Prior to European discovery, the Frankston area was populated by Indigenous Australians known as the Kulin people. Specifically, inhabitants in the Frankston area were from the Bunurong language group, of the Mayone-bulluk clan. Europeans first set foot in Frankston as early as 30 January 1803, thirty two years before the founding of Melbourne (the first major European settlement in the then Port Phillip District). A commemorative plaque near the mouth of Kananook Creek marks the location of where Captain Charles Grimes and his party went ashore searching for fresh water, and met with around 30 local inhabitants.
After the settlement of Melbourne in 1835, James Davey took up a large land holding in 1846, which extended from Olivers Hill to (what is now his namesake), Daveys Bay. Olivers Hill was named after local fisherman, James Oliver, who built a cottage atop the hill from where he kept an eye out for fish in the waters below. The first official land sales in the area were held in 1853, and Frank Liardet (the eldest son of prominent settler, hotelier and descendant of French nobility, Wilbraham Liardet), established the "Ballam Ballam" estate in 1854. The estate was the earliest officially recorded settlement in Frankston, and was located to the east of Port Phillip Bay, in what is now known as the locality of Karingal. Liardet's original homestead "Ballam Park" remains today, and is now heritage-listed.
Frankston's early development was hampered by poor soils, distance from the Melbourne city centre, and the existence of a major swamp occupying much of the area between Mordialloc and Seaford. Thomas McComb, who arrived in Frankston in 1852, also purchased much land in the area (over what is now the Frankston central business district) and did much to develop the local fishing industry. A pier was completed in 1857 and, between the 1850s and the arrival of the Melbourne railway in 1880s, the area developed as a small fishing community.
An Anglican church and school were built in 1855, with the first Frankston post office opening on 1 September 1857 and a pottery established in 1859. During the 1860s, there were estimated to be around 30 people living in Frankston, with about 200 others living in the surrounding area. In 1874, a state school was built in Frankston as well as a Mechanics' Institute and free library in 1880. The first savings bank opened in 1881, and two brickworks factories and a cordial manufacturer were operating by the 1880s.
The Melbourne railway came on 1 August 1882, which saw Frankston develop into a seaside resort. Its lure as a holiday destination increased particularly after the electrification of the railway service on 27 August 1922, which reduced average journey times from 90 to 62 minutes. Between these years, the area developed into a regional centre for the Mornington Peninsula and a playground for Melbourne's affluent.
Frankston was the site of the first Australian Scout Jamboree in 1935. It was the only jamboree in Australia to be attended by the founder of the Scouting movement, Sir Robert Baden-Powell. Several streets in the locality of Frankston South are named after the event (Baden Powell Drive being the most prominent). The original grandstand used for the jamboree remained a historic landmark at Frankston Park for 72 years, until it was destroyed by fire on 12 February 2008.
The population of Frankston boomed during and after World War II, increasing from 12,000 in 1947 to 82,000 by 1982 (referring to the old town zoning system when Frankston and its surrounds were all part of the former "Shire of Frankston and Hastings"). This was due to the establishment of small government housing estates in the area, to house the families of Australian Defence Force personnel stationed at the nearby Balcombe Army Camp in Mount Martha and the Flinders Naval Depot near Hastings.
In 1959, the Hollywood film On the Beach, starring Gregory Peck and Ava Gardner, was partly filmed in Frankston, at its railway station and in the surrounding area. The original novel of On the Beach was written by novelist Nevil Shute, who lived in Frankston's south-east, in what is now the Frankston suburb of Langwarrin.
Ballam Park Homestead
Australian Scout Jamboree
Gregory Peck during
The origins of the name "Frankston" has been subject to some conjecture. Local folklore suggests that the town was named after a publican called Frank Stone, who ran a hotel at the corner of the then Point Nepean Road (now the Nepean Highway) and Hastings Road (now Davey Street). However, there is no evidence that such a person existed. Two more credible possibilities are that the town was named after Frank Liardet or after Charles Franks, an early settler of Melbourne killed by aborigines.
However, according to Frankston historian and author Michael Jones, Frankston is named after a British army general who fought in the Second Sikh War. The theory is strengthened by the fact a number of other towns in the area, such as Cranbourne, Hastings, Lyndhurst, Mornington and Pakenham, are named after British statesmen and generals. Jones suggests that Andrew Clarke, the Surveyor-General of the Port Phillip District from 1853 to 1858, named all these towns.
On 2 September 2004, Frankston was nominated for the Bursary Award in the Livcom International Awards for Livable Communities. In October 2004, it received a Bronze Award for "management of environment and enhancement of quality of life". It won this award for "C Category Cities" (cities with populations between 75,001 - 200,000).
On 24 March 2007, Frankston won two awards in the Keep Australia Beautiful Victoria's clean beach challenge. It won the award for "Friendliest Beach in Victoria", and also the "Natural Heritage Award" for the maintenance of Frankston Beach and the provision of facilities. On 2 June 2008, Frankston was named Victoria's most sustainable city in the Keep Australia Beautiful Victoria's Sustainable Cities Awards.
Frankston Visitor Information Centre recognises and acknowledges the original owners of the land, the Boonerwrung people of the Kulin Nations and respects their elders and traditions. Frankston City Council is a founding member and supporter of the Inter Council Aboriginal Consultative Committee and has engaged in significant projects over the past decade or more to assist the wider community to understand and engage with Indigenous culture.