The Heritage Council of Victoria commissioned a study to find answers. It would become, says Jeremy Smith, principal archaeologist with Heritage Victoria, one of the “most significant combinations of historical and archaeological research that’s ever been conducted.”
The report has now been delivered and “It wasn’t what we expected,” Mr Smith says. “It’s going to have implications for the way we do archaeology for the next 50 years.”
The Alliance Archaeology study, Heritage in Ruins: An investigation into Melbourne’s ‘Buried Blocks’ reveals details of a forgotten campaign throughout the 1850 and 1860s by Melbourne’s then-council to raise the levels of swampy Melbourne’s putrid streets.
Hills were flattened and low-lying areas filled, the reason for today’s milder up-and-down cross-town walks.
However, the bombshell in the study was its discovery of a law passed in 1853 requiring those in low-lying areas to bury their homes. If a landowner refused or was too slow, the council was empowered to raise the level of the land itself and charge the costs.
This is a fascinating insight into the development of Melbourne. It has me wanting to go back and read Paul Carter’s book Road to Botany Bay.