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Melbourne's Rare Iron Houses

Home > Melbourne > Historic Houses | Outdoor | Walks
by Julie Mundy (subscribe)
Julie is the author of a number of guidebooks, including 'Melbourne's Best Bush Bay and City Walks' & 'Melbourne for Dogs' (with RSPCA). Read more of her adventures at her walks blog: walksmelbourne.com
Published June 29th 2012
If you are a bit of a fan of the old tin shed, consider this: some of Melbourne's first settlers made their homes in the world's oldest 'pre-fab' buildings - portable 'iron houses' which made their way by ship from England to Australia and were assembled here on arrival. Forget Ikea flat-pack cupboards: bring on the fully-fledged home! The portable cottages were commissioned by Governor Latrobe to provide accommodation in a city bursting at its seams from the influx of those seeking to find gold. Made of a mixture of iron and wood, there are still a few examples of these tiny 19th century homes in and around Melbourne - some of the very few remaining in the world - which you can go and visit today.

Portable Iron Houses, South Melbourne,
National Trust Portable Ironhouses, South Melbourne (c) JP Mundy


In South Melbourne, at 399 Coventry Street, the National Trust looks after 3 tiny, tiny iron houses, one of which is on its original site. The other two were moved here from North Melbourne and Fitzroy in order to protect them from demolition. South Melbourne (or Emerald Hill as it was known during the gold rush days) was the site of Melbourne's tent city, where thousands of settlers lived while waiting to go to the goldfields. By 1855 there were almost 100 portable iron houses in the vicinity, including cottages, shops and even two-storey buildings and a coach house! The house at the back of the Coventry Street site, is one of only two remaining iron houses from the ironfounders, Bellhouse, in Manchester UK - the other one is the former ballroom of Balmoral Castle in England.

The houses are open from 1 to 4pm on the first Sunday in each month (except for January) Bookings: 03 9645 7517

Just over the road, at 17 Coventry Place is another tiny portable house, this one mostly made from wood. A private residence, this is an example of a 'Singapore' cottage and is on the Victorian Heritage Register.

Prefabricated cottage, 17 Coventry Place
Prefab 'Singapore' Cottage, South Melbourne (c) JP Mundy


Across the city, in Royal Park, is Walmsley House, named for its London manufacturers. Constructed here in 1855, it is another seemingly simple corrugated shed to the casual passer-by, but with an interesting history: first a barracks for 'mounted troopers' and later home to one of the park-keepers. If you are interested in learning more about the fascinating history of Walmsley House and Melbourne's portable cottages, have a look at this very readable article by Simon Reeves.

Walmsley House, Royal Park
Walmsley House, Royal Park via London
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Why? To have a glimpse back into Melbourne's gold rush era housing
When: Open first Sunday of each month (except January) 1-4pm
Where: 399 Coventry Street, South melbourne, and Royal Park, Parkville
Your Comment
The only hitch to seeing inside these wonderful 'flat pack houses' wld be finding car parking in Sth Melbn on any Sunday afternoon!
by fluffynut (score: 2|875) 872 days ago
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