We took the train into the Melbourne CBD with a specific plan in mind – one that did not include a day trip to Williamstown, Australia. Our afternoon itinerary included a visit to Parliament to watch the action from the public gallery followed by a late picnic lunch in Carlton Gardens. (*No one here understands our fascination with local politics, but the lively shouting in such a dignified environment captivates us!) But, when we arrived at the Parliament door, we were informed that the session had been postponed and we – along with about 20 other people – were turned away.
Slightly irritated and dragging our feet, I was racking my brain for what we should do instead. I pulled my tattered map from my bag and searched for a landmark or neighborhood we hadn’t yet visited. My eyes were drawn to the water and it dawned on me that we had never made plans to visit Williamstown, a town with heaps of history on Port Phillip Bay.
Williamstown, Australia is accessible by a Metro train and, since we would already max out our daily Metro expenditure with our round trip to and from the city, any additional rides were essentially free. In the train station, we found a timetable for the Williamstown line and hopped aboard. We left the city behind and chugged toward a destination we knew little about.
At the end of the line, we departed the train station and followed the signs to the town center. The picturesque street lined with historic buildings faced the open green space of the Commonwealth Reserve and, beyond that, the bay. The first building we came to was the Hobson’s Bay Information Center. When I explained that we had arrived without any prior research of Williamstown, the clerk gave me a long sideways look before he happily started piling brochures into my hands. What I walked away with was a 15 page booklet on Williamstown history, a town map and three detailed walking tours.
During our waterfront lunch (read: eating our kebabs-to-go on the side of the pier), we flipped through the abundance of information which would easily provide a few hours of free entertainment. We combined Walk 1 and 2 into one long walk – and even added detours along the shore in both directions – then enhanced our walk with the blurbs of information from the history brochure.
Highlights of Williamstown, Australia Walk 1: Waterfront
Before ships could navigate the Yarra River, Williamstown was a popular port. It was home to the Victorian Navy and many ship builders and remnants of that past can be seen along the shoreline. After walking the Gem Pier, we took the optional tour detour out to Point Gellibrand to see the Timeball Tower. Built in 1849, ships coordinated their instruments to sync with the timeball to ensure accurate navigation for ocean crossings. It is one of only five working timeballs that remain in the world. Back in town, we walked Cecil Street, a residential street with homes and hotels dating back to the mid-1850s. Rather than looping around in a circle, we merged into Walk 2.
Highlights of Williamstown, Australia Walk 2: Community
Along this route, we passed by many historic churches, schools and government buildings that are still in use today. When we made our way back to the bay, we gawked at the few remaining Victorian-era mansions that face the water. Again, we detoured from the walk and followed the shoreline away from the town, this time to take in the view of Melbourne’s punctuated skyline. Back on the Commonwealth Reserve, we noted the beautifully preserved historic stretch of Nelson Place. Shops, pubs and banks still occupy the buildings, but the Customs House is no longer used as it was originally intended.
The hours in the day had slipped by and the sun was starting to set. We headed back to the train station, but saw it with a fresh perspective. The historic station was built in 1859 and stands today as it did then, making it the oldest original station in all of Melbourne. For us, it represented the end of the line, but 150 years ago, it was the beginning for so many people.
We want to know: Have you visited Williamstown, Australia? What did you get up to there? Tell us about it in the comments!