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Williamstown, Victoria

Williamstown is one of the oldest suburbs of Melbourne, Victoria.

Williamstown is approximately 15 minutes by car from Melbourne via the West Gate Freeway or a 30-minute train journey from Flinders Street Station. Ferries from Melbourne's Southgate Arts & Leisure Precinct take approximately 1 hour, whilst a 30 minute ferry ride can be taken from St Kilda Pier to Williamstown on weekends and public holidays.

Williamstown is within the Local Government Area of the City of Hobsons Bay. Local residents refer to the place as "Willy".

History of Williamstown

Indigenous history

Aboriginal people occupied the area long before maritime activities shaped the modern historical development of Williamstown. The Yalukit-willam clan of the Kulin nation were the first people to call Hobsons Bay home. They roamed the thin coastal strip from Werribee to Williamstown/Hobson’s Bay.

The Yalukit-willam were one clan in a language group known as the Bunurong, which included six clans along the coast from the Werribee River, across the Mornington Peninsula, Western Port Bay to Wilsons Promontory.

The Yalukit-willam referred to the Williamstown area as "koort-boork-boork", a term meaning "clump of she-oaks", literally "She-oak, She-oak, many". Around Point Gellibrand people used to be invited to join in ceremony, an indigenous peace festival and food festival where there would be an exchange of water and the leaves of a gum tree as well as feasts of bird meat and fish and shellfish.

The head of the Yalikut-willam tribe at the time of the arrival of the first white settlers was Benbow, who became one of John Batman's guides.

Industrial development, land segregation, racism and a typhoid epidemic saw Aboriginal presence at Point Gellibrand rapidly decline after 1835.

Colonial exploration and settlement

The first European to arrive at the place now known as Williamstown was Acting-Lieutenant Robbins, who explored Point Gellibrand with his survey party in 1803. The mouth of the Yarra River was later inspected in May and June 1835 by a party led by John Batman who recognised the potential of the Melbourne townsite for settlement. The site of what became Williamstown they named Port Harwood, after the captain of one of their ships.

In November 1835, Captain Robson Coltish, master of the barque Norval sailed from Launceston, then crossing Bass Strait with a cargo of 500 sheep and 50 Hereford cattle which had been consigned by Dr. Alexander Thomas. After reaching the coastline of Port Phillip, Captain Coltish chose the area now know as Port Gellibrand, as a suitable place to unload his cargo. Within weeks of the first consignment, a stream of vessels began making their way across Bass Strait. Because of the sheltered harbour, many of these new arrivals decided to settle in the immediate area.

When Governor Richard Bourke and Captain William Lonsdale visited the emergent settlement at Port Phillip Bay in 1837, they both felt the main site of settlement would emerge at the estuary and they renamed it William's Town after King William IV, then the English monarch. It served as Melbourne's first anchorage and as the centre for port facilities to the Port Phillip district until the late 19th century.

As William’s Town, was named for the British sovereign and Melbourne, on the other hand, was named after the British prime minister Lord Melbourne, it has been said that the place was originally intended to be the capital of the new Colony, and the first streets of old William’s town were laid out in 1837 with that in mind. A lack of adequate fresh water at William’s town meant that it became necessary to change the city centre to the inland site of Melbourne.

The first land sales in the area took place in 1837. A 30-metre stone jetty was built by convict labour in 1838 where Gem Pier now stands. That same year a ferry service between Melbourne and Williamstown was established aboard the steamer 'Fire Fly'. It was used to convey passengers, as well as sheep and cattle from Tasmania. By 1839, Williamstown had large shipping facilities including a pier and government stores all built by convict labor. During these early times the business heart of the town was centred on Nelson Place. About 100 buildings were built, including two hotels (the Ship Inn and the Woolpack). The first cemetery in Victoria was established at Point Gellibrand at this time.

The first lighthouse, a wooden one with an oil-burning beacon at the top, was erected at Point Gellibrand in 1840. In that same year a water police superintendent was appointed to Williamstown (and Williamstown is the present-day home of the Victorian Water Police).

The first census in Williamstown was taken in 1841 and the population was recorded as about 259 people. However, it is believed the true population was considerably more. There were three hotels in Williamstown by 1841 and most of the men worked at occupations related to the port. Being a busy port, there were numerous lodging houses and a constantly changing population. The years 1842 and 1843 there was an economic recession in the Port Phillip District and Williamstown's population somewhat declined.

In 1842 the appearance of the ship Manilus threw the small colony into a frenzy. The ship's immigrants were part of a British labour scheme that paid captains a bounty to deliver passengers in good health. The captain of the Manilus, known in the Victorian Shipping records as the "Plague ship", would not receive his bounty as forty-five of the ship's 243 passengers had been lost to yellow fever during the journey from Scotland's shores. The sick were taken to a hastly erected quarantine camp. Those that died were buried in a makeshift graveyard.

Also in 1842 the St Mary's School (the oldest continuously operating Catholic school in Victoria) was established in a small timber chapel with a wood shingle roof. Mr. John Wilson was the first teacher/principal. The earliest available record of enrolment figures is 6 boys and 8 girls, in July 1844.

In 1847 Steamboat Pier was built and a permanent customs house was set up. The water police and customs officers remained here until the Melbourne Harbour Trust developed river channels closer to the Melbourne CBD in the 1890s.

