By Amy McMurtrie
Established to highlight the role of architecture and design in our cities, Open House Melbourne is once again opening the doors to buildings across the city and they’ve included a few gems of the west.
Offering access to locations usually closed to the public this year we’re being asked to consider what it means to re-invent, re-purpose and adapt our city to live together better.
Two of the sites on offer in Melbourne’s west are the former Williamstown Morgue and C. Blunt Boatbuilders.
The Williamstown Morgue is one of the oldest public buildings to remain in Victoria, built originally in 1859 by convict labour. In response to public concerns about its prominence, it was relocated twice, brick by brick. If you look you can see gaps in the brickwork designed to enable high tide from the sea to wash into the morgue; a natural cleansing system. But no amount of sea water and tree planting around the site could stop the distasteful smell and growing concern about sanitation closing the morgue in 1925 relegating it to history.
The morgue certainly has a beautifully eerie sensibility about it. Now heritage listed most locals have a story to tell about the building. There’ve been reports of flickering lights at night (despite no electricity) and one tale of some wedding photos which captured a huge skull – invisible to those at the photo shoot – on the wall behind the bride and groom.
However for me, nothing beats the irony of the man who completed the contract to move the morgue one final time, only to be killed by a train on his way home – making him the first person to be autopsied at the new site!
My tour at the C.Blunt Boatbuilders started at Greg Blunt’s office, a 5th generation boatbuilder and owner of the business. Greg started by drawing my focus to the wall behind him, indicating a long rectangular frame with several portraits inside it. ‘That’s our family of boatbuilders’, he told me, marveling that he uses the same tools his great-grandfather did.
Outside the shed which houses stunning wooden boats you’re treated to marvellous views of the Williamstown port, surrounded by piers and more boats. If you look down you will see railway tracks that operate as a slipway to pull boats from the water. Greg proudly takes me through the development of the new 100-metre pier at the foot of their shed. Built around the time COVID locked our city down this will be the first time opportunity to walk along it.
Greg says boats are like homing pigeons, and he frequently works on the same boats that were built in that very shed in the 1900’s. One of their recent clients is the great-granddaughter of the owner of a boat the Blunts built in 1936. She’s re-purposing the boat as an art studio to sail around the bay and beyond, enabling her to paint from different locations.
Open House Melbourne takes place on 29-30 July and some of the other buildings you can check out include the Heavenly Queen Temple, Cotton Mills, and a sneak peek into the West Gate Tunnel Project!
To check opening times head to