Metro Tunnel Digs To Reveal Melbourne’s Past

23 May 2018

The largest archaeological digs in Victorian history are underway in the heart of Melbourne’s CBD as work continues to deliver the $11 billion Metro Tunnel.

Minister for Public Transport Jacinta Allan today visited the corner of Flinders and Swanston streets to mark the start of digs in the area – one of the most important places in the history of European settlement in Victoria.

The area has undergone tremendous change since John Batman paid £100 for part of the site in 1837 to build a timber cottage and it promises to reveal a treasure trove of early Melbourne life.

The heritage-listed Young & Jackson Hotel and adjoining Dangerfield building remain on-site but six other non-heritage buildings have been demolished to make way for the Metro Tunnel’s new Town Hall Station below Swanston Street.

Large-scale digs have also recently started near the corner of La Trobe and Swanston streets, where nine non-heritage buildings were recently removed as part of Metro Tunnel works to build the new State Library underground station.

Over the decades the sites have hosted countless different homes, warehouses and businesses that have changed in line with Melbourne’s evolution from distant colonial outpost to one of the world’s leading cities.

It is hoped the digs, being overseen by Heritage Victoria, will help tell the story of this transformation and improve our understanding of our city’s history.

Archaeological digs at the northern site have already discovered thousands of items, including highly decorative pottery, clay tobacco pipes and other items that reflect domestic life throughout the 19th century.

Up to two million artefacts are expected to be found as more than 100 archaeologists, field workers and students from the University of Melbourne, RMIT and La Trobe universities painstakingly sift through the two CBD locations, uncovering different layers of Melbourne’s history.

Viewing windows have been installed at both sites to enable locals and visitors to watch as the investigations unfold.

The windows were unveiled today to coincide with National Archaeology Week, which aims to increase public awareness of the importance of protecting our archaeological heritage.

The Metro Tunnel archaeological digs are expected to finish by the end of the year and have been factored into the Metro Tunnel Project’s timeline, with the project on track to be complete by the end of 2025.

Quotes attributable to Minister for Public Transport Jacinta Allan

“These digs are a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to reveal previously untold stories about Melbourne dating back to the 1830s, as we continue the job of delivering a 21st century public transport network.”

“The viewing windows will give locals and visitors the chance to get up close to the biggest archaeological digs in Victoria’s history and watch as treasures from Melbourne’s past are unearthed.”

Reviewed 19 August 2020

Was this page helpful?