Rate books are a valuable resource, as they record both the owner and occupier ('head of household'), and their respective occupations (if a non-resident owner, their address is also often given). In the case of a shop or business, it is the proprietor and/or the business name that is noted. The rate books also record other details such as the building type and size; or, if vacant land, the land size and/or allotment number. They can be used to find out when a house was built, by or for whom, and any changes in size, or type. Sometimes a house name may also be given.
Rate records for the cities of Malvern and Prahran were prepared annually from 1856 until amalgamation as the City of Stonnington in 1994.
Properties east of Kooyong Road (including the east side of the road), are covered by the Malvern rate books and valuation records. These have been scanned as PDFs and may be viewed at the History Centre.
Properties west of Kooyong Road (including the west side of the road), are covered by the Prahran rate books and valuation records. These have been scanned as PDFs, and are available for loan on DVD Rom from Stonnington libraries, or viewed at the Stonnington History Centre. Other useful resources have also been included in the DVD Rom set, including voter rolls that have survived for the Prahran area.
Rate books for the City of Stonnington are not open to the public.
A search of the Sands & McDougall postal directories before using the rate books may save you time by providing clues to neighbouring properties, the names of occupants, the number of houses in a block, and any street re-numberings. The postal directories are usually behind by a year or two and only provide details of the occupant and not the owner or building size, but they are a useful first step and are easy to use.
Many of these directories have now been digitised and are available online. See the State Library of Victoria and the University of Melbourne's Melbourne History Resources. The complete set of postal directories (1862-1974) are available on microfiche at the Stonnington History Centre and many public libraries.
Working with either the postal directories or the rate books, go backwards or forwards in time from the known to the unknown. You can progress in five or ten-year intervals until some details do not make sense, then you can fill in the gaps.
Do not rely solely on house numbers as your search progresses, as street re-numberings often occurred, especially around 1890 after the Ward system was introduced. For this reason, it is worth printing the relevant pages as you work back in time so that you can double-check your trail later. Apart from the owner/occupier details of the specific house you are tracing, note the neighbours to make sure that you are still looking at the right place. Keep an eye also on local landmarks - your house may be, for example, the fourth rateable block after a certain intersection, bearing in mind that land sub-divisions over time will increase the number of rateable properties.
An example: if you know your grandparents lived at 245 High Street in Malvern in 1934, you would start at that year and work forwards, noting neighbours up to the cross streets on either side of their house, so as to determine its new house number following that street’s re-numbering in 1938. If you keep up the search, perhaps looking at every five or ten years from the 1940s, you should have the current street address so as to determine if it still stands (it does – it is now 1257 High Street). Any gaps can then be filled in by looking at the years you skipped over. Conversely, if you want to research your own house, start at the latest year you can access records, and work backwards in time.
Ward boundaries and street names have changed over the years. We have created maps showing these changes for the former cities of Malvern and Prahran:
The rate books are set out by Ridings and/or by Wards, and then by street address. The entries are recorded geographically and not alphabetically, with one side of a street (or section of street) entered, and then the other side. Entries are usually found in the same relative position in the rate books each year, so the first search will usually take the longest. Noting the rate numbers (shown in the far left-hand column) and page numbers can sometimes help. The rate books often show when a property changed hands, or was re-numbered, with the new details hand-written over the old one. Street indexes are available for some years only.
In Prahran, a ten-year card system was introduced in 1953 that recorded a decade's rate entries for any given address on a single card. Valuation records operate on a similar multi-year system. The valuation records provide less reliable information about a dwelling's occupants than the rate books, but have information about the value of the building and any alterations made. These have been ordered by street name, with houses noted on one side of the street and then the other, and are available for viewing with the rate books.