Australia Day – Where it all began.

This weekend we celebrate Australia Day. We acknowledge the many great deeds and enterprises that have formed and created our great nation. It is a day not without controversy. On January 26th 1788 Governor Arthur Phillip, an Admiral of the British Navy first stepped foot on Australian soil.

Contrary to what some people think, Governor Phillip ordered that in the early days of the fledgling colony, the Eora Aboriginal people were to be treated well and anyone killing Aboriginal people would be hanged. Even when speared on Manly Beach, Phillips ordered his men not to retaliate. As was to be the case for nearly 150 years, it was not the authorities who attacked the Indigenous population and drove them off their lands, but rather it was the settlers and elements of the troops he commanded who were attempting to gain control of large land parcels.

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Government House, Sydney 1850

Governor Phillip set about building the first Government House in 1788.


Built in 1788, First Government House was the first major building to be constructed on the Australian mainland. The remains of the building’s original foundations in Sydney CBD, provide rare evidence of the earliest years of British settlement in Australia andcontain the only tangible relics of 1788 still in place.

The First Government House Site symbolises the most tangible link to the foundation of European settlement in Australia. It provides a publicly-accessible cultural focus and landmark for many Australians of British descent, for First Fleet descendants and for Aboriginal people.


Detail of map of the settlement at Sydney Cove Port Jackson April 1788

Australia’s foundation building

Governor Arthur Phillip laid the foundation stone for the first Government House building on Gadigal clan country in the vicinity of Sydney Cove only four months after the First Fleet’s arrival in January 1788. Building commenced in May 1788 and took just over a year to complete. It was the first major European building to be erected in mainland Australia. (First Government House at Norfolk Island was built between April-May 1788). The building served as both the residence and office of the governor.

Using convict labour the construction of the new residence and office of Australia’s first Governor was built with 5000 bricks imported from England and bricks made locally from clay, imported lime and shellfish from Darling Harbour.

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First Government House, in a detail from painting ‘A direct north general view of Sydney Cove’ 1794

The symmetrical two storey building was Georgian in style with a hipped roof. The house had six rooms, two cellars and a rear staircase. In contemporary  illustrations show that many exotic plant species were grown and the first orchard planted in the front of the house. At the back of the house the were a  outbuildings the kitchen, bakehouse, stables, offices and workrooms.

This symbol of colonial power was the first two-storey structure in mainland Australia. It sat on the most prominent site on Sydney Cove and towered over the landscape. The First Government House became the exemplar of building fashion: stone footings, whitewashed brick walls and clay tiles or shingled roofs became the accepted residential fashion.


View of the governor’s house at Sydney in Port Jackson New South Wales Jan’y 1791

Centre of power

The First Government House was a centre of power and decision making for the new colony, through its crucial early decades. It was here that all the major policy decisions were developed, such as land settlement regulation. The convict system was administered from here. The period also saw the implementation of policies toward Aboriginal people.

Major events occurred here during the house’s lifetime, including the arrest of Governor William Bligh during the Rum Rebellion in 1808 and the first Legislative Council meeting in 1824. The first Government Orders (1795) and Australia’s first newspaper – the Sydney Gazette (1803) –  were printed at the site.

The First Government House Site is associated with many historical figures, both European and Aboriginal. The first nine Governors (Phillip, Hunter, King, Bligh, Macquarie, Brisbane, Darling, Bourke and Gipps) all lived in the building. Significant Aboriginal people lived at or visited the place, including Arabanoo (who was in fact buried in the garden), Bennelong and Colbee.

It remained one of the centres of power through the terms of the nine governors until its state of disrepair, and the growing pressures of expanding waterfront activities, forced its demolition in 1845.


Uncovering the remains of First Government House

After Government House was demolished in 1845, the site was used as a carter’s yard, a fruit shop, a confectioner and a tobacco shop, government offices, accommodation for nurses during the Second World War and a car park. At one stage, it was to become the site of the city’s town hall and later was chosen as the location for a multi-storey office block.

In 1983, before commencing construction on the multi-storey building, remains of the First Government House were discovered in an archaeological excavation. Following the discovery of the remains, further high-profile archaeological exploration – the largest urban excavation undertaken at the time in Australia – uncovered the vestiges of drains, privies, foundations, walls and cuttings. In addition, excavations also revealed artefacts including Australia’s first locally made bricks, window glass, roof tiling, china, bottles, broken tobacco pipes, printing remnants and dog bones. These discoveries sparked debate on the future of the site and, following public protest to save the area, planning approval for the development was rejected. Soon after, an international architectural design competition was announced to create a development that would conserve and present the archaeological remains of the site while still enabling the construction of office buildings.

Preservation for the future

Over 220 years after its foundations were first laid, the remains of some of its structures have been preserved and illustrated on site at the Museum of Sydney in Sydney’s central business district. Although mostly covered today by large granite tiles carve with the outline of the foundations and some glass observation panels, the archaeological remains of the building (including footings, walls, floors, drains, cuttings, paving, trenches, privies, garden soil, impressions of removed materials and artefacts) still have the potential to reveal much about the earliest efforts to build a nation.


Here we reprint a more detailed description.

The first Government House: building on Phillip’s ‘good foundation’


Sydney, Government House 1802

The first Government House was not a simple singular structure but a complex with a yard, outbuildings, guardhouse, garden and greater domain. It was a home, an office and a venue for public and private entertaining, but also a symbol of British authority, with all that that meant to different people, both then and now.

A place of intimacy and officialdom, birth and death, celebration, confrontation and reconciliation, the first Government House was the scene of significant moments in the young colony’s history including the ‘Rum Rebellion’ and, more decorously, the first meeting of the Legislative Council.

What do we mean by the ‘first’ Government House?

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Detail of ‘Sydney Cove, Port Jackson 1788’ showing the first Government House under construction on the extreme left

The ‘Governor’s Mansion’ features in a somewhat naive map of the infant settlement drawn in April 1788. Instead of being a little-known image of the house that stood on the site on the corner of Bridge and Phillip Streets, Sydney – the first permanent viceregal residence – it is a rather ironic depiction of Governor Phillip’s first home on land, the ‘Govrs Temporary House’ (shown at P on the map, with the ‘Governor’s Kitchen’ at Q).
Phillip’s ‘tent’

When Phillip moved on shore in February 1788, he took up residence in a portable canvas house erected on the eastern side of what was to become known as the Tank Stream. A prefabricated dwelling of timber-framed panels covered with oilcloth, it cost £130 – a third of the amount paid for all the marquees and camp equipment for the marine officers. Forty-five feet long, 17 feet 6 inches wide and 8 feet high (13.7 x 5.3 x 2.4 metres high) it had a wooden floor, five windows each side, 3 foot 9 by 3 foot (.9 x 2.7 x .9 metres) and was divided internally. Often referred to as a tent, although it proved ‘neither wind nor water proof’, it was actually rather impressive.

