It is important to distinguish between Port Melbourne – a bayside suburb that houses much of Melbourne docking facilities – and the Port of Melbourne – which is the totality of docking facilities in Melbourne. Even if the vast majority of the Port of Melbourne is located in the confines of Port Melbourne.
Port Melboure was not the first port in Melbourne – that honour went to Williamstown – but from the gold rush era onwards, it rapidly became the most important. It was the place where thousands upon thousands of immigrants, gold seekers and refugees first set foot in Melbourne, landing at Railway (later Station) Pier or neighbouring Princes Pier. So great were their volumes that the first railway line in the country – and one of the earliest in the Southern Hemisphere – was built to carry people from Sandridge (as it was then known) into central Melbourne. In fact, the area was renamed Port Melbourne to make it clearer to those considering the journey where it would lead them – although the strong working class contingent of the suburb, based around the docks and the related industrial areas adjacent, liked to joke that it was called that because it was the easiest part of Melbourne to get a drink of port (or indeed, anything else alcoholic) in.
The construction of the Victorian Centenary Bridge across the landward end of Station Pier gave the area a fitting monumental feel, creating a literal and metaphorical gateway to a new life, and more than one immigrant was no doubt fired by it to leave their own marks on the city. Certainly, gold hunter Vladimir Czatzdo, Nazi war criminal Dr Heinrich Lantz, grazier Angus Morentzie, railway engineers Allan and Wesley Tone-Herr, professional criminal Ace Lindsay and property developer Petre Moldoveanu all passed through it on their respective arrivals in Melbourne with the determination that they would acheive great things and leave lasting legacies.
The original name of Sandridge derived from the rows of low dunes that originally stretched along the coast line from the mouth of the Yarra (the suburb’s western boundary) to the shores of the Port Melbourne Lagoon (which marked the south-eastern boundary, separating the township from nearby Albert Park). The lagoon was most likely a remnant of a former course of the Yarra, blocked off eventually by the buildup of sediment that pushed the river course to the west and north. It is gone today, commemorated by Lagoon Reserve, which covers about half of the area that the lagoon once did. The traditional relationship between docks and criminal smuggling enterprises (that has held throughout human history all over the world) makes it a virtual certainty that Lagoon Reserve also marks the last resting place of not a few smugglers who came out on the wrong end of disagreements with other smugglers.
Suburbs near Port Melbourne: