Founded at the suggestion of Professor Masson on the model of a similar body at Edinburgh University, this Council of 43 members (one for every 23 students) was set up by the Sports Union to organise activities not connected with sport. The opening of the club-house (formerly the National Museum, then temporarily the Conservatorium of Music) revived the sleeping University Union, which was re-organised in 1912 with Dr John MacFarland as chairman, but not until 1923 did the Union relieve the Sports Union of financing the SRC.
The SRC received official recognition from the Council in 1914 and the role of student representation in the affairs of the University was enhanced in 1923 when they became entitled to elect two members of University Council.
While it has undergone various change in composition since 1906, its essential functions as a representative voice of the student body and in arranging functions and services for the students have remained constant even while the content of those activities have varied considerably. Much extra-curricular activity in the early years was focussed on the colleges but as the proportion of students not attached to a college rose so too did the importance of the SRC. Over the years a multitude of clubs and societies, supported frugally from Union fees, have ranged from the political and cultural, such as the Public Questions Society, the Labor and Liberal Clubs and various drama, musical and film clubs, across the faculty or discipline-based societies such as the Law Students, Medical Students, Engineers and those engaged with important causes such as Abschol, to the ephemeral and frivolous. The SRC has also been responsible for the production of the student newspaper Farrago since 1925. In 1937 members of the Melbourne University SRC played a leading role in the establishment of a National Union of Australian University Students (NUAUS) which in 1970 became the Australian Union of Students (AUS). In the postwar years the SRC established the tradition of Orientation Week as an introduction to University generally, but more especially to the range of services and extra-curricular opportunities available through the SRC and the Union.
Concern with educational policy and practice also came to absorb more of the active students' time especially once quotas became necessary and funding levels failed to keep up with rising student numbers.