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Williamstown, VIC

Historic town, now a suburb of Greater Melbourne, at the mouth of the Yarra River

Willliamstown regards itself as "Melbourne's hidden secret" because, although it is only 15 km from the CBD and set on the beautiful foreshore of Port Phillip Bay, it is often ignored in preference for the attractions of the larger city. The suburb (it is now a suburb of Greater Melbourne) came into existence at the same time as Melbourne and, for a number of years, it was believed that it would become more important than the city. It was located at the mouth of the Yarra River and was the port for the city. In recent times it has capitalised on its interesting historic architecture, its beautiful beaches and its coherence and charm as a maritime village with cafes and restaurants on Nelson Place which runs adjacent the foreshore which is suitably nautical with boats, yachts and dinghies along the shoreline. The views from the waterfront - across to the city's skyline, West Gate Bridge, and the docks and container terminals of Port Melbourne - offer a fascinating perspective on the city.


Williamstown is located 15 km, via the Westgate Bridge, south of the Melbourne CBD on Port Phillip Bay.


Origin of Name

In the early years of the European settlement of Melbourne it was believed that the town/city would grow around the Yarra River estuary. Governor Bourke and Captain William Lonsdale arrived at Port Phillip Bay in 1837 and named the settlement on the bay, Williamstown, after the English monarch, King William IV.


Things to See and Do

Walking Historic Williamstown
Walking Maps (see https://walkingmaps.com.au/walk/902) have created a pleasant 4 km walk (it takes about an hour) around central Williamstown which starts at Gem Pier, walks across to the Commonwealth Reserve, through the Williamstown Botanic Gardens, on to the Timeball Tower, along the foreshore on Battery Road and around past Williamstown Beach. Check out https://walkingmaps.com.au/walk/902 for a map and details.

A Walk Around Williamstown
The following is a simple guide to some of the most impressive buildings in this remarkable suburb. The walk starts at Gem Pier. If you are travelling to Williamstown by public transport, the perfect starting point is to take the ferry from Southgate which arrives at Gem Pier.

Gem Pier and the Ferries
Located just beyond Commonwealth Reserve at the end of Syme Street is Gem Pier which was named after a paddle steamer that once operated between Williamstown and Port Melbourne. It was originally a 30 metre stone jetty which was built by convict labour in 1838. It has since been replaced.
Ferries operate daily between Gem Pier and Southgate departing at 10.30 am and then hourly until 4.30 pm. They travel back up the Yarra River at the same times. Check out http://www.williamstownferries.com.au for more details - the journey passes Southbank, Docklands, the Port of Melbourne, Westgate Bridge and eventually reaches Williamstown.

Williamstown Maritime Museum
The HMAS Castlemaine, the last Bathurst class corvette still afloat, is permanently stationed at Gem Pier. It is a World War II minesweeper which was built at the local shipyards. The website (http://hmascastlemaine.org.au) explains: "see how crews lived and worked in wartime, witness the original engines turning over, and experience Australian maritime history in our Museum. HMAS Castlemaine is owned, preserved and operated by the Maritime Trust of Australia". It is now a maritime museum with a collection of nautical memorabilia and exhibits. It is open from 11.00 am - 4.00 pm on weekends and public holidays, tel: (03) 9397 2363.

Tide Water Gauge House - Commonwealth Reserve
Located in the Commonwealth Reserve is Tide Gauge House which was built at Gellibrands Point in 1857. It featured a rare example of an automatic device for gauging the tides which had arrived from England in 1855. It is listed on the Victorian Heritage Database - check out https://vhd.heritagecouncil.vic.gov.au/places/1225/download-report which notes "The Point Gellibrand gauge was set in a bluestone structure located on the leeward side of Breakwater Pier. The structure was built by convict labour and the bluestone was obtained from the quarry at Fort Gellibrand. The gauge operated through an aperture in the wooden floor. Tides were measured from here and Williamstown became the origin of the Australian Height Datum. The tide gauge continued to operate in this location until 1943."

