About St Kilda

Located 6km from the city centre, St Kilda is Melbourne’s seaside playground and is much-loved by residents and visitors alike.  St Kilda is renowned for its expansive view of Port Phillip, safe sandy beach, palm-lined boardwalk, huge range of beach activities, big skies, gorgeous sunsets, lovely park and gardens, great restaurants, bars and cafés, fabulous old buildings, and its colourful past and present. 

All year round St Kilda is the place to head for fantastic things to see and do and great times to be had.  With our great places to eat and drink and our wonderful sea air, everything tastes so much better in St Kilda – so come out and join us!

About St Kilda

Located 6km from the city centre, St Kilda is Melbourne’s seaside playground and is much-loved by residents and visitors alike.  St Kilda is renowned for its expansive view of Port Phillip, safe sandy beach, palm-lined boardwalk, huge range of beach activities, big skies, gorgeous sunsets, lovely park and gardens, great restaurants, bars and cafés, fabulous old buildings, and its colourful past and present. 

All year round St Kilda is the place to head for fantastic things to see and do and great times to be had.  With our great places to eat and drink and our wonderful sea air, everything tastes so much better in St Kilda – so come out and join us!

Its local government area is the City of Port Phillip. At the 2011 Cencus, St Kilda had a population of 17,795.

St Kilda was named after a schooner called 'Lady of St Kilda' (which moored at the main beach for much of 1841) by Charles La Trobe and the ship's master and early settler Lieutenant James Ross Lawrence.

During the Edwardian and Victorian eras, St Kilda became a favoured suburb of Melbourne's elite, and many palatial mansions were constructed along its hills and waterfront. Shortly after the turn of the 20th century, St Kilda served a similar function for Melburnians as did Coney Island to the residents of New York City and its history draws an interesting parallel. Densely populated postwar St Kilda became Melbourne's red light district, home to low-cost rooming houses. Since the late 1960s, St Kilda has become known for its culture of boheimianism and as home to many prominent artists, musicians and subcultures, including punks, LGBTI and techno scene. While some of these groups still maintain a presence in St Kilda, in recent years the district has experienced rapid gentrification, pushing many lower socio-economic groups out to other areas.

St Kilda is home to many of Melbourne's famous visitor attractions including Luna Park, the Esplanade Hotel, Acland Street and Fitzroy Street. It is home to St Kilda beach, Melbourne's most famous beach, several renowned theatres and several of Melbourne's big events and festivals.

St Kilda History

  • Before 1800
    The Boon Wurrung branch of the Kulin Nation were the traditional owners of Euroe Yroke (now known as St Kilda) until European colonization. Aboriginal people have lived in southeastern Australia for up to 60,000 years or more. Shellfish was cooked in middens or campfires at Point Ormond, huts were built beside Albert Park Lagoon, axes sharpened at the sandstone cliffs (the Esplanade) behind St Kilda Beach and gatherings held at the ancient Corroboree (red gum) tree at St Kilda Junction.

  • 1800s
    • 1802 An exploring schooner with colonial-surveyor Charles Grimes on board visits from Sydney and describes the St Kilda coastline. Two emus are sighted at Elwood.

  • 1830s
    • 1835 A whaleboat from the ship Enterprise, privately financed by John P. Fawkner, lands at Elwood on its way to the founding of an unofficial civilian settlement on the Yarra River later to be called Melbourne.
    • 1839 First grazing lease granted to Benjamin Baxter who builds a stockman’s hut in Alfred Square. St Kilda hill is known as Green Knoll and, when surveyed early 1842, the ‘Village of Fareham’.

  • 1840s
    • 1840 Scottish immigrants on the Glen Huntly fever ship are confined at Point Ormond, that becomes Victoria’s first Quarantine Station and, after the death of three passengers, St Kilda’s first graveyard.
    • 1841 Superintendent La Trobe, at a picnic on the Green Knoll overlooking the bay, names the area St Kilda after the schooner Lady of St Kilda anchored off St Kilda Foreshore. The ship, in turn, was named in 1834 by its then owner Sir Thomas Dyke Acland as a tribute to his intrepid wife who, in 1812, was the first English lady to be rowed ashore to the remote after the Hebridean (Scottish) archipelago of St Kilda.
    • 1842 First land sold at auction 7 December 1842.  Acland Street named after the former owner of Lady of St Kilda either by Superintendent La Trobe, a member of the same evangelical group as Sir Thomas Dyke Acland or by Captain James Ross Lawrence, who had sailed the ship out from England for its new owners, and would buy the first allotment of land in St Kilda, cr. Acland, Fitzroy and Esplanade.

