Stupid suburb boundaries of Melbourne

After my recent look at how Melbourne’s suburb boundaries were created in 1998, you might think they would be clear and logical lines drawn along main roads, freeways, railway lines, creeks and rivers. The answer – of course not!

Melbourne CBD skyline in the distance, new housing estates taking shape at Tarneit

Discovering the mess!

The story starts when I was randomly looking around in VicNames, which contains Victoria’s official suburb boundaries.

When I found this mess of a boundary between South Melbourne and Albert Park.

The boundary zigzagging along back fences.

And dodging individual houses that happened to extend the full depth of the block back when the boundary was defined in 1998.


I’m not the only one to have noticed

I mentioned this oddity to a mate, and he pointed me to a pocket of Greensborough where the only way in or out is via the neighbouring suburbs of St Helena and Eltham North.

A long thin sliver of Greensborough that is trapped between the Metropolitian Ring Road and Bundoora.

And strip of Brighton East that falls under the City of Glen Eira – thanks to the suburb boundary following the back fences of Thomas Street, while the LGA boundary is the middle of the street.

Rich toffs with too much time on their hands

I mentioned local lobbying in my original piece on suburb boundaries – residents wanted the cachet of an address in a fancy suburb, so they could profit from an increased sale price when it came time to move house.

Trio of terraced houses on Gatehouse Street, Parkville

So have a look at the boundary of Armadale, Malvern and Glen Iris jumping along Glenferrie and Tooronga Roads.

The boundaries of Sandringham, Highett and Hampton refused to follow Highett, Bluff and Wickham Roads.

Canterbury, Balwyn and Surrey Hills jump all around Mont Albert and Whitehorse Roads.

But it wasn’t only eastern suburbs toffs in on the game – Ascot Vale claims the south side of Kent Street from Flemington.

And there is a pocket of Essendon that heads south of Buckley Street, snatching the private schools in the area from Moonee Ponds.

And the rest

Oak Park in Melbourne’s north can’t decide on which streets it is going to follow.

The boundary of Preston and Reservoir also dances around instead of sticking to the middle of the street.

Bayswater and Boronia refused to draw a line down the middle of Scoresby and Devenish Roads.

And Springvale South and Noble Park – their boundary follows the back streets, but still jumps around random houses.

The only upside to this mess – the rest of Melbourne’s suburb boundaries are much cleaner looking!

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17 Responses to “Stupid suburb boundaries of Melbourne”

  1. Kurt says:

    I noticed this the other year when they introduced postcode lockdowns during Covid. Brunswick is a mess on both its east and west boundaries. I suppose it’s designed to keep all addresses on a street within a single suburb, but it certainly makes it difficult to know where one suburb begins and one ends once you factor in subdivisions, side roads, and back lanes.

    • Marcus Wong says:

      It’s especially complicated when blocks on a street corner or facing a back laneway get subdivided, and the new parcel of land get given an address on the street it faces, not the street is was originally numbered on.

  2. Simon says:

    Some of those aren’t that silly, they are just so all addresses on the same road have the same suburb, hence why it goes along the back fence rather than the middle of the road. Else odd numbers of the road are in one suburb and even in the other, not sure that’s any better. (I lived on that Malvern/Glen Iris border).

  3. andrew says:

    I’m sure a lot of it was pressure from land owners *not* to lose an existing, long standing, more valuable address.

    You can see this around Glen Eira. The houses on the east side of Hampton Rd are in Brighton, not Brighton East. The houses on the east side of Thomas St are in Brighton East, not Ormond/McKinnon/Bentleigh. The houses on the east side of Tucker Rd are in Ormond/McKinnon/Bentleigh, not Bentleigh East.

    But this is not the whole story. Note the suburbs immediately to the north – the Caulfields, Elsternwick, Glen Huntly, etc have neat borders along the centre of the roads.

    And in your example of Armadale/Malvern/Glen Iris this is reversed; the houses on the other side of the boundary road are in (what I’d expect is) the less expensive suburb.

    I’d suspect the boundaries (sometimes, often, always?) align with historical addresses. Unfortunately, the SLV collection of Sands & McDougall directories is down at the moment (these list properties by address in suburb so would show the suburb boundaries).

    But look at this Sands & McDougall map (undated, but probably from the ’50s). Note the how the boundaries are marked between ‘Postal Districts’ (the predecessor to today’s postcodes). At some places, the boundary roads are white. At others, the boundary road is coloured the same as one of districts. This could be a production artifact, but it *might* reflect that both sides of the boundary road were considered to be part of one postal district on some boundaries but not others.

    • Marcus Wong says:

      I wonder if an area having road versus property line suburb boundaries correlated with local government areas – either old city council boundaries followed the middle of the road so the suburbs did to, or perhaps in the pre-amalgamation days different councils had different opinions on how to draw their internal suburb boundaries.

