Member Memories: "within the embrace of a monolith"
The following contribution was sent in by life member John Raffle.
(Picture: Brian Muldowney [captain] and Adrian Sims [best and fairest] of Williamstown's Fourths, which John Raffle coached to three consecutive premierships in the Western Suburbs Football League from 1972-74).
A tale full of recollections (some parts naturally romanticised as seen through childhood eyes) of my time spent wandering along the Esplanade, Williamstown.
Any story about Williamstown is usually romanticised and, as it relates to my short tale, I will probably do the same.
Growing up at No.11 Esplanade, a half-house my parents rented, was very different but also unique and sometimes majestic in many ways; my friends who lived around the corner could walk out the front gate and be greeted by their mates and neighbours just across the street, and as I stepped out my front gate I was greeted by the sometimes calm and shimmering waters of Port Phillip Bay or other times the wild, white-capped waves whipped up by the usual roaring wind which was a warning of a pending storm.
Such memories drag up; the extra number of fishing boats on certain days when ‘they are running today!' was the cry, tankers and cargo ships anchored in the channels waiting to dock later in the week, yachts screaming or gracefully sliding across the bay depending on the weather, the ever-present screeching seagulls as they ‘dive-bombed' for their regular meal, the fond memory of a young whale frolicking in the bay just off Cole Street - obviously lost as it had wandered into the bay on its travels further south - and before opening the front gate the Gellibrand Lighthouse would let me know what to expect.
While all this was the picture of my childhood, I never forgot to look left as I stepped out through my front gate.
There it stood, the tall, imposing, solid and proud monolith of the Williamstown community - the Willi grandstand.
A strong and powerful image, it seemed to stand with its back to the bay protecting its community from any seafaring invaders who threatened its community.
Looking, almost guardingly, over the extended estate in front of this monolith it initially seemed to not fully embrace the surrounds laid out before it. It seemed to focus on the various roles it was expected to play… sight for ships’ captains, marking favourite spots for local fishermen, a windbreak for supporters and footballers, simple accommodation for dedicated sports followers and even some ‘private seating’ for visiting dignitaries attending football matches.
As with all monoliths it did carry ‘a darker side’ which were not so evident – a great spot to sneak into late at night for a few drinks in the corner, even a notorious rendezvous for friends late after games of football or during week nights, even the pigeon-hunting youths as they raided the nests in the sides of the monolith.
During all seasons, with their varying weather it always stood out of a community beacon for lovers of the Williamstown Foreshore.
As with such monoliths there is also a sad part to its existence – I’ll romanticise this part of my tale.
As you drive past the former site of the Williamstown Rifle Range on Kororoit Creek Road there, on the left, lay the Williamstown Racecourse and stood the proud ‘cousin’ of our monolith – the Williamstown Racing Club grandstand.
Glorious in its design, it stood as a beacon in its environment. It was the host to the early stages of horse racing in Melbourne. The famous Williamstown Cup, still today is held annually at the Werribee Racecourse.
Lost and forgotten in time, this outstanding monolith was left to slowly deteriorate and, in the end, was sadly totally destroyed and along with it went some wonderful memories also lost in time.
My childhood, it seemed, always fell within the shadows of the marvellous monolith on the Williamstown Foreshore.
(Picture: John Raffle in the 1950s down at the ground with the old press box in the background, which burnt down in December 1961).
I’m not sure when I fully realised there was a Morris Street, as I simply thought the Esplanade ran from Williamstown Station’s footbridge down to the mysterious Fishing Club at the bottom of Bayview Street. Any wonder I have trouble remembering names of street or roads.
During my early time on the Esplanade it was a time where there seemed no need for any care of the environment or a well-presented community – it just seemed to be the way in those days – sadly as it seems now it was the time as mates and youth we loved and enjoyed what we had and where we lived.
As I grew up and extended my experiences and environment I found my entire travels started at the area just alongside the Williamstown Pier Station and followed a well worn path along what is now called Battery Road - the incomplete war time storage ‘dungeons’, the Timeball Tower, the convict-built wall at the start of Battery Road - closed fortnightly for cannon firing practice – Shelley Beach, with the Gellibrand Lighthouse guarding the channel entrance during the night and times of fog while facing inland it kept an eye on activities surrounding the monolith.
