It is hard to imagine that these leafy suburbs were once ti-tree swamps and eucalypt forests, but of course that is what the original settlers found when they arrived in the area. The name Prahran appears to have been come from a native word sounding more like Puraran and was coined by George Langhorne, an Englishman who came to Victoria in 1836 to teach the local aboriginal tribes. George set up a mission on the banks of the Yarra near Punt Hill. The name Punt Hill, Punt road etc., came from the boat or punt used to cross the Yarra River.
In 1838, William Le Souef built a wooden house in the vicinity. William was named as Assistant Protector of Aborigines in 1840 but removed from office just five months later. The Le Souef family were involved with The Acclimation Society (see my article, Gembrook and the Hills/ Feral), the Botanic Gardens and later the Royal Zoological Society. Although William was a controversial figure, he and his family were heavily responsible for quality of our Zoo and Gardens.
For quite some time the area was referred to as Murphy’s Paddock. Murphy owned a brewery in Melbourne city centre and also owned land from St. Kilda road right through to Chapel street. Between Punt road and The Royal Botanic Gardens was Ogilivies Vineyard, with Major Davidson’s Paddock on the east side of Punt Road. Near the corner of Toorak road (Gardiner’s Creek road) and Chapel street stood a large water tank and a second water tank was situated in the middle of St. Kilda Junction. Just to the north of the intersection was the Police Court and a station was planned for the eastern side of the intersection.
The land in these suburbs varied from gentle hillsides to wetlands and swamps. Many of Victoria’s “squattocracy” purchased these hillside blocks for their city homes. As the land boom of the 1880’s hit, they subdivided their blocks selling off the lower lands for workers cottages. This led to the wonderful diversity of housing and population of these interesting Melbourne suburbs.