Flinders St Station – The Heart and Soul of Melbourne and it’s restoration.

Flinders St Station. Melbourne’s main railway station is a ‘grande old dame’. For Melbournians it’s as familiar as a pair of old shoes. For the older generation it was a work destination, Saturday night at the movies, Chinatown or a picnic at the botanical gardens. Life revolved around catching a ‘red rattler’ to Flinders St, or one of these modern blue Harris Trains. There were its gates, its ramps and – its toilets (Oh dear!) And now it is being refurbished, no expense spared “Meet me under the clocks” and I’ll tell you all about it…


A team of Melbourne and Swiss based architects – Hassel, Herzog and de Meuron won the Victorian Government’s competition to redevelop Flinders St Station in 2014. The winners were a unanimous choice from the panel of judges. Demonstrating respectful treatment of the existing Heritage Building, the team melds a vision of new and additions to this iconic and loved Melbourne landmark.

Flinders St Station, located on the south western corner of Flinders and Swanston St is the busiest railway station in Australia with over 92,000 daily entries recorded back in the 2011/12 fiscal year. It was Australia’s first major capital city railway station and back in the 1920s was rated the world’s busiest passenger station towards the end of that decade.


The main station building is listed on the Victorian Heritage Register. It features a prominent dome, towers, an arched entry and its world famous ‘clocks’. Adorning the entrance facure. The main station buildings were completed in 1909. The famous clocks indicate the next departure on all lines serviced by the station and its many platforms.

Originally Flinders St Station was but a collection of weatherboard train sheds. Lt Governor Sir Charles Hotham opened the station on Sept 12 1854. On that day a steam train travelled to Sandridge (Pt Melbourne) ‘in the country’. The trip required a Yarra Crossing via the Sandridge bridge which is still there but now redeveloped simply as a tourist feature. Made from wrought iron it stands in testament to those early days with both fine features and heavy unmoving engineering; seeing it survive many floods and incidents. Spencer St and Princes Bridge both opened in 1859. Spencer St serviced the North and West of Melbourne. It was eventually joined to Flinders St Station by a ground level railway line in 1879 and then eventually the Flinders St Viaduct in 1889. Princes Bridge ultimately became part of the Flinders St complex but its station platforms and vista have been usurped by Federation Square.

The original ‘Design Competition’ to create a new central station was held in 1899. This was in response to the Government decision of 1882 to build a new central passenger station to replace the ad hoc original railway sheds and platforms.

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First prize was awarded to two railway employees Mr James Fawcett and HPC Ashworth of Fawcett and Ashworth. Their design was named ‘Green Light’ and featured a grand building of French Renaissance style which included the large dome and a tall clock tower. With arched roofs over each platform it was an impressive and ornate design.

Work commenced in 1901. Construction on the main building itself commenced in 1905. By this time there were 13 platforms. It was constructed from red brick with cement render featuring Harcourt granite on the Flinders St External view. The building faced many obstacles whilst under construction, with the original builders being suspended and the Railways ‘Ways and Works Branch’ completing the construction in time for the official opening in 1910.

The top floor used by the Railways Institute featured a gymnasium, a library and a lecture hall – which ultimately became the Victorian Railways Ballroom. In the 19030s and 40s a creche operated adjacent to the main dome and there was also an outdoor playground for children on a roof abutting this area.

Many attempts were made to re-develop the station but until recently none, thankfully, were successful.

Modifications to the concourse carried out in the early 1980s were severely criticised by both the National Trust and sections of the Melbourne City Council. The renovations were described as being akin to ‘a modern shopping centre’.

Fast forward to 2017

According to winning designers, the Architects Hassell, Herzog and de Meuron, the aim of the excercise was to transform the station into a ‘modern transport hub’ and at the same time ‘re-engage with the city, the Yarra River and Federation Square’.


A central feature of the design is a vaulted roof covering the railway tracks, a collection of arches in the form of woven lattice like structures, running adjacent to the heritage building. It is an acknowledgement of the original design and a device to disperse far more natural light on the area than previously experienced.


The original building remains intact with original features such as the Ballroom and the gymnasium being enhanced. It will be serviced with new cafés, bars, retail spaces and an administrative area.


Also included will be a new civic precinct comprising of a public art gallery, plaza and marketplace featuring an amphitheatre stepping down to the river’s edge and a floating stage.


Principal architect Mark Loughman was quoted as saying “We want to turn Flinders St Station into a destination to be enjoyed rather than a place to hurry through.”

Works commenced on the initial refurbishment in 2016 with an estimated cost of $100 million.

This is the first stage of refurbishment and it includes repainting, repairs to the roofing, refurbishment of the toilet blocks on the concourse and on the Elizabeth St subway. It will be completed in 2018.

Will the complete plan as per the 2014 competition winners vision be implemented after this stage is completed? Time will tell.

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Balance Architecture recognises the importance of the preservation of Historical Architecture. We specialise in the renovation and restoration of Heritage Buildings.

The Caulfield Racecourse Precinct Re-Development

The Caulfield Racecourse has recently embarked upon a major development program that incorporates a new precinct to be called ‘Caulfield Village’ to be created in two stages. The Melbourne Racing Club Chairman, Mr Mike Symons, has said the development will bring new vitality to the area. Consortium Director for the project Sam Beck of Beck Property Group has said ‘the project would deliver a world class new suburb for Melbourne’. The project is now well underway, being greenlighted in 2012. However there was and still is opposition to the club’s plans, usage and occupation of the crown land site by the Glen Eira Council and local residents.


The site was active in the running of ‘races’ from 1830 onwards when the first trustees of the ‘Caulfield Racetrack’ were appointed. Meetings were held twice a year on what was considered a very neglected track.

Regular race meetings have been held on the present racecourse site at least since 1859. The quality of animal racing was dubious and the setting aside of the land and an additional two acres was considered more of a ‘future view’. The Crown Land allocation was reserved for racing and other purposes on March 28th, 1859. There were no grandstands or viewing platforms. It was very basic.

The VATC, the Victorian Amateur Turf Club and forerunner of today’s Melbourne Racing Club had formed at Dowling Forest Ballarat in 1875. It held its first meeting in 1876 at this Ballarat Course, with its second being held at Caulfield on August 5 1876, on the Caulfield Crown Land Reserve. The club have occupied the reserve ever since.

The Crown Land was officially deemed a racetrack exclusively in 1888 (after significant opposition) ‘for racing, recreation and public park purposes’. The Club had added grandstands, developed the actual track and the Racecourse was managed by a committee of management made up of members from the VATC, the Board of Lands and Works and the Shire Council.

The course has long been known as the Heath. The famous Caulfield Cup, the Toorak Handicap and other iconic races have been held at the tack since 1879. This is the race, the Caulfield Cup of 1879, won at the time by the Thomas Chirnside of Point Cook and Werribee Mansions.

The VATC merged with the financially strapped Melbourne Racing Club in 1963 when it ran into serious financial difficulties at the time in developing the Sandown Racetrack, which eventually opened in 1965. The Club reverted to the Melbourne Racing Club name in 2002.

Of interest is the Club’s plan to sell Sandown Racetrack to developers as part of its 20 year plan.

The Caulfield Racetrack precinct includes land purchased by the Club both adjacent and nearby. Stage One of the development program utilised the former grassed car parks opposite the western wall of the track entrance across the road. The full project encompasses 5 hectares of land adjacent to the racecourse, Caulfield Railway Station and Monash University.


The development will take up to 15 years to complete. It will include 1500 dwellings of medium to low density, with office space and retail space included. A supermarket, pharmacy, cafés, restaurants and other health and recreational outlets are planned and included. A new street – The Boulevard – will be the heart of the project.

Precinct 1, now completed, is specifically a low/medium density residential one.

Precinct 2, the second stage of construction will be the mixed use precinct described above. Tree lined laneways will see this as a significant commercial development. Residential buildings are limited to 3–6 storeys

Precinct 3 will encompass the Smith St precinct based on the eastern section of the site next to Caulfield Station. It is planned as a mix of commercial and retirement accommodation.

As part of the project, the Caulfield Racetrack itself will be significantly redeveloped with the remaining older Grandstand demolished and the Winning Post being moved further south signalling a longer straight.

A component of the proposed Village included a 5% social housing quota but on appeal to VCAT this clause has now been dropped. Local Councillor Joel Silver sided with the developers whilst the remainder of Councillors called for inclusion of social housing.


Stage 1 has seen a maximum height of 10 storeys. Club promotions to members demonstrated much taller towers, but a precinct overlay by the State Government stipulates height limits.

The key issue is the melding of a new community, infrastructure, visual impressions and visitors with an older established suburb. Put Monash University and its Caulfield complex in the mix where it has major expansion plans, this precinct is about to experience substantial and significant change over a 15 year period that will alter the character of the area completely. Take into account that Monash University currently has 17,000 students of which 9,000 are oversees students who require accommodation. Again this may be a good thing or you may not agree. It probably depends a lot on whether you live in the area or adopt a completely objective viewpoint. Whichever way you view it, in the future this precinct will be a very different one.

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Balance Architecture recognises the importance of the preservation of Historical Architecture. We specialise in the renovation and restoration of Heritage Buildings.