Wandering behind the monolith, I would join mates who built ‘huts’ – some of these mates should have become structural engineers but I feel their resourcefulness may have seen them running scrap metal yards. This skill became more evident around ‘bonfire night’ which required gathering resources from the local foreshore tip at the bottom of Thompson Street and collecting gear from locals.
The bonfire would burn for hours when set alight and was the centre of a social gathering during the night. Of course overlooking this event stood the monolith, looking all the more threatening as the flames seemed to reflect off its walls and all the time the Willi grandstand towered over the Williamstown Tennis Club, which only seemed to exist as ‘the gatehouse’ within this estate.
Getting back to more youthful pastimes, I remember before Sunday football there was a regular local match played on the then mudflats on the foreshore between No.8 Esplanade and Thompson Street. I remember after the teams were selected, the coin was tossed, the winning captain always announced ‘we’ll kick to the grandstand’. There went my Sunday afternoons, which were regularly interrupted by the Jeremiah’s Horse Trail as the group wandered along the Esplanade.
During the week I would wander the foreshore seeking out wood for our home fires. No ship containers in those days. Sue Cox always had her horse tethered, grazing on the foreshore and I would regularly notice other horses tethered on the foreshore. A great resource for fertiliser for our gardens and in particular my grandfather’s tomatoes – after feeding them the ‘horse manure’ I could never stomach them as part of my diet.
With the breeze coming off Port Phillip Bay you could always fly any form of kite which we did regularly. I learnt you needed to tie down your ‘box kite’ - failure to do so meant either losing your kite or be carried off the ground before you decided it was better to let your kite go rather than embarrassingly crashing back to the ground and coping with some sort of injury. These were the times when you would turn to the monolith for inspiration and understanding. None came!
Pocket money was precious and the foreshore was the source of supplies which ensured I had a bit – the foreshore was a great spot for an impromptu party by groups and it was therefore a great resource for ‘beer bottle collecting’.
The seasons had a great deal of influence on activities. Summer naturally being the best. At the bottom of Cole Street was the Bunbury’s Baths. Initially the restricted male bathing area, next an enclosed and protected pool for fishermen's boats with two piers and finally the local swimming pools. Spreading away along the waterfront from this setting were many little rocky channels or inlets either for local fishermen and their boats or maybe the basalt rocks had been removed for retaining walls and buildings around Williamstown.
The Bunbury’s had over time had become the major swimming hole for neighbourhood groups from the local Streets – why go down to the Williamstown Beach when you have your own 'swimming pool’ within walking distance? We always felt safe within the environment, with older brothers or sisters keeping an eye on everything. A further sense of ‘faith’ in the pool’s safety was never more evident when at various times the nuns from the Cole Street Convent would venture over for their daily swim.
Walking up the slight hill out of Bunbury’s and heading home, after a long afternoon of swimming, turning to home and there standing prominently was once again the Monolith – it seemed to be everywhere.
As I ventured further along the Esplanade the muddy flats in the pool off Giffard Street was another disused anchorage for fishermen – alongside it was the Hatt Reserve with its manmade retaining wall which made me wonder if it was reclaimed land.
At beach end of the reserve stood the Williamstown and Newport Angling Club with its special rock walls and piers. Across the Esplanade from this area stood an imposing wall of long-serving pine trees which proudly protected the Williamstown Botanical Gardens.
Standing alongside these gardens was Williamstown’s lacrosse mecca – the Fearon Reserve.
Back across the Esplanade onto the foreshore was the best diving and swimming spot in Williamstown - Massey’s Boatshed, Slipway and Jetty.
The old concrete Band Stand settled in between the Picnic Pavilion sitting at the end of Massey’s and the Williamstown Dressing Pavilion just before you wandered onto the Williamstown Beach.
Walking along the beach’s promenade you would be immediately taken in by the special milk bar on the Garden Street corner. Across the street, standing as the entrance to the Fearon, stood the St John’s First Aid Building.
