Group VRG 12
About this Group Related Agencies Related Functions
Date Range: 1842 - cont
Description of this GroupDescription of this Group
Local Government Structures in Victoria

A second sphere of government within Victoria is that of local government. Victoria is divided into a number of municipalities which are variously constituted as shires, towns and cities under the provisions of the Local Government Act 1958 (No.6299). Local government authorities receive part of their revenue from State government grants and from a small reserved percentage of the annual revenue grants made to the State by the Federal Government. Their main source of income arises from their power to levy rates on the owners and occupiers of property.

Local government authorities are subject to the control of State Parliament and the Victorian State Government has the power to remove local councils and replace them with administrators. The franchise for election of local authorities was once based on land ownership and tenancy but has now been extended to all residents including some who are not eligible to vote in state and federal elections.

The powers and responsibilities of local authorities are established in the Local Government Act 1958 (No.6299) and in related legislation concerning such matters as building control, land ownership, health, town and country planning, land valuation and transport regulation. Local councils are empowered to make and enforce bylaws on a wide range of matters including road and traffic regulation, building construction, health, drainage, sanitation, environmental protection and planning. However these powers are shared with the State Government and there is currently disagreement between the State and some local authorities as to their respective powers in matters such as planning.

Local authorities have traditionally been responsible for road construction and maintenance, public health matters such as the inspection of premises, food and drug sampling and immunisation, and the provision of a wide range of social services including child day care, infant welfare, social welfare and the provision of domiciliary care services such as home help and meals to the elderly and others requiring assistance.

Historical Background

Urban and rural local government developed under separate legislation until the first Local Government Act 1874.

"An Act to authorise the establishment of Markets in certain Towns in the Colony of New South Wales, and for the appointment of commissioners to manage the same" (3 Vic.,No.19) was introduced in 1839 "to enable the Inhabitants of any Town to erect a Market house, and to take the whole management of the Markets into their own hands" (Historical Records of Australia Series I Volume 20, p.498).

In Melbourne a market was first established on 22 October 1841 and the elected Melbourne Market Commissioners (VA 3155) held their first meeting on 8 November 1841. The powers of the commissioners were subsequently assumed by the Council of the Town of Melbourne.

It is evident that the impetus for establishing market commissioners and ultimately municipal institutions came from both the executive government keen on defraying expenses relating to the management of local services as well as from the inhabitants of the towns themselves keen to manage their own local affairs.

The Towns of Melbourne and Geelong were incorporated in 1842 and 1849 respectively under the provisions of the New South Wales Acts 6 Vic., No.7 and 13 Vic., No.40. These Acts provided for lighting, street construction and maintenance, drainage and sewers, construction of waterworks and water supply. The Town of Melbourne became a City in 1848 and its boundaries extended by 8 Vic., No.12. Its powers in relation to waterworks and water supply were abolished by the Public Works Statute 1865 (see VRG 28 Public Works and VA 744 Board of Land and Works for more details).

Other urban areas were constituted under the Municipal Institutions Act 1854 which provided for the establishment of Municipal Districts. In 1863 under the provisions of Act 27 Vic., No.184, Municipal Districts were reconstituted as Boroughs with responsibility for roads, streets, wharves, cemeteries, public health, water supply, drainage, charitable institutions, recreation facilities, libraries, pounds, licensed premises, markets, slaughter houses, weights and measures.

The first local government authorities in rural areas were the Counties of Bourke (centred around Melbourne) and Grant (centred around Geelong). These were established by the Governor of New South Wales in 1843. (For more information about Counties of the Port Phillip District and the location of records thereof see VRG 11 Superintendent, Port Phillip District.)

In rural areas the earliest local government authorities were primarily concerned with roads. The New South Wales Parish Roads Act 1840 provided for the establishment of elective Road Trusts to maintain and repair roads in their areas. The first such trust was Warringal (Heidelberg) in 1841. Under the provisions of Act 16 Vic., No.40 1853, District Road Boards were established and given responsibility for the construction and maintenance of roads and bridges other than those proclaimed as main roads. In 1863 Act 27., No.176 provided for the establishment of Road Districts and Shires with responsibility for the administration of local affairs in areas outside the limits of Boroughs.