The New Development of Moonee Valley Racetrack – From History to the Future

In Australia, Thoroughbred Horseracing has always held a huge fascination for people of all backgrounds and social standing. The sport of the rich, of Kings in the UK and Europe became the people’s sport in Australia. It has always required very large tracts of land as races are run over distances up to 4000m or 2 1/2 miles. Moonee Valley Racetrack was one of the first race-courses in Melbourne. It is now undergoing a massive redevelopment – as are the surrounding suburbs and the total environ. Racetracks represent the last major tracts of open space in such suburban landscapes.


In earlier times there were many forms of Horseracing. The wealthier classes raced Thoroughbred Horses. The working class followed ‘the Pony Races’ , ‘the Trots’, Steeplechasing ‘the Jumps’ and Greyhound Racing or ‘Coursing’. Moonee Valley was unique in that in its long slow development to become a ‘principle’ club, as it is now, it fostered all of these pursuits. John Wren, the somewhat notorious Melbourne Gambling King of ‘Power without Glory’ fame, bought into the track and for some time it was a ‘Proprietary Track’ – not a club but a profit making venue owned by private individuals.


Named after one of its original investors, a Mr Mooney, it was originally a farming and grazing property of some 98 acres. The crown land was first secured in 1847. The adjoining property was the Travancore Estate. Both properties were located on the banks of the Moonee Ponds Creek. The land was somewhat flood prone, and so the most risky sections were leased to Chinese Market Gardeners. There was a parcel of land at the top of the hill on McPherson St, as well as land on the banks of the Moonee Ponds Creek the Chinese used. By 1900 over 100 ethnic Chinese people lived there, many being market gardeners or laundrymen and women. There is no record of these people other than occasionally in Court Records or in the local press where people complained about the odours emanating from the Market Gardens. Local cemeteries do not hold Chinese graves. The property had long become known as Feehan’s Farm.


In 1874, Mr William Samuel Cox, a noted sportsman and amateur jockey, leased the property with an option to purchase which he subsequently effected after the lease period of seven years. The most famous race at Moonee Valley is named after Cox – the Cox Plate. However during these times the market gardens continued until 1911 when the executors of the Feehan family ‘removed’ the Chinese from the property. One wonders what that may have meant.

The Proprietary tracks, the Richmond, Fitzroy and Ascot ‘Pony Tracks’ being the most well known and heavily patronised of these continued to operate up until 1920 with Ascot lasting through until 1946 under John Wren’s guidance. Such tracks also existed at Thornbury and Oakleigh.

Richmond, Fitzroy and eventually Ascot were assumed by the Ministry of Housing – Richmond in 1941, with the track known as ‘John Wren’s Racetrack’ closing in 1931.


Wren had purchased Ascot in 1906. Again he ran pony races here for the working classes. Wren saw the writing on the wall when the well heeled thoroughbred racing club fraternity tried to close down Ascot and all proprietary clubs during World War I through Government decree. Wren sold his Victorian interests to the Victorian Racing and Trotting Association in 1920, thus permitting Ascot to remain open when the Government closed down Sandown Park (Oakleigh), Fitzroy, Aspendale and Richmond Proprietary courses in 1931. By 1945 his ruse was exposed (he maintained ownership of the land), with the club having to acquiesce to Government in its decision to close the site, even though it had a long term lease from John Wren. Wren picked up a tidy sum of £142,618 in 1946 and the land was developed into the Ascot Vale Housing Commission Estate. Remember this had already occurred at Richmond, Fitzroy, Williamstown and now Ascot. (Now you may understand the name of the suburb ‘Ascot Vale’.)

Fast forward to today. Flemington, Moonee Valley and Caulfield have massive profitable land developments occurring on or adjacent to the Crown land or club owned holdings. Each club has the largest remaining holdings of open space within its immediate suburban precinct.


Let’s take a look at Moonee Valley. The club is building 2000 new dwellings including apartment towers.

looking east

In the Northwest corner, the members old carpark will see the construction of 28 townhouses and up to 400 apartments. Over 4000 new residents will move onto the site – and pay a premium. There will be no Housing Commission style development this time!


At this point in time the Moonee Valley Racing Club must now submit to a traffic management plan to cope with these new residents, now being undertaken by the State Government before any works may proceed.

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The biggest bone of contention is the re-configuration of the racetrack. It requires the demolition of the current Grandstands backing onto McPherson St and the Winning Post, Finish Line and Grandstand being relocated to the Wilson St side of the track. Couple with this the apartment towers replacing the original Grandstands being up to 20 storeys high with 6 storeys minimum surrounded by commercial malls and parklands. The new track will hug the perimeter of the property and feature a longer home straight. Many of the current facilities for racing – horse stalls, maintenance facilities, marquee area and car parking will be located in the centre of the track.