A sneak look up Garden Street stood the foreshore’s local picture theatre, affectionally known as ‘the bug-house'. Drawn then further along the promenade, the next milk bar, which seemed to be built on stilts, had the added attraction of a permanent Merry-Go-Round. The milk bar on the corner of Forster Street, which was located in the middle of the beach, was the final chance for any special delights needed while spending a day swimming.
At the far end of the Williamstown Beach stood the Williamstown Swimming and Life Saving Club, another icon of the Williamstown community. I always looked forward to each occasion I ended up at the Club – from the Learn-to-Swim period to Life Saving Patrols, these would always be the cherished memories of any upbringing and the highlights of anyone’s time spent with friends there.
From the end of the beach promenade is a walkway topping a special retaining wall, which protected the lifesaving club grounds by keeping it high above the ravages of sea and tides.
Following this great retaining wall and path, it slowly meandered towards Bayview Street. Not very often you’d do the walk but a quick dip in the Crystal Pool provided a different challenge to swimming between the beach’s Racer and Diver. Generally you would have the company of a swimmer who, after spearfishing, would be returning with his catch. The end of this sojourn would find you being greeted by the handmade retaining rock walls, which seemed to rise out of the sea and enclose the anchorage at the bottom of Bayview Street. This is a small inlet where a band of dedicated fishermen carved out their moments of enjoyment and pleasure out in the bay. The ingenuity and resourcefulness of the fishermen who established this alcove is unbelievable.
Many of these trips naturally ended by heading back along the Esplanade and there I would see in the distance the usual sight of the monolith. As I got closer to my front gate it naturally grew larger and the more powerful its embracing became.
Schooling was spent at St Mary’s and I was greeted each morning and afternoon by the ‘stable sight’ of the monolith. Attending St Joseph’s Tech in South Melbourne, Footscray Technical College and finally Melbourne Teachers College allowed me the opportunity to wander up Morris Street to the Williamstown Railway Station – the shadow from the monolith became closer and more embracing.
On heading home I can clearly remember stopping on the top of the railway footbridge to see if the monolith was within range. Rounding the bend in Morris Street there it stood embracing everything within its domain. Walking home down Thompson Street was considered faster but it really had no allure for me.
It wasn’t until later I discovered the true allure the monolith had for those who fell within its shadow.
Standing on ’One-Eye-Hill’ on training nights or during matches, running out as a Club mascot, selling football records at the entrance to the ground, acting as a first aid boy, attending the Club’s many bottle drives and Melbourne Cup sweeps, all seemed wonderful as I was being drawn into the ultimate experience the monolith offered.
At 16 I embraced the ultimate thrill as I entered the bowels of the monolith as a player for the Williamstown Football Club. Even still today I cannot put into words the excitement I got as I left the confines of the monolith to challenge the enemy in the shadows of the grand edifice.
I had spent many years watching this monolith slowly becoming an important part of my life – a sense of stability, security, enjoyment, thrills and even disappointments ensured my shared experiences, along with many other friends and players whose experiences became the fabric of the monolith which proudly stands as the guardian of the Williamstown Football Club.
I learnt how much we owed to this monolith from a former school mate who played for Port Melbourne. Sitting down chatting after a tough match we got round to whether or not he enjoyed the match. Despite loving the game he openly said he hated playing at Williamstown.
Expecting all the usual complaints of wild wind, rain, funny oval, spectators etc. But no, he simply put it: “I hate that monstrosity of a grandstand, it’s totally intimidating as you enter the ground, offers no respite from weather and the clubrooms look like a dungeon – as I sat down to get ready for today’s game I wondered to myself why had I travelled to this forsaken place, what I had done to be forced to endure all this, just for a game of football.”
While the monolith may have embraced all from within its community it had obviously decided to intimidate interlopers from outside its domain – a new enemy and easily identified.
I have thought of this often as I would be driving along Beach Road and looking across the bay.
There standing like a beacon signifying the end of a peninsula was the monolith. A building which openly embraced all who had entered it as a simple footballer only to leave as a Williamstown football player, loved and even adored by its football community.
Driving, I would then grin to myself at the dread it had imparted on visiting footballers and making me forever grateful growing up ‘within the embrace of the monolith’ - the Willi Grandstand.
Dedicated to my wonderful loving mother and father who quietly guided my life path.
And a monolith which led into the great Williamstown Football Club.
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