This dwelling is important, not simply as Phillip’s first residence in the colony, where he remained for over a year, but because of what happened there: Arabanoo was brought here; despatches were written; decisions, great and small, on the management and future of the settlement and its inhabitants were made here; the County of Cumberland was defined and named here; and royal birthdays were celebrated with many a ‘huzza’.

Phillip soon outlined the shape of the fledgling settlement. By March it had been determined that

The government-house was to be constructed on the summit of a hill commanding a capital view of Long Cove [now Darling Harbour], and other parts of the harbour; but this was to be a work of after-consideration; for the present, as the ground was not cleared, it was sufficient to point out the situation and define the limits of the future buildings.

The ‘temporary’ house

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First government house 1797

On 15 May 1788 the foundation stone was laid for what was intended as an interim structure until a more substantial residence could be built to the west. Less than two months later, Phillip forwarded his intended plan for the town to Lord Sydney. ‘A small House building for the Governour [sic]’, was shown overlooking the encampment on the east side of the Tank Stream. To the south-west across the valley, an area high on the ridge was set aside as ‘Ground intended for the Governour’s [sic] House, Main Guard, & Criminal Court’.

What was to be the principal street, 200 feet wide, ran from this large block down to the waterfront

In the meantime, the ‘temporary’ house was built into the sandstone bedrock on an elevated sloping site to the east side of Sydney Cove. Although Phillip referred to it as ‘a small cottage’, where he would ‘remain for the present with part of the convicts and an officer’s guard’, it was still deliberately situated in a commanding position overlooking the nascent settlement, visible to all.

On such a solid base, what was originally intended to be a single storey structure in fact became the first two-storey house in the colony. As Phillip wrote in February 1790:

The house intended for myself was to consist of only three rooms; but, having a good foundation, has been enlarged, contains six rooms, and is so well built that I presume it will stand for a great number of years.

The house was constructed of rendered, locally made bricks, imported crown glass and pipeclay mortar, with a shingled roof. Lime was made from oyster shells collected in the neighbouring coves. The availability – or lack thereof – of suitable building materials placed limitations on works. Until an adequate supply of lime could be located,

…the public buildings must go on very slowly…In the mean time the materials can only be laid in clay, which makes it necessary to give great thickness to the walls, and even then they are not so firm as might be wished.

However, at least ‘Good clay for bricks is found near Sydney Cove, and very good bricks have been made’.

Beyond an overarched door with sidelights and semicircular fanlight, the central entrance hall – approximately 9 feet (2.7 metres) wide – was flanked by a room on either side, each approximately 20 by 16 and a half feet (6.1 by 5 metres) with a fireplace on the rear wall. The ceiling height on the ground floor was 9 feet (2.7 metres). Just one room deep, the house was supplemented by skillion-roofed additions at the rear bisected by a projecting gabled stairhall.

The garden and outbuildings were enclosed with a timber palisade fence. A dwarf stone wall ran parallel with the front of the house with peaked-roof sentry boxes constructed at each end. The sentry boxes were soon relocated to either side of the house and the forecourt was formed into a military style redoubt with the addition of side walls and two carriage-mounted guns inside the front wall. A raised and paved entry podium led up to the front door.

Two small cellars were constructed beneath the entrance hall and western room of the house where the ground fell away slightly, allowing the insertion of narrow cellar lights in the northern plinth. The compound contained a collection of outbuildings to the south and west of the main house. When the footings of the service wing were excavated in the 1980s, they indicated that it had been a far more substantial structure than previously thought and built to last. Containing the kitchen, scullery and servants’ quarters, it was linked to the main house by a covered way.

A lightning conductor was placed on the centre of the roof. The violence of the thunder and lightning was much commented upon by First Fleet officers, who noted the damage done to trees, the destruction of livestock, serious injury to a sentry, and in 1793, the death of two convicts.

Phillip seems to have had his portable house relocated to the new site. It is visible in early images, a gabled panelised structure to the west of the kitchen block. Other features of the complex included the privy, located far from the kitchen and living areas and a well, which was said to have never run dry even in times of drought. The privy may have had a tiled roof. Lightly burnt clay tiles, known as pantiles, were made at the Brickfields to the south of the settlement but proved to be unsatisfactory, decaying rapidly and absorbing water. Archaeologists found many tile fragments during the excavations.

Inside the house

Little is known of the interior of the house during Phillip’s term apart from stray references to items such as a chest or side-table. Presumably, locally made items supplemented campaign furniture. It seems likely that the bell hung over the door and the pictures – including the ‘very large handsome print of her royal highness the Dutchess of Cumberland’ – which had adorned the portable house were transferred to the new abode.

There is far more information about the furnishings of later governors – from inventories and orders, auction lists and descriptions of events in newspaper reports and by visitors and residents. Furniture and furnishings were imported or acquired locally but governors also brought out their own possessions, often selling them on departure. Only one view of the interior is known to exist – a cartoon mocking Governor Bligh’s supposed attempt to conceal himself from arrest in 1808. It shows the bare floorboards of ‘a dirty little room’ inhabited by a servant upstairs in the rear skillion, furnished with a simple low bed.

Although effectively an English vernacular cottage or provincial farmhouse, attempts were made to distinguish it architecturally, giving it the characteristics of a more polite house better suited to its status as Government House. Applied pilasters defining the central bay created an implied breakfront with a blind roundel set in the rudimentary pediment.

The designer of the house is unknown. It has been attributed to Phillip himself, and/or Provost Marshal Henry Brewer. What is certain is that it could not have been constructed without the practical knowledge and superintendence of convict James Bloodworth, a master bricklayer who also taught other convicts how to make the bricks required in the new colony.

Phillip’s abode

slnsw a928088First Government House model installation view

The house was completed in a little over a year and occupied by June 1789 in time for the traditional celebration of the King’s birthday. With other priorities, and a serviceable structure as his new abode, Phillip remained in this house for the rest of his time in New South Wales and administered the colony, wrestling with the daily problems thrown up by the developing settlement and planning for its future.

Home to the governor and a handful of servants, officers and visiting mariners were entertained here, the expanded facilities providing greater avenues for hospitality. In October 1791, on the anniversary of the King’s accession to the throne, ‘the public dinner given at the government-house was served to upwards of fifty officers, a greater number than the colony had ever before seen assembled together’.


