So you think you know Melbourne?

Living Well | Sarah Marinos | Posted on 21 August 2020

In honour of Melbourne Day, we discover nine things you might not know about the city.

Melbourne Day on 30 August is usually set aside to celebrate all that is great and unique about the city. With the usual flag raising ceremony and Melbourne Awards celebrations cancelled due to COVID-19 restrictions, we mark the occasion by uncovering some lesser known features that give the city its distinct character. 

Person walking down leafy street in Fitzroy

Fitzroy, Melbourne's first suburb, was officially created in September 1858 when it separated from the City of Melbourne.

Nine things you probably didn't know about Melbourne

What is Melbourne’s oldest building?

Technically speaking, the oldest building in Melbourne is Cooks’ Cottage, which dates back to 1755 and was transported from Great Ayton in England and rebuilt in the Fitzroy Gardens in 1934. But the oldest building actually constructed in Melbourne is St James’ Old Cathedral. Heritage Council of Victoria records show the cathedral, now located at the corner of King and Batman Streets, West Melbourne, was originally built on a five-acre block bordered by Collins, William and Bourke Streets and completed in 1847. But after the opening of St Paul’s Cathedral, St James’ became a parish church and was dismantled, stone by stone, and rebuilt at its current site. 

What is Melbourne’s highest point?

At 633 metres above sea level, Mount Dandenong lays claim to the highest point in Greater Melbourne, but in the metropolitan area, the honour goes to Mount Cooper in suburban Bundoora. At 137.3 metres above sea level the mount is what remains of a volcanic vent formed more than nine million years ago, and still offers one of the best views across Melbourne’s skyline. It was a prime spot for racing identity John M.V. Smith to build his extravagant homestead in 1899, which today houses Bundoora Homestead Art Centre, flanked by a children’s park, wetlands and the Coopers Settlement Heritage Village. 

Which was Melbourne’s first suburb

Today the Melbourne area has more than 320 suburbs, but the first was Fitzroy. It was officially created in September 1858 when it separated from the City of Melbourne, and by then around 10,000 people called Fitzroy home. It was a gritty working-class area with flour mills, shoe and boot factories, a brewery and timber yards that employed most of the local population. MacRobertson’s confectionery factory – home to Freddo, Cherry Ripe and Old Gold – was a landmark in Smith Street for more than a century.  

Skyhigh lookout in Mt Dandening, Melbourne
Fordham St milkbar

Skyhigh lookout on Mount Dandenong, Greater Melbourne’s highest point. Fordhams Milk Bar, which opened in 1915, is the oldest continually operating milk bar in Victoria.


What is the most expensive house in Melbourne?

Stonington Mansion in Glenferrie Road, Malvern, is Melbourne’s most expensive house. In September 2017, the Italian Renaissance-style property sold for $52,499,999, according to the Real Estate Institute of Victoria. The mansion was built in 1890 for John Wagner, an owner of the Cobb & Co stagecoach business. It has been home to Victorian governors, a girl’s school, a hospital for polio patients, a World War II convalescent hospital, and has hosted Dame Nellie Melba and King George VI. The mansion is rumoured to have a ghost – nine-year-old Christopher Rous died of leukaemia in 1925 and was buried in Stonington Mansion gardens until his family returned to England with his remains. 

What is the oldest primary school in Melbourne? 

Bacchus Marsh Primary School opened on 13 May 1850 with a handful of students and one teacher, Henry Ball. It was located in a small cottage on the south side of what is now the Avenue of Honour and is the oldest primary school still in operation in Victoria. “Henry Ball left the school after a short period to try his luck on the goldfields,” says Margaret Love, a teacher at the school since 1968. “The English government sent out a prefabricated iron building that was erected not far from the first school site, but it wasn’t suited to the Australian climate!” A new brick schoolhouse was built in 1865 and the current school, now with 900-plus students, incorporates some of those original rooms. “The original fireplaces burn in those rooms as well today as they ever did,” says Margaret.   

Which is Melbourne’s oldest milkbar?

Sandwiched between a gift shop and a florist on a leafy Camberwell backstreet is a venue steeped in Boss Stick and Sherbet Bomb history. Behind its white-painted brick and stained-glass facade, you’ll find Melbourne’s oldest milk bar, Fordham’s, which was established in 1915 opposite Hartwell train station. It’s also the longest continually operating milk bar in Victoria. The sprawling corner shop is now home to Milkboy on Fordham's cafe, but owner James Sharplin says it’s more than just another converted, hipster-run eatery trying to evoke a contrived sense of retro nostalgia. “Being the oldest milk bar in Melbourne, we didn’t want to take away the history,” he says. “We want people to be able to come in and grab their mixed lollies, fresh bread and eggs, to purchase locally sourced products like JimJam baked beans or Homegrown Sauce Co condiments, or even grab some bacon to cook up at home. The idea of a corner shop not only invites people into the venue to grab their necessities, but to enjoy the atmosphere of the cafe, building on the community hub that it is."

No96 tram driving down Acland St in St Kilda, Melbourne
Close up of steak dish on plate at restaurant

The 96 tram from East Brunswick to St Kilda Beach is Melbourne's most popular route, while Levantine Hill's Itoham sirloin is the city's most expensive steak.

Who sells the most expensive steak in Melbourne?

The 500-gram rare Itoham Sankyo sirloin, imported from Japan, is Australia’s most expensive steak, and sneaks into Greater Melbourne’s record books too. Diners pay $750 for the steak which is grilled over charcoal and served with koji-fermented morel mushrooms with a dash of cabernet, Australian Perigord black truffle and triple-cooked duck fat chips. The dish is finished with gold leaf and was created by Levantine Hill Estate’s executive chef, Luke Headon, who says he wanted to “make an international food statement in the Yarra Valley”.  

Which is Melbourne’s busiest tram route?

Tram 96 from East Brunswick to St Kilda Beach is Melbourne’s most popular route, according to Yarra Trams. It stops at key destinations like the Melbourne Museum, Bourke Street Mall, Crown, Melbourne Sports and Aquatic Centre and Luna Park and, in a typical year, carries around 18.6 million passengers. “Melbourne’s trams are the heavy lifters of the inner city, carrying 197 million passengers a year,” says Yarra Trams chief operations officer, Robert Tatton-Jones. 

What is the oldest surf lifesaving club?

Elwood Life Saving Club is one of Victoria’s oldest, dating back to 1912 when it was established on a rifle range near Point Ormond. It was pioneering, with members pushing to allow daytime ‘open sea’ and ‘mixed-sex’ bathing – until then bathing was allowed only in enclosed bathing boxes. Today Elwood Life Saving Club has around 750 members. “On summer weekends we can get thousands of people at the beach and about 100 qualified members patrol the beach on weekends and holidays,” says club president, David Rylance.