port for the Port Phillip District

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Williamstown streets beneath our feet
Established formally in 1837 by Governor Sir Richard Burke, Williamstown’s original economic role was as a port for the Port Phillip District (then part of New South Wales). Because it was named after the reigning monarch, some imagined it might grow into a capital city. (Melbourne had been christened two years earlier for the then Prime Minister of Britain.) It was home to many of the pilots who guided ships through the treacherous Rip and up Port Phillip Bay.1 The Port Phillip Pilot Service commenced in 1852. Coode’s rebuilding of Port Melbourne in the 1880s (globally the largest harbour works in the nineteenth century) led to a decline in Williamstown’s importance (and thereby helped save much of its historic fabric). Williamstown was also the centre of the railways industry for the Colony of Victoria, based at the Newport Railway Workshops. The initial subdivision of Williamstown by surveyor Robert Hoddle can be recognised in the grid pattern. Streets run parallel to Ferguson Street north of this main east-west axis, towards The Strand or angle towards Nelson Place towards the southern end of the promontory. Locals joke that Williamstown is shaped like a lobster pot, and people have the same trouble escaping as trapped crustaceans. Historically Williamstown and Yarraville have been essentially self-contained industrial villages of the kind found in Germany and the North of England. Our walks take us through Williamstown Port, Williamstown Beach, and Yarraville. Each of the periods of local history will be visible. What House Is That? (third edition, produced by the Heritage Council of Victoria, available online) is a useful reference. Boonwurrung Nation: The Boonwurrung land extended eastwards across Nerm (Port Phillip Bay), but much was of this land was covered water when the water levels rose several millennia ago. Their name for Williamstown was koort-boorkboork (‘she-oak, she-oak, plenty’). The she-oak (casuarina) is still common in Williamstown. Benbow Street in Yarraville might be named for a Boonwurrung man who befriended Batman. Georgian: Williamstown’s origins are Georgian, and this is reflected in its early buildings, including the older hotels. Of particular interest is the improved use of bluestone, both as walls and as foundations. Victorian: Rows of pretty terrace houses line many of the streets in the areas built between 1860 and 1890, before the crash of 1891. The row of Williamstown’s buildings along Nelson Place is one of the best-preserved commercial districts in Melbourne. 6 Edwardian: Houses built before 1914, including ‘respectable’ streets like Osborne Street, illustrate the revived economic conditions following the 1890s recession. Californian Bungalow: These 1920s houses have larger verandahs and more complex domestic interiors that reflect the changing patterns of family life. Domestic work moved into the middle of the houses. Art Deco: Yarraville’s Sun Theatre is an outstanding example of this style. Modern: Following the hiatus caused by the shortage of building materials in the immediate post-war years, these new houses accommodated the European immigrants in the area after 1945. Contemporary: New building materials and techniques in the 1990s provided better accommodation for second-generation immigrants and newcomers to the area. Postmodern: Form no longer follows function in this style of housing, a style that appeals particularly to professional families new to Williamstown. By 1981, by when the effects of post-war immigration were strongly felt across Melbourne’s West, the city of Williamstown (which included Newport and part of Spotswood, but not Yarraville) stood out from the rest of the region for its strongly Anglo-Australian character, but also for second-generation groups of Asians (including Lebanese), defined here (Tables 1 and 2) as ‘Other’. Table 1: Ethnicity of the West’s inhabitants, 1981 (per cent) Local Govt Area Anglo Australian Nth European Sth European Other Footscray 41.5 11.9 34.2 12.4 Altona 36.6 18.7 38.8 5.9 Sunshine 35.2 15.8 38.0 11.0 Keilor 39.0 13.8 38.5 8.7 Essendon 56.2 12.2 22.7 8.9 Williamstown 49.8 18.3 19.5 12.4 Werribee 57.7 21.3 15.7 5.3 (Rest of Victoria) 61.7 16.4 13.4 8.5 Melton 62.1 24.7 8.4 4.8 Bacchus Marsh 76.4 15.5 4.4 3.7 Source: Australia. Census, 1981 Note: ‘Ethnicity’ has been calculated as one’s birthplace if outside Australia and that of one’s parents if second-generation Australians. In the case of parents from two foreign countries, the figures have been halved (following C. A. Price) 7 Table 2: Birthplace of the West’s inhabitants, 1981 (per cent) Population Local Govt Area Australia Nth Europe Sth Europe Elsewhere 49 751 Footscray 59.1 7.7 24.4 8.9 30 905 Altona 61.1 12.5 23.1 3.3 94 424 Sunshine 59.3 10.6 22.6 7.5 81 750 Keilor 64.1 8.5 22.1 5.3 56 381 