It was on this site that Bennelong and Colbee were incarcerated in November 1789. Although Colbee fled just two and a half weeks later, Bennelong did not escape for some five months. However, in time, the first Government House complex played host to Aboriginal visitors, including Bennelong, who lived there periodically. The wider governor’s domain also became the burial place for several Aboriginal people.

The garden in front of the house sloped down to the water’s edge. Initially it was laid out in a grid, a practical design for food cultivation, with plants from England, Rio de Janeiro and the Cape of Good Hope. These were later supplemented with the first Norfolk Island pine, planted by Phillip himself, remnant native vegetation and a range of exotic species.

Orange and fig trees, grape vines and vegetables all flourished. The size and flavour of the garden’s produce was much remarked upon by those privileged to receive it or dine at the house on fare prepared by Phillip’s French cook, whom Bennelong took such delight in mimicking. In fact, the garden became an enviable success; in May 1790 an armed watchman was stationed there each night. As David Collins wrote:

The governor’s garden had been the object of frequent depredation; scarcely a night passed that it was not robbed, notwithstanding that many received vegetables from it by his excellency’s order.

In one of his final acts as governor, while defining the town boundaries and Crown lands, Phillip delineated the land that preserved this garden and its wider grounds as the governor’s domain.

When Phillip sailed for England in December 1792 his ‘small cottage’ was the most substantial and grandest house in the settlement. Arabanoo, taken to visit while it under construction, ‘cast up his eyes, and seeing some people leaning out of a window on the first story [sic]…exclaimed aloud, and testified the most extravagant surprise’. The fact that it was still the only two-storey structure in the settlement remained a novelty.


So as can be seen, the Governor was in fact the representative of the British Crown – but unlike many Governors of Penal Colonies, Arthur Phillip had a vision for the future. But we can certainly he never in his wildest dreams had a vision of this future.


Enjoy your break over this long Australia Day Weekend, perhaps spare a thought for the man who first planted the British Flag on Australian soil on the 26th of January 1788 – who managed to establish a colony that has grown into our great nation – from 11 fully loaded convict ships.

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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.

Heritage Listing – What does it really achieve?

For many people a Heritage Listing is only applied to historic buildings. In itself this is an interesting concept. What deems a building historic? Times are rapidly changing. Is it now time to protect some of our historical developments in Architecture and Construction?

Right now there is serious discussion occurring at the highest levels of Government in Victoria on the provisional listing of Federation Square by the Heritage Council of Victoria after application was made late last year by the National Trust to preserve the precinct’s integrity.

It goes to the deeper question – what is worth preserving? Melbourne is an ever evolving city with a Metropolitan spread that is now well over 100km in diameter. It features inner city living, semi-rural living, sea-side living and plain old suburbia. Over the last 70-80 years, post World War 2, there have been some truly significant advances in both purposeful design that acknowledges climate and location, as well as some stylistics that are truly Australian in genesis and application.

The ‘Modern’ Architecture of post war Australia was very much a part of the new developments of the 1950s in Bayside Melbourne. Architects such as Robin Boyd, Neil Clerehan and Roy Grounds actively pushed the envelope on new ‘Modern Design’.

Related articles:


Boyd Baker House – Architectural Folly or Vision for the Future?


Modernism – Time to Protect Midcentury Modernism with Heritage Listing.

It comes down to preserving what is in fact our heritage over time; where such ‘modern’ design (for the 1950s and 1960s) represents a significant shift in Australian Architectural and Design values.

The following article from the ABC gives a solid insight into the issue.

Architecture advocates argue for change to interpretation of heritage buildings

Melbourne’s beautiful Victorian-era buildings are widely appreciated as some of the city’s most valuable assets — but that was not always the case.

Decades ago, debate raged about whether Victorian architecture was worth saving at all.

These days it is Melbourne’s post-war buildings that are in the crosshairs, with homes from the 1950s and ’60s at the centre of a debate around which architectural styles are worthy of protection.

So, is it time for the community’s understanding of what is considered a ‘heritage’ building to evolve?

National Trust Victoria advocacy manager Felicity Watson thinks so.

‘Exciting time of experimentation’

Ms Watson said mid-century modern architecture evolved during a time of significant change in Melbourne, culminating in the hosting of the 1956 Olympic Games which showcased the city to the world.

“In terms of architecture, the post-war period was a really exciting time of experimentation,” she said.

“There were lots of really skilled and significant architects that were practicing.”

She thinks it is time to reshape the way we think about buildings from this era, which are often dismissed as daggy.


Felicity Watson thinks we should be protecting mid-century architecture for future generations

[Photo: Felicity Watson thinks we should be protecting mid-century architecture for future generations]

“We really see this as a turning point in the heritage movement,” she said.

“In the 1970s it was about protecting places of Victorian heritage — which at that time were not always seen as the way that we appreciate them now but were sometimes seen as ugly and undesirable.

“That’s sort of the argument we’re seeing in relation to post-war heritage.”

Ms Watson called on local and state governments to recognise the significance of these homes, but said property owners also had a responsibility to protect them.

“There are certainly views in the community that heritage is an encumbrance on a property,” she said.

“But what we really need to take into account is the benefit to the community and not think about just individuals.”

Beaumaris a haven of mid-century modern

One of the largest concentrations of significant post-war homes can be found in the bright, open-plan, mid-century modern residences of Melbourne’s bayside suburbs.

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Local community group Beaumaris Modern has sprung up to spruik the architectural innovation they believe makes these homes worthy of preservation.

The group’s president Fiona Austin said many homes in the area were designed by significant Australian architects.

Ms Austin, an interior designer, said the group’s members were distressed at seeing so many mid-century modern homes demolished; homes that evolved during a time of important architectural innovation.

“People were sick of dark houses that look like something from England,” she said.

“Young architects, after the war, started designing houses that face north, face the garden, had big windows, skillion roofs, flat roofs and you know, enjoyed outside spaces.

“It’s perfect for our climate and still is now.”

Only last week the group fought — but failed — to save a home on Mariemont Avenue in Beaumaris which was designed by architects Chancellor and Patrick in 1962.

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The home was originally identified by Bayside City Council as worthy of protection in a 2007 heritage study.

But in 2018, the council abandoned planning scheme amendments to introduce a heritage overlay on this and other mid-century properties, after what they described as strong opposition and community division.

Bayside City Council now plans to introduce a voluntary process for owners to nominate their mid-century homes for possible inclusion in a heritage overlay.

National Trust Victoria has urged them to reconsider, saying conducting their own study could have protected this “significant home”.