A bluestone lighthouse was built in 1849-50 to replace the original wooden one. It only operated as a lighthouse until 1860, when a Pile Light was built and anchored off Shelly Beach, after which it served as a time ball tower.

Victorian gold rush and wheat boom

William’s Town had been a primitive settlement until the Victorian gold rush of the 1850s, but after the gold seekers began to arrive, many from the tin mines of Cornwall, and many more from the Californian gold fields, the settlement’s growth was phenomenal.

After the separation of the Port Phillip District from the Colony of New South Wales and the creation of the Colony of Victoria, Williamstown was granted municipal status in 1851 and the first Council was elected in April 1856. Meetings were held in the Williamstown Court House, near the corner of Cecil and Thompson Streets. By the mid 1850s many shops, business and residences had begun to be established in and around Newton (which is now known as Williamstown North).

During this period Williamstown played a key role in the Colony of Victoria and its connection to the world beyond. In 1853 an astronomical observatory was constructed at Point Gellibrand by the timeball tower (but it was moved to the Domain in Melbourne ten years later). Australia's first telegraph line began operating between Melbourne and Williamstown on 3 March 1854. At this time the timeball was moved to the Telegraph Station at Point Gellibrand. The Williamstown Chronicle, the first Victorian suburban newspaper, was established in 1854.

The first railway in Australia was established by the Hobson’s Bay Railway Company in 1854, and ran from Flinders Street Station to Station Pier in Sandridge (Port Melbourne). It went bankrupt, and this vital part of Victorian era infrastructure was only permanently established in the new colony by the Victorian Colonial Government. The first government line in Australia (1857) ran from Point Gellibrand to Spencer Street, at the western end of Melbourne’s “golden mile.”

Fort Gellibrand was built in 1855 during the Crimean War, to guard against a possible Russian invasion. It was still in use sixty years later for training new soldiers for the Great War.

Wealth created by the Victorian gold rush translated into increasingly sophisticated development of the town. By 1858, Williamstown's two hotels had grown to 17. By 1864 there were 26. The Williamstown Botanic Gardens were established in 1855, and are believed to be the earliest intact botanic gardens in Victoria. They were officially opened in 1860. The layout was designed by William Bull, and the seeds and plants were provided by Baron Ferdinand von Muller, the government botanist, and ‘father’ of the Royal Botanic Gardens in Melbourne. The Victoria Yacht Club was established in 1856 as yachting on Hobson's Bay became more popular. Also in 1856, a baths complex beside Williamstown Beach was built at the end of Garden Street. The baths were run by Mr Lillington, and was specified as 'ladies only' in 1859.

Not all in Williamstown were becoming wealthy, and with some impoverished settlers turning to crime, floating prisons on the President, Success, Deborah and Sacramento in Hobson’s Bay. By the end of 1853, 455 prisoners were held on these hulks. A fifth hulk, the Lysander, was added in 1854. By 1856 there were over 6,000 prisoners on these prison hulks, some as young as nine years of age.

The first lightship to mark the reef off Point Gellibrand was the former barque New Constitution which the Government purchased in October 1856 for £1050. It took up station on 25 July 1859. In May 1860, tenders were called for construction of a new lightship off Point Gellibrand. The new lightship consisted of two white lights of equal height, 24 feet apart, and was shown from a temporary anchor in 4.5 fathoms of water. This lightship guarded Gellibrand's Point reef from 1861 until 1895.

Williamstown Post Office (the oldest post office building still standing in Victoria) and a Mechanics Institute were built in 1860. By 1861 Williamstown had 13 slips for boat repairs and building, and pier accommodation for 40 vessels. In 1864, the town boundaries of Williamstown were expanded to take in Newport and Spottiswoode, later to become Spotswood. Piped water from Yan Yean water supply subsequently arrived, allowing more rapid growth.

The Williamstown Racing Club, founded in 1864, was once one of the senior thoroughbred racing clubs in Victoria. Built in 1872, the Williamstown Racecourse, with its large and elaborately decorated grandstand facing out to the sea, was considered one of the finest in Australia. The Williamstown Football Club, an Australian rules football club was formed in 1864.

CSS Shenandoah incident of 1865

The Confederate States Navy warship CSS Shenandoah, which had successfully attacked several Union ships in the Indian Ocean, sailed into Hobson's Bay on the afternoon of 25 January 1865. Captain J. I. Waddell said he only wanted to put the ship onto the Williamstown slip for repairs, and to take on food and water. The visit was ostensibly for a day or two whilst repairs were effected, however she ended up staying for a month. Melburnians flocked to view the raider and newspapers advocated her arrest. But the Victorian government ignored police reports of attempted recruitment of crewmen. Forty-two were actually recuited in colonial Melbourne and this breech of Victoria's neutrality proved costly to the British government. An 1871 hearing at the International Court in Geneva awarded damages of £820 000 against Britain to the US government for use of the port at Williamstown by the CSS Shenandoah.

Victoria's major cargo port

Between 1857 and 1889 the main railway workshops of the Victorian Railways were at Point Gellibrand, and at their height covered 85% of Point Gellibrand. Imported steam locomotives were assembled here. After 1889 the extensive workshops were moved to nearby Newport.

By 1870 Williamstown was known as the major cargo port of Victoria, with piers, slipways, shipwrights, and gangs of wharfies, all working along the shore opposite Nelson Place. As well, the Customs Department, pilots, the Victorian Navy, and the Harbour Trust all established bases in Williamstown.

The foundation stone of the Alfred Graving Dock was laid on 4th January 1868 by HRH Prince Alfred, KG, Duke of Edinburgh, who arrived in the Royal Navy’s first ironclad, HMS Warrior. Large excavations were necessary before the construction of the dock commenced. It was necessary to build an immense cofferdam, consisting of two curved walls, 1,000 feet in length, constructed of hardwood sheeting five inches thick. It was completed in July 1869, when boilers, engines and pumps were placed in position and pumping operations commenced. The cofferdam continued to perform its important function until March 1872, when following a south westerly gale, a portion of the north western area collapsed, and the dock was flooded to within four feet of the top of the masonry. It was subsequently discovered that the cofferdam in this section was erected over a vessel that had been sunk at the spot some years before. Four weeks elapsed before repairs were completed. When the water was pumped out, it was found that the masonry had not been appreciably damaged. The graving dock was completed on 14th September 1873, but the dock caisson was not finished and in position until February 1874. HMCS Nelson was the first to enter it (in 1874). Following the opening of the graving dock, many ships of various sizes and types were docked and repaired over the next 30 years.

The Alfred Graving Dock is historically significant as the first graving dock in Victoria and the third in Australia at that time, for its role in the development of the shipping industry in Port Phillip, for its continuous use as a Dockyard since its completion and for association with William Wardell during his term as Inspector General of the Public Works Department.

Williamstown Baptist Church was officially founded in 1868, though a congregation had begun to form eight years earlier in response to an advertisement in the Williamstown Chronicle dated Saturday, 24 November 1860. Baptismal services were performed at the back beach at Williamstown from 1861 through to 1868, the first being performed 10 March 1861 by the Rev. David Rees of South Yarra. The Oddfellows' Hall was rented for services from December 1868. The Presbyterian schoolroom in Cecil Street was later used, followed by the Temperance Hall from April 1870. The Tabernacle, now the Church of Christ on Douglas Parade, was used after this. In January 1876 services reverted to the Oddfellows' Hall. In 1884 the Baptist Church building on Cecil Street was officially opened.

Williamstown North Primary School was established in 1874 and in that same year part of the market reserve was purchased from the Williamstown Council by the Education Department in order to build the Williamstown Primary School No. 1183. The school had first opened in 1873 at the Mechanics Institute, with increasing numbers of pupils necessitating the leasing of additional rooms for classrooms in the Temperance Hall in 1875 and the Methodist Church in 1876. In 1877 tenders were called for the erection of a new school building, a bluestone neo-Gothick edifice which was completed in 1878. Prior to its completion, children not enrolled in private schools in the area were taught at the Mechanics’ Institute. A model of the school was sent to the 1878 Paris Exhibition, and it was cited as the best school in the Australian colonies.

A rifle range was opened at Williamstown in July 1876. This became the focal point for target rifle competition in Victoria for over a hundred years.

A Sailor's Rest establishment was built on Nelson Place in 1878, but for those sailors who sought more intoxicating entertainment there were innumerable local hotels.

In 1885 the prison hulks moored off Williamstown were ordered to be broken up. Success escaped this fate. In 1890 it was bought by entrepreneurs and fitted out as a floating museum with life-like wax figures wearing prison clothes and manacles to depict the sensationalised stories of the convicts who had filled its cells while a prison hulk.

The Williamstown CYMS football club was formed in 1886 and remains one of the oldest sporting clubs in Australia.

The Williamstown Hospital opened in 1894 when the community responded to the increasing risk of accidents from a busy port, the railway workshops and the growing industrial area of Newport, Spotswood and Footscray to establish Melbourne's first suburban public general hospital.

The Williamstown Lacrosse Club was founded in 1898 at a meeting in the Williamstown Baptist Sunday School called by Arthur Whitley (son of the Minister). Arthur Whitley became the first Captain and Fred Scott the first secretary.

Early 20th century

By 1904 the population of Williamstown was about 15,000. The description of Williamstown in the 1904 edition of The Australian Handbook notes that principal hotels in Williamstown at that time were: the Steam Packet, Royal, Newport, Prince of Wales, Yacht Club, Morning Star, and Pier. There were also a further 34 hotels in the area.

Williamstown Pier railway station was opened on 8 January, 1905. The station existed primarily to serve the Williamstown docks precinct and was the terminus of the Williamstown line.

In 1906, one of the largest undertakings attempted by ship repairers in Australia was successfully accomplished at the Williamstown Dockyard. SS Peregrine, a 1,660 GRT vessel of the Howard Smith Line, was lengthened amidships by 40 feet. This was perhaps the first jumboising operation undertaken in Australia.

On the 29th August 1908, a visiting American Fleet, consisting of sixteen battleships and six auxiliary vessels, steamed up Port Phillip Bay. This was the famous ‘Great White Fleet’ of the USN. During the `Fleet Week’ celebrations that followed, a collision occurred in Hobson’s Bay on the 4th September between the collier USS Ajax and the steamer SS Leura. The latter vessel was crowded with sightseers. The tug James Patterson went alongside and took on board the passengers from the SS Leura. The vessel was towed up the river Yarra for repairs. The Alfred Graving Dock was hastily prepared for the USS Ajax, which proceeded there with pumps working continuously to keep down the in-rushing water. The USS Ajax was docked and a new stern, 63 feet in length, was constructed and fitted.