The Local Government Act 1874 brought together urban and rural local government arrangements under a single statute, scheduling existing city, town, borough and shire boundaries, confirming electoral arrangements, setting property qualifications for voters, and establishing rating powers and areas of responsibility. The Act also provided the basis for future development of local government in Victoria. (For more information about the development of local government, see the Victorian Year Book 1984, p.106-130.)

Between 1993 and 1995 a statewide program of local government reform was enacted. The reform process reduced the number of councils from 210 to 78. Under the Acts of Parliament and Orders made by the Governor in Council a successor in law was appointed for each of the abolished councils. As part of the restructure process the naming style of the councils was also changed so that, for example, the former City of Ballaarat became the Ballarat City Council. (For more information about the 1993 to 1995 reform see New Patterns in Local Government published by the Office of Local Government in 1995.)

State and Local Government Responsibilities and Functions

Some responsibilities have been shared between state government and local authorities; others have at different times been the responsibility of one or the other, for example prior to 1890 fire prevention was often a municipal responsibility. Some municipalities have also had responsibilities for ports, harbours and foreshore areas. (For information about later central government involvement see VRG 26 Chief Secretary and VRG 28 Public Works).

Water Supply

Local waterworks and water supply in different areas of the State are the responsibility of central government authorities, local authorities and municipalities (see also VRG 36 Water Supply and VRG 33 Water and Sewerage Authorities). Increasingly the construction of waterworks has become a centralised function.

Roads and Bridges

Responsibility for the making and maintenance of roads and bridges also continues to be shared. For information about central state government involvement, see VRG 28 Public Works and VRG 49 Transport.

Electricity and Gas

Many municipalities have also been involved in electricity and gas supply. From 1927 the State Electricity Commission (VA 1002) and from 1951 the Gas and Fuel Corporation (VA 1040) gradually took over this role, although some municipalities, including the City of Melbourne, still buy back power in bulk from the State Electricity Commission and distribute it.

Health and Social Welfare Services

Municipal councils have had a significant role in the administration of public health since the 1850's. The Central Board of Health was established under the provisions of the Public Health Act 18 Vic., No.13 (1854) and was responsible for the execution of the Public Health Act and related legislation such as that concerning quarantine, compulsory vaccination and the regulation of common lodging houses.

The Act also provided for the establishment of Local Boards of Health which exercised joint responsibility for public health. The corporations of the City of Melbourne and of the Town of Geelong and the councils of any municipal district could be constituted as Local Boards within their respective districts. Elsewhere the Lieutenant Governor was empowered to appoint persons to form a Local Board. The municipalities had also been given responsibility for the maintenance of public health under the provisions of such legislation as the Town and Country Police Act 18 Vic., No.14 (1854) and there is evidence that at least initially, some local authorities and in particular the City of Melbourne were reluctant to recognise the authority of the Central Board of Health. (See Report of the Central Board of Health 1856 in Votes and Proceedings of the Legislative Council, Session 1855-56, Volume 2 p.203).

In 1890 following a Royal Commission to Inquire into and Report upon the Sanitary Condition of Melbourne (see Papers Presented to Parliament Volumes 2 and 4 1889 and Volume 2 1890), there were substantial changes to the administration of health in Victoria. A Minister of Health (VRG 39) was appointed and under the provisions of the Public Health Act 1889, the Central Board of Health was replaced by a Board of Public Health which consisted of a Chairman, the Medical Inspector and seven representatives to be elected by the councils of the municipal districts. Existing Local Boards of Health were abolished and the powers, duties and liabilities previously vested in the Boards were to be vested in and executed by the municipal councils. The Minister of Health was empowered to require local authorities to make certain regulations and bylaws and the Board of Public Health could require local councils to appoint health officers, inspectors and analysts.

