I'm a Victorian freelance writer & photographer living in the Macedon Ranges north of Melbourne.
Published August 1st 2013
Melbourne's Historic Port Precinct
Williamstown has two quite unique faces. An historic maritime village on the one hand, and on the other it's a vibrant entertainment precinct and a popular residential address.
Williamstown sits on the shore of Hobson's Bay and was Melbourne's original port
Sitting on Hobson's Bay at the mouth of the Yarra River, Williamstown is the centre of Melbourne's recreational boating industry and draws visitors from far and wide to the bars and restaurants along Nelson Place.
Savage's Wharf - The centre of Melbourne's recreational boating industry Williamstown is still a working port
Williamstown was first explored in 1803 but it wasn't until 1835 that John Batman named it Port Harwood and established a safe harbour for vessels unloading supplies for the new Port Phillip settlement. By 1837 moves were afoot to have the new colonies main settlement established here, at a site named Williams Town in honour of King William IV. A lack of fresh water meant that the settlement was set up further inland on the banks of the Yarra and Williams Town became its port. By 1849 Williams Town had evolved to become Williamstown and the 1850's saw the great Victorian gold rush bring an unprecedented explosion of wealth and growth in the colony.
Formerly tidal mud flats Commonwealth Reserve was built up by hand using silt dredged from the Yarra River estuary
Today Williamstown is an easy place to explore on foot. The Strand meanders along the waterfront from Greenwich Reserve to the Ferguson Street pier, its suburban streetscape enjoying expansive views across the river and Hobson's Bay to the Melbourne city skyline. From Ferguson Street Nelson Place follows the waterfront past Hobson's Bay Yacht Club and the Royal Victorian Motor Yacht Club to Commonwealth Reserve, the site of the original settlement. Across the street the Nelson Place streetscape is a long and impressive collection of 19th century buildings – 'the front' as it was known in 1880, the fashionable end of town with shops, commercial premises and the fabulous Williamstown Coffee Palace.
Williamstown has its own cafe-culture and offers a host of excellent dining options
Behind the trees and manicured lawns of Commonwealth Reserve you'll find Gem Pier and the museum ship HMAS CASTLEMAINE.
From the reserve Nelson Place continues parallel to the coast, past the Royal Yacht Club of Victoria, SEAWORKS, the Victorian Water Police Headquarters and the BAE shipbuilding complex.
SEAWORKS is an historic maritime precinct, occupying the original Melbourne Harbor Trust Stores and Workshops built here between 1887 and 1888. Tall-ships frequently berth here and it will undoubtedly be at the forefront of the Melbourne Tall Ships Festival 2013 to be hosted by Williamstown in September.
History is everywhere you look in this unique maritime precinct - the Time Ball Tower
At the end of Nelson Place you'll find the historic Time Ball Tower, the site of Victoria's first lighthouse built in 1840 and replaced in 1848 by the bluestone structure you see today. Past the Time Ball is the old Fort Gellibrand, part of the early colonial defences and still in use as a military establishment today. From the fort The Esplanade leads to Williamstown Beach with its café, kiosk and life-saving club.
Williamstown's 19th Century facade is a great place to dine al-fresco
Far removed from its rough working class days and just a short ferry ride from Southbank the old and new Williamstown combine to provide a rewarding insight into one of Victoria's premier historic precincts. But more than that it is a culinary delight offering everything from fine dining to light meals served al-fresco, pub-grub or just a great feed of fish & chips on the grassy foreshore.
Williamstown's Gem Pier and the museum ship HMAS CASTLEMAINE