The Shipbuilding Yard at Williamstown was officially opened by the Governor of Victoria, Sir John Fuller, on Monday 7 April 1913. Soon after the Declaration of War on 4th August 1914, the Commonwealth Government requested the Williamstown Dockyard to undertake the conversion of merchant ships into transports. By 30 November the employment figures at the Dockyard had reached the record total of 1,500 men. Over the next two years, continual disputes between the State and Federal Governments over the use of non-union labour in the Dockyard led to a gradual decrease in the orders for fitting out troop transports.

The Williamstown Hospital was expanded with the addition of the Male Ward in 1911 and the Female Ward in 1917.

Williamstown Sailing Club was formed in 1914.

Extensive remodelling of the 1878 Williamstown Primary School building was undertaken in 1915.

Heidelberg School impressionist artist Walter Withers painted numerous landscapes of Williamstown around 1910, at a time when fellow Heidelberg School impressionist artist Frederick McCubbin was also painting the Williamstown landscape. Between 1909 and 1915, McCubbin visited Williamstown on numerous occasions and produced sketches and watercolours of the foreshore and the old shipyards. He also produced a major oil painting of the Williamstown docks in 1915.

Inter-war period

Williamstown was proclaimed a City on 17 May1919. Construction of the Williamstown Town Hall on Ferguson Street commenced a year earlier in 1918, but it was not officially opened until 1927.

In 1919, when Melbourne was struck with the dreaded Spanish flu, the Williamstown Primary School was closed and used as a makeshift hospital for the ill.

In 1920 the Williamstown railway line was electrified.

The Williamstown Swimming and Life Saving Club was formed in 1922 and its clubhouse at the western end of Williamstown Beach was built in 1935.

In 1930 a Royal Commission was appointed to inquire into certain matters affecting the municipal government of the City of Williamstown.

In 1934 the bluestone time ball tower (the former lighthouse) was extended by 30 feet with a circular brick tower on top. The extension was then painted with a coat of aluminium paint and it was re-established as a lighthouse due to the loss of singularity against the light of the City behind the Point Gellibrand Pile Light. It was electric, gave a green and red light, had a visibility of 15 nautical miles and operated as a lighthouse from 1934 to 1987.

The Williamstown Dressing Pavilion was constructed at Williamstown Beach in 1936. Also constructed in 1936 was a pool on The Strand. It was constructed as part of sustenance works program.

Racing at Williamstown Racecourse ceased in 1940. The course, like the Melbourne Cricket Ground, was used to house troops. Racing was due to recommence after the war’s end, but fire destroyed the two grandstands.

Post-war period

In 1946, the Williamstown Swimming and Life Saving Club wrote to the Borough of Queenscliffe, suggesting that there was a need to establish a Surf Life Saving Club in Point Lonsdale.

Also in 1946, nine Williamstown residents met to form the Williamstown Little Theatre Movement. Through the 1950s and '60s, Williamstown Little Theatre had several homes in Williamstown; from the Mechanic’s Institute to the Williamstown Town Hall Supper Room and the former Missions to Seamen building in Nelson Place. In 1967 the theatre company moved into its current venue, a converted bakery on Albert Street.

In 1948 an electoral redistribution saw Williamstown included in the new Australian Federal electoral Division of Gellibrand, named after Joseph Tice Gellibrand (1786-1836). It was proclaimed in 1949 and was first won in that year by the Australian Labor Party candidate, John Michael Mullens. He held the seat until 1955.

The Rotary Club of Williamstown has established in March, 1949.

The HMAS Anzac was commissioned at Williamstown Naval Dockyard on 14 March 1951 under the command of Commander John Plunkett-Cole RAN.

In the 1950s and '60s, the popularity of Williamstown declined and it was viewed as a run-down industrialised centre. The Merritt Rifle Range at Williamstown was the rifle-shooting venue for the 1956 Olympic Games. In May 1962, the City of Williamstown annexed 83 hectares (205 acres) from the Shire of Altona.

The Pile Light fire of 1976

The Pile Light anchored off Shelly Beach in 1860 was destroyed in 1976 when it was hit by the Melbourne Trader, a vessel of 7,000 tonnes. The force of the collision snapped the piles at waterline area, the light was sheared off its piles at water level, pushed 7 metres (20 ft) sideways, and was left hanging precariously on several of the remaining piles. The engine room and lower deck were submerged and the house and light tower were balanced on a knife edge, threatening to topple over into deep water. At the time the piles were 70 years old and their diameter had diminished from 2 feet to about 9 inches in the tidal zone thus reducing the strength of the piles. The harbour master of the day was not prepared to risk any of his men to secure or repair the structure, as it was considered to be on the brink of tumbling into the sea, so reluctantly Ports & Harbours gave the order to set fire to it at 11 am on 23 June 1976.

Rifle range residential redevelopment and nature reserve

In 1987, the Victorian Government's Urban Land Authority purchased the former rifle range at Williamstown (comprising an area of around 110 hectares) from the Commonwealth Government for $11.7 million.

