Melbourne’s skyline developed rapidly once the first passenger lifts were installed. The L. Stevenson & Sons warehouse in Flinders Lane had two of the first hydraulic goods lifts installed in 1865. However, it was not until the 1880s that a rise in the height of Melbourne’s skyline saw the first passenger lifts installed.

There seems to have been little apprehension surrounding the use of passenger lifts with some existing and many newly constructed high-rise buildings using the technology. The Lombard Building (7 floors/29 metres) became a pioneer of the passenger lift in Melbourne after having some of the first ones installed in 1887 making it the first high-rise in Melbourne to utilise this technology for the use by people, not goods.

 From Collins Street, near Queen Street, looking south-west; includes two of the three identical tall buildings
Melbourne’s big buildings, H2013.223/22

The use of passenger lifts meant that Melbourne was able to reach architectural heights that were unimaginable in the past. The epitome of this was The Australian Building. Construction of this 12 floor (53 metre) office tower on the corner of Elizabeth Street and Flinders Lane was completed in 1889 and it remained the tallest building in Melbourne for over 40 years. During its construction, two hydraulic passenger lifts were installed.

Australian building, built in 1889 and demolished 1980, the tallest building in Melbourne from 1889- 1929.

Australian Building, Melbourne, H2013.223/27a

Even the architectural masterpiece, the Royal Exhibition Building in Carlton, recognised the need to embrace the new technology. A lift to the dome was installed for Centennial celebrations in 1888. This allowed people to gain access to the view from the external promenade preventing them from having to use the previous method of walking up 80 steep steps.

Timeline of Melbourne’s tallest buildings

Yorkshire Brewery Tower, Collingwood- 8 floors

Fink’s Building, Elizabeth Street – 10 floors; 43 metres

The Australian (APA) Building, Elizabeth Street- 12 floors; 53 metres

Manchester Unity Building, Collins Street-  13 floors; 64 metres

Orica House (previously ICI House), Nicholson Street – 20 floors; 81 metres

CRA Building, Collins Street- 26 floors; 95 metres

AMP Square, Bourke Street- 28 floors; 113 metres

Marland House, Bourke Street – 32 floors; 121 metres

140 Williams Street– 41 floors; 152 metres

Optus House, Collins Street- 34 floors; 153 metres

Nauru House, 80 Collins Street- 52 floors; 182 metres

ANZ Tower, Collins Place- 56 floors; 185 metres

Rialto Towers, Collins Street- 63 floors; 251 metres

Eureka Tower– 92 floors; 297.3 metres



Cannon, M. (1975). Life in the Cities, West Melbourne, Victoria: Thomas Nelson Australia.

Doyle, H., Schmeder, N., Johnston, C. & Walker, J. (2011). Thematic History – A History of the City of Melbourne’s Urban Environment: Planning for future growth. City of Melbourne. Retrieved from

Goad, P. (2009). Melbourne architecture. NSW: The Watermark Press Boorowa.

Latreille, Anne. ‘The ups and downs in the world of lifts’. The Age, 3 March 1981

Wilson, G. & Sands, P. (1981). Building A City: 100 years of Melbourne architecture, Oxford University Press, Melbourne.


Carlton Community



Walking Melbourne

Wikipedia. List of tallest buildings in Melbourne

Written by Sian Sewell, Industry Placement Student, Collection Development & Discovery

This article has 5 comments

  1. I remember as a small child being taken to the top floor of the Orica Building in 1955 (my cousin worked at ICI) just after its opening and wondering at the tiny ant people and the toy trams down below ..

  2. Was my Great Uncle George Weymouth, Engineer, involved in mfg & installation of lifts? When were the last hydraulic passenger lifts decommissioned? Operators controlled many via a rope passing vertically through the cabin; presumably operating a valve / gate.

    • Hi James, Thanks for reading our blog.
      I will log your questions with our reference service and one of our librarians will be in touch.

  3. Hello,
    As a recently joined member, I was browsing this article and noticed an omission from the Wikipedia listing of the tallest buildings in Melbourne.
    As part of the development of a new fire station at Eastern Hill in Melbourne, a contract between T. Cockram & Co. (builders) and the Metropolitan Fire Brigades Board was let in November 1892, to construct a watch tower.
    “..The tower was to rise 130 feet with a parapet surrounding it at 107 feet and topped by a glass and steel observation cage..”
    A hydraulic lift was installed between ground and parapet levels.
    Tower Watching Duty was officially discontinued from 2 December, 1935.
    The tower remains an iconic Melbourne sight (Heritage Listed) and its renovation is currently being incorporated into a redevelopment of Fire Services, Victoria Eastern Hill Headquarters.

    • Hi Peter,
      Thanks for your comment. Perhaps the tower is missing from the list as it rises to 130 feet- which is about 40 metres?
      The other buildings of this time period are listed at over 60 metres (196 feet).


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