The Rise, Fall and Rise of Geelong

In general more people are flocking to live in Geelong, or its surrounding suburbs and coastal townships.

More people are working in the area too, and more holidaymakers and visitors are passing through – so many in fact that the government felt prompted to build a new freeway which cut travel time from central Geelong to the Melbourne CBD to about 55 minutes.

According to agents, this is only marginally more than the time it would take to arrive at Ringwood or Dandenong, if stuck in one of Melbourne’s congested eastern thoroughfares.

Care of Lindsay Fox, Geelong also has its own airport (Avalon), which, along with its major university and hospital – are all undergoing massive multimillion refurbishments. But in the eyes of many who live there, proof that Geelong is a bustling metropolis will always lie in the fact it has its own Myer.

Geelong is the second biggest city in Victoria, and the 12th biggest city in Australia.

According to Geelong Heritage Centre acting director Mark Beasley, Lieutenant John Murray pipped explorer Matthew Flinders by two months to arrive at The Rip, also known as the Port Phillip Heads (the narrow entrance between Point Lonsdale and the Point Nepean National Park). Lt Murray claimed the area for Britain on an exploration from Sydney to Melbourne on the Lady Nelson.

However, according to Mr Beasley, the first known sighting of the Geelong region by Europeans was a year earlier in 1800, by Lieutenant James Grant who sailed through the Bass Strait on a coastal exploration, again on the Lady Nelson.

In December 1824, explorers Hamilton Hume and William Hovell arrived at a rise on the now named Hovell Creek, about 15 kilometres north of the Geelong GPO and concluded that the land was “admirably adaptable” for settlement.

“The Aborigines were approached and on being asked the name of the area, were told the bay was named Jillong, and the land Corayo,” said Mr Beasley.
In 1837 when Governor Richard Bourke named the township, he adopted the names Geelong and Corio.

By 1840, and just in time for the 1851 gold rush in Ballarat – which resulted in a population surge for Geelong – a regular steamer service connected Melbourne to the area.

Geelong in 1840 was nothing more than a church, hotel, general store, wool store and about 80 houses, accommodating 545 residents.

However, it was big enough to have its own newspaper, the Geelong Advertiser, which remains the oldest newspaper title in Victoria and the second oldest in Australia, after the Sydney Morning Herald (which was first published in 1831).

By 1855 when residential growth from the gold rush had begun to subside, Geelong’s population had reached 23,000, supporting the development of the Geelong Hospital (1852), Geelong Town Hall (1855) and the Corio Bay shipping channel (1853).

Coupled with Victoria’s first woollen mill, built in South Geelong in 1868, Geelong was establishing its place as a major manufacturing and industrial hub – a title it still holds today.

Geelong’s next population surge was in the early 1920 – at about the same time the Corio Whiskey Distillery opened for business, and Ford Motor Company opened its vehicle plant in Norlane (In July last year, Ford announced it would close the plant in 2009, citing it would cease manufacturing of the environmentally unfriendly inline 6-cylinder engine it built there, and replace it with a new V6 manufactured in the United States).

Also in about 1920, construction started on the scenic Great Ocean Road (then known as the Surfcoast Highway). More than 3000 returned serviceman built 273 kilometre road, which connects Geelong to Warrnambool, as a war memorial for fellow serviceman killed in the First World War. It was officially opened in 1932.

Geelong’s famous Eastern Beach opened in 1939 and was a hit until the 1960s, when the city’s reliance on the car saw residents frequent other beaches along Port Phillip Bay and the Bellarine Peninsula. This trend continued until the mid 1990s when council worked with private industry to rejuvenate the precinct.

In fact, Geelong fell out of favour with residents for about 20 years from the mid 1970s, after the Federal Government changed tariff protection legislation which protected local industry. The closure of the woollen mills in 1974 left hectares of vacant warehouse in and around the city centre, while unemployment also became a major problem affecting the town’s sentiment.

Its economy suffered again in the early 1990s when the Pyramid Building Society, which was founded in Geelong in 1959 for the prosperity of its locals, collapsed leaving more than 200,000 depositors more than $1.3 billion in debt.

There was however some major capital investment over that time including Target which set up its headquarters in North Geelong in 1974. The Geelong Performing Arts Centre, Australian Animal Health Laboratory and National Wool Museum also opened, in 1981, 1985 and 1988 respectively.

Geelong’s first enclosed shopping centre Market Square opened in 1985, three years before the neighbouring Bay City Plaza. Bay City was rebranded Westfield Bay City after retail giant Westfield paid $72.5 million for a half share in 2003. It has since undertaken a $150 million redevelopment and extension of the centre, adding a Big W and 70 new specialty stores.

Deakin University opened its doors at the Geelong outskirt suburb of Waurn Ponds in 1974, making it the fourth oldest university in Victoria after the University of Melbourne (1853), Monash University (1958) and LaTrobe University (1964).

The Victorian Government chose Geelong over provincial town competitors Bendigo and Ballarat.

In the mid 1990s, the university came to the rescue of local community activists – acquiring historic waterfront wool stores which had a date with a wrecking ball – to use as another campus, its sixth in Victoria at the time (Deakin has since closed its Rusden and Toorak campus, bringing the number of campuses to four, two of which are in Geelong).