      • andrew says:

        It’s quite possible. McKinnon, Bentleigh, et al, were in the old City of Moorabbin, while the Caulfields, et al, were in the City of Caulfield.

        It may also reflect a policy decision at some date by the PMG; with older areas having the boundaries down the centre of roads and newer areas having both sides of the boundary road in one postal district. Or it could be something arcane about how postal rounds were constructed.

        Postal districts and suburbs should be very intricately tied. After all, which suburb you think you are in would be heavily influenced by your address. The ‘suburb’ name in an address, however, would be tied up with the mechanism of distributing mail.

    • Tom the first and best says:

      That map is fascinating!

      North Carnegie as Chadstone`s predecessor was not something I had come across before. South Ashburton being a specific postal district, with the northern part of Ashburton just being part of Burwood, was also a bit of a surprise. East Malvern crossing Gardiners Creek was also interesting.

      Murrumbeena extending to Koornang Rd was a surprise as well, as now it finishes at the back of the properties (at the time the boundary was defined) in Murrumbeena Rd. However the Australia Bureau of Statistics, as seems to be the general rule with SA2 boundaries, uses Murrumbeena Rd as the boundary (except at the development of the former Murrumbeena High School on the corner of Murrumbeena and North Rds).

  4. James says:

    Hi Marcus.
    I can’t add any useful information, but this was a fun read. Thanks for posting.

  5. Steve says:

    The boundary between Seddon and Yarraville also doesn’t follow the streets.

    Back in the day the ABS statistical geography (Statistical Local Areas, SLAs) were linked to LGA boundaries – so any change in LGA boundaries forced a chance in SLA boundaries, no matter how minor.

    It was fun and games when the Local Government map in Victoria was completely redrawn in the mid-90s.

    Nowadays, while they are part of the design criteria, LGA and suburb/locality boundaries aren’t followed to the letter in the design of the new Statistical Area 2s (the SLA replacement) – so most of those back-of-property boundaries aren’t reflected in SA2 boundaries.

    Some of the lower level building blocks (meshblocks) will follow back-of-property boundaries where it meets the design criteria and makes sense – so in some cases the suburb/locality data (built using a best-fit of whole meshblocks) from the Census might actually be close to an exact representation. Armadale is one example, where the SA2 boundary follows the middle of Orrong and Glenferrie Rds but the suburb boundary mostly doesn’t. And the difference? Armadale SA2 has a Census count of 9,336, Armadale suburb 9,368.

    • Marcus Wong says:

      Wow – that’s a whole other class of boundary I didn’t even consider!

      I’m assuming the census population count for a given suburb have to be separately processed based on the address of each house, so SA2 and suburb data can’t be compared.

      • Steve says:

        Each address is part of a meshblock (a residential area of either around 30-60 dwellings, or a non-residential area of no dwellings – so delineated by land use). Meshblocks aggregate up to SA1s, which aggregate to SA2s, etc. Data for other types of areas (that aren’t maintained by the ABS, like suburbs and postcodes) are generally aggregates of meshblocks but on a best-fit basis (i.e. all in or all out). So once data is coded to meshblock all the higher level stuff falls out.

        Back before suburbs were more of a thing, we used to get a lot of requests for postcode (or postal area, as we called them) – and we had an adage that postcodes were designed for the delivery of mail, not the production of statistics. Suburbs might be similar, hence the need for a specific statistical geography that in a lot of cases might be the same but also has a statistical lens.

        The other thing that also helps drive this stuff is much better quality address information (e.g. the Geocoded National Address File). A far cry from when the Census Collector would be given a map of the area they needed to enumerate and it was they’re job to effectively list all the dwellings in that area.

  6. Andrew says:

    We lived in Burwood on the city side of the Alamein train line. After we sold in the 1990s it was renamed Glen Iris and prices certainly rose disproportionately. However, I did agree with the change as it was not where people thought when you said you lived in Burwood.

    • Marcus Wong says:

      Personally I never realised Burwood station wasn’t actually located in Burwood.

      • Ross says:

        Burwood Station stopped being located in Burwood after Kennett lost the State election in 1999. After he quit politics there was a bi-election and both the Liberal and Labor candidates promised to change the Boroondara section of the former Burwood suburb to Camberwell and Glen Iris to try to get votes from local advocacy groups who had been pushing for this change.

        When Kennett was the member for the state seat of Burwood (which is to be abolished at this year’s State election) he had refused to bow to the demands of the locals noting that Burwood was the historical name for the area. But this all changed when he quit politics.

        The change to the suburb boundary left Burwood Railway Station, Burwood Shopping Strip in Toorak Road, Burwood Reserve, Burwood Tennis Club, Burwood Bowls Club all now located outside the official suburb of Burwood.

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