The Grandstand is to be spectacular.

In the masterplan, the devil is in the detail.

See sub precinct C, D, E, G and H. All those areas are designated for residential development – high density and medium density. Note the current Racecourse Secretary’s residence with its Edna Walling Garden simply ‘disappears’ in some drawings yet is retained in others – Take a look at 4.7 and its Landscape Masterplan. So assess whether according to the masterplan there is more or less open space?

It would be accurate to say that a fair proportion of the planning proposition in the masterplan is future vision and quite possibly ‘pie in the sky’. It may or may not be actualised.

In October 2016 MVRC Chief Executive Michael Browell acknowledged “There are few boxes left to be ticked re traffic management ‘and issues of heritage’ but its onwards and upwards”

The Essendon Historical Society agrees. It lists:

  1. The Manikato site – a famous horse’s grave and memorial adjacent to the current admin buildings
  2. Club Secretary’s House and Edna Walling Garden – built in 1937 – definitely a priority
  3. The SR Burston Stand – visually a huge imprint on the district’s vista
  4. The Alister Clark Rose Garden – should it be restored?
  5. The Horse Stalls – built early, it features mature trees and an early style ‘birdcage’ the nickname for the horse’s walking area – these are quite unique and of great historical value.


Take a look at the scale of the development and the surrounding environs. The former grassed ‘Jockey and Trainers’ car park on McPherson St opposite the Club’s administration buildings now features a Quest Apartments complex of 4 storeys. The real question is – does the overall development harmonise or dominate the local landscape and environment? It is a question our Architect Andrew Fedorowicz had to deal with as the project Architect on the Legends Trackside Gaming and Bistro facility construction in the 1990s, a building that gracefully overlooks the final turn to the finish line on the current Moonee Valley track layout, featuring a singular glass window extending the length of the building providing a perfect panoramic view for all race meetings. This meant that at Balance we were and still are somewhat familiar with the overall track layout and local environment.

Again, you be the judge. Next week let’s drop in on the Melbourne Racing Club at Caulfield – its even bigger.

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Balance Architecture recognises the importance of the preservation of Historical Architecture. We specialise in the renovation and restoration of Heritage Buildings.

Architect Andrew Fedorowicz of Balance Architecture and Interior Design supervises the relocation of the Ballarat Botanical Gardens Gate Keepers Cottage, Lake Wendouree.

The original Gatekeepers Cottage had been relocated to 1414 Gregory St Wendouree around 1930. It was recently been purchased by the Ballarat City Council and after an extensive process which included a Heritage Impact Statement prepared in April 2017, the Friends of the Ballarat Botanical Gardens have now achieved its return to the Botanical Gardens where it will be utilised as an educational facility for visiting children.

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It is believed the building was originally located at the North Gates on St Aidans’s Drive. An early photograph of the cottage taken in 1873 verifies this location on its descriptive caption. For various reasons including flood potential, distance from other buildings and infrastructure and the absence of fencing this site is no longer deemed suitable for re-location. Wetlands and typical vegetative growth found in Wetland areas are profiled in this location now, precluding a move back to its probable original site.

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A new site to the north of the former Adam Lindsay Gordon Cottage has been selected on suitable flat ground adjacent to existing children’s play equipment. It is to the east of the Council Nursery buildings.

The cottage has been transported in total with the dismantled chimneys to be re-reconstructed on the new site. No mature trees or plantings are required to be removed at the Botanical Gardens relocation site.

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The move as can be seen via the Win News report has been facilitated successfully and Andrew Fedorowicz of Balance Architecture has been appointed by the Ballarat City Council to oversee and manage the reconstruction of this historic building.

Its a great example of where the real and genuine history of a precinct can be rescued, appreciated and reconstructed for a meaningful purpose today. Andrew is most pleased to be involved and looks forward to its full relocation, reconstruction and completion where it will serve future generations of young children in understanding our rich heritage of the past.

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Balance Architecture recognises the importance of the preservation of Historical Architecture. We specialise in the renovation and restoration of Heritage Buildings.

The Sport of Kings become Property Developers

One of the biggest transformations of this decade is where the major Horse Racing venues – Flemington, Caulfield, Mooney Valley and Sandown Racecourses are all earmarked for, or have recently undergone significant re-development projects. The principal clubs – the VRC, the VATC and the MVRC are all financially healthy. However the industry is well aware of the challenges of remaining relevant in a myriad of sporting entertainment choices for the public. And they have land! This week we look at Flemington and what the Victorian Racing Club has done to both modernise and capitalise on its existing holdings.


