The Swamp Vanishes

Curated by Lenore Frost

Consulting historian: Dr Gary Presland

Curatorial support: Richard Barnden and David Thompson

Before European settlers arrived in the Port Phillip district, a large wetland that lay between the Yarra River and the Moonee Ponds Creek sustained the indigenous people and the cultural traditions of the Kulin nation. It was known by the new settlers as Batman’s Swamp, later West Melbourne Swamp.  In less than 20 years that important wetland had been despoiled by European settlers, who turned into a receptacle for sewage and rubbish.

While the wetland had initially been described in terms of beauty, within a few short years the swamp was noisome and reviled, and talk began of draining and reclamation.  By the end of the century significant engineering works had changed the very shape of the land.

A feature of the land which had sustained aboriginal people for millennia prior to European settlement in 1835 became a refuge for the down and out during the 1930s depression. ‘Reclamation’ works continued, until the wetland is now represented by the Dynon Road Tidal Canal, parallel to Dynon Road, and a small Wildlife Reserve.

This exhibition traces the how a significant wetland vanished from sight.     

Important notice for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander visitors who are warned that this exhibition contains images of deceased persons.

The RHSV also warns that there might be words and descriptions quoted that could be culturally sensitive and which might not normally be used in public or community contexts. Words and descriptions that reflect the authors and the historical period in which the item was written, may be considered inappropriate today.

Listen to the launch speech for The Swamp Vanishes exhibition opening night.

by Dr. Gary Presland