Wilkinson Memorial Drinking Fountain - Commonwealth Reserve
Located in the Commonwealth Reserve "the Wilkinson Memorial Drinking Fountain is architecturally significant as the earliest known memorial drinking fountain in Melbourne and one of the earliest in Victoria. It is also significant as one of the most ornate drinking fountains in Victoria and as a rare surviving example of an imported cast-iron drinking fountain. A number of similar ornamental fountains manufactured by Walter Macfarlane & Co of Glasgow were imported into Australia in the nineteenth century, but only one other example is known to exist in Victoria. The other example, the Henderson Drinking Fountain, North Melbourne, lost its original pedestal and basin in the 1950s. The drinking fountain is aesthetically important as a fine example of Victorian decorative street furniture with elegant columns, richly ornamented arches and dome and elaborate carved figures." For more detailed information check out https://vhd.heritagecouncil.vic.gov.au/places/5460.

A Walk Down Nelson Place
Nelson Place is an attractive collection of impressive, historic buildings which have been turned into cafes, restaurants and galleries. Of particular interest:

Nelson Precinct
The section of Nelson Place which runs between Thompson Street and Pasco Street (ie from 125-233 Nelson Place) had been nominated, by the Victorian  Heritage Database as a place of historic, social and aesthetic significance. The Database notes of the streetscape: "Nelson Place was the first and, until the end of the nineteenth century, the most important commercial centre in Williamstown when it was the main port of Melbourne ... it includes some of the earliest commercial development in Williamstown ... it has strong associations with the Williamstown community as the historic 'heart' of the town ... it is significant as a cohesive and highly intact nineteenth century commercial precinct, which is distinguished by:
- The continuous and intact two-storey Victorian building grouping which is harmonious in scale and siting and encompasses a variety of architectural detail prevalent in the late nineteenth century commercial development.
- The presence of a number of substantial nineteenth century commercial buildings, especially banks, designed by noted Melbourne architects some of whom had long associations with the building developers.
- The unique visual and landscape relationship between the two storey commercial development in Nelson Place, Commonwealth Reserve and Hobsons Bay, which is not found elsewhere in Melbourne.
- Sections of the roadway in its basic early century layout thus reinforcing the period expression of the precinct, including:
- bluestone kerb and channel with verandah fixings evident in the kerb
- rare wrought-iron balustrading to open drain inlets stone paved carriage ways to the rear of some sites
- The presence in Commonwealth Reserve of several features closely linked with Williamstown's history, including the Wilkinson Memorial Fountain, the Nelson anchor and swivel, the Tide Gauge House." For greater detail check out https://vhd.heritagecouncil.vic.gov.au/places/22450.

Former Prince Of Wales Hotel
Located at 1 Nelson Place is the former Prince of Wales Hotel c.1857 - a building with a Georgian design featuring a cast-iron veranda. The 1 in 10 scale model of the Titanic on the roof and the HMS Titanic written on the sides of the building caused some controversy but the rest of the facade and the interior have been quite nicely restored, including the cellars which still feature shackles in the wall to which sailors were bound before being shanghaied. For more detailed information check out https://vhd.heritagecouncil.vic.gov.au/places/15143.

Alfred Graving Dock
Located at 2-10 Nelson Place, the Alfred Graving Dock was constructed for the Victorian Government between 1864-1873 at a cost of £300,000. The Victorian Heritage Database recognises its historic and architectural significance "as one of the greatest public works constructed in Australia in the nineteenth century and as an expression of the technical skill of Victorian architects, engineers and stonemasons. It provided an essential shipbuilding and repair facility in colonial Victoria when the colony was almost entirely reliant on maritime transport for economic development and population growth. It was an installation vital to the defence of Victoria in the late nineteenth century and early twentieth century and important to the naval defence of Australia in the twentieth century ... and ... as an example of the work of the distinguished architect and Victoria's Inspector-General of Public Works from 1861 to 1878, William Wilkinson Wardell. Wardell also designed Government House, St Patrick's Cathedral, and the Gothic ANZ Bank on the corner of Collins and Queen Streets." For more information check out https://vhd.heritagecouncil.vic.gov.au/places/1231.