Flemington saw its first race meeting on the rough, flood prone river flats of the Maribyrnong River in March 1840. The City of Melbourne was just 5 years old. The first race meeting had been held on the site of the current Southern Cross Station two years earlier. Flemington Racecourse was first known as the Melbourne Racecourse. The original property in the area was owned by James Watson. The main Melbourne approach road transversed the property which was called Flemington – named after his Wife’s Elizabeth’s hometown in Scotland. You may recall this property was the forerunner of Travancore – the estate we have looked at earlier. This is where the name Flemington was derived.

The finish of the Melbourne Cup 1885, credit State Library of Victoria.jpg__760x480_q85_crop_subsampling-2_upscale

Flemington, as the name and location of the Racecourse, was in common usage by the late 1850s.


Originally the land was acquired from the ‘Lang Brothers’ by the then NSW Governor and was regarded as Crown Land. It was decreed that 352 acres be considered a ‘public racecourse’ in 1848. The Victorian Colony was established in 1851, and up until 1870 the site was administered by six Government appointed trustees. In 1871 the Victorian Racing Club was legislated to be the trustees of the racecourse.

The Victorian Racing Club had formed in 1864 with the Victorian Turf Club (1852) and the Victorian Jockey’s Club (1857) both disbanding to form the new club.

Originally racing was scheduled for Autumn. It was in 1854 that the then Victoria Turf Club decided to run a Spring Meeting as well. The First Melbourne Cup was run in 1861, and the rest as they say is indeed history.

Flemington and the Melbourne Cup are deeply ingrained in Melbourne’s psyche. Mark Twain, CJ Dennis, Adam Lindsay Gordon, all were great admirers and ‘aficionados of the turf’ and are now perpetually linked to the great festival that has become the Melbourne Cup.

The public were admitted free to the inner paddock of the track in the early days – it was known as ‘The Flat’.

The first Grandstand was constructed in 1873. It was exclusively for members (and only men could be members!). It was known as Bagot’s Cowshed – named after the then secretary of the club Robert Cooper Bagot. It was at the base of the ‘Hill’ and supplemented this main viewing area of the Hill.

When Henry Byron Morgan became secretary in 1882 he commissioned four more new grandstands, incorporating elegant vice regal facilities. He also was the driving force behind the creation of the lawns and gardens, including the famous rose gardens. William Salway was the original architect who provided much of Flemington’s unique design, under Morgan’s period as secretary.


In 1922 the VRC embarked upon a major redevelopment of the racecourse. Bagot’s old stand became a public stand and Architects Roberts and Marks designed and built a superb new members stand (this stand was recently demolished to make way for the new Grandstand). New Tote buildings were constructed in 1930 to house the complicated gadgetry which supported this type of on-course betting. Several of these buildings still remain today (although substantially altered). The racecourse was utilised by the Defence Forces during World War II with racing suspended.

The ‘Old Hill Stand’ was constructed in the 1950s. This period saw many of the older structures demolished to make way for the somewhat bland construction style of that period. A new Hill stand was constructed in 1978-79 and the new ‘Prince of Wales’ stand was constructed in 1984 with a new members stand above it.

There are all sorts of treasures located at Flemington. ‘It is of aesthetic architectural, historical and social significance to the State of Victoria’ – The Heritage Register. From the odd 1930s tote buildings, the 1920s style Men’s toilets, the chronographic clock in the VRC committee room to the 1870s Brass Bell near the Racecourse manager’s office, it is a place richly steeped in history and a living history at that. The former 1924 stripped Grandstand was significant in that is was one of the last 1920s interwar stripped classical grandstands still intact… It is now gone.


There are some very major changes occurring at Flemington right now. The Old Member’s Grandstand and the Tote buildings at the rear of the grandstand have been demolished to make way for what will be known as ‘The Club’ Grandstand.


‘The dynamic design by award winning architects Bates Smart is superior in quality and innovation’ – says the VRC website. The new stand is scheduled to open in time for the 2018 Melbourne Cup Carnival in November of that year. The construction is now ahead of schedule.


The new stand is part of a $135 million ‘upgrade’ of the Flemington layout. It will be in addition to the track rebuild and flood mitigation works completed in 2006.


The track and its surrounds have subsequently been rezoned which now permits a variety of new developments that previously were not possible.

It would appear that the club has won its battle with Victoria’s Heritage Register. The compromise was to feature many historic features of the old Grandstand in the new Grandstand and to auction off material not used for memorabilia. Wood panelling, iron features and door knobs will make their way to the new ‘Club’ Grandstand. These components formed part of the older 1924 Member’s Grandstand. “There is precious little at Flemington that isn’t of Heritage importance, right down to the track with its long straight” said Paul Roser, Heritage Victoria’s senior conservation manager.

