The Municipality of Emerald Hill was established in 1855, immediately after which the first Emerald Hill Council was elected. Emerald Hill then became a town in 1872 and finally a city on 21 September 1883. Two days later, on 23 September 1883, Emerald Hill was renamed South Melbourne.
The South Melbourne Town Hall was built at the top of Emerald Hill (from which the town took its name), opening in June 1880. Historically, the hill on which the Town Hall is built is a significant meeting place for the traditional owners of the land, the Yalukit Willam clan of the Boon Wurrung people. The Boon Wurrung held meetings at this site every three months and corroborees on full and new moons. A famous Ngargee (corroboree) that took place at Emerald Hill in 1840 was also attended by hundreds of settlers. Wilbraham Liardet (the founder of Port Melbourne) recalled the ceremony in his 1875 painting ‘A corroboree on Emerald Hill in 1840’ and writer Richard Howitt described this Ngargee in his 1845 book, ‘Impressions of Australia Felix’.
When the South Melbourne Town Hall was originally built it replaced the Ngargee site, however the traditional owners recently returned to Emerald Hill, as the Boon Wurrung Foundation is now located in the former Town Hall building. The Foundation provides training, consultancy and advice to local and state governments, Indigenous and community groups and educational institutions.
As the historical heart of South Melbourne, today the former South Melbourne Town Hall is also a community and performing arts hub and meeting place, and home to the Australian National Academy of Music.
Clarendon Street quickly became the principal business street in the town of Emerald Hill (now South Melbourne). Shoppers flocked to the street during its 1880’s heyday. Saturday nights were a highlight, with the shops and hotels open until 11 pm and the Emerald Hill Band often performing.
Today Clarendon Street boasts some seriously long-term tenants: menswear shop, Mitchell McCabe’s, has been operating from this site since 1901, and The Golden Gate Hotel (one of the oldest in Emerald Hill) has had its licence since 1853, the year after the first subdivision of Emerald Hill. Clarendon Street is still at the heart of South Melbourne’s business and entertainment district, offering an eclectic mix of retail, cafes, bars, restaurants and more.
South Melbourne Market
The South Melbourne Market officially opened to the public on 1 May 1867 and has been serving the community ever since. The Market has changed a lot in 152 years, but its essence and place at the heart of the community remains strong. Even near-disasters – including a catastrophic fire in 1981 and two bombs later that same year – have failed to dampen its spirit.
Since its establishment the Market has undergone regular improvement and expansion to accommodate the growing needs of the traders and the community, as well as the changing regulations for cleanliness and sanitation. The first sheds were erected in 1866, a weighbridge of five and a half tons was purchased in 1872, and by 1924 electric lighting was installed throughout.
The rooftop car park was erected in 1972 and the new roof was added in 2012. This roof provides the Market with solar power, captures rainwater and regulates temperature in the building. A Food Hall was added in 1991, replacing part of the original market structure.
In honour of the Market’s 150th birthday, the iconic brass bell – that once rang in the opening and close of market trade, from when the market first opened back in 1867 – returned to the Market in 2017, to be heard for the first time since 1929.