The area belonging to the Woiworung tribe became Melbourne’s first suburb and smallest municipality, when it was separated from the City of Melbourne in 1858. Fitzroy, like other old, congested inner suburbs included immense diversity over time and within a given period.
In the early years of European settlement, Fitzroy was considered such a pleasant place that large houses were built on Eastern Hill. Later North Fitzroy, separated from the older south by the Reilly Street drain (now Alexandra Parade at the end of the Eastern freeway) set the residential tone.
Fitzroy is the most complete repository in Melbourne of the kinds of buildings erected in the early colonial years, the great period of bluestone construction. Fitzroy also has Melbourne’s oldest surviving terrace houses in Gertrude Street.
Fitzroy became a compatible mix of light industry and residential housing. Progressively the neighborhood acquired a distinctive, though continually changing character. Up to the 1890’s Fitzroy had presented a facade of class harmony, but political consensus ended with the economic depression of that decade. Southern Fitzroy had become a rundown depressed area occupied by the socially and economically disadvantaged. Churches and charitable bodies acted to mitigate the suffering of the unemployed and the abandoned and many welfare organizations have remained in the area.
By the 1930’s Melbournians regarded Fitzroy as slum territory, the haunt of criminals and prostitutes and with the highest levels of infant mortality in Victoria. In the 1950s the State Government, with the best of intentions, but insufficient regard for the social consequences, drew up plans for slum clearance. Large tracts of streets and housing were replaced by multi-storey tower blocks of apartments. Download the ABC audio documentary on Hindsight – Dirty Old Town
Early entertainment was provided by Melbourne’s first cyclorama, built in Fitzroy and there were dances and Debutant Balls in the Town Hall and football at the Brunswick Street Oval on Saturdays. Older residents recall going to Fitzroy Baths in the days when the bathroom with a bath and running hot water was a luxury.
Dispossessed of their land, the aborigines began to congregate in Fitzroy, especially between the wars. They stayed and made many parts of Fitzroy their own. Other European, Middle Eastern and Asian immigrants have lived in Fitzroy as a staging post on their journey to the suburbs. By the early 1990s there were more than seventy ethnic groups represented in Fitzroy. Their rich legacy can still be seen in the major shopping streets of Brunswick, Smith, Gertrude and Johnson Streets. Fitzroy is now the most heterogeneous of Melbourne’s suburbs.
In 1994 the City of Fitzroy was amalgamated with the neighboring municipalities of Collingwood and Richmond, along with the suburbs of North Carlton and Alphington to become the City of Yarra.
With acknowledgment to the Fitzroy History Society’s, Fitzroy Melbourne’s First Suburb publication.
The former City of Fitzroy was bounded by Nicholson Street on the west, Smith Street, Queens Parade and the Merri Creek on the east, Victoria Parade on the south, and May Street (and a line continuous with it) on the north.