MMBW plans help

Why were the plans produced?

The MMBW plans were produced by the Survey Division of the Melbourne and Metropolitan Board of Works (MMBW). They enabled the design and development of sewer reticulation across the Melbourne CBD and the suburbs. The MMBW created around six series of plans.

What do the plans show?

The plans show historical streetscape, architecture and environmental information. Each series took many years to complete, with surveying and drafting work sometimes stretching over decades. Surveying usually started in the city centre and gradually worked outwards. So, in the first series the centre of Melbourne is captured in the plans as it was in the mid-1890s. In the same way, plans of outlying suburbs reflect how they were in the  early 1900s, when they were surveyed.

Each plan was given an identifying four-digit number, and the detailed area was determined by the pattern of the streets in the immediate vicinity. Most plans are 130cm x 79cm and show approximately one or two 'blocks' and approximately six streets.

Details included on the plans show every tenement, reduced levels on every house and a description of whether the construction was of stone, brick, iron or timber (only noted on a minority of the plans). Also noted are fences, drainage, pattern, cuttings, embankments, street channels, drainage pits, underground drains and bridges. Cadastral (ownership and boundary) information shows lodge plans, lots, easements, lot numbers, street names, prominent features, parks, municipal boundaries, invert levels of pits and drains, and spot heights.

Which plans does the Library hold in its collections?

The Library holds extensive holdings of the following series of plans:

  • 1:480 Scale Plans (Detail Plans)*; 40 feet to 1 inch; 1891 (call number MAPS 821.09 E; plan number 1895- 1-5032)
  • 1: 1920 Scale Plans (Old Series; 160 feet to 1 inch; 1894 (call number MAPS 821.09 A; plan number 1894- 1-481)
  • 1:480 Scale Maps; 400 feet to 1 inch; 1933 (call number MAPS 821.09; plan number GHHM 1933- 1-481)
  • 1:2500 Scale Maps (Base Maps); 1972 (Uncatalogued microfiche)

* The digitised plans available online are from this 1:480 Scale Plans series.

What are the plans used for now?

The MMBW plans are heavily used. They are consulted for a variety of purposes. Architects, students, environmental consultants, archaeologists, builders, home renovators, gardeners and family historians make up the largest user groups. All are trying to gain a historical understanding of the precincts, buildings, garden layouts, past land uses and environmental features that existed in the metropolitan area over the last century.

Why was the MMBW created?

The discovery of extensive gold deposits in 1851 led to remarkably rapid population growth in the newly independent colony of Victoria (as many as 95,000 new immigrants arrived in that first year). It was this surge in wealth and people that established Melbourne as a major centre of trade, culture and finance. By 1890 it was one of the youngest cities in the world, yet it had a population of 250,000.

Unfortunately the city’s rapid growth was not accompanied by the provision of adequate household and human waste disposal systems. The city was crisscrossed with stinking, overflowing, open-air drains which channelled household, human and industrial sewerage into cesspools. These accumulated on the lowest-lying land – ultimately seeping into rivers and creeks.

Medical knowledge was sufficient by the 1890s to link diseases such as typhoid with insanitary conditions such as contaminated drinking water, defective drainage and improper disposal of human waste. Melbourne's incidence rate of typhoid was growing rapidly, whilst the rate in other comparable cities such as Sydney (which was partially sewered) and Adelaide (which was fully sewered) was dropping. The Sanitary Commission finally acknowledged that it was the city's lack of an underground sewerage system that was responsible for the high levels of disease.

In December 1890, legislation enabled the formation of the Melbourne and Metropolitan Board of Works (MMBW). From 1 July 1891 this autonomous body was given responsibility for the management of Melbourne’s water supply, as well as the mammoth task of engineering, building and maintaining a functional and cost-effective underground sewerage system.

Over time, the MMBW became involved in roads development, urban planning and parks planning. It was abolished for political reasons in 1992.

A full history of the MMBW can be found in Vital connections: Melbourne and its Board of Works, 1891–1991 by Tony Dingle and Carolyn Rasmussen, published in 1991.

Searching for MMBW plans: a step-by-step guide

Step 1

Go to the online catalogue.

Step 2

Type in 'MMBW' and the name of the street (for example, Johnston Street) you wish to find. Add one or two intersecting streets for best results. For further refinement add a municipality. You can also search by municipality using streets to refine your search. However, some municipality names and borders have changed since the plans were produced, so search results may not return the desired plan. If so, omit municipality from your search.

Please note: Your search will find plans containing your chosen streets or municipalities but will not take you direct to these streets or municipalities within the plans. You will need to use the map tools to find particular streets and areas.

Alternatively, you can type in the number – if known – of the plan you wish to view (for example, Main grid system, 9D or 1060). Capital letters and street types – ie 'street' and 'road' – are not required in searches. All search terms can be typed in the same field.

Step 3

If your search returns too many plans you can narrow your search by adding the municipality or more nearby streets (if you know them) to a street search or add nearby municipalities or a street to a municipality search.

Can’t find what you’re looking for?

Try browsing the plans, starting from the main grid system plan.

Understanding the MMBW plans

The MMBW Melbourne sewerage plans were produced by the Melbourne and Metropolitan Board of Works from the 1890s to the 1950s to facilitate the design and development of Melbourne’s sewerage system. They provide a historical record of Melbourne streetscapes and environmental features.

