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History of Closure of the Newmarket Saleyards, 1887-1987

Photograph - Numbered Pen and Gates, Newmarket saleyards, Newmarket, Apr 2010

Image: Photograph - Numbered Pen and Gates, Newmarket saleyards, Newmarket, Apr 2010

Source: Museum Victoria

The Newmarket Saleyards and City Abattoirs were planned for, developed and built in the Newmarket/Kensington area long before the neighbourhood was populated however it was inevitable that, with the extraordinary rate of growth in Melbourne, the Saleyards and Abattoirs would soon be surrounded by suburbs.

While beneficial for employment and the commercial development of the area, the industries associated with the Saleyards and Abattoirs commonly produced noxious by-products and waste and resulted in potential dangers for residents. From as early as 1886, The Argus records that public meetings were being held in Newmarket objecting to any extensions or alterations to the saleyards on the grounds that ?the yards and abbatoirs [sic] were a source of danger to the health of the large population all round about them?. In 1887 The Argus noted that ?the Saltwater River was rendered offensive by the blood and offal thrown into it from the abattoirs, and the ground in which offal was buried was saturated with animal matter?. In 1886 a council plebiscite was incorporated into the Flemington Council elections, asking residents to vote for or against the removal of the Newmarket Saleyards. Results indicated a two to one majority in favour of the Saleyards being removed and by 1887 the Flemington and Kensington Council were relentlessly pressing for the removal of the saleyards and abattoirs. The local council member, Alfred Deakin, unsuccessfully lobbied against further infrastructure and the building of the railway siding in 1887, and in 1891 Deakin moved a division in the Victorian House of Assembly. After parliamentary vote, the result was a four vote margin in favour of introducing a Bill to close down the Saleyards.

Economic downturn in the 1890s resulted in the issue of closure being postponed. The Melbourne City Council, having procured the land for an exchange of inner-city real estate, and having staked 80,000 pounds in building the saleyards and abattoirs, was reluctant to forgo their investments. However, Melbourne City Council agreed to pay the Borough of Flemington and Kensington a sum of 500 pounds per year for the maintenance of the roads on which the cattle were driven. In 1901, in an attempt to reduce the danger to local residents, the Borough passed a By-Law making it illegal to drive livestock through Flemington and Kensington between 8am and 10pm, so stock could only be moved along the streets at night.

Closure of the saleyards and abattoirs was to be an ongoing issue that would not subside, with repeated calls for the removal of yards made through successive decades. The consequences of moving the industry out of the inner-city area were financially significant, and over time each new extension of the buildings and infrastructure made relocating the saleyards less attractive. Ultimately, economic hardship and drought conditions in Australia during the late 1970s and early 1980s; decentralisation of the livestock industry; and expansive urban development all directly contributed to the closure of the Saleyards.

In November 1984 an official announcement was made that the Newmarket Saleyards were to be closed on 30 July 1985. Agents, property holders, breeders, livestock transporters and the meat trade in general argued that Newmarket was a viable operation, however Melbourne City Council put forward figures indicating a declining trend, and were unable to subsidise the operation. Protest resulted in the operation of the saleyards being extended for an extra two months. The last pen of cattle sold on Thursday 26 September 1985 was Pen 13, I Lane, by agent Dalgety Farmers where six cattle realised $155 per head and were purchased by D.S.M. Estates of Korumburra. However, despite the fact that the Newmarket saleyards were officially closed on 30 September 1985, the agents conducted a draw for the sales order the following day. After further protest and resistance, The State Government of Victoria announced that the use of the Newmarket Saleyards would be extended until a definitive closure on 1 April 1987.

The City of Melbourne Employment Trust Ltd was appointed to dismantle the yards in 1987 and over one hundred long-term unemployed people from surrounding suburbs assisted in the clean up. In the dismantling process, much of the bluestone paving, timber, furniture, gate hinges, nails, nuts and bolts of the Saleyards and Abattoirs were recycled or sold to the public. After almost 130 years of cattle and stock trading, the Newmarket Saleyards were handed back to the State Government to be redeveloped into a private and public housing estate under the Lynch's Bridge Project. The reconstruction of 80 hectares of land cost $100 million over 10 years. Some buildings were retained, renovated and incorporated into the development.

References:
'Public Meeting at Newmarket', 1886, The Argus (Melbourne), 27 September, page 6.
'The Newmarket Cattle-Yards: Request for Removal', 1887, The Argus (Melbourne), 16 November, page 8.
Breen, Marcus. 1989, People, cows and cars; the changing face of Flemington, Melbourne City Council, Melbourne.
Footscray Institute of Technology Humanities Dept. 1984, 'The industrial archaeology of the Newmarket saleyards and meatworks complex, Victoria : a report / compiled by engineering students in the course HU 151 (Work, Technology and the West) during ...1984', rev. Ed. Footscray Institute of Technology Humanities Dept., Footscray.
Vincent, K. 1992, On the fall of the hammer: a personal history of Newmarket saleyards, Lee White ed, State Library of Victoria, Melbourne.

Related Stories:
Newmarket Collection
Glossary of the Newmarket Saleyards
Development of the Newmarket Saleyards, 1857-1919
Newmarket Saleyards Timeline
Sale Days & Sale Records at the Newmarket Saleyards

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