In a statement, the council said the permit to demolish the property was issued by a private building surveyor and did not require council approval because it was not covered by heritage controls.

‘Jury still out’ on financial impact of heritage listings

Boroondara Council, in Melbourne’s east, has a large concentration of heritage properties, albeit from a different era.

Councillor Coral Ross said the jury was still out on whether heritage listings drove property prices up or down.

“Our role and our responsibility is to conserve and enhance the area which we live in,” she said.


Fiona Austin founded the community group Beaumaris Modern to foster appreciation of mid-century architecture.

“We have done large surveys which say that our community values the character of the area in which they live and the heritage is something that they really value.

“The reason that people move into an area is because they like the architectural style [and] we certainly have a lot of people that want to live in our area.”

Beaumaris Modern is trying to take matters into their own hands by matching sympathetic house hunters with mid-century modern properties.

Ms Austin said at least one local real estate agent had embraced the niche market.

“He has a database of over 100 people who want to buy a mid-century house in Beaumaris, so he goes to them before they go on the market and often just matches people with their houses,” she said.
Modern additions to Melbourne’s heritage listings

The City of Melbourne has just released an audit of heritage listings across the CBD.

Greens councillor Rohan Leppert described the 2,000-page Hoddle Grid Heritage Review as “the mother of all audits”, unprecedented in scale in Victoria.

The review considered increasing heritage protection for 64 properties and six precincts within the grid — including some from the post-war period.

The City is now seeking permission from the Planning Minister to formally exhibit the Planning Scheme amendment C328, which proposes permanent heritage protection for properties identified in the review.

Cr Leppert said he was surprised many of the buildings had not been granted heritage protection already but said heritage was a “tricky issue”.

“We need to really carefully measure the social heritage of a place, the architectural heritage [and] the scarcity of particular types of buildings,” he said

Cr Leppert said the review had looked at post-war and post-modern buildings including the Hoyts Mid City complex in the Bourke St Mall and the Lyceum Club in Ridgway Place.

“The Hoyts Mid City complex is maybe not what Melburnians typically think of as something worthy of heritage protection but it is quite a remarkable building,” he said.

“The Lyceum Club is not a building that people might necessarily think is a standout piece of architecture.

“But it is something that we think has remarkable social and architectural heritage and is quite unique in the way it came about, so we’re seeking protection for that building as well.”

Cr Leppert said there would always be competing interests between development and heritage protection — especially on the most expensive land in the state.

He hopes the public will embrace mid-century architecture as an important part of the city’s history.

“I think public heritage values do change over time and we’re having a fascinating debate publicly about that at the moment.”


It is probably a very opportune time to have this discussion. Buildings of real significance have disappeared very quickly here in Victoria, leaving only a façade that has no real purpose. Or in the case of the Beaumaris homes – gone forever. It’s time to expand the understanding of Heritage, not just the ‘definition’, and to take some pride in what is and has been a magnificent journey – in under 200 years.

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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.

Maritime Beginnings – A Time for Reflection

Holiday times – a great time for reflection, for contemplation. Australia is a nation based on maritime immigration. Originally individual colonies, the 6 Colonies each supported their own navies. You could say we came by boat. But what of the heritage, the historical locations and buildings of those times? Are we really ensuring those significant locations are adequately protected and maintained?

Sydney Harbour features some of our oldest Maritime history and heritage locations. The Sydney Harbour Federation Trust manages much of this. It manages Cockatoo Island and the nearby Spectacle Island is managed by the Navy. The small island called Snapper Island however is not. It’s currently managed by, believe it or not, the Commonwealth Department of Finance. With a seemingly impassable block between this Department and the Sydney Harbour Federation Trust, the island is slowly decaying through neglect.

Sydney’s tiny heritage-listed Snapper Island in sorry state

It’s the smallest island in Sydney Harbour, once a training ground for sea cadets but now shuttered up and home to a gently deteriorating collection of heritage-listed buildings and a raucous seagull colony.

But Snapper’s relative obscurity should be no reason for a large company, now seeking to demolish one of the island’s structures, to confuse it with an identically named island 200 kilometres to the north-east.


Sydney’s boat-shaped Snapper Island, just 1.65 hectares in size, sits 200 metres off Drummoyne. Credit:Mark Merton/Sydney Images

And that’s just the beginning of Commonwealth-owned Snapper Island’s woes. An impasse between the federal Department of Finance and the Sydney Harbour Federation Trust has left the tiny island in bureaucratic limbo, while its heritage structures lapse into decay.

Broadspectrum, the company that, in a previous incarnation, ran offshore detention centres on Manus and Nauru, last month applied to knock down an ablutions block on the island under a management contract with the Department of Finance.

But in documents lodged with the federal Environment Department, Broadspectrum nominated not one but two sets of co-ordinates to pinpoint the island’s location.

The second set appear to identify not the Sydney Harbour island but a Snapper Island off Port Stephens. So far, the company (which admits undertaking no public consultation on the project) has offered no explanation for the confusion, despite repeated approaches from the Herald.


The tiny island is in bureaucratic limbo, while its heritage structures lapse into decay. Credit:Deborah Snow

Sydney’s Snapper Island, just 1.65 hectares in size, sits 200 metres off Drummoyne and is close to nearby historic Cockatoo Island (owned by the Harbour trust) and Spectacle Island (owned by the navy).

All three islands are woven into the rich nautical history of the western harbour, and it was long envisaged that Snapper would eventually pass to the trust, set up by John Howard in 2001 to manage former Defence lands around the harbour. Indeed in 2013-14 it appears the trust did carry out some rudimentary preservation works on Snapper.

But the Herald confirmed this week that negotiations between Finance and the trust have ground to a standstill over a lack of funds for remediation.

Finance, meanwhile, has included Snapper in 77 Commonwealth sites it has subcontracted Broadspectrum to manage on its behalf.


Between the wars Snapper Island was converted into a youth nautical training facility, its surface flattened by rock-blasting, and stone seawalls sculpted to create the shape of a ship. Credit:Peter Morris

The company concedes that demolition of the ablutions block will “result in significant impacts to identified heritage values at Snapper Island” but insists there is no alternative because of threatened asbestos and lead-paint contamination.

Prominent Sydney business identity Joseph Carrozzi, who chairs the trust board, accepts that the island is “an important site and we have been in discussion about the potential transfer to the Harbour trust. However it is [our] view that the transfer should not proceed unless it is linked to the required funding to remediate the land and open it to the public.”


In its earliest days right up to Federation the fledgling Victorian Colony operated its own Navy and a series of defensive forts.