Essendon 73.5 6.9 13.8 5.8 25 567 Williamstown 80.0 5.4 9.1 5.5 40 547 Werribee 75.6 13.3 8.1 3.0 3 424 987 Rest of Victoria 77.3 9.8 7.8 5.1 20 601 Melton 78.4 15.3 4.0 2.3 7 521 Bacchus Marsh 88.0 8.8 2.0 1.2 Source: Australia. Census, 1981 There were more Catholics in Yarraville than Williamstown – indeed, South Yarraville was nicknamed ‘Irishtown’ in late colonial times. Table 3: Catholics in selected Melbourne suburbs, 1861 and 1891 (per cent) Suburb 1861 1891 Footscray 23 17 Port Melbourne (Sandridge) 18 23 South Melbourne (Emerald Hill) 19 22 Williamstown 19 16 Source: Fricker, Unpublished PhD, University of Melbourne There is another set of distinctions that we need to think about, namely, how each new wave of immigrants see the city differently. These six waves can be characterised as follows: • Colonial elite – this group includes factory owners and their families, ship captains, publicans, shopkeepers • Colonial working class – mostly English, Scottish, Welsh, especially in maritime industries • Unskilled working class – stevedores, railway workers, petrochemical plants, council employees, including some Catholics • Skilled working class – employees at Williamstown Naval Dockyard, Newport Railway • Post-war European immigrants – these include Macedonians, Greeks, Muslim Lebanese • Middle-class professionals – these were newcomers from other parts of Melbourne attracted by the village feel of Williamstown and Yarraville 8 Each of these waves had differing perspectives of this urban environment, according to urbanist Kevin Lynch.2 He offered the following five factors that explained the ‘imageability’ of the built environment: • District – the area within which each group lived, worked, worshipped, played • Edge – the line beyond which each of these groups typically did not venture • Path – the everyday routes taken by each group, such as roads, lanes, waterways • Landmark – signal buildings or other structures used to orient people • Nodes – points of intersection, such as piazzas, where different groups might meet Williamstown and Yarraville contain examples that confirm Lynch’s understanding of the urban form. You are invited to identify at least five of these, and to explain them. Here is a sample format: Lynch’s factor Immigrant wave Example Edge Skilled working class Western side of railway line to Williamstown By the late nineteenth-century there was laid down in Williamstown a solid Labor-voting majority, built basically by working-class mobilisation, since trade unions played a critical role in local politics. Despite the changes of the twentieth century, this pattern persisted. As new middle-class families entered Williamstown, the anti-Labor forces were held in check. During the 1980s and 1990s Williamstown became the focus of state ALP power, providing two Labor premiers in Joan Kirner and then Steve Bracks. Although naval and military connections with Williamstown remained strong, the hierarchy of Australia’s defence industry was contested by the power structures in the labour movement. The name of Gellibrand is prominent in Williamstown, both for Point Gellibrand and the federal seat. Joseph Tice Gellibrand (1786-1837) perished the year Williamstown was founded, but had otherwise nothing to do with the area. A London lawyer, who served as the Attorney-General in Van Diemen’s Land, he became a member of the Port Phillip Association (he was the author of Batman’s notorious treaty) and disappeared allegedly without trace while ‘exploring’ western Victoria with George B. L. Hesse in February 1837. In fact, his body was found by Henry Allan (of Allandale, near Warrnambool), with the help of the Giraiwurrung people, with whom Gellibrand had been a guest for two months.3 Given Gellibrand’s inconsequential connection with 9 Williamstown, there is a plausible case for the seat being renamed in honour of Kirner.4 Table 4: Members for Gellibrand since its establishment in 1949 Year Member Party Occupation 2-Party 1949-1954 Jack Mullens ALP, DLP Teacher 69.7-74.4 1955-1969 Hec McIvor ALP Oil company rep 62.8-68.7 1972-1996 Ralph Willis ALP ACTU official 62.2-75.9 1998-2010 Nicola Roxon ALP Lawyer 65.0-75.9 2013-present Tim Watts ALP Lawyer 64.8-68.2 Occasionally, left-wing candidates stood (such as Victoria University’s James Doughney in 1983, 1984, 1987), never earning more than eight per cent of the vote. Interestingly, the Greens have made no inroads in this electorate, thanks to the strength of union-based Labor. A key institution in Williamstown has always been the local football club. We will use its players as the basis of our prosopography. Researching each player’s biography, we can see that some have lived ‘rough’ (smooth) lives, and other have been ‘respectable (‘striated). How does this help us explain why Williamstown was a less successful club on the field than South Melbourne? Here is the playing record of the two clubs in the pre-VFL