From 1867, under sections 18 and 19 of the Public Health Amendment Act (No.524) Local Boards were empowered to provide hospitals for the reception of the sick. The Boards could establish the hospitals alone or combine with other Boards to do so. Alternatively they could contract the use of an existing hospital or enter into an agreement with the management of an existing hospital to provide the required services. Managers of hospitals receiving aid from the State could be required by the Central Board of Health to enter into such an agreement with a Local Board. The costs of treatment were to be recovered from the patient or from his/her estate. The Public Health Act 1889 empowered the central authorities to establish hospitals where local authorities failed to do so and the Board was empowered to recover its costs from the local councils. The Act further provided that councils which established district hospitals could seek reimbursement of fifty percent of their costs from consolidated revenue.

In 1920 the Board of Public Health was abolished and replaced by the Commission of Public Health (VA 694) under the provisions of the Health Act 1919 (No.3041). The Commission was to consist of seven members, three of whom were to represent municipalities. In 1978 the powers and responsibilities of the Commission of Public Health (VA 694) and the Department of Health I (VA 695) were assumed by the Health Commission of Victoria (VA 652).

Functions associated with the administration of public health have included:

the control and prevention of infectious and contagious diseases;

establishing and enforcing standards of proper sanitation including waste disposal and collection and prevention of pollution;

regulation of offensive and dangerous trades;

establishing and enforcing standards for public buildings and dwelling houses and for the prevention of fires;

registration and control of boarding houses and other accommodation venues and of premises where food is consumed;

regulation of the preparation and sale of foods, poisons and narcotic substances including packaging and labelling standards;

supervision of abattoirs and milk production;

vaccination and later immunisation of children and infant welfare;

administration of district hospitals;

registration of hospitals;

pre schools and child care programmes;

early childhood development;

family planning;

infant welfare centres (since 1917).

For further information about the administration of public health see VRG 39 Health.


Under the provisions of the Local Government Amendment Acts 1883 (No.786) and 1884 (No.831) and individual tramways acts, municipal councils were empowered to establish Tramways Trusts to be responsible for the construction, management and operation of tramways within their districts.

The Melbourne Tramways Trust (VA 2692) also known as the Municipal Trust, was established under the provisions of the Melbourne Tramway and Omnibus Company's Act 1883 (No.765) and was authorised to construct a cable tramway system for metropolitan Melbourne. The Trust leased the cable tramways system to the Melbourne Tramway and Omnibus Company which operated cable tramway services. The Trust included representatives of the following municipalities: Melbourne, Prahran, Richmond, Fitzroy, Collingwood, South Melbourne, Hotham, St Kilda, Brunswick, Port Melbourne, Hawthorn and Kew. In 1916 under the provisions of the Tramway Board Act 1915 (No.2818), the Tramway Board (VA 2693) was to have assumed responsibility for the assets, liabilities and employees of the Melbourne Tramway Trust. However, following the expiry of its lease, the Melbourne Tramways and Omnibus Company demanded compensation for the loss of its assets. Negotiations were protracted and the dispute was finally resolved by a decision of the Supreme Court in 1919.

Due to the temporary nature of the Board and to the war, no major changes in the administration of the transport system were attempted and the suburban municipal councils continued to construct and operate their own electric tramway services until 1919. There were within or on the fringe of the metropolitan area a number of electric tramways, for example those run by:

North Melbourne Electric Tramway and Lighting Company Ltd (VA 2974)
Prahran and Malvern Tramways Trust (VA 2977)
Hawthorn Tramways Trust (VA 2978)
Melbourne, Brunswick and Coburg Tramways Trust (VA 2971).

Tramways were also run by several independent trusts and companies and they were allowed to continue to work their own tramways.

