History of Electricity in Melbourne

History of Electricity in Melbourne

Where would you be without electricity? In Melbourne before 1867. Join us as we take you through the early years of electricity in Melbourne, from the birth of the Melbourne electrician to wild parties to smart lighting.

Melbourne sure has come a long way.

A Rough Start in Melbourne

Melbourne was in the vanguard of the electrification of the nation in the late nineteenth century. A visit by the Duke of Edinburgh in 1867 heralds the dawn of electricity in the city. Initially, Victorians were treated with arc lights illuminating Parliament House and the Post Office. But at the time this novelty was overshadowed by a riot at an ill-conceived banquet for 10,000 that attracted 40,000 (some say 80,000) hungry souls.

The Age reported the event as “undoubtedly the largest assemblage of people there has ever been in Victoria”. They expressed their disappointment that the Duke wouldn’t appear after pulling out at the last moment. Why? For fear of being trampled by the public charging at the trestle tables to get at the free food and wine on offer.

The Age described the scene as “such a saturnalia on a large scale as is not likely to have often occurred in the whole wide world over.”

A somewhat less rambunctious gathering at the MCG in 1879 saw the first  Aussie Rules game under lights, billed as “Grand Exhibition of the Electric Light” Unfortunately, it got unenthusiastic reviews. One newspaper declared “from a light point of view, and football too, it was not so good, the illuminating being scarcely sufficient and its distribution hardly so judicious as it might have been…” (Peter Pindar, The Australasian, August 9, 1879).

No More Free for All

A decade later things were looking up. The Melbourne City Council installed 4 boilers and 20 dynamos on Spencer Street. These provided the power to light the streets of the city centre from March 7, 1894. Melbourne had electric trams a bit earlier in 1889, but more as a weekend distraction than a serious transport option.

But things were getting serious seven years later. Electricity came to the attention of the powers that be, the government. The Electric Light and Power Act of 1896 stipulated that you could generate power for yourself, but could not supply power to anyone else without permission.

The days of the free for all were over. A number of private companies moved into the emerging electricity generation market. And it was realised that electricity regulation was going to be incredibly important. The few existing companies at the time got this permission (called an Order-in-Council) to distribute power.

However, the advantage was given to councils to get these Order-in-Councils (OIC). Theirs had no time limits and allowed then to contract out for power. Non-local government bodies could get an OIC for only 30 years. But even then only with the consent of the local council who had the right to buy the assets at the end of the time.

And so, electricity supply was largely council run in Melbourne in the early days of the twentieth century. Domestic supply, lighting and appliances date from the establishment of the State Electricity Commission in 1920 when most of Victoria had a reliable supply.

Initially called “electrical men”, Melbourne electricians as we know them today, were born.

Modern Times with Metropolitan Electrical Contractors

Over 100 years since electricity first arrived in Melbourne, we move into the digital age. It’s the era of smart everything from lighting to fridges.

If you want to make the great leap into the electrical beyond, you can tap ‘Electrician Melbourne‘ into your device. That will help you find the company that has been sorting out electrical issues since last century, Metropolitan Electrical Contractors.


Published: 18 Aug, 2020

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