The development of the estate was accompanied by extensive public consultation, which emphasised creation of open space for passive recreation and preservation of the coastal strip. The coastal area had been virtually untouched by European settlement due to the 'protection' offered over the years by the active rifle range.

The Authority developed 60 hectares of the estate for housing and related commercial and community activities. Residential allotments were progressively released for sale from May 1991. The historic armoury building of the old rifle range was preserved, refurbished and is now as a funeral home set in a large formal garden.

The remaining 50 hectares was reserved for the protection of the surrounding environmentally sensitive area. This area, now known as the Jawbone Flora and Fauna Reserve consists of open grasslands for passive recreation, two wetland lakes, the saltmarsh and mangrove conservation area, Wader Beach and the Kororoit Creek.

Williamstown today

In the past decade Williamstown has received a face lift and become a major tourism drawcard. It retains the coherence and charm of a maritime village, due, in no small part, to the many historic buildings. A proliferation of cafes and restaurants are a major feature of Nelson Place which runs adjacent the foreshore while boats, yachts and dinghies decorate the shoreline and ships sail through the estuary en route to the Port of Melbourne.

The 2006 Census puts the number of occupied private dwellings in Williamstown at 5,035, states that 66.5% of occupied private dwellings were family households, and the number of families is given as 3,372. The 2006 Census data also shows that 74.6% of persons usually resident in Williamstown stated they were born in Australia. Other common responses within Williamstown were: England 4.8%, New Zealand 1.5%, Scotland 1.2%, Italy 1.1% and Greece 0.8%. The data also showed that 88.5% of persons usually resident in Williamstown were Australian citizens, 19.6% were born overseas and 0.7% were overseas visitors.

Williamstown is within the Victorian electoral district of Williamstown. The most recent election was the 2007 by-election triggered by the resignation of Steve Bracks as both Premier of Victoria and the Member for Williamstown.