The Melbourne and Metropolitan Tramways Board (M.& M.T.B.) was established under the provisions of the Melbourne and Metropolitan Tramways Act 1918 (No.2995) and it was deemed to be the successor of the Cable Tramway Board (VA 2693) and the Royal Park Horse Tramway. The cable tramways run by the Tramway Board (except the Northcote Cable Tramway, which was taken over on 20 February 1920) were taken over by the M.& M.T.B. on 1 November 1919.

The assets and obligations of the following suburban electric tramways were transferred to the Board on 2 February 1920:

Prahran and Malvern Tramways Trust (VA 2977)
Hawthorn Tramways Trust (VA 2978)
Melbourne, Brunswick and Coburg Tramways Trust (VA 2971)
Fitzroy, Northcote and Preston Tramways Trust (VA 2972)
Footscray Tramway Trust (VA 2973).

Of the respective tramways taken over by the M.& M.T.B. the Footscray and the Fitzroy, Northcote and Preston Tramways were only in the process of construction at the time the M.& M.T.B. was established. The construction of the Fitzroy, Northcote and Preston Tramways was completed on 1 April 1920 and the Footscray Tramways on 6 September 1921.

The M.& M.T.B. did not take over the North Melbourne - Essendon Electric Tramways (VA 2974) at the time it took over the other suburban lines. The Government eventually bought the Company's interest in both the lighting and tramways undertakings and transferred the tramway function to the Board by a subsequent Act (No.3247) which came into operation on 21 December 1922.

Liquor Licensing

The Wines, Beer and Spirits Sale Act 1864, (27 Vic., No.227) devolved responsibility for the issue and registration of liquor licences and the collection of fees, fines and penalties incurred under the Act from the Treasurer (VRG 23) to the local municipal body within a licensing district (s.33). Revenue raised under the Act was to be used for the "public purposes of such city, town, shire, or borough". A further Act of 1876 (40 Vic., No.566) consolidated this practice, section III of the Act ensuring that municipal treasurers were to keep and transmit an account of all moneys received as licensing fees and fines to the Treasurer.

The Licensing Act 1885 (49 Vic., No.857) repealed the previous legislation. However a percentage of the licence fees for the relevant district was to be paid to each municipality each year out of the newly established Licensing Act 1885 Fund. (See s.149 of the Act.)

Municipal Boundaries

Municipal boundaries have been subject to many changes over the years, and there have been numerous reorganisations and reconstitutions of municipalities e.g. from borough to town to city. Detailed information about individual municipalities, their constitution and boundaries is available in the Victorian Municipal Directories.

Agency Definition

Municipalities have been identified in the List of Holdings and Summary Guide by their place name. Successive stages of a municipality's development are indicated in brackets after the place name:

e.g. Moorabbin (Road District 1862-1871; Shire 1871-1934; City 1934-1994).

If more than one municipal entity has used or is using the same place name (for example, a city and shire or town and shire co-exist) they are listed separately:

e.g. Stawell (Borough 1869-1957; Town 1957-1995)
Stawell (District 1861-1864; Shire 1864-1995).

List of Municipalities and Location of Records

A current list of all municipalities in Victoria (1995) follows. The list provides information about the records of each municipality as set out below:

No Records Attributed:

No records have been attributed to this agency in either the Summary Guide or the List of Holdings.

However records described in the List of Holdings are in most cases listed according to the agency which controlled them in 1985. Therefore where a municipal area has subsequently been incorporated into one or more other municipals areas, records may appear in the List of Holdings under the section(s) which relate to those subsequent municipalities.

For example: In 1951 part of the area governed by the municipality of Braybrook was incorporated into the Shire of Melton and the remainder formed the newly established City of Sunshine (VA 2514). Although there are no records attributed to Braybrook in either the List of Holdings or the Summary Guide, section 10.58.0 of the List of Holdings, which relates to Sunshine, lists many series dated prior to 1951 which were created by the municipality of Braybrook and subsequently transferred to Sunshine.