Seaworks Maritime Precinct
Located at 82 Nelson Place, the Seaworks Maritime Precinct is open on Wednesdays, Fridays and Sundays from 11.00 am - 3.00 pm. The website explains that "The Maritime Museum has an impressive collection of artifacts, models and bells to showcase the stories of maritime history of the Port of Melbourne. Exhibitions include the First Fleet, prison hulks, Melbourne Harbour Trust and the Colonial Navy, as well as an extensive library and photograph collection." The collection also includes seven shipbuilders models; the honour board from the Melbourne Harbour Trust and objects purchased from the Melbourne Maritime Museum. Check out http://seaworks.com.au/our-servicesattractions/maritime-education for more information.

Former Williamstown Morgue
Located in Anne Street, just around the corner from the Seaworks Maritime Precinct, is the Former Williamstown Morgue, thought to be the state's earliest morgue - a single-storey bluestone structure with an arched entrance erected to a design by James Balmain in 1859 and probably built by convicts. It was reconstructed on this site in 1874. Prior to the construction of the morgue (it is Williamstown's second oldest building) coroners used to carry out their examinations in hotel cellars but often the bodies smelt so badly that it was necessary to build a separate building. The smell of the bodies was such that it was moved from Gem Pier to its present location. For more information check out https://vhd.heritagecouncil.vic.gov.au/places/14970/download-report.

Former Royal Hotel
Located at 85 Nelson Place, the handsome former Royal Hotel was built in 1890 bu the publican Thomas de Wardt. The Victorian Heritage Database notes: "The highly mannered facade, characterised by Flemish gables and a central bay surmounted by a rectangular brick panel and adorned with a cement garland, features distinctive stucco ornament." Check out https://vhd.heritagecouncil.vic.gov.au/places/5454.

Customs House
Located at 128 Nelson Place is the former Customs House - a Classical Revival structure dating from 1873-1875. The architect was Peter Kerr and "is an embodiment of the Italianate style adopted by the Public Works Department as the appropriate style for public buildings. The detailing is similar to other buildings by the Public Works Department of the same period, but the composition and consistent high quality detailing are unique to this building." For more information check out https://vhd.heritagecouncil.vic.gov.au/places/1228.

Former English, Scottish and Australian Bank
Located at 139 Nelson Place and designed by Leonard Terry, and built in 1872-1873, the former ES&A Bank is a "near original example of a Medieval style uncommon in commercial architecture of that date". Check https://vhd.heritagecouncil.vic.gov.au/places/22196 for more detailed information.

Shops and Residences
Located at 141-143 Nelson Place, these two shops have changed little since they were built in 1873. They have a simple design - shop at street level, accommodation above. One of them was used briefly as a bank. For greater details check out https://vhd.heritagecouncil.vic.gov.au/places/22197.

Shops and Residence
Located at 151-153 Nelson Place are two interlinked shops and residences which were built in 1860 and designed by Michael Egan. They are some of the earliest buildings in the street and, according to the Victorian Heritage Council "are significant as a distinguishably early Victorian commercial building with rare features such as the undivided hipped roof, which contributes to the historic Nelson Place streetscape". Check out https://vhd.heritagecouncil.vic.gov.au/places/22199 for more details.

Former Bay View Hotel
Located at 175 Nelson Place this extraordinary building was designed by Gordon McCrae and built in 1910. It is an example of Edwardian commercial architecture. Check https://vhd.heritagecouncil.vic.gov.au/places/22200 for more details.

Bank of Australasia
Located at 189 Nelson Place this impressive bank was built in 1876 and "is architecturally significant as an important example of the work of the renowned architectural firm Reed and Barnes. The building is an original and elegant composition in the Italian renaissance Revival style with its rich decoration and detail. Noteworthy features include the ornate upper storey with its balustraded and piered parapet, the window treatment, the wrought iron panels at the base of each window and the deeply bracketed cornice moulding. The significance of the building is enhanced by the retention of much of the original fabric, although some elements such as counters have been removed. Significant features include the banking chamber with its high ceilings, the manager's office and the bank vault." Check out https://vhd.heritagecouncil.vic.gov.au/places/3146 for details.

