MV Blog


Newmarket Saleyards turn 150

by Kate C
Publish date
17 February 2011
Comments (25)

Have you ever passed the weathered, rough-hewn post and rail fences near the corner of Smithfield and Flemington Roads? These are the remains of the former Newmarket Saleyards which opened 150 years ago this month.

Newmarket Saleyards Newmarket Saleyards, highlighting the laneway running between the stock pens showing detail of bluestone pitches and post and rail fencing.
Image: Robert Cutting
Source: Museum Victoria

Cars, trucks and trams thunder along Flemington Road these days and but there was a time when the roads were full of traffic of a different kind. For decades, thousands of head of cattle were driven along here ‘on the hoof’ by working dogs and drovers, many from as far away as Queensland. In the late 1800s Newmarket was on the city fringe, but as Melbourne expanded, the chaos, sounds and smells of rural life collided with the city. Increasingly, trucks and rail were used to transport livestock during the 20th century and a stock overpass, built in the 1960s, reduced the risk of escapes. There are plenty of stories of stray cattle trampling through local houses, turning up at the pub, the milk bar, and even the Zoo. After the auction, drovers ran livestock to nearby abattoirs or to be transported to the paddocks of their new owners.

  A yardman directing cattle at Newmarket Saleyards A yardman directing cattle at Newmarket Saleyards, 1960.
Image: Laurie Richards Studio
Source: Museum Victoria

The vast Newmarket Saleyards were the most important in Australia, setting the price for livestock nationwide. It became a ‘town within a town’ with its own essential services, including a telegraph office, cricket club, newspaper and radio station. Record numbers of animals were sold here during World War II.

Covered walkways between the stock pens at the Newmarket Saleyards Covered walkways between the stock pens at the Newmarket Saleyards where auctioneers stood and conducted sales.
Image: Robert Cutting
Source: Museum Victoria

Regional stockyards led to the decline of Newmarket which finally closed in 1987. Museum Victoria acquired significant objects from Newmarket and volunteer Jackie Gatt has been working with curator Liza Dale-Hallett to document the collection, which is featured on Collections Online this month.

You can still see bluestone paving, stock pens, covered walkways and brick buildings on the site, but new housing occupies much of the original 57 acres. Every year since its closure, drovers, agents and auctioneers who worked at Newmarket hold a reunion on the third Saturday of February each year to catch up with old friends. This year there will also be a community celebration day on Sunday 20 February, 11am-2pm, to honour the 150th anniversary.

Bill Glenn mosaic Detail of the Newmarket Saleyard mosaics, featuring Bill Glenn, a drover at the Newmarket Saleyards, and his cattle dog.
Image: mural artist Elizabeth McKinnon, photographer Robert Cutting
Source: Museum Victoria


Newmarket Collection on Collections Online

Brochure about Newmarket Collection (PDF, 2Mb)

ABC Landline: Saleyard of the Century

Poster for Community Day on 20 February (PDF, 6.2Mb)

About this blog

Updates on what's happening at Melbourne Museum, the Immigration Museum, Scienceworks, the Royal Exhibition Building, and beyond.