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Culture and heritage

Gem Pier

Williamstown is the oldest continuous settlement on the shores of Port Phillip Bay. It was named in honour of King William IV, in 1837. Settlers first arrived in Williamstown by sailing ship in 1835, with 500 sheep and 500 cattle, from Launceston.

Despite a steady increase in traffic to Williamstown, there were enormous problems in getting cargo from ships to the city of Melbourne. The foreshore at Williamstown was just mud, and the Yarra was more of a shallow creek than a river, only very small vessels could navigate it. Early attempts at jetties at Sandridge (Port Melbourne), were hampered by it’s exposed position.

It was not until 1839 that the first pier and lighthouse were built, closeby present day Gem Pier. The original humble pile of stone that was Gem Pier was known as “The Jetty” until 1853 when it was renamed “Old Pier” following the construction of the “New
Pier” (the Ann Street Pier). In the 1860’s and 1870’s it was renamed “Steamboat Pier” and shortly after was finally renamed “Gem Pier” after the paddle steamer ferry GEM that ran a ferry service from Williamstown to Port Melbourne from 1846 to 1886.

Rebuilding Gem Pier

As well as having a number of name changes, Gem Pier has also experienced a number of renovations. In 1886 the pier was demolished and rebuilt thirty metres longer. This pier was condemned in 1927 and rebuilt with a shelter shed on the outer end
of the pier being added in 1930. Unfortunately due to vandalism this shelter shed was demolished in 1984.

On May 4 1992 the demolition and rebuilding of Gem Pier commenced yet again. This time the pier was rebuilt 145 metres long and 7.3 metres wide at a cost of 1.3 million dollars. In February 2003 a floating landing with increased disabled access was constructed and the pier was extended by 22 meters and the deck was reconstructed.

Stony Creek Backwash

For thousands of years the Stony Creek has carried it’s load of rainwater on a serpentine journey from St Albans, Sunshine and Yarraville to its destination at the Stony Creek Backwash by the Yarra River.

In addition to carrying the rainwater the Backwash provided life to the flora and fauna as well as providing food and necessities to the Aboriginal Marin bulluk clan.

The Quarrymen arrived in the late 1800’s and used the Stony Creek bluestone to supply stone for Melbourne’s earliest public buildings such as Pentridge. Stony Creek Backwash was a quarry ground where the tramlines would run to the Yarra docking area to deliver ballast to ships.

The era of manufacturing and heavy industry arrived and continued unabated until recent times. The Backwash and creek were viewed as a drain fit only for tipping and to carry away waste products.

Assisted by the help of the Friends of Stony Creek the area is once again becoming an important natural asset.