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Town Hall, 333 Bay Street, Port Melbourne
Town Hall, 333 Bay Street, Port Melbourne

‘The Lagoon Question’

The ‘Lagoon question’ preoccupied the residents and Council of Port Melbourne for decades.

For those readers not familiar with the extent of the Sandridge Lagoon, it is clearly shown in this map and was described by surveyor Grimes in 1803

… a salt lagoon about a mile long and quarter mile wide. Had not entrance to the sea.

The township of Sandridge State Library of Victoria
The township of Sandridge
State Library of Victoria

From its Eden like quality recorded by Josephine Liardet in the early days, by 1870 the Lagoon had become a major public nuisance and increasingly a public health issue.

The Lagoon with the Gasworks in the background. Charles Nettleton State Library of Victoria

The Lagoon crops up again and again in the newspapers of the day with each article more frustrated and exasperated than the one before. This post is not as much about the Lagoon, as to revel in the language and detail of a 6 column article that appeared in the Standard of 21 November 1885.

An indignation meeting of Port Melbourne ratepayers was held at the Town Hall to discuss the Lagoon question. The notion of an indignation meeting is one that could well be revived.

In spite of the indignation, the meeting was not full, but this is reported in a tactful kind of way … the Town Hall was not inconveniently crowded.

How frustrated Port people get with buck passing between different authorities and agencies when noone is willing to assume responsibility for an issue. Nothing has changed. Government departments were playing a game of ‘battledore and shuttlecock with this unfortunate lagoon’.

The article also suggests that Port’s fraught relationship with St Kilda has a long history, with a speaker at the meeting relying on a familiar argument

A gentleman had remarked to him that if this nuisance were in St Kilda or in any other place but Port Melbourne it would quickly be removed.

And then F T Derham, Port’s representative in the Legislative Assembly, points the finger at the Melbourne Harbour Trust, antecedent organisation to the Port of Melbourne Corporation, while defending the government of which he is part

The real offender was the Melbourne Harbour Trust, who always thwarted anything Port Melbourne people wanted to do

Different views were expressed by the ratepayers – some favouring a boat harbour, others supporting the filling in  Lagoon. When it came to how improvements were to be paid for, the indignation seemed to waver. The meeting

… agreed that it would be a foolish thing to go to law with the Harbour Trust. Nor would they care to pay an extra rate.

What they had to do was to be patient and await the report the Government engineer.

A deputation was appointed to lobby government. To find out what the Government engineer reported, PMHPS recommends reading Engineer to Marvellous Melbourne: The Life and Times of William Thwaites by Robert La Nauze.

And if you find today’s newspapers scant on Port news, why not dive into Trove and read the article in full.

Sources and further information:

1885 ‘THE LAGOON QUESTION.’, Standard (Port Melbourne, Vic. : 1884 – 1914), 21 November, p. 2, viewed 15 January, 2015,

La Nauze, R. (2011). Engineer to marvellous Melbourne. North Melbourne, Vic.: Australian Scholarly Publishing.

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Acknowledgement of Traditional Custodians

We respectfully acknowledge the Traditional Custodians of the land on which we meet and work, the Bunurong Boon Wurrung and Wurundjeri Woi Wurrung peoples of the Eastern Kulin Nation and pay respect to their Elders past, present and emerging.