Heritage and Restoration – How it can be done

This week we feature a more positive review. We start to look at some of the more interesting restorations and Heritage renovations in and around Melbourne and we take a quick peek at one of the hidden remnants of Old Melbourne’s past – smack in the middle of Port Phillip Bay.

Metropolitan Meat Market

In recent years a number of relatively non-descript older buildings in Melbourne have been restored and featured as modern venues, suitable for events, dinners and other similar purposes.

The first such venue is the old Melbourne Meat Market. Originally built by the ‘Victorian Meat Market Company’ in 1870 it defined the new boom times in its grand edifices and halls.

Melbourne Architect George R Johnson prepared sketches suitable for the changing face of the trade. It was commissioned for construction by Mr William Reginalds, coincidentally the Mayor of Hotham (North Melbourne, a successful and notable figure in the meat trade of the times).

The building was used continually as a Meat Market up until 1974 when it was acknowledged that the grand building no longer served its purpose of servicing the meat and butchery trade. With no space for extra and required refrigeration, the stall holders began to move on to more purpose built premises.


Arts Victoria purchased the building in 1979. In 1985 the building was renamed ‘Meat Market Craft Centre’. This changed in 1998 when the venue was again renamed. It now became the ‘Metro Craft Centre’. At the time it began to be used a a Performing Arts Venue.

The building was substantially renovated in 2002-03. At the time it was over a century old. After the renovation it was for the main part managed by the City of Melbourne. The Council’s ‘Art House’ brand managed the venue. The buildings were presented as creative development and presentation space.

As of 2015 the Meat Market became a venue in its own rite. Over 30 art businesses operate from the venue to this day.

As a venue for a variety of event style functions the Meat Market can seat 600 people for a formal dinner. Dine in a first grade heritage listed building restored and fully maintained to feature its 19th Century grandeur. The cobblestone floor and barrel vault ceiling leave you with a sense that the next sound you may hear is the clip-clop of horses hooves and carts – pass the shiraz please.

It is a perfect illustration of how to retain heritage buildings that have been degraded over time.

Given what has happened recently, this iconic building could easily have ended up another pile of ‘Corkman’ style rubble without sensible intervention – from the City of Melbourne and originally Arts Victoria. It demonstrates that in many cases, it is imperative that Government intervenes.

The second venue is less spectacular externally but demonstrates a clever use of a large unused space in an intelligent creative manner. Located at 135-157 Racecourse Rd Kensington just prior to the on ramp to Citylink heading west its an unobtrusive brick building constructed post World War II in 1945-46. It was an armaments factory owned by Barge Bros. The building was designed by C.T. Gilbertson. It has been a spring factory, a foundry and then housed the complete wardrobe and props for the ‘Pharlap’ movie filmed nearby at Flemington Racecourse.

This is a unique building. Outside is rectilinear, Art Deco reminiscent of the Dutch Modernist William Dudok. However inside the factory features an immense curved roof with arches spanning 30 meters. The arches are glue-laminated Coachwood, 29 sections creating an open column-free area. This is of significant heritage value from a scientific and architectural viewpoint for Victoria, being the first time such a method was used to create open space..

And the venue now known as the Pavilion takes full advantage of this unique feature, seating 200-600 people for a unique sit-down dining experience in open style.

Finally for this bulletin we take a boat trip to the mouth of Port Phillip Bay. Here we find some of the ‘forgotten’ history of Victoria and its capital Melbourne. Man made islands for fortifications to repel invaders still stand guard. There were two forts. One is known as the Pope’s Eye. It is now protected in a Marine Reserve. It was constructed in the 1880s by Sir William Jervios. The island was formed by dumping bluestone boulders on a submerged sand bar in 12 meters of water.


It was never completed as naval advances in weaponry meant hostile ships could now be bombarded from the gunneries on Swan Island and on nearby Fort Queenscliff. It’s an interesting location with remnants of gun positions and living quarters still intact. Take a boat out on the weekend and sample the rather eerie feeling of stepping foot into the past directly.


It was complimented by a second man-made island – the South Channel Fort. Between 1890 and 1916 over 100 officers and men lived on the island. It was abandoned for the same reason. 14,000 tonnes of bluestone boulders, concrete and sand were used in its construction. There are strong remnants of its military past there with ‘disappearing’ gun mechanisms still in situation.


There was an underground living area called a ‘keep’ with a labyrinth of passages, small lobbies, magazines and a fully functional kitchen. From this island fortress the mines for the minefield in the South West Channel were stored and tested. Minefield?? Can you believe it?

Both locations were established to ward off ‘the enemy’. In those days Victoria had a navy. And Russia and France were our enemies. Rule Brittania! Oh and we also welcomed the US Confederate Navy at the time.


US Confederate Navy ship Shenandoah docked in Melbourne in 1865

All of this lends to our colourful historic past. We are fortunate in that many historic homes and buildings, indeed locations, have been preserved for posterity. We feature a number of these today photographically in this blog, and if you choose to, you can read about nearly all of them in previous blogs we have published.

This isn’t the time to back down and permit the destruction of our heritage and history. There are no good reasons to demolish buildings so rich in history, beauty and a timeless sense of being. At Balance we say protect and preserve our past. And if anyone does transgress the law, then let them be forced to restore the damage they cause. No more Corkmans, no more cultural vandalism – heritage is owned by all of us.

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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.

One thought on “Heritage and Restoration – How it can be done

  1. Pingback: Heritage in Hawthorn Saved with Planning Ministerial Intervention | Balance Architecture

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