Victorian Naval Forces

The Colony of Victoria commenced construction of its first armed vessel in 1853, HMVS Victoria which was launched on 30 June 1855 and arrived in Victoria on 31 May 1856. Victoria carried out a large variety of tasks during its life, including taking part in the Maori Wars, assisting in the search for Burke and Wills, delivering the first trout eggs to Tasmania, as well as numerous surveying and rescue tasks.


The torpedo boat HMAS Countess of Hopetoun, 1919

In 1859 the first Naval Brigade was formed. The Brigade was re-organised in 1863 as a half-militia, re-formed in 1871 as the Victorian Naval Reserve as a full militia and re-formed again in 1885 as the Victorian Naval Brigade.
The Victorian Naval Forces comprised the permanent force known as the Victorian Navy, and a 300-strong Victorian Naval Brigade consisting of the Williamstown Division and the Sandridge (Port Melbourne) Division. Combined the Victorian Navy and the Victorian Naval Brigade were known as the Victorian Naval Forces.

Following the success of Victoria, the Victorian colonial government ordered an ironclad ship, HMVS Cerberus and was gifted the composite steam-sail warship, Nelson.

In 1884 several more warships were purchased by Victoria, these included the first-class torpedo boat Childers and second-class torpedo boats Lonsdale, and Nepean and the third-class gunboats Victoria and Albert. In 1886 the turnabout torpedo boat Gordon was acquired. In 1892, the first-class torpedo boat, Countess of Hopetoun arrived in Victoria.

To supplement the ships of the permanent force a number of government vessels were modified so as to serve as gunboats or torpedo boats. The hopper barges Batman and Fawkner were modified so as to mount a six-inch breech-loading gun at the bow of each ship. Two machine guns were also fitted. Strengthening of the bow, the fitting of a magazine, shell room, crew quarters and some armour protection for the crew added two more gunboats to the fleet. A compressor fitted to Fawkner meant that the torpedo boats could be serviced at sea. The tug boat Gannet and steamer Lady Loch were likewise modified.

The Harbour Trust boats Commissioner and Customs No. 1 had two sets of torpedo dropping gear fitted to each boat thereby adding two more torpedo boats to the fleet. In 1885 the government steamers Lion and Spray were fitted with six-pounder Armstrong guns. Spray was later fitted with two sets of torpedo dropping gear.

Supporting the Victorian Naval Forces were the fortifications located at the entrance to Port Phillip Bay and other sites around the bay. In the years leading up to Federation the Victorian Naval Forces were considered the most powerful of all the colonial naval forces.


One of these fortresses still exists. The Pope’s Eye was an early attempt by Colonialists to block a perceived threat from the Russian Navy.


The Pope’s Eye

The fort has been protected as a marine reserve since 1979 and is now part of the Port Phillip Heads Marine National Park. It is located about 7 kilometres (4.3 mi) inside Port Phillip Heads, 3 kilometres (1.9 mi) east of Queenscliff, 5 kilometres (3.1 mi) north of Portsea, and is less than 1 kilometre (0.62 mi) south-west of the former Chinaman’s Hat. It is named after a naval midshipman and has no religious connotations.

Construction of Pope’s Eye began in the 1880s, under the supervision of Sir William Jervois, by dumping bluestone boulders on a submerged 12-metre (39 ft) deep sandbank until they formed a horse-shoe shaped artificial reef, open to the north-east, just above high-water level. Construction ceased before completion as a fort because improvements in naval gunnery enabled the entrance to Port Phillip (The Rip) and the associated shipping channel to be protected by guns at the nearby Swan Island fort, as well as at Fort Queenscliff and Fort Nepean, making Pope’s Eye redundant for military purposes. The reef now hosts a navigation beacon.


Ultimately, Victoria commenced as a Maritime state with a high dependency on its British origins. For your interest, at this time of year, take your time to stroll down to Williamstown on the shores of Port Phillip Bay to get a feel for what those times were like. The guide included here offers the full gamut of colonial architecture and the historical development of a ‘seaside town’. Williamstown in the past had a very busy port, railhead and facilities such as a Racecourse, Botanical Gardens, Military Barracks and a Rifle Range. Let’s start.

Syme Street


Jetty at Williamstown in Summer.

  • Williamstown Landing Place (Syme Street). The eastern end of Commonwealth Reserve was used as an early landing place to unload stock as early as 1836, and was probably near or on the subsequent site of Gem Pier.

HMAS Castlemaine berthed at Gem Pier

  • Gem Pier & Commonwealth Reserve (Syme Street and Nelson Place). A 30-metre stone jetty was built by convict labour in 1838 where Gem Pier now stands at the end of Syme Street. Permanently stationed at Gem Pier is the Bathurst class corvette HMAS Castlemaine (1942) – a World War II minesweeper which was built at the local shipyards. It is now used as a maritime museum. Aside from the ship itself there is a collection of nautical memorabilia and exhibits within its confines. Another historic ship the Enterprize sails from Gem pier every month. Bay cruises and returns trips to Southbank also depart from Gem Pier. Commonwealth Reserve is located in the heart of historic Williamstown, on the foreshore adjacent to Gem Pier. The park was originally a mudflat adjacent to the Bay, before being reclaimed. The planting style consists of formal avenues of elms. A number of heritage items are located in the reserve including the Tide Gauge House (formerly at Point Gellibrand), the anchor of HMS Nelson and the Wilkinson Drinking Fountain.

