It’s been a while since I had visited Williamstown, but Supa Group are about to commence a job in Champion Road, near the Williamstown Railway Museum so I was out visiting the client at the site measure.
I arrived early and took a drive to the seaside and to check out old Williamstown.
And it is old. Williamstown was the original port for the township of Melbourne, located near the mouth of the Yarra River. It’s regarded as working class but I’d say it’s that with a twist. It has a certain refinement and sensibility that is unlike anywhere else in Melbourne. I think the fact that you have to either drive there or catch a ferry makes it different to other suburbs where you just pass through on your way to somewhere else.
Nelson Place with intact streetscape of Victorian shops.
Williamstown has a strong naval tradition including the naming of one its earliest streets after Vice Admiral Lord Nelson. Known as Nelson Place it runs along the foreshore where boat building and repairs have traditionally occurred, and also a number of Yacht Clubs exist.
Being established in 1835 (at the same time as Melbourne proper) the victory of the Battle of Trafalgar in 1805 (where the Brits whipped the French and the Spanish) was still fresh in the popular imagination. Nelson’s death in victory became a source of great pride with the British, to the extent that Trafalgar Square in London was named in honour of that battle, and a huge column erected in his honour. Not bad for a boy who joined the navy at age 12 with no upper class origins.
Even as a kid, I was aware of Lord Nelson. We had a one-eyed cow on the dairy farm that we had named Nelson so my natural curiosity encouraged me to research him at a young age.
Running off Nelson Place is Pasco Street named after Rear Admiral John Pasco, who served alongside Nelson in the Battle of Trafalgar.
Further enhancing the nautical theme is the “new” main street of Williamstown named Ferguson Street. This was named after Captain Charles Ferguson, a British Naval Captain who was Victoria’s first Chief Harbour Master.
Looking down Ferguson Street towards the bay your eye is drawn to the Cenotaph, a granite memorial to those who served in the First World War from Williamstown, and there were plenty of them.
The Cenotaph looking from Ferguson Street towards Port Phillip Bay.
The Cenotaph was unveiled by the then Mayor of Williamstown, Councillor John James Liston, fittingly on Remembrance Day, 1925.
JJ Liston was a Williamstown identity par excellence. Born in 1872 in Ireland, his family migrated to Australia in 1882, living at Williamston. He owned a barbers shop in Nelson Place, and was involved in various sports, especially football and horse racing.
But it was in Civic matters that he excelled. He first stood for council at the age of 25. At first he was unsuccessful, however he was elected to the council at age 26. He was elected Mayor of the City of Williamstown in 1901, aged 29, a remarkable achievement.
In 1906 he was licensee of the Customs House Hotel and he was appointed Secretary of the Liquor Trades Defence Union.
As a councillor, he represented his constituents for 32 years, seven of them as Mayor. He was also a councillor at the Melbourne City Council, a member of the Melbourne Metropolitan Board of Works and a Commissioner for the Melbourne Harbour Trust.
The VFL best and fairest medal is named after him, and there is a JJ Liston Stakes ran at Caulfield every August. Even the tennis courts located at the Commonwealth Reserve are named the Liston Tennis Club.
He was also a dedicated Roman Catholic.
Liston moved from Williamstown to East Melbourne in 1931. At a gathering in his honour at St Mary’s, it was reported in the Williamstown Advocate that many kind things were said of him. One of my favourite passages from the report dated 10th December 1931 goes thus:
“You have been told of his loyalty to his Church: that devotedness did not beget any narrow or sectarian spirit in him. He has ever had a sensitive regard for the religious feelings of others, and the religious opinions of others were no concerns of his. He valued men for their personal worth and character. In this he proved himself to be a truly Christian gentleman.”
There were also examples given of his charitable acts to those less fortunate and his dislike of sectarianism.
Liston died in 1944 and was buried at Williamstown Cemetery.
John James Liston’s Celtic Cross memorial at Williamstown Cemetery.
The older residential areas of Williamstown is a delight to walk around. The mixture of early Victorian brick and weatherboard homes are pleasing on the eye, there is a symmetry in the proportions of these homes. It reminds me a lot of Queenscliff and Port Fairy, both seaside towns built around harbours. All of the front gardens are well maintained symbolic of the care that people take of their surrounds.