These online, interactive plans are the result of a major digitising project to both preserve the original MMBW plans and provide a digital version with added functionality and convenience for users.

What information do the plans show?

The MMBW Melbourne sewerage plans comprise three levels of linked plans showing ever-increasing detail.

Level 1

Level 1 consists of one main grid system (master index) plan at a scale of 1: 220 000. It covers metropolitan Melbourne and shows municipality names and borders as they existed at the time the plan was produced.

Level 2

Each red-outlined grid on the main grid system plan represents a Level 2 index plan (except 8D, 8E and 7E, which comprise one plan because there is so little land to show). The numbers of these Level 2 plans are indicated in red. The plans are not directly related to municipal borders – they may cover part or all of a municipality or more than one municipality.

Only the most-used Level 2 plans within the series have been digitised and are available online. In 'Select' mode these clickable plans are indicated on the Level 1 plan with grey shading.

Level 2 consists of 37 index plans at a scale of 1:19 200 (1600 feet to 1 inch). They cover sections of a single or, more usually, multiple municipalities and show street names, parks, railways lines, sports grounds, hospitals, municipality borders and other key environmental features as they existed at the time each plan was produced.

Level 3

Unlike the Level 1 main grid system plan, each red grid on the Level 2 plans is not equivalent to a lower-level plan. The red grids contain multiple plans. The borders of these Level 3 plans are dictated by the patterns of streets in each area, not by the grid. The borders are indicated by thin blue lines and the map numbers are blue.

Only the most-used Level 3 plans within the series have been digitised and are available online. In Select mode these clickable plans are indicated on the relevant Level 2 plans with grey shading.

Level 3 consists of over 600 detail plans at a scale of 1:480 (40 feet to 1 inch). They cover one or two street blocks (roughly six streets) and show details of every building, including garden layouts and ownership boundaries, as well as environmental features such as fences, drainage, bridges, parks, municipal boundaries and other prominent landmarks as they existed at the time each plan was produced.

Which areas do the plans cover?

The online plans cover:

  • Melbourne CBD
  • Kensington
  • Richmond
  • Collingwood
  • Fitzroy
  • Port Melbourne
  • South Melbourne
  • St Kilda
  • Williamstown
  • Footscray.

Using the interactive tools

Main plan-viewing window

The main plan-viewing window displays the MMBW plans. Your view of the plans will change according to your zoom, pan and select choices.

Navigator view

The Navigator view allows you to see which section of the plan you are viewing in the main plan-viewing window. The entire plan remains visible at every zoom level and pan choice and a highlighter box shows which section of the plan is currently being viewed in the main plan-viewing window.

The Navigator view is also used to pan in Select mode.


The Zoom tool allows you to view the plans at different levels of magnification. You can zoom in to see more detail (but less of the map) or zoom out to see less detail (but more of the map).

Zoom mode

Zoom mode is the default mode. When you first view a plan you can choose a zoom level without having to choose Zoom mode. After you select a new plan, the mode automatically changes from Select mode back to Zoom mode.

If you choose Select mode but don't make a selection you will need to choose Zoom mode in order to resume zooming.

Zoom levels

The initial view of a plan is always set to minimum zoom – you see the full image. You can then set the zoom level to whatever you require.

+ displays a plan at maximum magnification

- displays a plan at minimum magnification

Changing the zoom level

1. Choose your zoom level by clicking in one of the round buttons on the Zoom tool.

2. When you hover over a plan your mouse pointer will become a 'hand' – use it to click a point of interest in the main plan-viewing window or the Navigator view.

The main plan-viewing window will display a magnified view of the plan. The point of interest you clicked will become the centre of this magnified view. The Navigator view will change to highlight the area you are seeing in the main plan-viewing window.

To zoom again you must choose another zoom level and click on the plan again. Clicking the plan alone will not change the zoom level.

Panning in Zoom mode

You can pan in Zoom mode, at any zoom level (except minimum zoom – as all parts of a plan are viewable).

  • Main plan-viewing window – click anywhere in this window and your click-point will become the new centre of the plan. At low zoom levels it is more effective to click near a top, bottom or side edge to move around the plan. The Navigator view will change to highlight the area you are seeing in the main plan-viewing window.
  • Navigator view – click an area within the Navigator view to see this section of the plan in the main plan-viewing window.

Panning in Select mode

You can only pan in Select mode using the Navigator view. If you click in the main plan-viewing window you will click through to a lower-level plan rather than pan.

Click an area within the Navigator view to see this section of the plan in the main plan-viewing window.

Select mode

Select mode allows you to link to lower-level, more-detailed plans.

Choose Select mode by clicking on the round button next to the Select heading. The full-size plan will change to show shaded areas indicating lower-level, more-detailed plans.

Making a selection

Click a section within the shaded area to view a more-detailed plan.


You can navigate back up through the different levels of plans by choosing Uplink mode on Level 2 and Level 3 plans. This allows you to link to the most recent higher-level plan viewed. The view of the higher-level plans is the full-image (minimum zoom) view. You can only see previous zoomed and panned views by using your browser's back button. From Level 3 you can uplink to the Level 2 plan you were at. From a Level 2 plan you can uplink to the Level 1 plan, the main grid system.

Browser back button

Use your browser's back button to see previous plan pages you have viewed. This allows you to see the different zoom and pan views you have used.