Funding has come from selling off two land parcels adjacent to the track to Chinese developers Greenland Holding Group. The group plan to build four high-rise apartment blocks adjacent to the track. The towers – at the rear of the Grandstand complex on the other side of the railway station were to be 31, 25 and 14 storeys high respectively. The land was the old asphalted members car park. A separate land parcel on Epsoms Rd where the proposed Tower was to be 31 storeys high has been reduced to 15 storeys, and the three buildings in Ascot Vale behind the Grandstands can be no higher than 10 storeys.

The planning proposal and subsequent rezoning of the properties has been approved by the Government Planning Minister not withstanding that the Epsom Rd building was outside any designated renewal area and that there would be no commuter use of the existing Flemington Racecourse Railway Station by the thousands of new residents occupying the towers.

In short, the character and feel of this historic precinct will be changed forever. You be the judge as to whether it is for the better.

From my perspective, I actually like the new Club Grandstand, but I sometimes wonder whether it would not be possible to disassemble the older buildings such as the former Member’s Grandstand and move them somewhere else – either at the racetrack or perhaps a site like Werribee Racetrack which sorely needs such facilities. The State Government contributed $10 million to the Club Grandstand development – enough to cover such a relocation.

Putting it in perspective the club generated well over $160 Million in revenue in 2015-16 and retains equity of over $203 million.

Til next week when we move to another similar location with a very different history.

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Balance Architecture recognises the importance of the preservation of Historical Architecture. We specialise in the renovation and restoration of Heritage Buildings.

Escape to Pentridge

‘Escape to Pentridge’ says the Developers website – it continues ‘Pentridge is unique. Built on solid bluestone, its foundations are firmly rooted in Melbourne’s History. New and Historical architecture will sit side by side. The heart of Coburg is to be reborn, transformed into a vital hub of creativity and commerce interlinked with residential opportunities. Escape ordinary. Escape to Pentridge.’

Oh just not so funny – what a very sorrowful place, what a history! But indeed there has been a transformation and now its new residents do live with, well – with the ghosts of the past.

Pentridge Prison commenced as a stockade made of log huts on wheels surrounded by a 1.2 metre fence. The original stockade held 16 prisoners marched to the site from the Melbourne Gaol – at that time overcrowded with the huge population influx beginning to occur from the Gold Rush.


Prison Hulk

At the time Prisoners were held in hulks (decommissioned ships) anchored off Sandridge (Port Melbourne) and Williamstown and at the Melbourne Gaol located on Russell St in the city’s north.

Local residents of Coburg were totally outraged and so the prisoners, who were seconded to work on the new Sydney Rd, toiled in chains, eating, sleeping and working in chains – 24 hours per day. These were very harsh times, with floggings, solitary confinement and ever heavier chains being the order of the day. Bread and water – and for the very worst, shipped back to the floating prison hulks on the bay.

Pentridge prison, 25 May 1955.jpg

This original stockade was replaced with what has been described as a Pentonville style prison between 1857 and 1864. High external bluestone walls and guard towers provided the sought after higher levels of security.

a division

 A Division

A women’s prison, ‘A Division’ was designed and built then utilised until 1871 – when the women were again transferred back to the Melbourne Gaol – or as we know it now – the ‘Old Melbourne Gaol’. A new three storey building was constructed in 1894. It was to accommodate the then 195 female prisoners held at the Governor’s pleasure – on fixed prison terms. This 3 storey building was vacated in 1956 when Fairlea Women’s prison was opened at Fairfield and all women prisoners transferred. It then became known as ‘D Division’ and housed male prisoners.


D Division

But for a second let’s get real. Known as the ‘Bluestone College’, ‘Coburg College’ or the ‘College of Knowledge’ this place for inmates was a ‘hellhole’.

Our old friend Hugh Linaker had a hand in developing the grounds of Pentridge, landscaping them in his familiar grand English parkland style.

There were 10 Divisions in the prison. These were as follows:

  • A – Short and long term prisoners of good behaviour
  • B – Long term prisoners with behavioural problems – a very mean and dangerous place open up until the late 1980s
  • C – Vagabonds and short term prisoners – where Ned Kelly was imprisoned
  • D – Remand prisoners
  • E – Prison Hospital – later dormitory division for short term prisoners
  • F – Remand and short term
  • G – Psychiatric problems
  • H – High Security, discipline and protection
  • J – Young offenders group – later long term prisoners with a history of good behaviour
  • Jika Jika – Maximum security risk and for protection – later renamed K Division

Pentridge in architectural terms has many unique features, but the most outstanding of these were what were known as Panopticons. These followed the design of Jeremy Bentham’s 1791 Prison Design. There were three of those Panopticons. The feature was a wedge shaped structure that opened onto ‘airing yards’ where Prisoners were permitted access for one hour per day. Jeremy Bentham was a ‘social reformer’ of his time. These Panopticons fell out of use and were demolished due to prison overcrowding in the early 1900s.

