Melbourne (1835–1927): The birth of a music city

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Music heritage in cities has become a significant area of interest in the twenty-first century because it is linked to profitable music tourism and a growing cultural economy [Richard Florida, The Rise of the Creative Class, 10th Anniversary Edition (New York: Perseus Book Group, 2002)]. Melbourne, the Victorian state capital, is used as a case study; in March 2013, the city was unofficially crowned Australia’s music capital because it, at the time, had the most music venues and a vibrant music economy [“Melbourne Confirmed as Live Music Capital,” ABC News, 25 March 2013, (accessed 20 November 2014)]. However, this paper argues that this identification is somewhat ahistorical for two reasons. Firstly, it leaves out the colonial and gold rush prehistory of Melbourne’s music culture. Secondly, it omits the critical recognition of Melbourne’s (and Australia’s) first international music superstar exports, such as opera diva Dame Nellie Melba (nee Helen Porter Mitchell), who was named after her home town of Melbourne, and pianist prodigy and composer Percy (Aldridge) Grainger. Drawing on a textual analysis of government policies, economic reports, and the work of historians, musicologists and journalists, this paper synergises the history of Melbourne’s music culture from its colonial beginnings in 1835, until 1927, when the city was no longer Australia’s political capital. It identifies four early stages of Melbourne’s musical development city, which laid the foundations for iconic music venues, Australia’s first opera company, music entrepreneurs, and the initial nurturing of the nation’s first music superstars in Melba and Grainger.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)101-115
Number of pages16
JournalJournal of Australian Studies
Issue number1
Publication statusPublished - 2018


  • music superstars
  • urbanisation
  • Victorian colonial music heritage

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