Maribyrnong is a residential and industrial suburb enclosed on three sides by the Maribyrnong River, 6 km north-west of central Melbourne. The southern side is adjacent to Maidstone. Maribyrnong city is discussed at the end of this entry.

Maribyrnong was spelled ‘Marriburnong’ in a map dated 1840. The name is thought to be derived from an Aboriginal word meaning saltwater river.

The main road through Maribyrnong is Raleigh Road, which joins Maribyrnong Road on the east side of the river. To the west its name changes to Cordite Avenue. ‘Raleigh’ and ‘Cordite’ explain much of Maribyrnong's origins.

Joseph Raleigh operated a punt near the present Raleigh Street bridge, and he established a boiling-down works for the production of tallow when the livestock market collapsed in 1843, the year of Raleigh's arrival in Port Phillip. He went on to establish a meat preserving works on the river bank, overlooked by a castle-like structure evidently meant for accommodation of shepherds and workers. The present-day location of these buildings is the Pipemakers Park, which is overlooked by the basalt hill which goes back toward Highpoint Shopping Centre. The Anglers Hotel (c1870) was opened near the bridge.

The meat works employed upwards of 250 workers, resulting in some residing in the district and a need for a school for their children. In the other (north-western) part of Maribyrnong a horse stud was established in the 1860s, later becoming the Maribyrnong racecourse, after an unsuccessful land sale (the Maribyrnong Park Estate), in 1888.

South of the meat works the Victorian colonial government built an elaborate gunpowder storage with bluestone buildings, earthworks, tunnels and loading facilities on the Maribyrnong River. Known as Jack’s Magazine, it became part of the Commonwealth’s ammunition making works. It is heritage listed.


Soon after federation the Commonwealth Government acquired land occupied by the former racecourse for an explosives (cordite) factory. Until then private firms owned the explosives factory at Footscray and the blasting powder factory at Deer Park. A cordite factory, remount depot and barracks were established (1910-12). The increasing local population led to the opening of a Methodist church (1911) and a primary school (1912). A tram service along Maribyrnong Road to the bridge opened in 1906.

In 1920 an ordnance factory was added to the cordite factory, which together provided about 400 jobs. Nine years earlier, the former meat works site was acquired by Hume Brothers for a concrete pipe works, taking advantage of the supply of bluestone which had not been fully quarried and the proximity of the river for transporting pipes by barge. Maribyrnong was a mixture of industrial households with backyard gardens and dairies, river excursionists and swimming carnivals. Hicks motorised launches carried visitors to Hicks Tea Gardens near the Canning Street bridge.

At the outbreak of World War II the explosive and ordnance factories' production facilities were rapidly upgraded, and round-the-clock production introduced. Tramline extensions from Ascot Vale and Footscray to the factory gates were opened in 1940 and 1941. The peak employment figures of 4445 women and 4360 men workers were reached in 1942.

After the war two notable additions came to Maribyrnong: the nearby migrant hostel in Maidstone resulted in European migrants settling in Maribyrnong, and Tracey's Speedway was opened on the Maribyrnong Reserve (1946). The reserve later became the home of the Polonia Soccer Club.

Old quarry sites were filled in. The high school was built on one such site in 1958, and a larger one became the site of the Highpoint Shopping Centre (1975), one of Melbourne's six super-regional centres. Its gross let able area (107,000 sq metres), includes a department store, three discount department stores, 418 other shops, cinemas and a gambling area. There was a Hoyts drive-in theatre between the Wests Road train line and Highpoint. Its site is now Homemaker City shopping centre (1990) 22,200 sq metres. Whilst the State primary was closed, a Catholic primary school is well attended. The Maribyrnong secondary college had 1113 pupils in 2014.

The ordnance factory site was destined for housing development, postdating the decision to close the primary school in 1993. The housing site shares an elevated site with Highpoint, unlike the older housing on the once flood-prone alluvial terraces in the bend of the river. Residents can catch trams to Footscray (route 82) and the City (route 57).

Pipemakers Park and the Living Museum of the West are on the river bank, overlooked by Highpoint. The meatworks buildings in Pipemakers Park are heritage listed, as is field artillery barracks (1911) in Wests Road, once in the ordnance area and now surrounded by recent houses.

Housing has been built on the eastern side of the large explosives factory site in the bend of the river. The balance (128 hectares) has been unused for a decade and a full scale housing development for 3000 homes was contemplated after soil decontamination. It was projected to form a new, as yet unnamed suburb. There are numerous buildings needing investigation for heritage assessment.

In about 1999 the suburb of Maribyrnong was extended south into Footscray, taking in a Commonwealth munitions factory site between Gordon Street and the Maribyrnong River, south of Jack’s Magazine. The site has been redeveloped for housing, overlooking the river which has a linear park and walking trail. Residents can catch the tram to Footscray or Highpoint.

The Maribyrnong Immigration Detention Centre located in Hampstead Road, Maidstone, was built in 1966 and purpose built in 1983. 

Maribyrnong’s census populations have been:

Census date Population
1921 697
1947 2088
2001 5836
2006 8242
2011 10,165

At the 2011 census the following languages were spoken at home:

Language % of population
  Maribyrnong Victoria
English 45.5 72.4
Vietnamese 13.1 1.6
Cantonese 6.8  1.4
Mandarin 5.1  1.9

Recent dwelling construction resulted in the following house styles at the 2011 census:

Type % of occupied dwellings (2011)
  Maribyrnong Victoria
Separate house 50.4 76.9
Row house 23.7 9.6
Flat, unit 25.7 12.9

The median income of Maribyrnong’s residents at the 2011 census was 125% of the Victorian median.

Maribyrnong City

Maribyrnong city is a municipality formed on 15 December 1994, comprising the former Footscray city and the parts of Sunshine city known as Braybrook, Maidstone and Maribyrnong.

Its area is 31 sq km. Maribyrnong city is bounded on the north and east by the Maribyrnong River, from Duke Street (Braybrook) to Francis Street (Yarraville). Since the inception of the city there has been a transformation from an industrial/residential region to increasingly residential uses, mostly in the suburb of Maribyrnong. Removal of industry from the river has enabled linear parks and walking trails to be constructed.

The city has regional shopping centres at Highpoint (Maribyrnong) and Footscray, around the railway station. Both are in the east of the city. There are also local shopping areas in Seddon, Braybrook and Yarraville.

Footscray, the city’s administrative headquarters, is the junction for roads and railways to Werribee-Geelong and Sunshine-Ballarat. There is also a tram to Moonee Ponds via Highpoint, Maribyrnong.

Manufacturing and warehouses occupy much of the city’s west, particularly Tottenham.

Maribyrnong city’s census populations have been:

Census date Population
1996 59,029
2001 59,406
2006 63,141
2011 71,635

The population is multicultural, with considerable numbers of residents from Vietnam, China, India and Italy.

Further Reading

Hugh Anderson, Saltwater River history trails, Red Rooster Press, 1984

Olwen Ford, Maribyrnong: action in tranquillity, Melbourne's Living Museum of the West and Sunshine City Council, 1989

Braybrook, Footscray, Footscray West, Kingsville, Maidstone, Maribyrnong, Seddon and Yarraville entries