Burnley is a residential suburb east of Richmond, 5 km south-east of central Melbourne. Bounded on the south and east by the Yarra River, its residential area is the small space south and east of the Burnley railway station. Until 2005 Burnley extended north from the railway station to Bridge Road. Over half of the Burnley area is open space and ground occupied by the Burnley campus of the Victorian College of Agriculture and Horticulture.
The area was named after William Burnley, pioneer land purchaser in Richmond, local councillor and parliamentarian.
In 1838 the area approximating Burnley's present open space lying in a loop of the Yarra River was reserved as the Survey Paddock. It is bisected by Swan Street (1880s), trisected by railway lines diverging at Burnley (to Hawthorn, 1861 and to Glen Iris, 1890), and skirted on its eastern edge by the Yarra Boulevard (1930s) and on its southern edge by the South Eastern Freeway (1962), now Citylink.
The Horticultural Society of Victoria was granted 12 ha in the Survey Paddock in 1862 for experimental gardens, mainly for acclimatisation of exotic fruits, vegetables and flowers. The site was taken over by the State Department of Agriculture in 1891. The balance of the Survey Paddock became Richmond Park, containing the Picnic railway station, east of the present Burnley station, as the entry to a landscaped pleasure ground.
Burnley's industrial area was in its south-west corner next to the river. Basalt quarries were worked south of Coppin Street. One of them has been opened up to the river by the cutting of a channel to improve stream velocity to clear upstream floodwaters from Kew. The quarry hole became a dock depot for silt-dredging craft, and the channel also resulted in the formation, mid-stream, of Herring Island. The Richmond Abattoirs were near the old quarries, and municipal dignity was improved with Barkly Gardens (1865).
There were two ferries across the river, one being the Twickenham ferry. It was replaced by the MacRobertson bridge (1935).
In 1885 the first Anglican church was opened in Burnley, and two years later the first State primary school. The school was demolished in the 1970s to become the Golden Square Bicentennial Park. A temporary primary school in Burnley closed in 1987. Quite near the site of the temporary school is a remnant dead tree, evidence of the traditional Aboriginal inhabitants. It may have been a marker tree for ritual events or a tree from which bark was taken for a canoe or shelter. Separated from these areas by the railway line is a section of Burnley set aside for travelling circuses.
In the southern-most part of the Survey Paddock, through which the freeway passes, there are a public golf course and sports facilities comprising the Kevin Bartlett Sporting and Recreation Complex. Bartlett was a Richmond footballer. In 1991 the adjacent horticultural college celebrated its centenary, by when it was famed for the training of career horticulturists and as the metropolitan venue for demonstrations for amateur gardeners. In its grounds is an ornamental garden area of several hectares, among the best of Melbourne's passive recreation areas. It contrasts with the harshly functional public-utility buildings to the west where the river is bordered by the freeway. The western part of the horticultural college’s grounds was redeveloped as an office park in the 2000s. Citylink joins the Burnley tunnel (2000) a short way west of Burnley Street. The tunnel passes beneath Cremorne, the Domain gardens and Southbank, emerging at the Westgate Freeway.
Burnley’s census populations have been:
Janet McCalman, Struggletown: public and private life in Richmond 1900-1965, Melbourne University Press, 1984
John and Thurley O'Connor, architects, Richmond conservation study, Commission of the City of Richmond, 1985
G.B. Pritchard, Old Yarra history as told by the . . . Geology of Burnley, Heyington, Tooronga, F.W. Cheshire, 1944
Alfred Stirling, Old Richmond, The Hawthorn Press, 1979
A.P. Winzenried, Green grows our garden: a centenary history of horticultural education at Burnley, Hyland House, 1991