A Growing Community
By the 1860s, community infrastructure in and around the small settlement of Melton was expanding.
Apart from its numerous pubs, the young township soon boasted blacksmiths, a bootmaker, bakery, and a butcher in its High Street. A post office opened in 1856, and by 1860 it was processing almost 9,000 letters and over 7,500 newspapers a year.
In 1857, a Combined Protestant or ‘United’ Church was the first place of worship to be built in Melton. Ten years later a dedicated Presbyterian Church was established in the bluestone building that is today’s Melton Uniting Church on Yuille Street. The foundation stone of the Church of England, Christ Church, was laid by local resident Martha Staughton in the mid-1860s, with the Staughton family retaining connections to the church over the following decades. It was there in 1868 that the infamous Andrew George Scott – alias ‘Captain Moonlight’ – led a number of religious services. His signature is still visible in the church’s services book.
As more families settled in the district and began to grow, the need for schools became apparent. Some of the earliest schools were Aitkens Gap (1857), Melton (1858) and Kororoit (1862). The first school established in the Derrimut-Truganina district was at the base of Mount Cottrell. It opened in 1859 under the guidance of teacher John Corr.
Melton and surrounding districts played a prominent role in the development of greyhound coursing and racing in Australia.
Read more about greyhound coursing
Coursing involves hunting with greyhounds, who chase after their prey by sight rather than by scent. The first officially recognised public coursing meeting to take place in Australia was held in 1873 at Rupertswood, the Sunbury property of prominent landowner Sir William Clarke.
In 1875, a small bluestone cottage named Dunvegan was built as Melton’s first police station, the relocated building still standing today within the Willows Historical Park. It took much longer for the establishment of a courthouse, however. In August 1864, the first Court of Petty Sessions was held at the Melton Hotel. The indignity of using the ‘shabby’ hotel building for judicial purposes was not lost on some. One local correspondent wrote:
... a sight of its crumbling walls … is enough to inspire anything but awe for ‘the seat of Justice’. No person would imagine, at a first inspection, that so costly a commodity as law should be dealt with in so shabby a building.
A dedicated courthouse was finally built in 1892.
Dry stone walls are a familiar sight throughout the City of Melton, their beautifully rough, hand-built forms stretching across paddocks and along roadsides.
Read more about dry stone walls
These walls provide a tangible link to the area’s white settlement, while also symbolising the profound change in land usage from the original Kulin custodians to the European settlers.
The bulk of dry stone wall construction in Victoria occurred between the 1850s and 1880s. The major benefit of this fencing was that it utilised the materials at hand: the plentiful grey basalt that scattered the landscape. Dry stone walls have also withstood the ravages of flood, fire and drought. This durability accounts for the fact that many examples still exist.
Today, the City of Melton’s remaining dry stone walls are held in great affection by residents and visitors. Nevertheless, many sections face destruction or neglect, and the people of Melton now confront the challenge of protecting what remains. In 2016, the City of Melton became the first municipality in the country to protect its most significant dry stone walls by incorporating them into its planning scheme.
The heart of social life in Melton was undoubtably the Mechanics’ Institute. It provided a hub of learning and education, culture, entertainment, commemoration and celebration for generations of community members over more than a century. The first iteration of this Melton institution opened in 1868. The current building was erected in 1910 through the fundraising efforts of local women who helped raised £500. The Mechanics’ Institute and the old courthouse are the only two remaining early public buildings on Melton’s High Street.
Melton has also produced some world-class shooting champions, most notably Donald Mackintosh.
Read Donald Mackintosh’s story
Mackintosh was born in Rockbank in 1866 and represented Australia at the 1900 Paris Olympic Games. While Mackintosh was not recognised as an Olympic medallist during his lifetime due to confusion over whether this competition was an official Olympic event, in 1987 the IOC issued Donald’s gold and bronze medals. Most astonishingly, he was also completely blind in his left eye.
The opening of the Melton to Melbourne railway in 1884 was another symbol of the economic consolidation of the district. While there were complaints that the new station in Melton South was too far from the centre of town, the railway officially opened ‘amid many manifestations of public rejoicing’ on 2 April 1884. Sadly, however, the speed of development and the increasing settler population around Melton sealed the dispossession of the Kulin people. The last witnessed corroboree was recorded in 1863 on what is now Hannah Watts Park.