A golden morning

by Nicole D
Publish date
29 January 2011
Comments (8)

Have you ever looked down at the footpath in Melbourne's CBD and wondered about those 20cm round bronze plaques that seem to lead a trail through the city? Well, they are the path of the Golden Mile Heritage Trail. This walking tour explores Melbourne's buildings, laneways, streets, characters and history from its beginnings through to modern times. And, on a beautiful sunny Melbourne morning last week, I went to discover what it was all about!

The tour started at Federation Square, on the intersection of Swanston and Flinders Streets, one of Melbourne's liveliest spots for over 150 years. Our tour guide set the scene for the rest of the walk, describing the history of the buildings around us. From the 1852 gold rush era St Paul's Cathedral on one corner to the famous Young & Jackson's pub of 1861 opposite; from the Federation era opulence of Flinders Street Station of 1910, to the ultra contemporary public spaces of Federation Square, this intersection provides a physical snapshot of the city's history.

Sandridge Bridge Sandridge Bridge
Image: Nicole Davis
Source: Museum Victoria

We next walked along the Yarra talking about how Melbourne was built up around this spot from its beginnings as an Aboriginal meeting place to the coming of Europeans to today. We chatted about some of the characters in the city's early history, such as John Batman, John Pascoe Fawkner and Robert Hoddle, and how they shaped the city. Our guide also pointed out interesting sites like the outlet for the creek that runs under Elizabeth Street and the Sandridge Bridge. This Bridge was originally a railway bridge and was the line that took immigrant passengers from Port Melbourne to Flinders Street Station before embarking on a new life in Australia. Now a pedestrian bridge, its sculptures and text panels explore the waves of people,from Melbourne's Indigenous inhabitants onward who have crossed the river on this spot.

Immigration Museum was next, where the tour officially starts. I turned tour guide for a few minutes, guiding our guide through the Immigration Discovery Centre and explaining what we do here.

We then meandered through some of my favourite sites in Melbourne - its laneways! I got to pop my head inside the Mitre Tavern and found out the fascinating history of the Savage Club, plus discovered a new spot I hadn't previously known about and will definitely be popping back to. Rutherglen House is an 1850s bluestone residence/warehouse located on Highlander Lane. Today it's still a private residence!

After our little laneway exploration, we wandered up Collins Street discussing the progress of Marvellous Melbourne and the boom and bust of the 1880s to 1890s. Despite the many modern office blocks that I always feel characterise Collins Street, there are actually a surprising number of buildings from the 1870s to 1900 period that survive. There are some fabulous opulent buildings like the Gothic ANZ bank building on the corner of Elizabeth Street and the adjoining Stock Exchange. I also really enjoyed seeing the way the 1890s Rialto and Winfield buildings have been incorporated into the Intercontinental Hotel and Rialto Towers.

Rialto Building from Collins Street Rialto Building from Collins Street
Image: Nicole Davis
Source: Museum Victoria

The tour ended another hour later with some of Melbourne's famous arcades: the Block Arcade from the 1890s; Howey Place, next to which the famous Cole's Book Arcade was once located; and the controversial Capitol Arcade, developed in the 1960s.

As you can see the tour was densely packed and I could write reams on more of the great stories that our guide had to impart. He was amazingly knowledgeable, gave fabulous detailed accounts, and brought to life Melbourne's history for me. Most of all, he answered my constant questions with good grace and love of his subject. As a student of urban history, it was a fascinating insight and a great opportunity to talk with someone who had an in-depth knowledge of these places. If you want to get to know Melbourne, whether you're a visitor or a local, I highly recommend going on one of these walking tours.


Comments (8)

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Carol Marley 31 January, 2011 16:29
I thoroughly enjoyed reading about this tour as it happens to be one of those things that I say I will get around too!
Jan Molloy 31 January, 2011 20:50
Such a comprehensive coverage Ni9cole and your photos added interest- thank you I also thoroughly recommend MGM - ONE OF MELBOURNE'S HIDDEN TREASURES
Grant 31 January, 2011 22:01
20cm plaques? Order of magnitude error? Or do I think of the wrong plaques? I guesstimate 50-60mm. Otherwise, thanks for the post!
Kate C 1 February, 2011 11:02

Grant, thanks for your comment. Yes, 20cm is a bit large. I went out and measured one of the larger ones on the plaza and they're 10cm across. There are smaller dots between the big ones too, of course.

Discovery Centre 1 February, 2011 11:16
Thanks Grant & Kate, I guess approximating distance/measurements is not my strong suit! Cheers Nicole
Sadie Devlin 4 February, 2011 14:05
Hi Nicole Out of interest did the tour guide touch on the REB? Thanks
Discovery Centre 7 February, 2011 10:35
Hi Sadie. The tour that I went on doesn't actually go to the REB but we definitely did talk about it. The building is an important monument from 1880s Melbourne and was raised as part of our discussion of the development of the city and the architectural, social, economic and other changes occuring in this period. Cheers Nicole
Linda wilson 7 February, 2011 15:53
fascinating made it something i would like to do
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Updates on what's happening at Melbourne Museum, the Immigration Museum, Scienceworks, the Royal Exhibition Building, and beyond.