Commercial Bank of Australia
Located at 193 Nelson Place, and designed by Smith & Ogg, the Commercial Bank was built in 1892 and is a late example of "an Italian Renaissance Revival commercial building with typically rich detailing to the principal facades." For more information check out https://vhd.heritagecouncil.vic.gov.au/places/22202.

Williamstown Advertiser Building
Located at 205 Nelson Place, the former Williamstown Advertiser newspaper building dates to 1874-1888. It is an interesting example of the importance of Williamstown and is notable for its interesting and unusually rich facade. See https://vhd.heritagecouncil.vic.gov.au/places/22204 for more information.

Yacht Club Hotel
Located at 207 Nelson Place, the Yacht Club hotel was built in 1892 and has remained remarkably unchanged with some suitably nautical additions to the facade. Check out https://vhd.heritagecouncil.vic.gov.au/places/22205 for more details.

Modern Buildings
Located at 217-219 Nelson Place, and named Modern Buildings, this structure was designed and built by John Garnsworthy, a local speculative builder. The Victorian Heritage Database records that "it is significant as an unusual neo-classic design in an uncommon material, which has been altered in detail but is a valuable contribution to the commercial streetscape. It includes features innovative for the time such as the large first floor balcony ... and technically, it is significant as an early example of concrete construction and one of two examples by the same builder in Williamstown." See https://vhd.heritagecouncil.vic.gov.au/places/22206 for more information.

Port Health Officer's Residence
The former Port Health Officer's residence is located at 231 Nelson Place and is a standout structure, an example of a Classical Revival town residence with veranda piers, iron work and an unusual upper veranda. It is listed with the Victorian Heritage Database. Check out https://vhd.heritagecouncil.vic.gov.au/places/1227.

Holy Trinity Church of England
Located at 255 Nelson Place, the Holy Trinity Church of England is a Gothic bluestone structure built between 1871 and 1874. The intended spire was never added. "It is a substantial bluestone building with slate roof comprising a five bay clerestoried nave with aisles, chancel and organ chamber. The vicarage was built in 1886 to a design by Terry and Oakden. It is a two storeyed, hip-roofed, stuccoed building in a Gothic Revival style with Tudor and Italianate influences. It is surrounded by a mature garden dominated by a large Moreton Bay Fig ... The church is one of the finest examples of the work of the Anglican diocesan architect Leonard Terry. It is significant for its lofty proportions and its five bay clerestoried nave with aisles in the English Gothic Revival manner. The interior features a number of significant fixtures and fittings, including stained glass by Napier Waller and William Montgomery, pipe organ by William Anderson, baptismal font, and the original altar reredos which now forms the entrance screen. The church also contains features with maritime associations including the chancel rails which are from the HMVS Cerberus and brass bell from the pilot vessel HMCS Victoria." For more detailed information check out https://vhd.heritagecouncil.vic.gov.au/places/2091.

Williamstown Botanic Gardens
Williamstown Botanic Gardens are located at the corner of The Esplanade and Giffard Streets this modest garden is characterised by an impressive, formal palm avenue and an Edwardian pond. Opened in 1860 it was one of Victoria's first public gardens. They are listed on the Victorian Heritage Register which notes: "The Williamstown Botanic Gardens are historically important as one of Victoria's earliest and most intact botanic gardens and along with St Kilda, one of only two suburban botanic gardens established in the 19th century in Victoria. They are one of seven botanic gardens established in Victoria between 1846 and 1856. They are significant for the retention of the geometric layout typical of Victoria's earliest botanic gardens. The gardens have considerable significance for their strong association with eminent 19th century landscape designer Edward La Trobe Bateman and for their early connections with Ferdinand von Mueller and Daniel Bunce.
"The Gardens are aesthetically significant for their excellent design and for the remarkably elegant execution of that design within a small, flat site. Important facets of the layout are the major north-south and east-west axes, the vista to Hobsons Bay, the impressive central palm avenue, the major focal point around the AT Clarke statue, and the deliberately enclosed nature of the site which enhances the wide variety of internal views and spatial experiences within the framework of the formal layout. The striking palms (Washingtonia robusta, Phoenix canariensis and Butia capitata) with their different forms and colour, provide a dramatic and contrasting landscape character against the evergreen and deciduous background. The strikingly intact Victorian layout, early tree plantings, the palms, the pinetum and the pond, structures and herbaceous and woody plantings from the Edwardian period all contribute to the picturesque landscape.
"The Gardens have scientific (horticultural) significance for their collection of plants, particularly the dominating palm and conifer themes and the large quantity of plants remaining from the Edwardian and Victorian periods. The Crinum asiaticum is rare in cultivation. The 19th century pinetum, densely planted with a collection of conifers displaying interesting forms and foliage, is significant as an enclosed dark, evergreen space forming an effective windbreak for the Gardens in their coastal setting. It features a central avenue and two outside rows of Cupressus macrocarpa, a row along the south boundary and a Pinus halepensis row along the east and west boundaries." Check out https://vhd.heritagecouncil.vic.gov.au/places/1908 for greater detail.