  • 1850s
    Gold is discovered and many depart St Kilda for the diggings. Tens of thousands of new immigrants arrive in Melbourne from overseas seeking their fortune, causing an acute housing shortage and booming prices. When the surface gold runs out many return penniless and the boom collapses.
    • 1850 On 2nd & 3rd January the first St Kilda Cup and other races are run at the St Kilda Racecourse near the Village Belle. This becomes and annual event. The running of the Cup is later transferred to the Caulfield Racecourse.
    • 1851 The Premier Omnibus Company offers return trips from the Bull and Mouth, Bourke Street to the Royal Hotel, Esplanade in horse drawn vehicles with two services a day at one shilling each way.
    • 1852 On 16 October, bushrangers rob nineteen people on the sandy track now called Brighton Road.
    • 1853 The St Kilda Pier and Jetty Company is formed to construct the new pier. Mrs Ford provides the first bathing facility south of the pier. A year later Captain Kenny establishes his baths just north of the pier.
    • 1854 The foundation stone of Anglican Christ Church in Acland Street is laid and the building opened 3 years later. This is the first of a score of churches that later include Presbyterian (1855), Wesleyans (1857),  St Mary’s Catholic Church (1859), Free Presbyterians (1864), Congregationalist and Baptist.
    • 1857 On 13 May the railway line opens, linking St Kilda to Melbourne. Now the professional classes can easily commute to the city for work making the area a popular place to live. St Kilda’s first elected Municipal Council meets at the Junction hotel at St Kilda Junction. Early November the Terminus Hotel opens opposite St Kilda station, to be renamed The George Hotel in July 1866.
    • 1859 St Kilda’s first town hall is constructed at the rear of the courthouse, corner of Grey and Barkly Streets.

  • 1860s
    As the decade progresses, St Kilda rapidly becomes one of the most fashionable place to live in Melbourne with many beautiful mansions and large gardens like Barham House (later Eildon). Trains and horse drawn ‘omnibuses’ bring people from the city to experience Melbourne’s most accessible seaside resort including its fifteen hotels.

  • 1870s
    New sea bathing facilities are constructed to compete with Captain Kenney’s. Wetlands are drained to make Albert Park Lake.
    • 1871 The thriving Jewish community builds St Kilda Synagogue, the first of at least four Jewish congregations in St Kilda.
    • 1874 Marcus Clarke of Inkerman Street publishes ‘For the Term of His Natural Life’.
    • 1875 St Kilda’s State School on Brighton Road is opened.
    • 1878 Esplanade Hotel built. A hundred years later it is one of Australia’s most important live music venues.

  • 1880s
    Many churches and synagogues are constructed and now become prominent St Kilda landmarks.
    Melbourne, including St Kilda, is experiencing a great land boom.
    • 1882 St Kilda Park Primary School opens in Fitzroy Street.

  • 1890s
    An economic depression ensues after the financial crash of the late 1880’s continues. Numbers of wealthy St Kilda families are ruined and lose their houses. Many of the mansions on the Hill are sold and turned into boarding and guesthouses.
    • 1890 The new St Kilda Town hall, a palatial boom-style palace by William Pitt, is completed on the corner of Carlisle Street and Brighton roads, on a former wetland where Aboriginal people once camped.
    • 1891 Cable tramcars start running to the St Kilda Esplanade bringing thousands of day-trippers.
    • 1897 St Kilda Football Team joins the VFL from its home base at Junction Oval.

  • 1900s
    • 1901 The Duke and Duchess of York arrive at St Kilda Pier to open the first national parliament - St Kilda is now part of the newly federated country of Australia. St Kilda pier is the entry point for many vice-regal and other visits.
    • 1906 Italian engineer, Carlo Catani, and the St. Kilda Foreshore Committee begin to re-mould the foreshore to cater for Melbourne’s amusement and pleasure zone. St Kilda is becoming a carnival resort for the masses.
    • 1908 Elwood swamp drained and land sales commence for new homes.

  • 1910s
    • 1911 St Kilda first enclosed cinema, the St. Kilda (Bioscope) Theatre, opens at 145 Fitzroy Street.
    • 1912 Luna Park opens – the newest and greatest amusement park in the world.
    • 1913 Palais de Dance is built on the site of the present Palais Theatre.
    • 1914-18 Three thousand men and boys from St Kilda enlist to fight at Gallipoli and France in the First World War.
    • 1917 Elwood State School opens.

  • 1920s
    A decade of subdivision. Flats and small apartments replaced or altered many grand homes and gardens. Genteel St. Kilda began to lose its predominance between the wars.
    • 1921 On 18 April the Victory Theatre opens as a 3000 seat cinema. Now St Kilda has four large cinemas including Palais Pictures, Barkly,  and St Kilda. In the 1970s the Victory becomes the National Theatre, home to the National Theatre Ballet School and The National Theatre Drama School
    • 1924 St Kilda War Memorial Hall opens in Acland Street in memory of returned soldiers and to raise funds for families. It later becomes a local cinema known as the ‘Mem’ or ‘fleapit’.
    • 1925 The St Kilda Baths (1906) are destroyed by fire.
    • 1926 10 February Palais Pictures destroyed by fire. Rebuilt as a luxurious American picture palace and reopened 11 November 1927, renamed Palais Theatre in 1945.

