The dancing ground

Retracing a city’s first steps

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  • Published 20230502
  • ISBN: 978-1-922212-83-2
  • Extent: 264pp
  • Paperback (234 x 153mm), eBook

THE WAY THE map has been sketched, the darkened contour around Flagstaff Hill looks like an eye, and the arching route of the Yarra recalls a mouth, grumpy and downturned. The Hoddle Grid is there, the numbered allotments clearly visible, and the vegetation has been faithfully recorded with delicate shadings representing the crown of each tree. The area to the north of Lonsdale Street and east of Queen Street is lightly forested. West of Queen, there are almost no trees, the land cleared to make way for the burgeoning settlement. 

This survey map, drawn in 1837, was the work of Robert Russell. His successor, Robert Hoddle, has come to be associated with the city’s layout; however, Russell was the first man to imagine Melbourne as an orderly grid with the geometric streets stubbornly imposed upon an undulating landscape. To quote the survey’s full title, it is the Map shewing the site of Melbourne: and the position of the huts & buildings previous to the foundation of the township by Sir Richard Bourke in 1837. I came to it as part of some research for a presentation I was giving at work. ‘Picture yourselves near Chin Chin,’ I would begin, ‘and look east. There are a couple of weeping myrtles, trees from the subtropical rainforest but, for the most part, your eyes are distracted by Toyotas and pedestrians. Go back 185 years and all you could see was a forest of manna gums and she-­oaks, wattles and river reds.’ 

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About the author

Dave Witty

Dave Witty is a Melbourne-­based writer. His first book, What The Trees See, will be published in 2023 by Monash University Publishing. His work has...

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