A number of iconic heritage buildings or landmarks are located at the Pentridge site. These landmarks and heritage buildings have been retained and are incorporated in the Pentridge Village Masterplan which formed part of the Moreland Planning Scheme. The then Victorian Minister for Planning the honourable Mr Mathew Guy, approved the Masterplan in 2014.


Development plans may destroy the character of this heritage site

The National Trust has expressed ‘strong concerns’ about the nature of these masterplans with the complex interplay between maintaining historic divisions and the building of high density high rise buildings on the original prison site. The current developer Shayer Group has made significant commitments for example investing several million dollars to restore the roof of the old A Division building, restore the Seven Guard Towers and the rock breaking yards. These works are scheduled for 2018 completion. The Pentridge Masterplan calls for ‘up to 20 new buildings designed to compliment the existing heritage landmarks with numerous community spaces and public amenities such as an open piazza, forecourt areas and public open space including landscaped gardens’ (Hugh Linaker would be pleased or would he?)


To quote form the Pentridge Prison Heritage Report:

“The former HM Prison Pentridge is of historical and social significance as the largest prison complex constructed in Victoria in the nineteenth century, which operated as the central establishment in the wider prison system from the 1860s. The complex of buildings, which remains on site, demonstrates a number of phases in the development of the penal system, including the separate system, which dominated penology in Victoria in the nineteenth century. Pentridge is also significant in the history of child welfare in Victoria. It was the location of reformatories for both girls and boys established following the findings of the Stawell Royal Commission of 1870. The prison complex includes a purpose-built reformatory of 1875 (G Division), constructed as the Jika Reformatory for Protestant Girls, which operated between 1875 and 1893.”

“The principal elevation of the former Entrance Building at Pentridge Prison faces west and is of a medieval style with a crenellated parapet, a large pointed arched gateway and octagonal towers. The east elevation is of a simple classical style with a central pediment, quoining, and semi-circular and rectangular headed windows. The central pavilion and the corner turrets of the west elevation are of ashlar bluestone; the remainder is of rock-faced bluestone. A series of regularly spaced, narrow windows on the ground and first floors are located on either side of the central pavilion. Two octagonal towers with cross-shaped slit windows and corbelled crenellated parapets flank the entrance, one of which is surmounted by an octagonal bluestone clock tower.”

“The former HM Prison Pentridge is of aesthetic and architectural significance because of the monumental scale and austere Classical style of the remaining nineteenth century prison buildings. The complex of buildings and walls are important for their expression of the requirements of containment and order and are typical of other prison buildings constructed in Victoria in the 1850s and 60s. The grim and imposing bluestone walls and towers are important landmark features.”

Be you young or very old this was not a place to start or end your life. It was one of the cruelest, darkest places you might find yourself.


Ned Kelly

And as one very famous internee was said to say moments before he departed this mortal coil…

“Such is life”



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Balance Architecture recognises the importance of the preservation of Historical Architecture. We specialise in the renovation and restoration of Heritage Buildings.

Willsmere Estate – A grand building with a chequered past

“Willsmere – a fully gated residential complex. It’s tranquil, serene and friendly living at its best.”

A transformation indeed, from Melbourne’s most well known Lunatic Asylum – the Kew Lunatic Asylum, the estate now offers “luxury living with swimming pool, tennis courts, bowling, gym, BBQ areas/rotundas and function room”.

Its history is somewhat less salubrious. The magnificent Italianate style buildings were commissioned by the then Victorian Government in 1854. It became operational in 1871, situated on a prime site 100 feet above the level of the Yarra River on 400 acres. It was built to replace the overcrowded and inadequate Yarra Bend Asylum and the Carlton lunatic Asylum.

It reflected a change of attitude in Victorian times whereby such establishments were considered a place where the mentally challenged could best deal with their affliction with the comfort of a healthy location, light, airy, with good drainage in “fertile and agreeable country”.

“The site chosen is of primary importance. On it must depend the comfort, happiness and health of the inmates” said the then New South Wales Inspector of Asylums, Frederick Norton Manning in a report commissioned by the new Victorian Government of the Colony.

