Post-war growth and suburbanisation
Like much of Melbourne, Melton was transformed by the demographic and societal shifts of Australia’s post-war population explosion.
These changes heralded a shift from the district’s agricultural roots to a more suburban profile. Booming residential development in the 1950s and 1960s saw a decline in commercial farming. Brick veneer homes proliferated and by the 1960s residential developers were offering a range of packages to prospective homebuilders. ‘There is no doubt that Melton will go ahead,’ Councillor T L Barrie said in 1965, ‘the area has everything to offer to attract people here’.
Irene Richards, the first woman elected to Melton Shire Council
Read Irene Richards’s story
Irene Richards migrated to Melton from England in 1965. She became the first woman elected to the Melton Shire Council in 1969, sitting as the only woman on a council of twelve. In 1975 Irene was elected Shire President and skilfully worked to gain the acceptance and respect of some of the shire’s more conservative farming men. In 2021, the majority of Melton’s councillors are women.
One of the greatest influences on population growth in the shire during this period was the establishment of a reliable water source, with the opening of the Djerriwarrh Dam in December 1963. After more than a century, the shire finally had access to a reticulated water supply, which had a significant impact on daily life for local families and businesses.
House and land prices in the Melton area were promoted as the ‘most realistic’ in Victoria. Residents could start an affordable new life in the shire with ‘space to spare’, and this affordability remains a drawcard for residents today. Industrial and commercial developments also proliferated during this period, with Melton’s first shopping arcade opened on the south side of High Street in 1973.
In response to the challenges of hosting a rapidly growing population, in 1974 Melton became the first township in Victoria to obtain satellite city status. This reflected Melton’s unique character, which was described as ‘separate from but having strong links with, the metropolitan area’. The satellite city movement saw huge residential estates take shape: firstly the Westmelton estate, then Kurunjang, with home building in the shire reaching a record high by 1985. Since the older areas of Melton that were subdivided in the 1960s were by that stage almost completely developed, most new homes were built in housing estates. These were located not only in the Melton township, but also at Rockbank, Diggers Rest, Melton South and Brookfield.
In 1977, the flavoured milk drink known as Big M hit the shelves in Victoria, and its popularity has seen it become an iconic national brand.
Read more about the ‘M’ in Big M
When it was first marketed, Big M was a product of the Victorian Dairy Industry Authority (VDIA).
Early advertisements featured bikini-clad women on the beach suggestively drinking Big Ms in the summer heat. Summer and Big M have continued to go hand in hand, with just about every advertisement linking Big M with the beach, swimming and fun in the sun. Impressively, Big M has been able to compete with soft drinks like Coca-Cola and has remained a Victorian favourite for the past four decades.
But what does the ‘M’ in Big M actually stand for? Some have suggested ‘milk’, but it is popularly considered to be a reference to the drink’s place of origin: Melton or Mordialloc. There is ongoing debate between the people of Melton and those in Mordialloc, each wanting to claim the famous drink as their own. While no definitive history of the popular milk drink exists, the manufacturers of Big M recently confirmed that: ‘the M in Big M stands for Melton’.
In 1983, construction of an 8.8-kilometre road bypass commenced, the final bill coming in close to $45 million. With the bypass complete and the clear focus on Melton’s residential, commercial, and industrial growth, some of the shire’s long-time rural residents faced a reckoning. The high price of land and property rates meant that many farmers were forced to choose between subdividing and selling their properties, or moving further away from Melton to continue farming.
Many Melton women have lived – and continue to live – extraordinary lives.
Read Antoinette Braybrook’s story
Antoinette Braybrook is a Kuku Yalanji woman, with connection through her mother and grandfather. As a young Aboriginal girl growing up in Melton in the 1970s, Antoinette experienced racist abuse and surveillance by local police. In her mid-30s, Antoinette completed a law degree and in 2002 she became CEO of Djirra (formerly the Aboriginal Family Violence Prevention and Legal Service). Djirra provides crucial family violence support and cultural connection to thousands of Aboriginal women each year. Today Antoinette is recognised nationwide as a strong advocate for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander women’s rights.
As the 1990s began, the Shire of Melton was almost unrecognisable from the small agricultural township of one hundred years earlier. New houses were constructed at a significant rate. With close to 1,600 new residents settling in the area annually, by 1993 the population of the Shire of Melton was estimated at 38,500 people. And as the new millennia approached, this growth was set to skyrocket.