Heritage buildings and sites

  • Williamstown Landing Place (Syme Street). The eastern end of Commonwealth Reserve was used as an early landing place to unload stock as early as 1836, and was probably near or on the subsequent site of Gem Pier. This led Governor Bourke to recommend the installation of quay facilities here in 1837. Around that time, Nelson Place was occupied by primitive wharves, substantial warehouses, blacksmiths, carpenters, merchants, watermen, pilots and customs officers who occupied structures built of split timber and bark. Originally there was only a narrow strip of land between the Road and the high water mark, until the foreshore land in this area was reclaimed by the Melbourne Harbour Trust from 1879-1881 to create the Commonwealth Reserve.
  • Gem Pier & Commonwealth Reserve (Syme Street and Nelson Place). A 30-metre stone jetty was built by convict labour in 1838 where Gem Pier now stands at the end of Syme Street. Permanently stationed at Gem Pier is the Bathurst class corvette HMAS Castlemaine (1942) - a World War II minesweeper which was built at the local shipyards. It is now used as a maritime museum. Aside from the ship itself there is a collection of nautical memorabilia and exhibits within its confines. Bay cruises and returns trips to Southbank depart from Gem Pier. Commonwealth Reserve is located in the heart of historic Williamstown, on the foreshore adjacent to Gem Pier. The park was originally a mudflat adjacent to the Bay, before being reclaimed. The planting style consists of formal avenues of elms. A number of heritage items are located in the reserve including the Tide Gauge House (formerly at Point Gellibrand), the anchor of HMS Nelson and the Wilkinson Drinking Fountain.
  • Tide Gauge House (Nelson Place). Built by convict labour at Point Gellibrand in 1857 to house one of three tide gauges that arrived from England in 1855, the bluestone Tide Gauge House is associated with the origin of the Australian Height Datum. The tide gauge continued to operate where it was originally constructed until 1943 when silting up of the site reputedly interfered with its operation. The filling in of the boat harbour in 1955 required that the building be moved to its present site in the Commonwealth Reserve.
  • The Wilkinson Memorial Drinking Fountain (Cnr Syme Street and Nelson Place). Inaugurated on 17 October, 1876 by the Bishop of Ballarat, Dr Thornton, in the presence of the Mayor of Williamstown, ministers of all denominations and over 2000 people, the Wilkinson Memorial Drinking Fountain is the earliest known memorial drinking fountain in Melbourne. The cast-iron drinking fountain, imported from Possilpark, Glasgow where it had been cast in the Saracen Foundry of Walter Macfarlane & Co, had been paid for by public subscription to commemorate the Reverend George Wilkinson, the local Anglican minister who had died the previous year. The elaborate canopy comprises four columns rising to form arches with decorated mouldings, encircling ornamental shields, one of which reads 'Wilkinson Memorial Drinking Fountain 1875', inscriptions on two sides of 'Keep the pavement dry', and carvings of griffins, all surmounted by a richly decorated dome culminating in a crown. The pedestal and basin are also highly decorative, including carved reptilian creatures on the pedestal. The original copper water beakers were removed about 1935.
  • Williamstown Customs House (Cnr Syme Street and Nelson Place). A stuccoed structure erected from 1873, to designs presumably by the Public Works Department of Victoria, the building is architecturally significant as a fine and relatively intact example of conservative Classical revival style architecture. It served as a Customs House, offices and residence.
  • Jacks & McIntosh Boat Repair Facilities (120 Nelson Place and 36 Syme Street). One of the first private boatbuilders in Williamstown, Jacks and McIntosh boatbuilders and shipwrights were located at the end of Thompson Street in 1841. Immigration and Harbour Master's Offices had taken over the site by 1856 and a stone jetty had been built in the NE corner of the site diagonal to the current shoreline. By 1877, the site was occupied by both a 'yacht club', and the water police situated in the site's SE corner with a jetty on the eastern waterfront. By 1894, the Nelson place end of the site was occupied by the water police with an associated jetty, boat ramp or slipway. The site is now occupied by the Royal Yacht Club of Victoria.
  • Williamstown Immigration Office and Depot (120 and 123 Nelson Place). These offices were established in Nelson Place near the corner of Thompson Street in the mid to late 1850s to process new arrivals during the gold rush.
  • The Old Morgue (Ann Street). Now situated in the old Port of Melbourne Authority site, the former morgue is one of Williamstown's early structures, important architecturally but more especially for its role in Williamstown's history. The Georgian style building is believed to be the first morgue erected in Victoria (at its original location near Gem Pier in 1859) and was constructed in bluestone with convict labour. The building was subsequently relocated three times.
  • Williamstown Dockyards, including Alfred Graving Dock (Anne Street and Nelson Place). A number of historically significant piers, slipways, docks and shipyards have been located in the Williamstown Dockyards precinct. Slip Pier was built in 1858 and was used in conjunction with the Government Patent Slip. It was later known as the Lady Loch Jetty after the similarly named Government steamer. The pier and Government Patent Slipway were demolished in 1919. In 1858, the Victorian Government recommended that a reserve be set aside for a graving dock and dockyard. Construction commenced in 1868, and was completed in 1874. The dock was designed by William Hardell for the Public Works Department, and it was the largest structure of its type in the southern hemisphere. The Dockyard Pier, originally known as Dock Pier was constructed in 1874 for use with vessels engaged in pre/post docking in the Alfred Graving Dock. In the 1870s, the railway department contracted for the construction of a new pier to meet increased demand imposed by wool and later grain handling. When completed in 1878, it was initially referred to as the Western Pier, but was later renamed New Railway Pier. It was rebuilt in 1915 and 1927 and was renamed Nelson Pier in 1923. The pier and surrounding land was purchased by the Commonwealth in 1967, and use of the facility declined. Demolition work began in 1979 due to its poor condition. Nelsons Pier West was constructed in 1978 to replace the nearby Nelson Pier. It provided two cranes and two berths for the refitting and outfitting of warships. Reid St Pier was constructed for the Melbourne Harbour Trust for exclusive use with its own floating plant in September 1891. It was later used to house the tug fleet, and was rebuilt in 1949.
  • Williamstown Lighthouse or Timeball Tower at Point Gellibrand (Nelson Place). Built in 1855 by convict labour, this bluestone tower originally operated as a lighthouse and still operates as a timeball. The tower is part of the Point Gellibrand Coastal Heritage Park, which is managed by Parks Victoria.
  • Williamstown Beach (The Esplanade). The wide, sandy beach is 880m long and faces almost due south, receiving waves during strong southerlies. It is fronted by an attached bar that widens to the west. At low tide, it can be a 100 metres wade before you can swim off the bar. A foreshore reserve is located at the eastern end and contains the Anglers Club, the pier, a car park, a park and a picnic area. Williamstown Swimming and Life Saving Club is located at the western end where the bar is relatively shallow and it is safest to swim. Close to both Williamstown and Williamstown Beach railway stations, this is a very accessible and popular beach.
  • The Williamstown Dressing Pavilion (The Esplanade). Constructed at Williamstown Beach in 1936, the pavilion is an architecturally significant early example of European Modernism applied to the design of a pavilion structure by two then relatively unknown architects Arnold Bridge and Alan Bogle.
  • Williamstown Station precinct (Ann and Thompson Streets). The Williamstown railway station building and platform canopy, brick toilet block, timber and corrugated iron shed, platform, the Ann Street footbridge and the Thompson Street road bridge are all listed on the Victorian Heritage Register as it is the only substantially intact station precinct remaining from the original construction period of the Williamstown railway line. Builders Kerr, Hodgson and Billings commenced work on the timber building in 1858. Williamstown railway station is of architectural significance as the second oldest railway station in Victoria to survive relatively intact and as the oldest timber railway station building to survive in the State. The strap-work truss and timber Ann Street footbridge with cast iron step stringers and columns was installed c 1883. The Thompson Street Road Bridge was also part of the initial works on the Williamstown line in the 1850s, and the bluestone construction of the abutments is indicative of the stone quarrying industry already established at Point Gellibrand at that time.
  • Park House, former Presbyterion Manse (27 Lyons Street). Designed by architect David Ross and built in 1856, this two-storey bluestone Georgian building was purchased in 1886 by Henty Hick and renamed Park House.
  • Former George Hotel (Lyons Street). An original timber building established in 1863 was replaced by the present building in 1872. The first licensee was George Gobal, a local councillor who served as Lord Mayor in 1879-80. The hotel was delicensed in 1927 and became a rooming house until 1978.
  • Williamstown Mechanics Institute (Electra Street). One of Hobsons Bay's most historic sites, the foundation stone of the present building, originally a Mechanics Institute was laid in 1860. The institute now houses the Williamstown Historic society and a wealth of memorabilia about the local area and its development through the years.
  • Former Punshon's Store (Ferguson Street). Designed by C. J. Polain, construction of this General store with cellar and roof garden was completed in 1890.
  • Former Melbourne Savings Bank (Ferguson Street). This building, now a residence and Dive shop, was opened as a branch of the Melbourne Savings Bank on 14 February 1887. It became a branch of the State Savings Bank of Victoria or 'State Bank' in 1912. In 1991 it became a branch of the Commonwealth Bank of Australia until 30 June 1995.
  • Former Williamstown Post Office (Cole Street). Built in several stages, beginning in 1859 just after the municipality was constituted, the Post Office typified public works design of the period. Extensive alterations transformed the building in 1895.
  • Steam Packet Hotel (corner Aitken and Cole Streets). A two storey Classical Revival structure built in 1863 (to replace an earlier building), the Steam Packet Hotel was first opened in the mid 1850s.
  • Former Advertiser Building (205 Nelson Place). Built between 1885 and 1888 for the proprietors of the Williamstown Advertiser, it served as both a printery for the newspaper and a shipping exchange. The building features a richly decorated facade with a frieze depicting William Caxton.
  • Former Port Health Officer's residence (231 Nelson Place). Listed in the Victorian Heritage Register, this former residence and surgery is a distinctive and important example of a classical Revival town residence. It was built in 1852.
  • Wlliamstown Navy Sea Cadets depot (Nelson Place, between Pasco and Parker Streets). The White Brothers operated a slipway here from at least 1877. The slipway was built on the northern side of the site, with a jetty the same length to the south. The facility is known to have been still operating in 1894. Substantial land reclamation was undertaken at the site sometime prior to 1907. Early photographs show the long pier still standing on the site in c 1925.
  • Blunts Boatyard and Slipway (Nelson Place). A rare operating example of the many small scale boat-building and repairing businesses which have operated on the Williamstown foreshore from the 1850s on, the Blunt family boat building business has operated continuously on this site in Williamstown since the 1880s. The site is entered in the Victorian Heritage Register.
  • Harts boatbuilding yard (Nelson Place near Ferguson Street). Sandwiched between the Ferguson St Pier and The Dredging Depot, it constructed small boats and yachts. The boatyard was offered for sale in 1893, and the land appears to have been purchased by the Hobsons Bay Yacht Club, who still occupy the site.
  • Ferguson Street Pier (Intersection of Nelson Place, The Strand and Ferguson Street). Initially called the Rosny Pier, tenders were called to construct this pier in 1924. Due to a dispute between over jurisdiction, the shoreward bluestone section of the pier was built by the Williamstown City Council, and the seaward end was built by the Melbourne Harbour Trust. In 1965, the Hobson's Bay Yacht Club was granted permission to moor its vessels on the south side of the pier, and has since expanded to occupy both sides of the pier. The pier was reconstructed in 2002/03.
  • Mandalay (24 The Strand). This two storey, colonial, Georgian derived style house was erected to the designs of surveyor William Bull in 1858 for ships chandler captain William Probert. Constructed of stuccoed bluestone, Mandalay is representative of the substantial houses which lined Hobsons Bay in the nineteenth century, many with their own piers across The Strand.
  • Ruffle's Pier (The Strand). Pilot Thomas Ruffle built a stone jetty on the Strand, angled to the shore to reach deep water, sited nearby the present Anchorage Restaurant. His residence, Maxwelton, was located across the road from it. Ruffles advertised a ferry service in Sept 1856 and 1860, established at North Williamstown, to ply between his pier and Dalgano & Co. wharf, and to service steamers plying the Yarra. Ruffles died after an argument with locals over theft of stone from the pier structure. The wooden upper section of the jetty was removed sometime after his death in 1863 and before the construction of Barber's Pier in 1879.
  • The Williamstown Rowing Club (End of Stanley Street, The Strand). Whilst the Rowing Club began in 1869, it did not purchase this site until 1875. The boathouse was added in 1876.

