Williamstown’s Historical Significance & Aboriginal Heritage


New... Oriental Hotel dating back to before 1854 - see here

Click to enlarge this early photo of Williamstown
and notice the layout of Williamstown’s early settlement
aerial photo after the railway was built  circa 1873 (.jpg 2.4MB)

Williamstown is unique.  No other city in Australia has an industrial and residential mix with such intact history which exists so close to the city centre with such diversity of purpose.  It is a place to treasure and preserve into the future, a place that can never be recreated if it’s uniquesness is allowed to be lost.  As the first place of settlement in Melbourne in 1835 the potential for development of the 21st century to destroy this place is frightening.

  1. Eminent historian. Prof Geoffrey Blainey, has described Point Gellibrand Williamstown as significant as Circular Quay.
    “I think the strip of land close to Point Gellibrand is probably more central to Victorian history than any other strip of land I can think of. Its significance is perhaps second only to Sydneyʼs Circular Quay in terms of Australian history since white settlementʼ

  2. Cyril Curtain who is a resident of Williamstown and will be involved in preparing the National Trust submission to the Minister’s Advisory Committee writes about
    “........The Bluestone Tower at Point Gellibrand
    Point Gellibrand Tower
    Point Gellibrand and the tower as they are today. After tidying up and replanting with the native vegetation of the area, the view will look much the same.
    By Cyril Curtain

  3. Today, Point Gellibrand at Williamstown is a windswept open space, commanding stunning views across Melbourne’s shipping channel and northern Port Phillip Bay. The only feature rising above ground is a basalt (bluestone) tower, surmounted by a copper ball and a staff. It is the sole visible survivor of nearly 170 years of the history of sea and land transport in Victoria. Point Gellibrand was the first landing place for the Port Phillip settlement when it was established in 1834. It has been described by eminent historian Geoffrey Blainey as significant a site as Sydney’s Circular Quay.....”


For details of the history of the Government Survey Precinct of Williamstown see

But not only is there the history of settlement in 1835, there is the long history of aboriginal heritage so pertinent to the history of Point Gellibrand. The Former Port Phillip Woollen Mill Site is on land which is within 200 metres of the original banks of the Yarra River and therefore according to the regulations of the Aboriginal Heritage Act 2006 fits within the criteria of  “Waterways and land within 200m of waterways are areas of cultural heritage sensitivity”. The Kulin Nation have a long history of inhabitation here in the peninsula at the mouth of the Yarra River.  What archaelogical relics of this original habitation might exist beneath the concrete of the old Woollen Mill site or the open spaces within the site which have not been built on?

1864 map with depths around Pt Gellibrand by Captain Cox

Those who fought so hard for the retention of Point Gellibrand Park will know the many arguments for preserving the values of this area.

According to Parks Victoria’s Point Gellibrand Coastal Heritage Park Visitors Guide: “Point Gellibrand is arguably the richest heritage site in the history of Victoria. lt was the first permanent settlement and seaport and was crucial to the initial growth of Victoria. From the ancient meetings of Victoria's indigenous peoples, to Ihe backbreaking labour required to build a colony, and the tireless efforts of local conservationists, the history of Point Gellibrand is a fascinating story
Location: In the 1840's Point Gellibrand was defined by Nelson Place, Cole Street, The Esplanade and tile rocky eastern foreshore. Today it is a much smaller area bounded by Kanowna Street, Fort Gellibrand, tile Eastern Foreshore and the Dockyard. Access is via Nelson Place, Williamstown.” So the development site is clearly all contained within the original heritage area of Point Gellibrand from Cole St not just from Kanowra St.

The Williamstown Foreshore Strategic Plan prepared by Parks Victoria and Hobsons Bay City Council also contains material of interest about the precinct called The Wharfs.
“... 3.6.4 Design Rationale. The existing large scale maritime industry dominates this precinct, and is representative of Williamstown's maritime history Maritime Industry ensures the presence of large vessels in this precinct linking with the boating activity within the Ann Street to Ferguson Street Precinct Maritime industry should remain in this precinct into the future maintaining links with the history of Williamstown. Strategic directions for this precinct therefore focus upon Nelson Place and ensure that the pedestrian/bike path is a safe and clearly marked travel route to Point Gellibrand Landscape features of this precinct also need reinforcement to link Nelson Place to Point Gellibrand Coastal Heritage Park...”

We will need experienced historians and aboriginal heritage experts to help us argue for maintaining the integrity of this area for future generations. 

The Heritage Report prepared by the developer’s heritage adviser states that the adviser was not been instructed to undertake detailed research into the history of the subject site and its component parts, but rather to assess the potential impact that the proposed development may have upon the character and significance of the heritage overlay area.

It is important that the significant heritage issues are researched in detail.

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Hobson Bay City Council Municipal Strategic Statement 

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