By Ralph Coghill

    The historic Clocktower at the Newport Railway Workshops is getting a new lease of life thanks to enthusiastic volunteers from Hobsons Bay Men’s Shed.

    Largely unused for over 45 years, the historic building is leased by VicTrack to Steamrail Victoria, which restores and operates vintage steam, electric and diesel trains but doesn’t have the resources to restore the building for their use. 

    The Men’s Shed Restoration Group, which has restored the buildings and gardens at Truganina Explosives Reserve, was looking for a new project when the opportunity to restore the Clocktower arose.

    The project includes restoring the heritage garden in front of the Clocktower, where the now-international sport of Trugo was invented and first played.

    The Clocktower was built in 1888 and closed 1988, when the operations were privatised. During its life it’s had many internal changes, particularly paint colour schemes. The Heritage Victoria permit lets the Restoration Group restore it to its internal appearance in the late 1800’s to early 1900’s. This meant researching paint colours layer-by-layer to get the correct scheme, removing 1970s plywood wall panelling, removing fixed furnishings from later periods, opening up blocked fireplaces and removing redundant electric and communications cables.

    Some nice surprises have been discovered. For example, many of the fireplaces have bluestone keystones in the brick arches, with the ‘VR’ logo carved into the stone. Also, when panelling under the main staircase was removed, it revealed painted decorative trim in Oregon and Australian Red Cedar. This has been restored back to bare timber and is now a feature of the Main Hall, which also originally had an impressive colour scheme.

    In the garden the Group is using historic photos and a comprehensive plant list from a 1924 article in the Australasian newspaper to restore and replant old garden beds. They are also restoring scoria paths and edges and there are plans to get the goldfish pond functional once more. 

    The garden was a showpiece in the early 20th century, when the Victorian Railways employed a team of gardeners and the head gardener even held classes in gardening for employees, during their lunch breaks!

    The volunteers are enthusiastic about the project. We are all retirees, with various trade skills and experience, and we are delighted to be doing something of benefit to the community. The work contributes greatly to the physical and mental wellbeing of the volunteers, and we all learn new skills from each other. It’s a wonderful project for us.

    With support from Williamstown MP Melissa Horne and funding from VicTrack and the Hobsons Bay Community Fund, we started work in September 2022 and plan to have several rooms in the Clocktower ready for Steamrail’s Open Weekend in March 2024, open to the public for the first time in 45 years. 

    Ralph Coghill is Coordinator, Hobsons Bay Men’s Shed Restoration Group

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