Nelson Place

  • Tide Gauge House (Nelson Place). Built by convict labour at Point Gellibrand in 1857 to house one of three tide gauges that arrived from England in 1855, the bluestone Tide Gauge House is associated with the origin of the Australian Height Datum.
  • Former Bank of Australasia (189 Nelson Place). Designed by Reed and Barnes and constructed by Pearce and Murray in 1876–77, this was the eighth branch to be constructed for the Bank since its incorporation in 1835 and is believed to be the first suburban example.
  • Former Bay View Hotel (175 Nelson Place).
  • The Wilkinson Memorial Drinking Fountain (Cnr Syme Street and Nelson Place).
  • Former English, Scottish and Australian Bank (139 Nelson Place). Also known as the Mission to Seaman, and now occupied by Breizoz Crêpes, this building originally housed the second suburban branch of the fifteen ES&A banks known to have been built in Victoria. It was the first major purpose built bank branch in Williamstown.
  • Williamstown Customs House (Cnr Syme Street and Nelson Place). A stuccoed structure erected from 1873, to designs presumably by the Public Works Department of Victoria, the building is architecturally significant as a fine and relatively intact example of conservative Classical revival style architecture. It served as a Customs House, offices and residence.
  • Jacks & McIntosh Boat Repair Facilities (120 Nelson Place and 36 Syme Street). One of the first private boatbuilders in Williamstown, Jacks and McIntosh boatbuilders and shipwrights were located at the end of Thompson Street in 1841. The site is now occupied by the Royal Yacht Club of Victoria.
  • Williamstown Immigration Office and Depot (120 and 123 Nelson Place). These offices were established in Nelson Place near the corner of Thompson Street in the mid to late 1850s to process new arrivals during the gold rush.
  • Craigantina (125–129 Nelson Place). Comprising three two storey shops and residences, Craigantina was constructed in 1886 for John Harker Craig.
  • Former Royal Hotel (85 Nelson Place). The grand scale of the Royal Hotel is a consequence of change to Victoria’s licensing laws in 1877, which required hotels to have a minimum of 30 rooms of minimum dimensions to be licensed. The architect of the brick hotel, completed by 1893, was hotel specialist T. Anthoness and the builder was Henry Hick.
  • The Old Morgue (Ann Street). Now situated in the old Port of Melbourne Authority site, the former morgue is one of Williamstown’s early structures, important architecturally but more especially for its role in Williamstown’s history. The Georgian style building is believed to be the first morgue erected in Victoria (at its original location near Gem Pier in 1859) and was constructed in bluestone with convict labour. The building was subsequently relocated three times. Access to the Morgue is by appointment or through historical tours.

CSS Shenendoah at Williamstown Docks, 1865

  • Williamstown Dockyards, including Alfred Graving Dock (Ann Street and Nelson Place).
  • Former Oriental Hotel (55 Nelson Place). There has been a building (Skelton Oriental Building) on this site since about 1850 when Benjamin Skelton built his corner building after purchasing land from the Crown in 1849 – Section 1, Allotment 8. The large three-storey flat roof with ornate parapet building was built before 1852 when it appears in a drawing of Williamstown by the famous artist, engineer and surveyor Edward Snell (designer of the Geelong Melbourne Railway). The drawing was later printed in 1854 by Quarrill as a Lithograph. With Benjamin Skelton taking a mortgage in June 1851 to develop the land with second substantial building on the Nelson Place frontage of Allotment 8, it seems that the Skelton Oriental Building is in fact pre the mortgage of June 1851 making it importantly one of the few pre-separation buildings. Pre-separation is an important heritage period which is before the Colony of Victoria separated from the Colony of NSW on 1 July 1851 and that period is pre Gold Rush too (September 1851). It is a unique building in design as well as age—the oldest remnant three-storey building.

Restaurant themed after the RMS Titanic, 1 Nelson Place.

  • Former Prince of Wales Hotel (1 Nelson Place). Originally constructed c.1857, possibly to a design by Charles Laing, this is one of the oldest hotels and public buildings in Williamstown. It was first owned by the surgeon John Wilkins.[citation needed] Today it is occupied by the Titanic Theatre Restaurant.
  • Battery Road
  • Gellibrand Pier and Breakwater Pier (off Battery Road).
  • Williamstown Lighthouse or Timeball Tower at Point Gellibrand (Battery Road). Built in 1855 by convict labour, this bluestone tower originally operated as a lighthouse and still operates as a timeball. The tower is part of the Point Gellibrand Coastal Heritage Park, which is managed by Parks Victoria.
  • Fort Gellibrand (Battery Road). A 2.8 hectare site located near Point Gellibrand at the southernmost tip of Williamstown, Fort Gellibrand is of historical importance to the State of Victoria for its association with the development of defence strategies for the colony in the nineteenth century and for its association with the convict hulk period of the penal system in the colony. The Point Gellibrand shore batteries were first developed as part of an immediate defensive system for the city and port of Melbourne, prior to the establishment of batteries at the Port Phillip heads. The fort site contains the only remaining visible physical evidence of the system of four battery positions at Point Gellibrand from this period. The batteries at the fort were upgraded in the 1870s and 1880s, and the fort remained an integral part of the defensive system for Port Philip up until the late 1880s and 1890s. Today, the Fort is home to a reserve commando regiment of the Australian Army, the 2 Commando Company of the 1st Commando Regiment.[IMG View of Williamstown Beach from Gloucester Reserve car park, Williamstown]

Shenendoah Hotel

The Esplanade

  • The Williamstown Dressing Pavilion (The Esplanade). Constructed at Williamstown Beach in 1936, the pavilion is an architecturally significant early example of European Modernism applied to the design of a pavilion structure by two then relatively unknown architects Arnold Bridge and Alan Bogle.
  • Former Lawn House (92 The Esplanade). In 1889–90 Williamstown’s prolific contractor, John Garnsworthy, built this house for his own use and lived there for at least the following fifteen years until the construction of his last residence, ‘White House’, at 5 The Strand. Mr Garnsworthy performed a number of large civil contracts throughout the State as part of the firm of Garnsworthy & Smith. These include the first contract for the costly formation of the entrance to the Gippsland Lakes (1883 for £13,328) and the Warrnambool breakwater (1884). Locally, his firm constructed part of the MMBW pumping station and the Melbourne Glass Bottle Works complex, both in Spotswood. Mr Garnsworthy was also on the first ‘election’ committee for the Williamstown Cottage Hospital after its incorporation in 1893.
  • The Williamstown Hospital (Railway Crescent). The Williamstown Hospital was opened on its present site in 1894. Enlarged and extended many times over the years, only part of the original building still survives and is only partly visible from Stewart Street.
  • Williamstown Croquet Club Pavilion (Victoria Street). Designed by Morsby & Coates and constructed in 1930, the Williamstown Croquet Club pavilion illustrates the development of Victoria Street as a fashionable middle class enclave in Williamstown during the Interwar period.
  • Williamstown Station precinct (Ann and Thompson Streets). The Williamstown railway station building and platform canopy, brick toilet block, timber and corrugated iron shed, platform, the Ann Street footbridge and the Thompson Street road bridge are all listed on the Victorian Heritage Register as it is the only substantially intact station precinct remaining from the original construction period of the Williamstown railway line.