Schools

Primary schools in the area include St. Mary's Primary School, Williamstown Primary School and Williamstown North Primary School

State High schools in the area include Bayside Secondary College and Williamstown High School, (Pasco and Bayview Street Campuses). In 2008 Williamstown High School’s new $11 million Bayview Street campus development won the Victorian Premier's Sustainability Award. Students are able to compare their resource usage on a daily basis and between other facilities as an integrated energy monitoring system has been installed displaying water, gas and electricity consumption on screens around the school.

The Junior School at the Williamstown campus of Westbourne Grammar School is housed in the National Trust classified Victorian mansion "Monomeith" at 67 The Strand.

Places of worship

  • St. Mary's Catholic Church (Cecil Street).
  • St Andrew's Presbyterian Church (Cecil Street). .
  • Holy Trinity Church of England (Nelson Place). A Gothic Revival style bluestone Church constructed to the designs of architect Leonard Terry between 1871-74 to replace an imported prefabricated iron structure erected in the 1850s, it is distinguished by its two roof pitches, large west window, varied window forms and proportions generally. A five bay Church with side aisles and nave, it was not erected to its planned size and the projected tower and spire were never built.
  • St. John's (Methodist) Uniting Church (Electra Street) .
  • Williamstown Gospel Mission Church (Electra Street).
  • Stevedore Street Uniting Church (Stevedore Street, east of Douglas Parade). A Gothic Revival style bluestone Church designed by architect Joseph Schneider and built c1870. The proportions of the lantern and spire to its base and the detailing of the enframed storey are unusual.

