For a long time, there was no part of Melbourne named Yarraville, despite the obvious relevance of the name. What could make more sense than to name your new township for the river that defined the city? But up until 1886, no such place name existed in the city. It is no coincidence that one existed thereafter, though.

August 11, 1886 marked the completion of the Coode Canal, a cut of land through West and Port Melbourne that realigned the course of the Yarra River, cutting off the northward loop known as Fisherman’s Bend or Humbug Reach. The new course of the river was considerably straighter, which had a number of beneficial effects: it made the trip to Victoria Docks shorter, it began the process of draining the swampy land around Fisherman’s Bend (then applied to the northern rather than the southern banks of the Yarra), and in concert with other works on the Yarra at around the same time, it was hoped that it would serve to mitigate floods.

This was put to the test just a few years later, in the Great Flood of 1891, but because both courses for the Yarra were still open at the time – the original Humbug Reach course was being slowly filled in by ship’s ballast, but the process was nowhere near complete after only five years – it had the paradoxical effect of worsening the flooding. The high waters of the river were channelled straight down the new canal, and burst the banks on the oppoesite bank where the Yarra now met the Maribyrnong. This area, a mostly flat region then called Kingsville, was a hunting preserve set aside for the use of His Majesty (although he never used it), and little occupied other than by poachers, else the flood’s death toll would have been much higher.

Nonetheless, the flooding took more than a year to drain from Kingsville, now derisively named Yarraville, and its muddy waters claimed the lives of the last representatives of numerous Australian species, including the Western Dropbear, the Marsupial Jaguar and the world’s smallest flightless bird, the two inch tall ume. These and other were buried beneath the development of Yarraville that took place after the waters parted, when the area was opened up for residential and industrial development, leaving the two remaining never-flooded arms of Kingsville permanently sundered.

Suburbs near Yarraville:

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