See List of Holdings:

Some records held by the Public Record Office; see List of Holdings reference for details.

See Inventory of Series for VA:

Some records have been transferred to the Public Record Office; see entry under VAi.e. Agency number, in the Summary Guide Inventory of Series, for details.

Geelong Historical Records Centre:

Some records have been transferred to the Geelong Historical Records Centre; refer to the Centre for details.

Note: The Geelong Historical Records Centre is a place of deposit for records of the following municipalities, most of which have transferred records to the Centre:

Bannockburn Leigh
Barrabool Newtown
Bellarine Queenscliff
Corio South Barwon
Geelong Winchelsea
Geelong West

For information about records held at the Centre, contact:

The Director
Geelong Historical Records Centre
51 Little Malop Street
(or PO Box 104)
GEELONG Vic 3220
Telephone: (052) 21 7007

Further Research Note:

Further research is required into the history of local government in Victoria and how its responsibilities and functions interrelate with those of the State government.
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Date within Group Agency Title Agency Number Agency Hierarchy
1842 - 1994 Heidelberg (Road Trust 1841-1860; Road District 1860-1871; Shire 1871-1934; City 1934-1994) VA 444 Other Instrumentalities
1842 - cont Melbourne (Town 1842-1847; City 1847-ct) VA 511 Other Instrumentalities
1849 - 1993 Geelong (Town 1849-1910; City 1910-1993) VA 2431 Other Instrumentalities
1853 - 1994 Barrabool (Road District 1853-1865; Shire 1865-1994) VA 2382 Other Instrumentalities
1853 - 1994 Belfast I (Road District 1853-1863; Shire 1863-1994) VA 2385 Other Instrumentalities
1854 - 1870 Epping I (Road District, 1854- 1870) VA 4707
1854 - 1902 Boroondara (Road District 1854-1871; Shire 1871- 1902) VA 591 Other Instrumentalities
1855 - 1994 Alberton (Road District 1855-1864; Shire 1864-1994) VA 2372 Other Instrumentalities
1855 - 1994 Portland I (Municipal District 1855-1863; Borough 1863-1949; Town 1949-1985; City 1985-1994) VA 2490 Other Instrumentalities
1855 - 1994 Prahran II (Municipal District 1855-1863; Borough 1863-1870; Town 1870-1879; City 1879-1994) VA 2491 Other Instrumentalities
1855 - 1994 Richmond (Municipal District 1855-1863; Borough 1863-1872; Town 1872-1882; City 1882-1994) VA 2494 Other Instrumentalities
1855 - 1994 St Kilda (Municipal District 1855-1863; Borough 1863-1890; City 1890-1994) VA 2503 Other Instrumentalities
1855 - 1994 Warrnambool II (Municipal District 1855-1863; Borough 1863-1883; Town 1883-1918; City 1918-1994) VA 2530 Other Instrumentalities
1855 - 1994 Collingwood (Town 1873-1876; City 1876-1994) Previously Known as East Collingwood (Municipal District 1855-1863; Borough 1863-1873; Town 1873) VA 439 Other Instrumentalities
1855 - 1994 Ballaarat (Municipal District 1855-1863; Borough 1863-1870; City 1870-1994) VA 478 Other Instrumentalities
1855 - 1994 South Melbourne (formerly Emerald Hill; Municipal District 1855-1863; Borough 1863-1872; Town 1872-1883; City 1883-1994) VA 748 Other Instrumentalities
1855 - 1995 Castlemaine (Municipal District 1855-1863; Borough 1863-1950; Town 1950-1965; City 1965-1995) VA 885 Other Instrumentalities
1856 - 1862 Bacchus Marsh I (Road District 1856-1862) VA 4406 Other Instrumentalities
1856 - 1871 Beechworth I (Municipal District 1856-1863; Borough 1863-1871) VA 4930
1856 - 1875 Kilmore I (Municipal District 1856-1863; Borough 1863-1875) VA 2449 Other Instrumentalities
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