Williamstown Mechanics Institute

  • Williamstown Mechanics Institute (Electra Street). One of Hobsons Bay’s most historic sites, the foundation stone of the present building, originally a Mechanics Institute was laid in 1860. The institute now houses the Williamstown Historic society and a wealth of memorabilia about the local area and its development through the years, in addition to the thriving Williamstown Musical Theatre Company (WMTC) which has a vast history itself and stages various Musicals, Revues and Festivals throughout the year.
  • Excelsior Lodge of Industry Masonic Temple (Electra Street). Located close to the Mechanics Institute, this single-storey, red brick hall with a symmetrical Classical facade provides a powerful illustration of the importance of Masonic associations in the development of the Williamstown community during the nineteenth century and early twentieth century.
  • Park House, former Presbyterian Manse (27 Lyons Street). Designed by architect David Ross and built in 1856, this two-storey bluestone Georgian building was purchased in 1886 by Henry Hick and renamed Park House.
  • Former George Hotel (Lyons Street). An original timber building established in 1863 was replaced by the present building in 1872. The first licensee was George Gobal, a local councillor who served as Lord Mayor in 1879–80. The hotel was delicensed in 1927 and became a rooming house until 1978.
  • Former City of Williamstown Municipal Offices and Town Hall (Ferguson Street). The former Williamstown Municipal Offices uses an austere form of Italian and French Renaissance typical of the 1920s in Melbourne, were opened by the State Governor, Sir Arthur Stanley, in May 1919, almost one year after the foundation stone had been laid by the Mayor of Williamstown, Cr C Knowles on 5 June 1918. Following the amalgamation in 1994 of the City Williamstown with the City of Altona (and parts of other municipalities) the majority of municipal and administrative functions were transferred to the civic centre at Civic Parade, Altona. The buildings are currently undergoing restoration.
  • Former Williamstown City Council Electricity Supply Department (Bath Place). A near original example of an Interwar industrial building, the Williamstown City Council Electricity Supply Department building was designed for the Council by architects Frederick Morsby and HF Coates and constructed in 1929. This building in one of only two identified in the municipality that were directly associated with the Electricity Supply Department; the other is a former substation building in Stevedore Street.
  • Former Punshon’s Store (Ferguson Street). Designed by C. J. Polain, construction of this General store with cellar and roof garden was completed in 1890.
  • Former Melbourne Savings Bank (Ferguson Street). This building, now a residence and Dive shop, was opened as a branch of the Melbourne Savings Bank on 14 February 1887. It became a branch of the State Savings Bank of Victoria or ‘State Bank’ in 1912. In 1991 it became a branch of the Commonwealth Bank of Australia until 30 June 1995.
    The Strand
  • The Williamstown Rowing Club (End of Stanley Street, The Strand). Whilst the Rowing Club began in 1869, it did not purchase this site until 1875. The boathouse was added in 1876.
  • Ruffle’s Pier (The Strand). Pilot Thomas Ruffle built a stone jetty on the Strand, angled to the shore to reach deep water, sited nearby the present Anchorage Restaurant. His residence, Maxwelton, was located across the road from it. Ruffles advertised a ferry service in September 1856 and 1860, established at North Williamstown, to ply between his pier and Dalgano & Co. wharf, and to service steamers plying the Yarra. Ruffles died after an argument with locals over theft of stone from the pier structure. The wooden upper section of the jetty was removed sometime after his death in 1863 and before the construction of Barber’s Pier in 1879.
  • Mandalay (24 The Strand). This two-storey, colonial, Georgian derived style house was erected to the designs of surveyor William Bull in 1858 for ships chandler captain William Probert. Constructed of stuccoed bluestone, Mandalay is representative of the substantial houses which lined Hobsons Bay in the nineteenth century, many with their own piers across The Strand.
  • Craigdoon (14 The Strand). Constructed in 1876–77 for Peter Murray, who sold groceries, wine and spirits at his shop in Nelson Place, three doors west of Ann Street, from the late 1860s. Mr Murray remained in this house until at least 1910, adding five rooms from 1885 onward.
  • William Thomas Liley’s House (12 The Strand). This stone house with six rooms was built in 1862 for one of the longest serving pilots on the harbour, William Thomas Liley. He owned the house and resided there until after 1896. John Garnsworthy lived here for a time early this century prior to building the ‘White House’.


  • Terrace Houses (10–11 The Strand). These two brick houses, each of six rooms, were built in 1881 for Samuel David Thomas, who had earlier been a successful gold miner and property speculator. He retained ownership of both houses until at least 1896, living in 10 and leasing 11 to various professional gentlemen, including Alex Wilson, an engineer; Richard Dowman, a Councillor; Robert Williams, a contractor; and a sea captain, Walter Vincent.
  • Cast iron fence and gates of Maritimo (8–9 The Strand). On this site in 1885, William H Croker, a local solicitor who specialised in maritime law, built his impressive boom-style towered mansion. He named it ‘Maritimo’. It is presumed that the fine cast iron fence was constructed sometime soon after. Maritimo was demolished in 1973, despite a long and concerted battle by local residents and conservation groups to save it, but the early front fence was saved.
  • White House (5 The Strand). Prominent Williamstown builder, John Garnsworthy (by then retired), commissioned this initially seven room stuccoed concrete house in 1907 at a reported cost of £1100. The villa was designed by him and erected under his supervision. The foundations alone cost £200, apparently in a bid to defeat the uncertain footings which had caused severe cracking in most of Williamstown’s major masonry buildings. He employed a similar approach in the Modern Buildings.
  • Ferguson Street Pier (Intersection of Nelson Place, The Strand and Ferguson Street). Initially called the Rosny Pier, tenders were called to construct this pier in 1924. Due to a dispute between over jurisdiction, the shoreward bluestone section of the pier was built by the Williamstown City Council, and the seaward end was built by the Melbourne Harbour Trust. In 1965, the Hobsons Bay Yacht Club was granted permission to moor its vessels on the south side of the pier, and has since expanded to occupy both sides of the pier. The pier was reconstructed in 2002/03.
  • Harts boatbuilding yard (Nelson Place near Ferguson Street). Sandwiched between the Ferguson St Pier and The Dredging Depot, it constructed small boats and yachts. The boatyard was offered for sale in 1893, and the land appears to have been purchased by the Hobsons Bay Yacht Club, who still occupy the site.
  • Former Port Health Officer’s residence (231 Nelson Place). Listed in the Victorian Heritage Register, this former residence and surgery is a distinctive and important example of a classical Revival town residence. It was built in 1852.
  • Blunts Boatyard and Slipway (Nelson Place). A rare operating example of the many small scale boat-building and repairing businesses which have operated on the Williamstown foreshore from the 1850s on, the Blunt family boat building business has operated continuously on this site in Williamstown since the 1880s. The site is entered in the Victorian Heritage Register.
  • Williamstown Navy Sea Cadets depot (Nelson Place, between Pasco and Parker Streets). The White Brothers operated a slipway here from at least 1877. The slipway was built on the northern side of the site, with a jetty the same length to the south. The facility is known to have been still operating in 1894. Substantial land reclamation was undertaken at the site sometime prior to 1907. Early photographs show the long pier still standing on the site in c 1925.

