Geelong History

The first people were the Wathaurong people calling the local bay ‘Jillong’, which inspired the anglicised interpretation ‘Geelong’. The name Jillong means ‘a place of the seabird over the white cliffs’.

The name Wathaurong (Wadda-Warrung) is a recognised tribe (community) which consisted of some 25 clans (family groups) that forms part of the Kulin Nation of Aboriginal people. The traditional boundaries of the Wathaurong people span the coastline from the Werribee River to Lorne peninsula and traverse inland in a north westerly direction towards Ballarat. To find a map of the Wathaurung cultural boundaries please click here. The Wathaurong people have lived within these regions for more than 25,000 years (Source After British colonisation of the area, which lead to declining food sources and severe influenza epidemic, the Wathaurong people declined rapidly. In 1853 there was only 30-40 Wathaurong people in the area, compared with 300 people in 1836.

The English were not the first Europeans to arrive to Geelong. Artefacts and remnants of Dutch, Portuguese and the Spanish explorers have also been found on land and through deep sea dives off the coast.

Geelong was surveyed by Robert Hoddle who created the infamous ‘Hoddle Grid’, which mapped Melbourne and Geelong streets in a linear fashion. Hoddle laid out Geelong in 1838 in a rectangular ‘grid’ shape, with principal streets 30m wide and smaller laneways 10m wide. The Hoddle Grid has allowed for the mergence of a strong laneways culture in between the larger tree lined boulevards that we find on Brougham and Malop streets in Geelong.

The 1850s saw many visitors arriving in Geelong to travel up to Ballarat for gold. Melbourne’s clever marketeers dubbed the town ‘sleepy hollow’ and erroneously mapped Melbourne as closer to the goldfields than Geelong. This was a key turning point for the emergence of Melbourne as a capital destination, bypassing Geelong.
Geelong was referred to as the Pivot City due to the its prominence as shipping and rail hub to Melbourne. Geelong residents were referred to as Pivotonians, which was also the nickname for the Geelong Football Club.

The 1950s saw a big push to attract new migrants to the area with 5,000 new residents per year by 1956. New migrants constituted ten percent of the city’s people, growing the north exponentially. The newly arrived labor force worked at the Shell Refinery, Ford, Pilkington’s Glass Works and the International Harvester.

Over the past 20-30 years, industrial manufacturing has declined due to the restructure of Ford and Shell Refinery and with the Alcoa aluminium plant closing. Geelong has developed new capability and strengths in the health and social industries, advanced manufacturing, tourism and education sectors.

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