period: Table 5: Playing record of Williamstown FC in the colonial era: 1884-1895 Season Ladder Played Won Drawn 1884 8 23 9 6 1885 6 18 9 2 1886 9 23 11 1 1887 6 19 9 2 1888 3 20 13 1 1889 10 20 5 2 1890 12 18 2 2 1891 9 18 4 3 1892 12 18 3 1 1893 10 20 4 3 1894 10 18 5 3 1895 9 18 6 1 1896 equal 6 18 7 3 Source: Mark Pennings, Origins of Australian Football: Victoria’s Early History, vol.5, Grumpy Monks, Brisbane, 2016, pp. 425-32 10 Table 6: Playing record of South Melbourne in the colonial era: 1884-1895 Season Ladder Played Won Drawn 1884 4 23 9 5 1885 1 17 15 2 1886 2 21 18 2 1887 3 20 12 4 1888 1 19 15 2 1889 1 19 14 3 1890 1 19 16 1 1891 4 22 14 1 1892 6 21 9 4 1893 4 21 13 4 1894 3 18 11 2 1895 5 18 9 2 1896 2 19 14 1 Source: Mark Pennings, Origins of Australian Football: Victoria’s Early History, vol.5, Grumpy Monks, Brisbane, 2016, pp. 425-32 This takes us to a useful distinction arising out of post-structural theory, that between the ‘smooth’ and the ‘striated’.5 The straightening out (striation) of Boonwurrung space and time took place mostly during the Boom period (1860- 1890). This striating can be seen in many dimensions of Williamstown life. In particular, the shoreline was straightened, with the muddy flats built up with silt dredged from the Bay as shipping lanes were widened and deepened. We invite you to list examples of this striation process as we walk around Williamstown and Yarraville. Dimensions of striation include: cardinal points, straight lines, the measurement of time, measured distances, long-distance travel and communication. You should find at least five and up to as many as 10 examples of striation. Set out your answer using this template. Example of striation Description Source Straightening out foreshore The Williamstown foreshore in Boonwurrung times was described as ‘muddy flats’. The Commonwealth Reserve has been built up Port communities typified by Williamstown have historically relied on hotels as liminal spaces, the threshold between land and water, where patrons could prepare themselves for the long sea voyage ahead, celebrate their safe arrival after the dangerous journey along such passages as southern Victoria’s shipwreck coast, or gather with loved ones ahead of military adventures abroad. 11 Colonial pubs also served an important role as the place where sporting life could be organised, where clubs and associations might join in festivity, or where commercial deals could be struck. The Steam Packet Inn was the venue where the Williamstown Racing Club was formed. Pubs were also architectural gems and sources of news, decorated with posters and sporting calendars, celebrating the artistry of local woodworkers (seen in the lush timber interior of the Stag Head Hotel) and places where gossip was freely bartered in a cheery bar (the Rose Hotel in Ferguson Street was particularly homely). Each pub boasted its own urban legends, such as the seduction in Room 12 of the Rifle Club Hotel of the author Hal Porter when he was a young man. A sign of the importance of Williamstown’s pubs was their role (prior to the building of the local morgue) in safeguarding the bodies of deceased locals before an autopsy could be performed.6 The publican was a community leader, dispensing not only licit alcohol, but also after-hours sly-grog and SP bookmaking. If he was hauled into court for these misdemeanours and lost his licence, his wife could step in and take up the licence. Hotelkeeping was an important source of paid employment for women, even if it was an occupation looked down upon by respectable folks. The daughters of publicans were not welcome at elite women’s schools, such as Sacre Coeur. This hostility to the work of the publican also extended into religious difference, with opposition from Methodists and Presbyterians, and sometimes from Anglicans. The Wilkinson Drinking Fountain, named for a minister from Holy Trinity, Reverend George Wilkinson, offered water for thirsty sailors walking off Gem Pier in the direction of Williamstown’s many pubs. During the 1920s the campaign to reduce the number of local hotels saw several closed. This complex history is, above all else, quite telegenic. Williamstown is a popular choice for film and television directors looking for historic locations for shooting, given the nostalgic appeal of its timeless appearance. The former Williamstown Police Station served as Mt Thomas police station in the popular long-running TV series, Blue Heelers (1994-2006). 12 Peter Haddow (police advisor/actor) and Mark Piper (director) with actor John Wood (background). On location in Williamstown for episode 80 of Blue Heelers, ‘Tough Love’.7 Another example is the Williamstown Primary School, which appears in the children’s TV show, Round the Twist. When post-war migrants who had returned to live in Europe pay a visit to Melbourne, they often make a sentiment

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