Docklands history

Indigenous history

The area now known as Melbourne Docklands is part of the Lower Yarra Delta, a low-lying area that spreads from Princes Bridge to the sea. This was originally a wetland area containing swamps, low-lying vegetation, waterfowl and fish. For many thousands of years, this marshy land between the mouths of the Yarra and Maribyrnong River was used as a hunting ground and meeting place by several Aboriginal communities.

European settlement

The first European settlers arrived in 1803, when New South Wales Surveyor General Charles Grimes sailed into Port Phillip Bay. There was little further exploration of Port Phillip Bay and the Yarra River until 1835 when John Batman and John Pascoe Fawkner founded their illegal settlement, later named Melbourne.

Early industry

Early ships visiting the new settlement anchored in Hobson’s Bay (now Williamstown) and transferred freight by boat up the Yarra River. By 1860, Docklands was home to the West Melbourne gas works, railway industry, an explosives magazine and pottery works. Abattoirs, fellmongeries (dealers in animal skins and hides) and tanneries also set up in the area.

Development of the port

Construction of Victoria Dock commenced in the late 1880s and was completed in 1892. Excavating the dock involved removing 2.3 million cubic metres of earth that was used to improve the land around the dock and to fill the West Melbourne Swamp.

Port operations and decline

By 1908, Victoria Dock was handling an estimated 90 per cent of Victoria’s imports. Between the early 1900s and the late 1950s, Victoria Dock was Melbourne’s busiest dock handling a wide range of cargo including coal, steel, animals, wool and wheat. In the 1960s the Harbour Trust began using containerised cargo which required very different storage to the long sheds lining the docks. New docks and transport infrastructure were built west of Victoria Dock in the 1970s, rendering the dock and the wharves both sides of the Yarra redundant. By the end of the decade, these new docks were handling around 68 per cent of the port’s cargo.


8000BC – Tribal land used by Aboriginal people as a hunting and meeting place
1803 – First European visitors arrive in Port Phillip Bay
1835 – John Fawkner and John Batman arrive in Melbourne
1837 – Melbourne becomes a city
1852 – Melbourne Chamber of Commerce investigates need for better wharf facilities in Melbourne
1857 – Melbourne gasworks are developed at Docklands
1860 – Intensive industrial development leads to a pollution problem at Docklands
1878 – Sir John Coode retained to advise on how to achieve improved wharf facilities for Melbourne
1887 – Excavation of Victoria Dock commenced
1892 – Victoria Dock completed
1912 – First Australian bank notes are printed at the Queens Warehouse in Docklands
1916 – Central Pier at Victoria Dock completed
1925 – An entire American navy squadron docks at Victoria Harbour
1930 – Spencer Street Bridge opens leading to more intensive use of Victoria Dock
Mid 1930s – Introduction of the first electric wharf cranes
1940s – Between 1920 and 1940, Victoria Dock and North Wharf collectively handle about half of the total Port of Melbourne trade
Early 1960s – Containerisation of cargo commences
Late 1960s – Changing nature of shipping and cargo handling causes Port activity to start moving west
1975 – Construction of Charles Grimes Bridge
1980s – Docklands gradually falls into disrepair and disuse as port activity continues to relocate west
1989 – The Victorian Government releases ‘Melbourne’s Docklands: A Strategic Planning Framework’ for public consultation
1990 – Docklands Task Force established
1991 – Docklands Authority established to oversee regeneration of Docklands
1995 – Victorian Government releases a plan for Docklands and commits to developing the area
1996 – First ‘Expressions of Interest’ for development are called for
1997 – First Development Agreements signed for the stadium and Yarra’s Edge. Stadium construction commences
1998 – Municipal powers transferred from the City of Melbourne to Docklands Authority
2000 – The stadium, La Trobe Street Bridge and Bourke Street Bridge open. Construction begins on the first apartments at Docklands
2001 – First residential apartment tower completed
2002 – Webb Bridge opens. Construction of NAB office commences
2003 – The Docklands Authority merges with the Urban and Regional Land Corporation to become VicUrban. City Circle tram extended through Docklands
2004 – Collins Street Bridge opens, extending Collins Street into Docklands. NAB office opens
2005 – Tramlines extended to north west Docklands
2006 – Docklands is the venue for three Commonwealth Games events and a stopover point for the Volvo Ocean Race
2007 – Construction starts on ANZ and Fairfax Media headquarters. Municipal powers transferred from VicUrban to City of Melbourne
2008 – Harbour Town Shopping Centre opens at Docklands. Docklands residents can vote in City of Melbourne elections
2011 – VicUrban becomes Places Victoria and remains master developer of Docklands
2012 - Docklands Community and Place Plan is launched at the new community garden
2013 – Melbourne Star Observation Wheel begins operating in Harbour Town. Docklands' multipurpose sports courts open. Last parcel of land is contracted to developers
2014 – Library@The Dock opens. Extension of Collins Street tram line to Victoria Harbour is completed and Collins and Bourke streets meet for the first time at an iconic new intersection 
2015 - Docklands is 60% complete, has attracted more than $10 billion private sector investments, has more than 10,000 residents and 53,000 jobs