Portable timber cottages in Collingwood and the factory that has produced Vegemite for millions of Australians since the 1930s are among a suite of buildings and structures under the spotlight as part of a push to better protect Victoria’s heritage.
A campaign has been launched to try to ensure a collection of prefabricated buildings brought to Victoria from all over the world during the Gold Rush make it onto the UNESCO World Heritage List.
Meanwhile, the City of Melbourne is examining whether more recent builds, including the Vegemite factory and the West Gate Bridge, can be given special industrial heritage protections.
Many indicators of the defining period in Victoria’s history sparked by the Gold Rush, beginning in the early 1850s, remain intact.
That includes a collection of prefabricated buildings — from simple cottages to a stately home — that were imported to the state from all over the globe as the population boomed.
The buildings that remain have got heritage protections at a state level, but a group is determined to elevate the profile and appreciation of those buildings by seeking a World Heritage Listing through UNESCO.
Former Labor MP Barry Jones said Victoria had an outstanding collection of prefabricated buildings.
“In the early 1850s you had the extraordinary expansion of population and the economy just mushroomed, and so they started importing buildings from all over the world,” he said.
“It’s extraordinary how far they came.”
The portable buildings were brought from places including Germany, Scotland, England, Singapore and Hong Kong.
Dr Jones said most of the buildings that came from Hong Kong had disappeared, but some of those that came from Singapore had survived.
Four cottages that came from Singapore remain in Collingwood.
“After being on the road for a century and a half, they’ve come to rest in Sackville Street in Collingwood,” Dr Jones said.
“It’s astonishing to consider the international impact and the international interaction that the Gold Rush of the 1850s brought to Victoria.”
Many of the prefabricated buildings brought to Australia during the 19th century are in Victoria, but there are 104 across Australia that are part of the push for UNESCO World Heritage recognition.
Corio Villa in Geelong is one of those prefabricated buildings, but its scale is much grander than some.
The cast iron house was built in Edinburgh, Scotland, and was shipped to Geelong in boxes in 1855.
Two of Australia’s 19 World Heritage sites are in Victoria, including the Royal Exhibition Building and Carlton Gardens, with the structure one of the last remaining 19th-century exhibition buildings.
The Budj Bim Cultural Landscape in south-west Victoria, where Gunditjmara people constructed an elaborate aquaculture system to harvest eels that dates back more than 6600 years, was added to the list in 2019.
Meanwhile, the City of Melbourne is examining whether or not protection for more recent sites of significance to the city’s history, such as the Vegemite factory and the West Gate Bridge, should be introduced.
Deputy Lord Mayor Nick Reece said the industrial area of Fishermans Bend, which has been earmarked for major development that would make it home to 80,000 people, has been of particular focus.
He said as the area changes to accommodate that growth, the city was aiming to ensure it happens “in a way that’s respectful of the history of that area”.
“In terms of Australia’s industrial history, there’s no area like Fishermans Bend, at the mouth of the Yarra River on the south bank of the river,” Councillor Reece said.
“It is the industrial area where the Commonwealth aircraft factory was located, where they made planes during wartime, and it’s the place where Holden cars got made.”
“[Former Prime Minister] Ben Chifley saw the first one roll off the production line in the 1940s.”
“It is also the place where Vegemite gets manufactured for millions and millions of Australians.”
The Vegemite factory has been operating in the area since the 1930s, not long after chemist Cyril Percy Callister developed the spread while working on his PhD at the University of Melbourne.
“It doesn’t mean that these sites cant be developed, and further investment can certainly happen for the companies that operate there, but it just means heritage will be a factor they need to take into account as part of the development,” Councillor Reece said.
The City of Melbourne engaged historians as part of its examination of industrial heritage.
Protection for the West Gate Bridge, which was the site of the country’s worst ever industrial accident that resulted in 35 deaths, is also being considered for protection.
“It is also architecturally, a very significant structure in Melbourne and it’s an iconic structure,” Councillor Reece said.
“It’s also got important social history for Melbourne — it opened up the western suburbs of Melbourne to the central city.”
He said although people might not expect more recent, industrial buildings and structures to have heritage protection, it was an important issue to consider.
“But it’s quite possible for more recent buildings to receive heritage protection if they are significant for other reasons.”
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