Interesting Historic Buildings Beyond Nelson Place
Time Ball Tower and Environs
Located at 6-8 Battery Road at the waterfront, the Time Ball Tower is on the foreshore at Point Gellibrand. The lower section of the building was constructed by convict labour out of bluestone in 1852. It replaced a wooden tower erected in 1839. The purpose of the time ball was to tell ships what the time was. At exactly 1.00 pm each day the Time Ball was manually lowered to allow ships to set their chronometers accurately. A cylindrical brick upper extension was added in the 1930s. The Time Ball was restored in the 1990s and it now operates according to a computerised system.
The Victorian Heritage Database points out that the area around the Time Ball Tower is hugely significant to the early history of Melbourne "as the first location of a number of early and singular government activities related to navigation, defence and the penal system. It was the site of the first lighthouse on Port Philip. It was the site of the small convict jetty that serviced the convict hulks moored just offshore from 1852 on. It was the site of the first astronomical observatory in the Colony, which established accurate local time measurements that were essential for navigation. It was the site of early time ball signalling apparatus. It was the site of the first defensive shore battery to protect Melbourne from attack by hostile warships. It was the site of a station of the first telegraph in Australia." There is a more detailed history of the time ball and the area around it at https://vhd.heritagecouncil.vic.gov.au/places/1222.

Fort Gellibrand and Port Gellibrand Coastal Heritage Park
Located between the foreshore and Battery Road, and beyond to Hammer Street and Railway Terrace, the Point Gellibrand Coastal Heritage Park incorporates Fort Gellibrand and has a number of flat walking paths which pass interpretative signs and places of interest which include the Timeball Tower, the Railway, the Quarantine Burial Site and the Prison Quarry.
There is a useful Parks Victoria Visitors Guide (see https://parkweb.vic.gov.au/__data/assets/pdf_file/0010/315568/Park-note-Point-Gelibrand-Coastal-Heritage-Park.pdf) which points out that Point Gellibrand "hosts a number of recreational opportunities: immerse yourself in Victoria's colonial past by visiting Fort Gellibrand, retrace Ned Kelly's steps along Battery Road, marvel at the ingenuity of our early mariners at the Timeball Tower or step back to a time when Point Gellibrand's piers were the only gateway to the new colony." The gun emplacements, earthworks, parapets, drains and magazines of Fort Gellibrand were restored in the 1990s. The fort developed between 1860 and 1890. The first cemetery in what is now Victoria was established in this area in the late 1830s. When the fort was built the bodies were removed to a vault. For more information about the Fort check out https://vhd.heritagecouncil.vic.gov.au/places/8822 which offers a very detailed history of the fort. There is a useful map of the Point Gellibrand Coastal Heritage Park at https://parkweb.vic.gov.au/__data/assets/pdf_file/0004/543118/Map-Point-Gellibrand-HP.pdf.

Science Works and Planetarium
Located at 2 Booker Street, Spotswood, the Science Works is a hands-on highly interactive science museum. It is open from 10.00 am to 4.30 pm daily, tel: (03) 9392 4800.  On Friday nights the Melbourne Planetarium reawakens has fulldome film screenings. There are two screenings a night. The 7.30 pm session focuses on astronomy and also features What’s in the Sky Tonight, a presenter-led tour through the night sky. The 9.00 pm session features a fulldome art film offering an immersive voyage into unseen worlds. For more detailed information check out https://museumsvictoria.com.au/scienceworks.