  • 1930s
    Severe Depression ensues. Gallipoli hero, Albert Jacka, becomes Mayor and fights for the rights of the unemployed, defending evictees and proposing public works for the ‘sussos’.Sly grog trading, cocaine smuggling and organised crime increase. Flat production outnumbers houses ten to one.
    • 1931 Opening of the new council built St. Kilda Baths with separate enclosures for men and women.
    • 1936 The Astor Picture Theatre opens.
    • 1937 and 1938 Polio epidemics occur.
    • 1939 World War Two breaks out. St Moritz ice skating rink opens in Frank Thrings’s former Efftee Productions film studio.

  • 1940s
    • 1941 St Kilda Town hall is barricaded with sandbags and trenches are dug for bomb shelters. Air raid drills practiced in schools.
    • 1942 American troops march down Beaconsfield Parade into St Kilda. Entertainment booms. Jewish migrants arrive in large numbers. Sydney Nolan, Joy Hester, Albert Tucker and other artists live and paint in St Kilda.

  • 1950s
    St Kilda becomes increasingly ‘run-down’. Young artists and musicians benefit from the cheap housing. Acland Street's café society blossoms with the influx of cosmopolitan European migrants. Leo’s opens in 1956 and Scherezade in 1958.

  • 1960s
    Between 1961 and 1971 flats increase from 38% to 62% of all dwellings. Boarding houses and cheap rents offer a place for lower income people and artists. Red light entertainment prospers with Whisky A Go Go, Les Girls at the Ritz and ‘Vanessa the Undresser’ at the George. Germaine Greer, formerly of Elwood, publishes The Female Eunuch.
    • 1966 On Yom Kippur the Rabbi at St Kilda Synagogue informs the congregation that the St Kilda Football Team has won the Premiership. Residents rejoice despite the team’s move to Moorabbin in 1964. Tolarno’s Gallery and restaurant opens in Fitzroy street by Mirka and Georges Mora, making St Kilda a pivot of Melbourne’s art world.
    • 1968 On 27 December the Palais de Danse (1920) is destroyed by fire. The Junction is reconfigured with a new road underpass and cutting linking Queens Road to Dandenong Road.
    • 1969 The Marina in Marine Parade opens. Adjoining reclamation works continue to Point Ormond creating large areas of new parkland.

  • 1970s
    • 1970 Prince Charles, after swimming at Elwood describes the water as ‘diluted sewage’. As a result of the embarrassment Council makes efforts to reduce pollution from waterways and storm water drains.
    • 1971 Council begins to focus on the development of social services with the first municipal childcare centre opened in the Town Hall and the St Kilda Library opened in 1973 after a community campaign.
    • 1973 High Street is widened, destroying an historic shopping precinct of 150 buildings (including the Junction Hotel), and its name changed to St Kilda Road.

  • 1980s
    • 1980 First St Kilda festival held. From small beginnings as a general arts festival this eventually grows to become a major Melbourne music event attended by over 400,000 people regularly.
    • 1982 Elaine Miller, St Kilda’s first female Mayor, is elected. On 22 September the St Moritz ice skating rink is destroyed by fire and the remaining walls subsequently demolished.
    • 1985 ‘Turn the Tide’ Councillors are elected vowing to protect the interests of lower income residents, create public housing and protect St Kilda from over-development.

  • 1990s
    St Kilda becomes increasingly popular. Changes to the Liquor Control Act 1987 enable outdoor cafes and restaurants to thrive and inner city living becomes fashionable. St Kilda now has five government and fourteen non-government schools. Backpacker hostels multiply bringing young international visitors. Visitors flock to the Sunday Market and festivals such as the Wicked Arts Festival, Koori Day, the St Kilda Film Festival. The annual Gay Pride March commences. Residents groups actively campaign to oppose over-development and the Grand Prix in Albert Park.
    • 1991 On 7 April the St Kilda Town Hall and Ballroom are destroyed by fire. Only the hall is later rebuilt.
    • 1994 The City of St Kilda is no more. St. Kilda is amalgamated with Port Melbourne and South Melbourne to create the City of Port Phillip. Mayor Tim Costello makes the last mayoral speech at St Kilda Town Hall before handing over to the interim Commissioners.

  • 2000s
    St Kilda property booms as waves of affluent young professionals seek an urban lifestyle by the sea. St Kilda Festival becomes the largest festival in Australia. The public swarms to street venues as well as renovated icons such as the St Kilda Sea Baths, Luna Park, Stokehouse, Donovans, West Beach Pavilion, the Station and the George Hotel. St Kilda is showcased in a popular TV serial The Secret Life of Us and other films. Activist groups Esplanade Alliance campaign to save the Esplanade Hotel and Unchain St Kilda to save the Triangle Site.
    • 2003 On 11 September the Kiosk on St Kilda Pier is destroyed by fire 99 years after its original construction. It is rebuilt in 2005 to the original design but with a modern extension at the rear.
    • 2007 In 11 July The Palace nightclub, formally the new Palais De Danse (1972) is destroyed by fire.
    • 2008 In response a city-wide campaign to halt the St Kilda Triangle site development, 5 of the original 7 councillors are replaced at the November council elections. In December 2009 Council buys back the developments rights and seeks a new community vision for the site.

 

© St Kilda Historical Society Inc

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