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


Swallow & Ariell viewed from Princes St 1987 PMHPS Collection

The National Trust has argued that the smell of Vegemite, produced at Fishermans Bend, warrants recognition as part of the heritage of the place.  This has prompted a post on how many Port stories are associated with smells.

The fetid Sandridge Lagoon gave rise to virtually a whole vocabulary of smells – here are just a few examples:

The ‘stench arising from the lagoon was a nuisance and a menace to the public health’, wrote Town Clerk Crockford in his scrapbook in 1895. In representations to the Board of Health ‘The Mayor could assure the Board that when the tide was out, the effluvia arising from this little spot was something abominable’. In endless delegations, councillors argued for action to be taken on the deplorable state of the lagoon.  ‘Cr Plummer was glad that Mr. Deakin was coming to have a smell for himself. He had advised that the visit should be timed to take place at low water, when the smell showed to the greatest advantage’.1

There seems to be universal agreement that the most penetrating of all the smells was that emanating from Kitchens, later Lever & Kitchen, from the boiling down of tallow for candle and soap making.

The smells associated with the factories on Fishermans Bend made a strong impression on the young Mike Brady when living in the Fishermans Bend Migrant Hostel located between Salmon and Hall Sts.

‘A blind man could describe the scene, because the inescapable odours of Port Melbourne are penetrating the tiniest chinks in the bus doors and windows. It’s an obnoxious smelling cocktail of animal, vegetable and chemical waste . . .

To the east, stretching almost to the city, is a chain of animal-holding yards and abattoirs. Here, pigs are slaughtered and put through a furnace to burn off their bristles. The stench of burning hair and flesh is compounded as it joins the stink of boiling fat from the Unilever and Cedel soap factories. To the west, a forest of factories . . .  Adjacent to the hostel is the Kraft Vegemite factory. The pungent, yeasty smell drifts over constantly. Vegemite is not the spread of choice at breakfast in the hostel canteen.’

By contrast, the sweet smells of Swallows are fondly remembered, and sometimes with precision.  ‘Teddy bears around 2pm from Swallows!!’

Jan MacDonald recalled

‘What is that delicious aroma? Swallow & Ariell are cooking their Christmas puddings. We are almost indifferent to the usual everyday biscuit baking aroma, but the Christmas puddings smell really great. The kids all go to the back door of Swallows for a sample.’

Sometimes smells came in combination – Jan MacDonald again

‘The tide has gone out again, leaving the beach covered in streamers, rotting onions and other food discarded by the ships that have left Station Pier. Rats are having a feast. The seaweed is starting to rot in the sun, the smell is terrible.

And of course, the smells related to the prevailing wind, so a northerly would bring the  Kitchens smell while the southerly would waft biscuit smells over the Borough.

Other smells that have been mentioned

  • the smell of fruit in the late summer at Tom Piper
  • the smell of the Gasworks
  • Dunlops tyres
  • the rotten mussels which would wash up and lay in the sun!’

Has Port lost its smells and how do we, as a Society, remember and record them?

If you can add to the inventory of Port smells, or the words to describe them, we’d love to hear from you in the comments section


Acknowledging all the contributions on the Port Melbourne History and Born and Bred Port Melbourne facebook site

1 The Standard, Port Melbourne, Saturday 15 January, 1887

Delbridge, N 2004 Up there Mike Brady Port Melbourne, Vic  Coulomb Communications

Crockford, Edward Scrapbook held by the PMH&PS

Macdonald, J 2002 Salt on the Windows, in PMH&PS calendar 2002


  • Noel Turnbull
    Posted September 10, 2021 11.08 am 0Likes

    Don’t know about the Dunlop’s smell despite living fairly close to it for a few years. But do remember driving past some nights and seeing furnaces blazing like something out of the early Industrial Revolution or artistic renderings of Hades.

  • Ray Jelley
    Posted September 10, 2021 12.04 pm 0Likes

    There is a piece in the Record and Emerald Hill and Sandridge Advertiser of 19 November 1875, on page 2 that vividly portrays the appalling condition of not only the Sandridge Lagoon but also the drain from Emerald Hill that was contributing to the putrid nature of the lagoon. This is the link:

  • Rosie Bray
    Posted September 10, 2021 1.19 pm 0Likes

    Plenty of odours/smell reached us in Gellibrand Road in my days.
    1. North wind would always bring a really really bad ‘pong’ from the old Port Melb tip—-Billy Miller (sen) 20 Gellibrand Rd, was in charge of the Council tip at that time.
    And rendering of the animals to make soap at Montague Soap factory, and then when the weather blew sea weed up on the back beach, we copped it again. Tom Pipers Factory always were responsible for smells when they were cooking?
    But the best was Going past Swallows in the bus to school—-bliss—of biscuits/cakes etc Which ever way the wind blew, we did not escape smell//Such memories?

  • Ann-Maree Richardson
    Posted September 10, 2021 3.10 pm 0Likes

    I also remember in the 1970s & 1980s the smell of coffee from Robert Timms when they were on the corner of Bay & Rouse Streets.
    At the Port Melbourne footy ground we used to joke that the smell from Kitchen’s during a game was our secret weapon against the unsuspecting opposition

  • lois daley
    Posted September 25, 2021 11.25 am 0Likes

    Vegemite Aroma and History…In the early 1970’s my Father Albert Daley a boilermaker worked on the boilers at the Vegemite factory,and when my Bro John went o/seas with his family to work in Mexico for Hewlett Packard they could not obtain Vegemite
    Dad purchased large tins to send to them much to the delight of the 4 g-children.
    We sat at the kitchen table and wrote and posted letters and cards and photos in the parcel
    ( we had no internet in those days) Listening to todays stories of the Aroma I am reminded that I have taken the odour for granted which I believe should be of Heritage Value …..memories of a wonderful life here in Garden City
    Lois Daley 24/9/2021

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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.