Designed by Architects GW Vivian and Frederick Kawerau of the Victorian Public Works Department, it was expected to be ‘elegant, beautiful yet substantial’, yet viewed as a ‘magnificent asylum for the insane’. It was believed entirely necessary to house and contain the ever expanding numbers of ‘idiots’, ‘lunatics’ and ‘inebriates’ troubling those in the new colony of Victoria.

With the use of ‘Haha’ walls and sumptuous, well planned and extensive landscaped grounds, it was intended that inmates and the public would sense the enlightened thinking of the colony’s forward thinking officialdom, recognising the benevolence and civilisation of its capital, Melbourne, and its generous kind people.


However this was somewhat juxtaposed on many fronts by the rather simple and somewhat sad perceptions of the times. Kew Cottages, originally attached to the Asylum, were opened in 1887. They were actually known as ‘The Idiot Ward’ then and later became a separate institution known as ‘Kew Idiot Asylum’ – it only admitted children. Children suffering developmental delay (mental retardation), Down’s syndrome and other mental health afflictions.

It wasn’t that hard to find yourself admitted in the first fifty years. According to the wisdom of the day you could gain entry if you were diagnosed as suffering from:

  • Delusional Insanity
  • Dementia (this covered Schizophrenia, Catatonia and severe depression)
  • Epilepsy
  • General Paralysis / paresis of the insane (whoa! what’s that?)
  • Idiocy (ditto)
  • Inebriation (No drinks for me!)
  • Melancholia
  • Puerperal Mania (Now known as postnatal depression)

This would occur on the request of a ‘friend, relative and acquaintance and confirmation by two medical practitioners in writing’ (Easy peasy).

A person wandering at large (being considered of unsound mind – a lunatic) upon the order of two justices could be removed to an asylum. Prisoners considered lunatics could be sent to an asylum upon the order of the Chief Secretary and then you could be a voluntary boarder from 1915 onwards.

The Asylum operated for over 120 years. Changing its name a number of times, from 1903 onwards ‘Asylums’ became known as ‘Hospitals for the Insane’.

Originally reduced to 340 acres with the sectioning off of Kew Cottages, the establishment was intended to be self sufficient. But over time with treatment methods changing and large land parcels being sectioned off for Kew Cottages, the straightening and widening of Princess St in 1939-40 (which also saw the gatehouses demolished) and the earlier Boulevard Construction in the 1930s seeing the Asylums river frontage being assumed by the Roads Department the original holding was greatly diminished.

58 acres were sectioned off in 1958 to establish Talbot Colony, now known as Royal Talbot, a rehabilitation facility for seriously injured patients of the Austin Hospital. The Guide Dog Association of Victoria was granted further Asylum land in 1962 and the creation of the Eastern Freeway cut a swathe through the remaining land in the 1970s.

The buildings housed barrack style accommodation and used the Colney Hatch Asylum in England as its template. It was still perceived to resemble a stockade or a gaol with Sunbury Mental Asylum considered a more humane advance in accommodation of the mentally ill. Oversize clay bricks were made on site from quarried local clay, then rendered with cement. A central Administration Block is three stories high topped with mansard roof and cupola. There are two two-storey wings to each side, one for each sex. Each had a four storied mansard roofed tower containing water tanks. The wards were surrounded by courtyards and verandahs. The dormitories had 4.3m ceilings, purpose built timber flooring and brightly coloured walls. Entry was via a grand carriageway, tree lined with an elliptical front driveway at the main entrance.

Architecturally the Mansard roofs and prominent towers make the building one of Melbourne’s most prominent, rivalling Government House five miles distant to the South.

The tree plantings were supervised by Baron Von Mueller, the original curator of the Botanical Gardens, and were meant to mimic an English country park. In 1913 Hugh Linaker again took responsibility (he was also charged with developing the Sunbury Asylum grounds as well as the grounds of other Lunatic Asylums in the state).

The Central Equity Corporation developed what became known as Kew Gardens project, a residential estate in 1995. The Walker Corporation have redeveloped Kew Cottages, however historic buildings have been set aside and maintained.


And although it may well now be gentrified with wonderful amenities, just stroll across the bridge at the Kew Boathouse to Fairfield’s Thomas Embling Hospital located on Yarra Bend Rd. There practically opposite the site of the old original Yarra Bend Asylum is situated today’s most secure psychiatric facility for the criminally insane. Rest easy up there at Willsmere – history remains bound to the area one way or another, even if it now only 8.4 hectares. Sleep well fair denizens of Kew. The past is never far away.

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Balance Architecture recognises the importance of the preservation of Historical Architecture. We specialise in the renovation and restoration of Heritage Buildings.