British Isles.

Following the Second World War, waves of migrants and refugees arrived from Europe and the Americas. By 1966, almost a third of the population was born overseas, mostly Italy, Greece, Malta, Poland, the former Republic of Yugoslavia and Germany.

By the 1980s the area was a major location for the settlement of migrants and refugees, particularly from Indo-China, the Middle East and Central and South America. More recent arrivals include people from the Horn of Africa and the former Republic of Yugoslavia.

Read more about multicultural Maribyrnong today.