I took a turn along Electra Street. The name is perplexing and it took me back to my days of studying psychology. The Electra Complex runs along similar lines to the Oedipus Complex, but affects girls, so this street could be complicated?
Homes in Electra Street, Williamstown. Very Victorian. The house on the right has a pleasant second storey extension with attic windows protruding through the roof line.
Electra Street is home to the Uniting Church, originally the Methodist Church.
Williamstown Uniting Church and Manse, constructed 1876 out of brick and bluestone.
Next door to the Manse was the Methodist Kindergarten. The kindergarten is now utilised as the Holy Ascension Orthodox Christian Mission Centre.
There are two foundation stones on the building – one caught my eye
The Mason’s and the Methodists have had a pretty close association over the years.
Speaking of Mason’s – the lodge is just down the road. The original building was constructed in 1890 and there is a contemporary ground floor extension to the right side of the building. The first lodge in Williamstown was established in 1854.
Williamstown Masonic Hall.
Across the road from the lodge is the simple chapel containing the Williamstown Gospel Mission.
The Mission was established in 1916 and moved to this site in Electra Street in 1928.
Another great public building in Electra Street is the former Mechanics Institute.
Williamstown Mechanics Institute
Mechanic’s Institutes are dotted around all over Victoria, and were basically libraries with technical books for adult learning. They were designed to help improve the skills base in the adult population. Not a bad idea.
In my reading on JJ Liston it was said that he was a great one for studying to improve himself, and in that instance you could say that the study paid off.
Williamstown is spoilt for choice when it comes to Hotels. Just down the road from the Methodist Church is the Morning Star Hotel.
Morning Star Hotel – it features beautiful external tile work.
Glazed tiles are a feature of early Melbourne Hotels. The phrase “to piss your money up against the wall” could conceivably have been derived from this feature of Victorian era hotels. Lucky we don’t have scratch and sniff pictures! It is hard to imagine now the smells that would have existed in Melbourne’s suburbs in the late 1800’s.
I walked back to the beachfront, where I discovered an old Williamstown business called C. Blunt Boatbuilder.
Blunt’s Boatbuilders with slipway into the bay.
I discovered that Blunt’s have been around for a while. The business was established in 1880 and has been at the present site since 1926.
The Williamstown Chronicle 8th November 1930 had a testimonial for Blunts by no less than a Presbyterian Missionary:
Excerpt from the Williamstown Chronicle
A bit further along, on the corner of Nelson Place and Pasco Street is the home of the Anglican Church and associated vicarage.
Holy Trinity Anglican Church Williamstown undergoing roofing repairs.
The church construction was completed in 1874. It replaced the original church built on the site in 1854 which was an iron flat pack from England, similar to many houses constructed in the era of the gold rush.
The Vicarage with Pepper Tree in the way.
The vicarage appears to be in need of some love and attention – maybe a Supa Group renovation?
On the opposite corner lies the Housing Commission flats, with some of the best views in Melbourne – looking out over the water towards the docks and Melbourne CBD.
Nelson Place Commission Flats
The last leg of my walk was around the pier near the Cenotaph, known as Ferguson Pier.
Ferguson Pier with the now ubiquitous O-Bike. I resisted and continued to walk
I walked along the pier – having come from the country I am not used to walking over the water like this and it generates a strange sensation that is difficult to describe. The smell of the salt water is something that is immediately recognisable when you reach the water’s edge.
As you get further along you see the docks of Melbourne with its large cargo ships unloading
Walking the plank – the end of Ferguson Pier looking towards the Melbourne CBD and dock cranes to the left.
The foreshore of Williamstown is a popular area to sit and admire the harbour. There is a fantastic well kept lawn area.
Big gun designed to keep the rabbits out. The steel structure to the left is a tethering point for ships.
Having done my day’s exercise and ticked off a number of religions, community groups and hotels it was time to head for home. It was a most enjoyable couple of hours.
Williamstown is a popular suburb in Melbourne, and there are many families who have lived there for generations. I can understand why.
There is a staunchly parochial community who are passionate about retaining the amenity and history of the area.
And that’s a good thing.