Historic Buildings
Steam Packet Hotel
The Steam Packet Hotel at the corner of Cole St and Aitken St is a two-storey Classical Revival structure built in 1863 to replace a mid-1850s original. The simple building, built in a conservative classical style, was "Constructed on a stone plinth, the stuccoed structure has a string course and parapet with cornices. Other distinctive features include the angled corner, window and door frames and the prominent chimneys." Check https://vhd.heritagecouncil.vic.gov.au/places/65755 for more detailed information.

Stevedore Congregational Church
Located at 57 Stevedore Street, the Stevedore Uniting Church was built of bluestone in 1870-1871 as a Gothic Revival for the Congregationalists. An asymmetrical design it features a fine tower capped by an octagonal lantern and spire. The entrance, west windows and detailing are all of distinction. Check https://vhd.heritagecouncil.vic.gov.au/places/66010 for more details.

Former Presbyterian Manse
The elegant building at 27 Lyons Street, is the former Presbyterian manse, a two-storey bluestone building erected in 1856-57 with c1882 additions which was sold by the church in 1886. It is asymmetrical with projecting wings, bay windows, multi-pane windows and a hipped slate roof. It is the oldest religious residence in Williamstown. The Victorian Heritage Database notes: "Stylistically derived from Georgian architecture, its initial 1856-57 stage of construction demonstrates early details and materials. Of note are the deep timber eaves brackets which may have once served other than a decorative purpose in supporting the gutters. The south-facing external wall of the 1856-57 portion contains two 'blind windows'. The chimneys are stuccoed with slim cornice mouldings, dressed stone blocks are used as quoins, and some six-pane timber-framed window sashes survive." Check https://vhd.heritagecouncil.vic.gov.au/places/1224 for more details.

Ashton Villa and Pasco Street Heritage Precinct
The Heritage Precinct covers all the houses in Pasco Street which are, according to the Victorian Heritage Database "Early or rare building styles and types such as the basalt houses and the unifying effect throughout the precinct of groups of predominantly Victorian and Edwardian era houses with common or similar characteristics of design, siting and scale that create cohesive and homogeneous streetscapes. Many are externally intact and others, although altered, still retain their distinctive form and siting and hence contribute to the precinct." (see https://vhd.heritagecouncil.vic.gov.au/places/22454 for greater detail) and, typical is Ashton Villa at 64 Pasco Street (corner of Lyons St) is the former 'Ashton Villa' - an elegant, single-storey bluestone house built in 1858 to a design by architect Thomas Morris for Customs and Immigration official George Ashton. "It is significant as a near original example of an early and simply styled Victorian villa, which is notable for its basalt construction and original features such as the twelve pane windows and original chimneys." See more at https://vhd.heritagecouncil.vic.gov.au/places/22229.

'Mandalay' is a substantial two-storey residence at 24 The Strand which was built of stuccoed bluestone in 1858-1859 for Captain William Probert. A symmetrical design it features a veranda with a gabled porch at the centre of the facade. Built in rendered bluestone, it is considered typical of the houses which fronted Hobsons Bay in the 19th century. For more detailed information check out https://vhd.heritagecouncil.vic.gov.au/places/1230.

The Strand
The Strand is a two-storey stone house at 1 Yarra Street which was built in the early 1850s for merchant Edward Langhorne. It was stuccoed in 1861 and had a slate roof added. An original two-storey veranda has been removed and the upper doors converted to windows. The timber wing was added in the 20th century. It is an interesting example of how a building changes over the decades. Check out https://vhd.heritagecouncil.vic.gov.au/places/66055 for more detailed information.