It was about in the mid 1990s sentiment changed to Geelong, in part because of the same economic prosperity that was being experienced in Melbourne.

The “seachange” factor as well, which has resulted in an increased number of Melburnians leaving the big smoke and relocating to townships like Torquay, Anglesea, Lorne and Apollo Bay, has contributed to a greater number of services becoming available in and around Geelong.

So fitting was the seachange trend, that the successful ABC television show of the same name was filmed there.

Major developments underway in Geelong include the $23 million Deakin Medical School, the $50 million Edgewater apartment project in the city, and a $30 million aquatic centre in Waurn Ponds.

The biggest development underway at present is the new Transport Accident Commission headquarters, currently under construction in Brougham Street, which is costing the government about $80 million. The controversial decision – which will see TAC staff move from their long time headquarters in Exhibition Street – is expected to reap the city close to $60 million in annual economic benefit, according to State Government calculations.

An inspection of current house prices in Geelong may remind real estate hobbyists of Melbourne property values in the early 1990s.

One and two bedroom units can be picked up across the city and outer suburbs including Belmont, Breakwater, Whittington, Grovedale, Highton, Hamlyn Heights and Herne Hill for between $80,000 and $150,000.

In outer ring northern suburbs such as Norlane and Corio, modest 3-bedroom former housing commission homes, on reasonable blocks of land of more than 600 square metres, start at about $150,000.

Extend the budget to around $450,000 – the average price for a home in Melbourne – and the choices in Geelong are plentiful.

New homes are available in areas such as Clifton Springs, Waurn Ponds and Lovely Banks of admirable size, and with all the mod cons. Large established older brick homes can be found in bay side towns within close proximity to Geelong including Portarlington, St Leonards and Indented Head.

If you’re seeking a more classic Edwardian, Victorian, Art Deco or Californian Bungalow, an array of fully renovated options can be found close to the city in suburbs such as Rippleside, East Geelong, and West Geelong.

At the top end of the market, a budget of $800,000 will buy you a Federation home in suburbs such as Newtown, overlooking the Geelong city and Corio Bay. Or for about the same price, period homes on large allotments and with water views in bay side towns such as Queenscliff are also available.

According to Australian Property Monitors, which is owned by Fairfax Media, publisher of The Sunday Age, median house prices in central Geelong (which includes Newtown and South Geelong) have increased to $330,000 for the December 2007 quarter, up 11.6 per cent on December 2006.

Average property prices in Newtown specifically, considered one of the most exclusive suburbs in Geelong, average $390,000, up 12.1 per cent on last year, according to APM.

The suburbs west of the Geelong CBD are the next highest in the precinct. According to APM, average house values in the precinct defined as Geelong West, which also includes Herne Hill and Manifold Heights is $276,750, up 13.1 per cent for the year.

The median house price in North Geelong, which includes the suburbs of Bell Park, Bell Post Hill, Drumcondra, Hamlyn Heights, North Geelong and Rippleside is $225,000 – up 12.1 per cent in the past twelve months.

The suburbs of Norlane and Corio, which are on Geelong’s northern outskirts and closer to Melbourne, are the cheapest in the precinct. They average $147,000 and $174,500 respectively.

In nearby Lara, which has possibly Victoria’s most uninspiring named suburb, Hovell Park (named after explorer William Hovell), median house prices average $265,000, up 9.5 per cent since last year.


Ageing playboy Sam Newman may be Geelong’s most vocal export, but he is by no means the only one. In fact, the string of celebrities to wreak havoc in Malop Street as a child, is quite comprehensive.

Obviously, sporting personalities and in particular AFL footballers appear frequently. The Geelong Football Club (formerly known as the Seagulls) is the second oldest club after Melbourne, founded in 1859.

Both Gary and Nathan Ablett were raised in Geelong, along with Billy Brownless and Mark Thompson, who led Geelong to a Premiership last year.

Other noteworthy sportspeople include Olympians Lee Troop (running) and Nathan Deakes (walker). Womens basketballer Trisha Fallon also hails from the area.

Former water skier, turned television show presenter and sequin wearing dancer Mark Bereta was born in Geelong in 1966.

Outside of the sporting arena, actresses Portia De Rossi (who changed her name from the less glamorous Amanda Lee Rogers in 1988, at age 15), and Libby Tanner also once called Geelong home.

Geelong seems to also breed its share of philanthropic business identities.

President of the Geelong Football Club Frank Costa was born in Geelong in 1938. His family business Costa Logistics is the largest service wholesaler of fruit and vegetables in the country. In 1997, at age 59, he received an Order of Australia Medal, recognising his involvement in the local community.

Arthur Coles, founder of the Coles Variety stores and Lord Mayor of Melbourne between 1938 and 1940, was also born in Geelong in 1892. In 1944, Coles devoted himself to public works becoming the chair of the Commonwealth Rationing Commission and the War Damage Commission.

Novelist and journalist Helen Garner, who’s first book Monkey Grip won a National Book Council Award in 1978 was born in Geelong in 1942.

Share or Recommend article

Marc Pallisco

A former property analyst and print journalist, Marc is the publisher of