Dandenong is situated 31 kilometres south-east of Melbourne on the outskirts of the city. The name is thought to be a corruption of an Aboriginal word meaning lofty mountains, and referred to the ranges which overlook the area. The country is flat to undulating and was originally densely forested with red gum.
Joseph Hawdon established a pastoral run on Dandenong Creek in 1837, overlanding the cattle from Sydney. Soon a few timber cutters and a police camp were also located there. By 1850, the whole area had been taken up for grazing. Dandenong Creek was first bridged in 1840. A road was made from Melbourne, making Dandenong, by the late 1850s, an important staging post for travellers into Gippsland. It became known as the 'gateway to Gippsland'. A township was surveyed in 1852. Milling of the red gum timber became an important industry, and charcoal burning, tanning, quarrying and brick making also flourished. A stock market was established in 1866.
The Western Port Aboriginal Protectorate Station was located north-east of Dandenong from 1840 to 1844. This area had been an important meeting and ceremonial site for Aboriginal tribes. The Native Police Corps established its headquarters there until its disbandment in 1852. The Police Paddocks were then used for breeding and resting police horses.
By 1861, there were 40 houses in the township housing 193 people. Dandenong Shire was proclaimed in 1873. The Australian Handbook records the progress of the town by 1875.
The grandiose Town Hall with clock tower, constructed in 1890, attested to the growing importance of Dandenong. It was the market town for a large rural region supporting dairy farming, grazing and some market gardening. In 1926, a new cattle market was opened close to the town centre, followed by a produce market the next year. Road and railway into Gippsland passed through Dandenong and it was the junction of road and rail into South Gippsland. In 1911, there were 2,824 inhabitants in the area. By 1933, there were 4,270 in the town itself and another 1,204 in the surrounding area. The Victorian Municipal Directory described its development by 1938.
The cattle market became so large that a new site was needed. By 1959, the saleyards had moved to a location south of the town centre and the produce market expanded onto the old site. Each Tuesday, market day, brought hundreds of farmers and their families into the town.
Although Dandenong already had some secondary industries, it retained this country town character until the advent of three large companies in the early 1950s. Heinz, International Harvester and General Motors Holden established factories on the flat land south-east of Dandenong. Many other firms, large and small, followed. The abundant new jobs attracted many workers, especially European migrants. The Housing Commission established the new suburb of Doveton, north of the Princes Highway, to house the rapidly increasing population.
By 1994, the Victorian Municipal Directory described a large retail and commercial centre that had been engulfed by the spread of the metropolitan area.
Dandenong's population was estimated at over 133,000 in 1995. Industry and manufacturing provide the main employment, with service industries becoming more important. Dandenong still retains some of its regional status, attracting shoppers from the country to its large retail complex. Regional police headquarters, Magistrates' Court, large hospital and associated services and TAFE college are located there. It is still at the centre of an extensive transport network, with a busy railway station and bus interchange. The cattle market is to close in 1998. Although still one of the busiest markets in Victoria, it is located on prime real estate close to the centre of Dandenong and is earmarked for redevelopment.
Dandenong has a popular Arts Festival. An historical precinct is centred on three old and significant buildings. Part of the Police Paddocks had been incorporated into Churchill National Park. An obelisk and bronze plaque mark the site of the old barracks.
(Carlyon Collection, Centre for Gippsland Studies, Monash University, Gippsland)
Brennan, N. "Chronicles of Dandenong". .
G.F.R., pseud. "Reminiscences of early Dandenong". 1935.
Uhl, J.M. "Dandenong - from slab hut to city". 1963.
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