Things to do in Williamstown

Travel by Ferry

Make a day of it and enjoy all Williamstown has to offer, starting with some of the best seafood at Pier Farm.

Daily ferries depart from 10.30am from South Gate (next to the Elizabeth St walk Bridge) for Williamstown (Gem Pier).

The journey takes approximately 50 minutes. Pier Farm is located a scenic 15 minute walk from Gem Pier (4 minutes by car).

Tide Water Gauge House

Also on the Commonwealth Reserve is Tide Water Gauge House, a finely detailed building which was built between 1858 and 1860 at the foot of Breakwater Pier. It featured a rare example of an automatic device for gauging the tides.

Gem Pier and the Ferries

At the end of Syme St is Gem Pier which was named after a paddlesteamer that once operated between Williamstown and Port Melbourne. A 30-metre stone jetty was built here by convict labour in 1838 although the original has been replaced.

Ferries now operate daily between Gem Pier and Southgate and, on weekends, between Gem Pier and St Kilda.

Williamstown Maritime Museum

Permanently stationed at Gem Pier is the 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. It is open from midday to 5.00 p.m. on weekends and public holidays or by appointment for groups, tel: (03) 9397 2363 on weekends or (03) 9853 0823 before 10.00 a.m. on weekdays.

The Enterprize

Chartered trips are available on weekends, on board the ‘Enterprize’ – a timber replica of the 55-ton sailing schooner which carried the first European settlers up the Yarra to Melbourne. It picks up passengers from Gem Pier although the ship is docked at the end of Anne St. Visitors who merely wish to see the ship must go to the end of Anne St where the exterior can be observed. Tours of the interior are available for groups who undertake bookings. For either inspections or charters ring (03) 9397 3477.

Historic Morgue

Anne St runs between the water and Nelson Place. Therein lies what is thought to be the state’s earliest morgue – a single-storey bluestone structure with an arched entrance erected in 1859.

Initially, coroners’ examinations were conducted in hotel basements where the bodies were suspended from the ceiling by ropes to forestall the attentions of rats. As many bodies were in a state of decomposition they caused olfactory offence and so the morgue was built. It was moved from its initial site close to Gem Pier to the current address in 1873 as its presence at that well-attended spot continued to cause consternation.

Other buildings of historic interest are the former ‘Advertiser’ newspaper building at 205 Nelson Place and the former Port Health Officer’s residence at no.231. Holy Trinity Church of England is a Gothic bluestone structure built between 1871 and 1874.

Time Ball Tower

The Time Ball Tower is also located at the bottom of Nelson Place, opposite the beach, on the foreshore at Point Gellibrand. The lower section of the building was constructed by convict labour out of bluestone either in 1846 or 1852, depending on which source is credited. It replaced a wooden tower erected in 1842. The purpose of the time ball was to tell ships what the time was. At exactly 1.00pm each day the Time Ball was manually lowered to allow ships to set their chronometers accurately. A cylindrical brick upper extension was added in the 1930s. The Time Ball was restored in the 1990s and it now operates according to a computerised system.

Fort Gellibrand

The gun emplacements, earthworks, parapets, drains, magazines and infantry revetments of Fort Gellibrand have also been restored to original condition in the 1990s. The fort developed between 1860 and 1890. It is only open to the general public occasionally as it is still used by a commando unit. However, it is expected that it will open on a more regular basis in the future.

The first cemetery in what is now Victoria was established in this area in the late 1830s. When the fort was built the bodies were removed to a vault.

Science Works and Planetarium

The Science Works is a hands-on highly interactive science museum for all ages which features different programs throughout the year. The emphasis is on fun. It is located in Booker St and is open from 10.00 a.m. to 4.00 p.m. daily, tel: (03) 9392 4800. A new digital planetarium is located on the grounds and is part of the complex. It is open in the evenings.

Historical Museum

The Historical Museum is located in the former mechanics’ institute (c.1860) at 5 Electra St by the intersection where it meets both Parker St and Melbourne Rd. It is open from 2.00 p.m. to 5.00 p.m. Sundays and by appointment during the week. They have a large collection of maritime material, photographs, records and other items pertaining to the settlement’s venerable and quite crucial history. There are several walking tours of the town’s historic features outlined in brochures at the museum and plenty of published material, including a free potted history of Williamstown. There is also an historical kit for school groups, tel: (03) 9397 5423 or (03) 9397 5933.

Botanic Gardens

Williamstown Botanic Gardens are located at the corner of Osborne and Giffard Sts.

The Australian Railways Historical Society’s Railway Museum

The Railway Museum is located 200 metres from the North Williamstown railway station in Champion Rd. There are some 20 railway engines with many carriages and wagons. It is open from midday to 5.00 p.m. on weekends and public holidays and from midday to 4.00 p.m. on Wednesdays during school holidays. For enquiries ring (03) 9397 7412 or (03) 9772 1287 after hours. Mid-week school and group visits are by arrangement: tel: (03) 9596 3249.

Wetland Areas

The Jawbone Wetland area is about 8 minutes from Williamstown off Kororoit Creek Rd which departs westwards from Williamstown as Ferguson St. It features a boardwalk, birdhides and a lake system.

Another wetland area is located under the West Gate Bridge to the north of North Williamstown, en route to the Melbourne CBD. Boardwalks lead to areas where you can view the ships of Port Melbourne. A mangrove swamp is adjacent.

Altona Miniature Railway

Families with children may be interested in taking a ride on some miniature steam trains on the third Sunday of the month from midday to 4.00 p.m. in Blenheim St, Altona North (just to the west of Williamstown). There are picnic and barbecue facilities and a kiosk, tel: (03) 9741 6580.