Industry, commerce and tourism

Representative of Williamstown’s maritime history, large scale maritime industry dominates Williamstown's piers precinct and a maritime theme characterises the Nelson Place tourism precinct.

Tenix Defence Marine Division, has operated out of Williamstown for nearly 20 years, during which time it has built ANZAC-class frigates for the Royal Australian Navy.

The Nelson Place tourism precinct offers some of Melbourne's best waterfront eateries, many catering for al fresco dining and some with spectacular views of Melbourne's city skyline through the masts of bobbing boats on the foreshore. Also located on Nelson Place is a diverse range of arts, crafts and other speciality shops.

Around the corner from Nelson Place there is a local retail sector operating on Ferguson Street and Douglas Parade. Ferguson Street has a mix of restaurants, cafes, two hotels and a range of retail shops. This mix of small retail businesses extends around the corner into Douglas Parade.

In Williamstown North there remains a rump of railway engineering industry. There is also a light-industrial/commercial park.

Arts, Culture, Sports and Recreation

Arts and culture

The Williamstown Festival, held each year in March/April, is the major Community Festival for the Western Region of Melbourne. It celebrates and promotes the unique identity of Williamstown, focusing on its spectacular seaport setting as well as the community's vibrant cultural life. The festival theme for 2008 is "The Circus is Coming to Town".

Now in its fifth year, the Williamstown Literary Festival (held in May) is a popular local cultural event focusing on literature, drama and writing which presents established and emerging writers and literary figures.

A maritime museum is located on board the World War II minesweeping corvette HMAS Castlemaine, which is tied up at Gem Pier adjacent to Commonwealth Reserve.

Williamstown Little Theatre, located at a converted bakery at 2-4 Albert Street, is one of the leading non-professional theatre companies in Melbourne. Since 1946 it has presented quality, affordable theatre to the people of Williamstown and the wider community.

Sports and recreation

The Williamstown Sailing Club, Royal Yacht Club of Victoria, Hobson's Bay Yacht Club, and Royal Victorian Motor Yacht Club are all located on Nelson Place.

The Williamstown Seagulls are a local Victorian Football League team that plays out of Burbank Oval, experiencing recent success with a premiership in 2003.

The Williamstown Juniors Football Club fielded 17 teams in the WRFL for 2007, the highest of any club. Notable AFL players from Williamstown Juniors are Daniel Giansiracusa of the Western Bulldogs, and Ben Davies of the Collingwood Magpies and North Melbourne Kangaroos. Williamstown Cricket Club is the third oldest in Victoria having run continuously since 1852. The Club run four senior sides as well as a women's team and nine junior sides. Williamstown Cricket Club compete in the Victorian Sub District Cricket League and ended season 2006/07 as Premiership Champions.

The Williamstown Magic Basketball Club and Williamstown Cannons Basketball Club both field many junior teams in the Altona Bay Basketball Association.

Williamstown is also home to a local soccer club, the Williamstown Bandits. Star A-League players Tom Ato and Ash Ketchum originated from this club.

Lacrosse, a minor sport in Australia is also popular in Williamstown. Three clubs, the Williamstown Lacrosse Club, Williamstown Women's Lacrosse Club and Newport Ladies Lacrosse club all use the Fearon Reserve as their club house and home field. Williamstown is home to many yacht clubs, including Hobsons Bay Yacht Club, Royal Yacht Club of Victoria and Williamstown Sailing Club. There is a strong maritime feel to Williamstown, created by both the presence of the Williamstown Lighthouse, Tenix (ship building yard proprietors) and the many yachts floating on Hobsons Bay.

International tennis star Mark Philippoussis grew up in Williamstown. Other notable sports stars who live in the area include Australian Football League players Chris Grant and Rohan Smith both of the Western Bulldogs in the Australian Football League.

The Hobsons Bay Coastal Trail runs through Williamstown and is a very popular trail with recreational users.

Scouts Australia has a Sea Scout and a Scout group in Williamstown.

Transport

Williamstown is serviced by three railway stations: North Williamstown, Williamstown Beach and Williamstown, all on the Williamstown line.

There are three bus routes which connect Williamstown with surrounding suburbs:

The principal road connections from Williamstown are Kororoit Creek Road leading westward toward Altona and two roads which head northward to Newport and Spotswood, namely Douglas Parade and Melbourne Road. The latter connects to central Melbourne via the West Gate Bridge.

Notable residents

  • Mark Philippoussis (Australian Tennis Player, Starred on Mark Philippoussis' Age of Love)
  • Steve Bracks (former Premier of Victoria and former MP for Williamstown)
  • Joan Kirner (former Premier of Victoria and former MP for Williamstown)
  • Ralph Willis (former Member of the Federal Parliament, Federal Treasurer and former Federal Member for Gellibrand)
  • Wade Noonan (lives on the same street as Tom Bilston)
  • Bread Johnson Western Bulldogs captiain
  • Rohan Smith Western Bulldogs
  • Scott West Western Bulldogs

Gallery

See also

References

External links

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