Melbourne in 1838
Melbourne in 1838 Contributed

What Rockhampton and Melbourne have in common

ONE is a city of nearly five million, the other 82,000 people.

But they have one common bond linking them - their street design.

Rockhampton's chosen street design closely resembles the Hoddle Grid in Melbourne, consisting of a grid of wide boulevards and laneways.

The town was laid out in 1858 by government surveyors who followed the established patterns in surveying towns of the period - an orthogonal grid form of city streets, laid out parallel to the path of the river.

In Rockhampton's case, the main street was laid out one street back from the river front to allow port activity to concentrate at the river.

Streets were however unusually wide and laneways were created between them again in an unusual manner.

Lanes such as Little Collins St in Melbourne and Little Bolsover Street in Rockhampton were designed to service the main thoroughfares.

There was a generosity of scale in the laying out of Rockhampton that was uncommon in Queensland.

Indeed even the extent of the city was generous anticipating a population growth that even then was clearly unachievable.

One of the surveyors of Rockhampton, AF Wood, had worked with the surveyor Robert Hoddle in laying out Melbourne in 1837.

The plan is thought to have been prepared by Francis Clarke, who was Victoria's surveyor general at that time.

Tree lined Quay Street, Rockhampton.   Photo courtesy State Library of Queensland.
Tree lined Quay Street, Rockhampton. Photo courtesy State Library of Queensland.

There is much about the plan of Rockhampton that is reminiscent of the Victorian capital, with its wide boulevards and squares.

At about the same time as the Canoona gold rush the New South Wales government declared Rockhampton a port of entry.

This recognition meant that goods could be officially trade through the port with duties payable.

A temporary customs house was established in Quay Street in the customs reserve to regulate the trade through the town and collect the customs duties on these goods.

Customs House, Quay Street, Rockhampton
Customs House, Quay Street, Rockhampton Chris Ison ROK190618ccustomshous

As a river port, the conditions for shipping at Rockhampton were however not promising.

It did not have a deep natural harbour like its early rival Gladstone to the south, and the site was prone to flooding.

Shifting sandbanks in the river caused problems for navigation, and entry to the river from Keppel Bay was hindered by islands that divided it into three distinct channels.

Other settlements, particularly Gladstone and Bowen, had better ports than Rockhampton, with greater depths available for shipping and access to the sea.

There was a real threat that Rockhampton would lose trade and the associated benefits to its rivals.



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