Located on the Western Highway, Melton lies on the basalt plains at Melbourne’s western fringe. The first of the squatters who arrived from Van Diemen’s Land and New South Wales in the 1830’s, John Hunter Patterson, set up Greenhills station at Toolern Vale in 1837. Soon after, the Pyke brothers took up land on the Toolern Creek, then know as Pennyroyal Creek. The hunts they hosted were said to have inspired the name, Melton Mowbray being a fashionable hunting ground in Leicestershire, England.
In 1841 Simon Staughton established the Exford estate, the first of four properties totalling 70,000 acres (28,000 ha) that he acquired in the Melton district. These properties remained in the Staughton family until the 20th century and two of their homesteads, Exford and Eynesbury, still survive. Government surveyor William Darke surveyed the area in 1839, giving the Aboriginal word toolern, meaning stringybark, to the creek. A rough road, surveyed in 1846, became one of the popular routes between Melbourne and the gold diggings. Like so many other places along these routes, the little town of Melton began as a place to service travellers.
Melton was proclaimed a Roads District in 1862 and a Shire in 1871. When the land was opened for selection in the 1860’s some new, smaller farming properties were established, but much of the land was bought by local pastoralists to add to their existing properties. Along with sheep, crops such as oats and hay became dominant local products. There were also vineyards in the district and sawmills to process timber from the nearby box-ironbark forests. The Melbourne to Ballarat railway line (1884) passed to the south of the existing town. A new village clustered around the station at Melton South. Around the turn of the century the Victorian Government tried again to help people buy small farms and establish themselves on the land. The Closer Settlement Board bought several large estates, including Staughton’s Exford and Staughton Vale, Rupert Clarke’s Rockbank and Walter Browne’s Greenhills for subdivision and sale to small farmers. It reserved part of the Exford estate specifically for British immigrants.
In 1916 the State Rivers and Water Supply Commission built the Melton Weir at Melton South to supply water to the Werribee Irrigation District. The weir later became popular for boating and fishing. In 1974, just as Melton’s residential population had begun to increase, the State Government declared it Victoria’s first satellite city as part of a strategy to limit the spread of Melbourne’s suburbs to the east and south-east and to improve opportunities in the west and south-west. The Town and Country Planning Board hoped to attract a range of families to Melton by encouraging the provision of affordable homes, community amenities, recreational facilities and employment in local industries.
Melton and Melton South grew rapidly in the 1970’s and 1980’s, although much of the surrounding district remained rural in nature. Cheap land reduced housing costs, although some subdivisions, such as A.V. Jennings’ Kurunjang Ranch estate, featured larger blocks than the usual suburban style. However, the lack of employment opportunities, distance and travel costs, and social isolation have challenged some residents. Much of its workforce is now employed in the wholesale and retail trade sector, and in manufacturing. In the 1990’s the shire’s population continued to grow as housing estates mushroomed in the Melton East Growth Corridor, between Melton and Deer Park. In turn some of these estates, such as Kurunjang and Hillside, became suburbs in their own right.