Steam Packet Hotel


Steam Packet Hotel

  • The Modern Buildings (213–215 Nelson Place). In 1909, on the former site of a timber auction rooms and wood merchant’s yard owned by John Morgan, two concrete masonry shops and residences were erected by Williamstown builder John Garnsworthy. His tenants included a boot maker, a boot seller, and a watchmaker. The site is now occupied by Hobson’s Choice, a restaurant.
  • Former Advertiser Building (205 Nelson Place). Built between 1885 and 1888 for the proprietors of the Williamstown Advertiser, it served as both a printery for the newspaper and a shipping exchange. The building features a richly decorated facade with a frieze depicting William Caxton.
  • Former Williamstown Post Office (Cole Street). Built in several stages, beginning in 1859 just after the municipality was constituted, the Post Office typified public works design of the period. Extensive alterations transformed the building in 1895.
  • Steam Packet Hotel (corner Aitken and Cole Streets). A two-storey Classical Revival structure built in 1863 (to replace an earlier building), the Steam Packet Hotel was first opened in the mid-1850s.


So as you can see, it wasn’t always such an issue to arrive here by boat. The fact is that’s the only way you could get here for many, many years. Right now it’s still those Port cities clinging to Australia’s vast coastline that still define our character. For people to move to inland cities, there needs to be a re-imagining of how we can live here with sufficient water, comfort and infrastructure to survive another 200 years. Right now Capetown in South Africa has virtually run out of water. Large cities need to start developing sustainable practices in architecture and town planning to cope with the massive increases in population. Decentralisation is also imperative.

But look around in Sydney, in Melbourne, look where we have come from. Whilst strolling in Williamstown contemplate a very simple fact – a maritime dependent pastoral state would not survive today. What should be the design for the future? Where will we be in another 100 years? Can we afford to leave it up to profit driven developers?

We think it’s well and truly time to develop a ‘masterplan’. Welcome to 2019.

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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.

Daylesford – The Enigma of Gold, Culture and the Healing Waters

This week we repeat our earlier blog from March 22nd 2018. It features the delightful Victorian town of Daylesford and its neighbour Hepburn Springs. Take the time to drive up to this delightful location – about an hour of driving – during the break. Swimming is available at both Daylesford Lake and Jubilee Lake. We will resume our regular blogs later this week.

A favourite destination for many is the town of Daylesford, about 100km west of Melbourne. Gold was discovered on Wombat Flats, now deep below Daylesford Lake, in 1852. These alluvial deposits were the forerunner to deep quartz mining, which continued until the 1930s. Gold – the foundation of another heritage town, in this case providing the bounty that built the magnificent buildings of Daylesford and Hepburn Springs.


Daylesford these days is better known as the Spa capital of Australia. It has long been renowned as a place to ‘take the waters’ and now features the Hepburn Spa complex and walking trails with many springs to sample the mineral waters on your way. (The Hepburn Mineral Springs Reserve is a 30 acre reserve surrounding the Spa Centre. It is heritage listed.)

43_Daylesford Lake Villa 1 - Lake view

It is also famous for the simply stunning buildings, its streetscape and the rolling hills, surrounding the extinct volcano – Wombat Hill, which overlooks the twin townships of Daylesford and Hepburn Springs.


In many ways it is a challenge to maintain the historical character of the precinct yet still facilitate the needs of the regular stream of tourists and the local population. From the early 1990s, the local Hepburn Shire Council has received royalties on all mineral waters sold on to beverage companies in Australia. The majority is bottled in Melbourne. The funding then available has been used to develop the new Spa complex and other tourist related facilities.



The Hepburn Springs Bathhouse was first opened to the public in 1895 providing ‘social bathing’. The Hepburn architecture is predominantly Edwardian due to the bushfires in 1906 which effectively destroyed the original township, which was predominantly Victorian architecture as in nearby Daylesford.

In 1864, the local population determined to protect the mineral springs from mining. The migrant populations from Italy, Germany and England rated the mineral waters ‘more valuable than gold’. A bathhouse was constructed in the 1890s. It has been remodelled several times. It was mainly the efforts of the ‘Swiss Italians’ that saved the springs for posterity.


The most recent remodelling was completed in 2008. From what was effectively a rundown, red brick facility, a mix of Federation, Edwardian and other influences, constructed in the early part of the twentieth century, the Hepburn Bathhouse and Spa is now housed in a thoroughly modern complex, offering hydrotherapy, massage and beauty therapy. It is a tasteful extension and renovation that acknowledge the past yet provides the comforts of the present. The new development cost over $13 million.

Wombat Hill Botanic Gardens

For this week the other location to be visited is ‘The Convent Gallery’ or to give it its proper title ‘The Holy Cross Convent and Boarding School Brides of Christ Convent’.


Purchased by the Catholic Church in the 1880s as a presbytery for the local priest, it was originally built back in the 1860s as a private residence for the Gold Commissioner. It was disparagingly referred to as ‘Blarney Castle’ at that time.

From the 1890s, the church expanded the complex to accomodate nuns and boarders – opening in 1892 with building continuing through until 1927 including the new North Wing and substantial chapel. The accommodation wing was three storeys with an attic. No heating was provided and with massive costs in upkeep, the nuns moving to alternative accommodation, by the late 1970s the building and its gardens were derelict and neglected.

In 1988, it was purchased by a well known local artist and ceramicist Tina Banitska. It was reopened on March 31st 1991 as the ‘Convent Gallery’. Since then there have been further rounds of renovation to the buildings and grounds that add new life to the original grandeur. These include two major glass fronted function rooms, a penthouse suite and the ‘Altar Bar and Lounge’.


Externally the building retains its strong Victorian architectural features. Sitting high on the slopes of Wombat Hill, it provides panoramic views to the north and west of Daylesford town and Hepburn Springs. It houses several individual Galleries, a large retail area, a café, the two function rooms and the penthouse suite. It also retains four tiny ‘nun’s cells’ – the original nun’s bedrooms. Perhaps a reflection on the very frugal and harsh past.

It is a real celebration of Art History and Culture. We thoroughly recommend a quiet drink in the ‘Altar Bar and Lounge’ and a toast to the former Archbishop of the Melbourne Diocese, Archbishop Carr. He envisioned the place to become ‘a source of light and edification’ back in 1891. It may well have taken over a hundred years to materialise, but the Convent Gallery is certainly that now and well worth a visit.


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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.