Cox's Garden Cottage
Located at 11 Cox's Gardens is a two room, single-storey c1858 cottage built partially of prefabricated timber for Samuel George Cox. It is a rare surviving example of an 1850s worker's cottage. The Victorian Heritage Database adds: "Internally, the survival of the rough sawn timber internal lining boards with wallpaper over fabric and hessian fixed to them and timber shake roof cladding beneath the recent corrugated iron sheeting, is very unusual." For more information check out https://vhd.heritagecouncil.vic.gov.au/places/15006.


Other Attractions in the Area

The Australian Railways Historical Society's Railway Museum
The Railway Museum is located 250 metres west of North Williamstown Railway Station in Champion Road, Newport. The Museum has the largest collection of Victorian Railways steam locomotives. There are more than 15 different locomotives, ranging from the diminutive F class up to the H class, the largest locomotive to operate in Victoria. On display also are three examples of steam cranes including No. 19, a 60 ton crane used at derailments and there are diesel engines on display. Other equipment on display includes electric locomotives, suburban and country passenger carriages, Guards vans and a selection of freight wagons.. It is open from midday to 5.00 pm on Saturdays. Tel: (03) 9397 7412 on Saturdays or check out https://www.arhsvic.org.au/museum.

Altona Miniature Railway
Located at 1-21 Blenheim Street, Altona North, the Altona Miniature Railway first ran in 1985. It comprises a 1.5 km track and scaled diesel and miniature steam trains which run on the third Sunday of the month from 11.00 am to 4.00 pm. There are picnic and barbecue facilities and a kiosk. For detailed information check out https://altonaminiaturerailway.com.au.

Jawbone Flora and Fauna Reserve
The 50 hectare Jawbone Flora and Fauna Reserve comprises a series of conservation sites which stretch from the Westgate Bridge around the shoreline to Williamstown and Altona Coastal Park. The main access to the area is 3 km west from the Williamstown Visitor Information Centre. The reserve, which was once a rifle range and a seriously degraded site, is a combination of open grasslands, wetland lakes, saltmarsh and mangroves. The rifle range, which had been established in 1877, was closed in 1990 and the coastal reserve was preserved with the active assistance of the Friends of Williamstown Wetlands. The Bay Trail is for both cyclists and walkers and offers panoramic views over Port Phillip Bay and down the Bellarine Peninsula. The lakes have a number of bird hides where visitors can expect to see ducks, coots, moorhens, cormorants, grebes, swans, herons, stilts, spoonbills and pelicans. A total of 120 species have been observed in the lakes. The Bay Trail passes across the lower lake on a boardwalk and continues to the wetlands at Altona. The boardwalk reaches the saltwater-mangrove area where the vegetation includes pink bindweed, kangaroo grass, spear grass, wallaby grass, orchids, casaurinas and coastal saltbush. There is a detailed Victoria Park note which can be downloaded at https://parkweb.vic.gov.au/__data/assets/pdf_file/0005/315680/Park-note-Jawbone-Flora-and-Fauna-Reserve.pdf.

Westgate Park
Another wetland area is located under the West Gate Bridge to the north of Williamstown, en route to the Melbourne CBD. Boardwalks lead to areas where you can view the ships of Port Melbourne and the city skyline. A mangrove swamp is adjacent. There is a punt across the Yarra River to Westgate Park, a bird sanctuary with both a freshwater and saltwater lake. Attractions include the Lyn Moore's Earth Series sculptures and spectacular views of the city and Westgate Bridge. A map and Park Note can be downloaded at https://parkweb.vic.gov.au/__data/assets/pdf_file/0005/315806/Park-note-Westgate-Park.pdf.



* Prior to the arrival of Europeans the area was home to the Kulin and Boonwurrung Aboriginal people. There were two tribal groups - the Marin-balluk and the Yalukit-Willam.

* In 1803 Acting-Lieutenant Robbins explored Point Gellibrand.

* The mouth of the Yarra River was explored in May-June, 1835 by John Batman who recognised it as a future settlement site.

* Batman named the site Port Harwood after the captain of one of his ships.

* In August, 1835 John Pascoe Fawkner's 55-ton schooner, the Enterprise, carried the first settlers into Port Phillip Bay and up the Yarra to commence the settlement of Melbourne.

* When Governor Bourke and Captain William Lonsdale visited Port Harwood in 1837, they renamed it Williamstown after King William IV.

