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History and Heritage

Kooris with a fishing boat
Historical Photograph of the Riverfront

Indigenous History

The area around Footscray was originally home to the Woimurrung and Boonwurrung tribes of the Kulin nation for over 40,000 years. At that time it was at the confluence of the rivers now known as the Maribyrnong and the Yarra. Maribyrnong is an anglicised version of the Aboriginal term ‘Mirring-gnay-bir-nong’, which translates as 'I can hear a ringtail possum'.

Read more about Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people in the West.

European Settlement

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.

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 points beyond. A settlement known as ‘Saltwater’ evolved around the punt. This site grew into the City named after the English town of Footscray. Since this time, the area has seen almost constant change as communities and industries have come and gone.

Industry in Maribyrnong

During the second half of the nineteenth century, Footscray developed into the central powerhouse of Melbourne's industrial wealth. The Maribyrnong River became an industrial corridor and suffered from severe environmental degradation. A decline in the manufacturing industry followed in the 1960s and ‘70s, which led to substantial unemployment.

Today, industrial closures on the river are being turned to advantage, creating potential for new development. The opportunity to enjoy a waterside location in close proximity to central Melbourne has served as a catalyst for the regeneration of the surrounding areas. Maribyrnong currently has a workforce of more than 21,000 people working in professional occupations as well as tradespeople, production/transport workers and labourers. It is home to more than 3,500 businesses. Council's industry surveys indicate that between 1990 and 2000,127 new industries were established creating over 2,400 jobs. Maribyrnong is also the centre of retailing in the western region.

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 and by 1966 almost one-third of the population was overseas born, mostly from 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. Recent arrivals include people from the Horn of Africa and the former Republic of Yugoslavia.

Maribyrnong Today

The City of Maribyrnong is undergoing a period of significant change. Residential properties are increasingly sought after, contributing to gentrification and increasing housing prices in suburbs such as Yarraville, Seddon, Footscray and Maidstone. At the same time, a number of large redevelopment opportunities have emerged from changes in land use as result of the restructuring of manufacturing industries and the almost wholesale relocation of the Commonwealth defence industries that once provided many thousands of jobs in the area.

The City's population is over 79,000 giving it a greater residential focus. Approximately 40% of residents were born outside Australia. The population comes from more than 135 different countries, speaking more than 85 languages. A significant number of new arrivals are from China, the Horn of Africa, India, and more recently Burma.

For more information contact:
9688 0200

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