Geelong has long been a gateway or Port town, now city. In days gone by Tall Ships sailed up Corio Bay laying anchor in Geelong Harbour. The very first of these was the Lady Nelson in 1802. Then Mathew Flinders explored Corio Bay and climbed the You Yangs in that same year. John Batman landed at Indented Head in 1835, and by 1838 the area known as Geelong had been surveyed with land sales commencing in 1839. This was a mere three weeks after Melbourne had also been surveyed.
Geelong is Victoria’s ‘second city’. Rich in history, it sits one hour ‘down the road’ from Melbourne. Currently its outer limit to the east is considered to be Lara and the Avalon Airport. With the Werribee District continuing to extend to the south west, there is now barely 20km between the two cities and it would seem a merger is inevitable eventually.
The City has a fascinating history. By 1838 there was already a church, hotel, wool store, general store and 82 houses. Keep in mind this was pretty well in line time wise with Melbourne’s development further north on the banks of the Yarra River.
It would appear that the area may have been explored in pre-British occupation times. Governor La Trobe was a keen amateur geologist. He ‘discovered’ a set of keys in a layer of shells in a lime kiln shaft (15ft down or 4.6m). The keys were handed to him by a worker on the project. He believed they were between 100 and 150 years old (1700 – 1750 AD) and possibly from earlier Portuguese explorers and their expedition. But in fact this saga may have been idle speculation with little or no evidence. The keys were ultimately lost and the theory discounted by the Royal Society of Victoria who theorised the keys were much older, say 200-300 years old. It’s a fascinating story but somewhat fanciful.
Gold was discovered in Ballarat in 1851. Geelong fought hard to identify its closer proximity to the Goldfields than nearby Melbourne. The Geelong Hospital was built and opened in 1852. The construction of the Geelong Town Hall commenced in 1855. The port of Geelong saw the first ‘shipping channel’ identified in Corio Bay in 1853.
The Geelong to Melbourne Railway Line was built by the ‘Geelong and Melbourne Railway Company’ in 1857. Bright and Hitchcock’s Department Store was established in 1861 and the Geelong Prison was constructed using convict labour, opening in 1864. A Clock Tower had been erected in what was known as ‘Market Square’ in 1856. An Exhibition Building was opened in 1879.
Geelong became known as ‘Sleepy Hollow’ with it being initially outstripped in population by both Ballarat and Bendigo. But Geelong was on a ‘slow burn’ and benefitted greatly from the Gold Rush.
It became the Industrial hub and port for Victoria’s Western District. The town became known as ‘the Pivot’ and its famous AFL football team, established in 1859 was originally called the Pivots.
Between 1886 and 1889, major banks and insurance companies of the time erected solid, ornate buildings. A new shipping channel, the Hopetown Channel was excavated, beginning in 1881 and completed by 1893. The Geelong Post Office was constructed in the mid 1880s – between 1886 and 1889, as was the Gorden Technical College. The famous Geelong Cement Works were also established around this time in 1890. Geelong wasn’t ‘flash’, rather it was a solid and dependable city.
Geelong drew its name from the local indigenous or Aboriginal language, ‘Djillong’, a word used to describe cliffs or land. It was not long before the indigenous occupiers of ‘Djillong’ made way for the European settlers and industries and ‘Geelong’ was declared a ‘city’ in 1910.
Over the next century it became an industrial centre for Victoria. The Ford Motor Company, Pivot Fertilisers, Shell Oil, International Harvester and the famous Geelong Woollen Mills all prospered in the early half of the 20th century.
Geelong had its own Tramway established in 1912. These were independent ‘Electric Trams’. The trams serviced the city from suburban locations until 1956. Port Phillip pleasure cruise steamers were based at Geelong and provided excursions for visitors and townsfolk alike up until the 1950s.
The last 70 years have seen a gradual demise of both Geelong’s industries – due to the removal of tariff protections in the 1970s. Without industry, the city floundered and a number of ‘interesting’ developments occurred. Westfield Plaza springs to mind, constructed in 1988.
More recent developments have been directed or driven in part by Government intervention. Deakin University’s Waterfront Campus is an example. Then there is the new Library and Heritage Centre. Past developments such as the Waterfront Geelong redevelopment of 1994 formed a base for these new projects. The new Library and Heritage Centre was awarded the Zelman Cohen Award for Public Architecture in 2016.
The city skyline is changing. New towers have appeared or will appear in the west on Mercer St. These are 16 and 12 floors respectively. An 11 storey apartment complex has been proposed next to the Deakin Waterfront Campus.
Cities like Geelong offer real opportunities for decentralisation. The G21 Geelong Regional Alliance is an alliance of Local Government and all levels of Government. Launched in 2007 by then Premier Brumby the alliance has produced a plan, ‘The Geelong Regional Plan – a sustainable growth strategy’. According to available information a further 13 priority projects are planned for the Geelong region, most achieving ‘major project’ status. Geelong is a city of the future, inextricably bound to Melbourne.
A city like Geelong needs infrastructure, integration and industry. Next week we look at both past glory and some new and current projects in Geelong. There are many treasures and quite a few secrets – so ’til then from Balance we bid you adieu.