Archaeological dig exposes remarkable snapshot of Melbourne’s 19th century
An archaeological dig has unearthed a trove of treasure dating to the pre-gold rush era as work takes shape for a 20-storey office tower in the CBD.
The site, on the corner of Little Lonsdale St and Bennetts Lane, is currently being excavated by archaeologists from Extent Heritage as part of a Heritage Victoria requirement before a large build begins on a new tower comprising offices, food and drink shops, and retail.
As exclusively reported in the August edition of CBD News, the archaeological project has revealed a fascinating snapshot of Melbourne, exposing remnants of terraces and cottages – including brick fireplaces – descending into the soil as well as a range of 19th century artefacts.
Extent Heritage’s chief executive Ian Travers said the excavation had revealed a time when Melbourne was one of the “roughest and toughest” areas in the city.
“This time capsule contains an important cultural record of the hundreds of generations of Wurundjeri Woi Wurrung people who lived along the creek valleys and on the gently sloping ground to the north of the Birrarung, now known as the Yarra River,” he said.
Among the artefacts found include a food storage jar, a Bears Grease container for hairstyling, an ink well, ceramic dolls, tools, and shoes.
Mr Travers said an important component of the work was identifying any buried Aboriginal cultural deposits that may exist as evidence of occupation and use of pre-contact Aboriginal times.
“The current excavations will help to further our knowledge and understanding of former use and land management, along with the social and economic growth of a rapidly flourishing post-contact Melbourne,” he said.
Developers Perri Projects and Pellicano will incorporate the newly discovered artifacts within the new tower build as well as re-purpose some of the bluestone and brick materials salvaged during the excavation.
“The project has also been designed to respect and respond to the heritage of the wider precinct, including the Wesley Church directly across the road,” managing director of Perri Projects David Scalzo said.
“We are also exploring the opportunity to reintroduce live music to the precinct, a part of Melbourne’s modern cultural heritage and hope to have more to say on this soon. The end result will be a rich and layered corner of the CBD.”
Mr Scalzo said the tower, known as the Bennetts Lane project, would be a landmark project that will build on and retain the character and history of some of the city’s oldest buildings while creating a “vibrant new place for Victorians to work and play”.
Lord Mayor Sally Capp described the archaeological dig as a “fascinating buried landscape” underneath Melbourne.
“This vital work by Perri Projects and Pellicano means we can uncover more about the history of Melbourne, and further ensure its bright future through confidence-inspiring development that will enhance the city landscape and create jobs,” she said.
In addition to Heritage Victoria, the Wurundjeri Woi Wurrung Cultural Aboriginal Corporation, the Traditional Owners, and the Registered Aboriginal Party of the land are also working closely with the project’s team. Public tours of the site were held during August. •
Caption: Archaeologists find remnants of terraces and cottages as well range of artefacts during a dig at Bennetts Lane.