History of The Camp

In partnership with the City of Melbourne, Urban Camp Royal Park contributes to the heritage and environment of the city. The Camp has continued to preserve the heritage values of its buildings and enhance the natural assets of the surrounding parkland.


Urban Camp, Melbourne. Our story.

Urban Camp is nestled in Royal Park and its story is intertwined with the park's history. Royal Park is situated on the land of the Wurundjeri people and was an important Aboriginal camping ground. After John Batman made a land deal with the Wurundjeri people in 1835, development and grazing on the site erased most of the original vegetation.


History Research

Camille Heckley researched the history of Urban Camp.

Her paper named 'Royal Park - Camp Pell and Urban Camp, Parkville Victoria. A History' has been a main reference source for the information in this Section.

Historical Image Sources

Historical images of the history of Royal Park, Camp Pell and the Urban Camp sourced from the following organisations:

State Library of Victoria

Australian War Memorial

Brotherhood of St Laurence

Governor Latrobe


Establishment of Royal Park

In 1854, Governor Latrobe permanently reserved 2,500 acres of land in Melbourne for recreational purposes. This area is known today as Royal Park.

The area acted as a connection between city and country, with farmland established alongside the parklands.

In 1860, Burke and Wills set out from Royal Park to cross the continent from the south to the north. They perished on the return journey and large crowds gathered at their public funeral. A cairn near Macarthur Road marks their departure point and ill-fated expedition.

Between 1868 and the 1880s, Royal Park was reduced to make way for housing allotments, trams, trains and roads.






Melbourne Zoo

In 1861, the Zoological and Acclimatisation Society moved to Royal Park. Twelve and a half hectares have belonged to the Zoological Gardens ever since.




Military and recreational camps


Military and recreational camps in Royal Park, Melbourne

Royal Park played a vital role in the First and Second World Wars. Urban Camp stands in an area of Royal Park which in 1941 was known as Camp Pell.

The Camp was used by American troops stationed in Australia. Troops slept under canvas on army stretchers, cooking facilities were limited and there was no hot water.

Camp Pell steadily expanded. Metal huts were added to provide more space. The gatehouses (which still remain) established Camp security.

Anzac Hall was completed in 1941 for the RSL as a cinema, lecture and recreation hall. Soldiers enjoyed sports matches of baseball, cricket and football on the site and the Camp's mascot, Buddy the Galah, was trained to answer the office phone and provided much amusement.

In August 1945 the war in the Pacific officially ended. Americans were no longer required for occupation and returned home. Royal Park became a principal demobilisation centre for service personnel and a cheerful disassembly point as troops packed up operations. Camp Pell was decommissioned in December 1945.




Post war years


Post war years

After the war, Camp Pell was used by the Housing Commission for emergency public housing. In 1946, 3,000 people were moved into what became known as 'Camp Hell'. This emergency housing was intended to last one year. However, the last inhabitants moved out in 1956 - after ten years of hardship and poverty. Dedicated caretakers ran the Camp from an office in Anzac Hall.

In 1956, the tin huts of Camp Pell were demolished and the site cleaned up. Royal Park was returned to public parkland in time for the 1956 Melbourne Olympic Games.





Anzac Hall lives again

Anzac Hall was left behind after the clearance and Royal Park became an almost forgotten area of Melbourne. The hall remained unused from 1956 - 1970, when Kensington High School teachers gained permission from City of Melbourne to refurbish the Hall for educational use. At this time, some thought Anzac Hall should be demolished.

During this time another 2.5 hectares of Royal Park were transferred to the Royal Children's Hospital.






1984 - Urban Camp is born

The Urban Camp Melbourne Co-operative opened in 1984, when teachers from Kensington Community School suggested using Anzac Hall as community camp accommodation for country visitors to the city. Funds were obtained from the Federal Government for the employment of staff and a lease was organised through the City of Melbourne. The Camp provided affordable accommodation in Melbourne for country/rural schools and rural visitors in the late 1980s.

In 1986 an inspection found that the buildings needed considerable repair. Fortunately, money for the emergency work was raised and The Camp continued to operate.

In 1987, after much discussion, facilities were improved and extended to bring an increase of visitors to the camp. The redevelopment preserved the heritage values of camp buildings and enhanced the natural assets of the surrounding parkland.

In 2000 Anzac Hall was put on the Victorian Heritage Register as significant.






Ten year celebrations

Urban Camp went from strength to strength. With ongoing government funding and many regular customers, it celebrated its 10th anniversary in 1994. From 1998 – 2002 extensive rebuilding took place. This included refurbishment of Anzac Hall and the construction of a new North Wing, including a two-storey dormitory section.

The Royal Park Master Plan, which was adopted by Council in 1998, guides the future development of Royal Park.




Urban Camp marks 25 years


Urban Camp today marks 25 years

As the Urban Camp celebrates its 25th anniversary in 2009, it has become extremely popular – often booked years in advance by returning clientele. From difficult beginnings, The Camp now operates as a thriving community-owned enterprise.

Urban Camp provides a city camp base for thousands of community groups and young visitors from country Victoria, interstate and overseas each year. Many come to experience and learn about life in the city and enjoy the cultural, sporting and educational assets Melbourne has to offer.










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