* Williamstown was Melbourne's first anchorage and the centre for port facilities until the late 19th century.

* The first land sales took place in 1837. That year saw the first streets laid out.

* A 30-metre stone jetty was built by convict labour in 1838 where Gem Pier now stands.

* In 1838 a ferry service between Melbourne and Williamstown was established aboard the steamer 'Fire Fly'.

* A store was set up in 1839

* A water police superintendent was appointed in 1840. That year saw a lighthouse erected at Point Gellibrand.

* St Mary's Catholic School was opened in 1842 and it is now the oldest continuously operating school in the state.

* 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 1849-1850.

* By 1850 Williamstown was an unattractive port with a few grog shops and boarding houses on the shore with debris and rubbish from the ships and the town lining the shore.

* A Post Office was opened in 1850.

* The Victorian goldrushes of the 1850s resulted in a huge increase in through-traffic as immigrants and interstate travellers disembarked en route to the fields. Many ships were left floating in Hobsons Bay when crews deserted for the fields. Some became floating boarding houses.

* A stockade was built in 1853.

* By 1854 a gun battery and observatory had been erected and the first telegraph in Australia was established between Melbourne and Williamstown.

* The Williamstown Chronicle was first published in 1854. 

* The first gunship to be presented to the Australian colony by the British government was the 580-ton 'Victoria' which sported seven 32-pound guns. It docked at Williamstown in 1856 and was used by the Royal Australian Navy.

* The Naval Dockyards were founded at Williamstown in the 1850s.

* Fort Gellibrand was built in 1855.

* In 1856 Williamstown was declared a separate municipality. That year saw swimming baths build on Williamstown Beach.

* A railway line from Geelong to Newport was operating by 1856 (with passengers carried over the Yarra River by ferry).

* The railway was bought by the government in 1857 and extended across the river to Melbourne.

* Williamstown Post Office was built in 1860.

* The hulk 'Deborah' was used as a reformatory school for children from 1864.

* Work began on a state shipyard in 1865. The foundation stone was laid by the Duke of Edinburgh.

* The 'Shenandoah', a raider belonging to the Confederate army in the US Civil War, requested permission to dock at Williamstown in 1865 after developing propeller problems during a commercial voyage. Permission was granted over the objections of the US consul. It left after 22 days before the consul could realise plans to seize the ship. After capturing or sinking 38 Union ships it surrendered at Liverpool in England. In 1871, at the International Court in Geneva, the US government was awarded £820 000 pounds from Britain because the ship had been granted the facilities of Williamstown.

* The HMVS Nelson was given to the colony of Victoria by the British government in 1867.

* In 1868 the local Baptist Church began holding services.

* By 1870 Williamstown was Victoria's major port.

* Williamstown Racecourse was built in 1872.

* A new customs house was built in 1873, the year a steam ferry at Newport was established by the local council.

* In 1873 the Royal Yacht Club of Victoria moved to Nelson Place.

* The largest graving dock in the Southern Hemisphere was built in 1874. The Williamstown North Primary School was opened that year.

* The borough of Williamstown was declared a town in 1886.

* The Yacht Club Hotel opened in 1892.

* The Williamstown Railway Station was built in 1905.

* Williamstown Sailing Club was formed in 1914.

* Williamstown became a city in 1919.

* In 1920 the railway was electrified.

* In 1927 the Williamstown Town Hall was officially opened.

* A ferry across the lower Yarra River facilitated more direct access to Melbourne in 1931.

*  A crude oil terminal was built in the 1950s.

* In 1970, during the construction of the West Gate Bridge, an accident resulted in the deaths of 35 men.

* The bridge was completed in 1978.

* A power station was built, amidst controversy over its environmental impact, near the western end of the bridge in the late 1970s.

* In 1994 Williamstown became part of the City of Hobsons Bay.


Visitor Information

Hobsons Bay Visitor Information Centre, 1 Syme St. It is open daily from 9.00 am - 5.00 pm, tel: (03) 9932 4310.


Useful Websites

There is an official local website. Check out http://visitwilliamstown.com.au.

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