Gem Pier, Williamstown: A Pier of Many Names

Gem Pier is the oldest pier in Williamstown, one which took its final name from its most notable ferry boat.

Built in 1938, it has been used by customs boats, ferries and steamers and is now the berth of Williamstown’s most famous ship the HMAS Castlemaine.

It is the first place many people set foot in the town and has been for nearly 200 years, which means it holds special memories for many.

In this post, I share some of the history of Gem Pier, as well as looking at the current services which use it.

The Old Jetty

The earliest record of a pier here is in 1838 and was originally known as ‘The Jetty’, in 1853 it was renamed ‘Old Pier’ following the construction of the ‘New Pier’ (or the Ann Street Pier).

The Old Jetty, whilst barely more than a few felled Sheoaks, was the mooring point for Williamstown’s first steamer the Firefly. Firefly was the first steamer to run from Melbourne to Williamstown, with fares set at 2/8 each way and goods 8/- per ton. Its first trip was on the 28th October 1838 and it became a regular daily ferry up and down the Yarra.


The New Pier

The original stone jetty was extended in 1849 and in October of that year a tender advertised for timber pile and planking to be added.

This work was completed during 1854 by which time the jetty had been re¬named the Old Pier due to the Ann Street Pier being constructed and named the New Pier.


Gem Pier

Through the 1860s and 1870s, New Pier became know as Steamboat Pier, due to the number of steamboats that ran from it, the most famous of which ended up giving the pier its final name

A ferry service began to be provided between Port Melbourne and Williamstown, principally by the paddle steamer Gem, which gave its name to Gem Pier. The Gem, led by Captain Robert Watson, crossed Hobsons Bay from 1868 until 1911 and connected directly with the Port Melbourne railway. 


Gem Pier Renovation in 1992

In Gem Pier underwent a complete redevelopment to replace both the piles and planking.

The original piles had lasted over 140 years but these would only last 28, with a further refurbishment needed in 2020.

The project cost £1.4m to complete.

Two of my favourite cafes in Williamstown are within a two minute walk of Gem Pier.

Check out the full list ‘Williamstown Cafes: 7 of the Best [From a Local]


Ferries & Ships That Leave From Gem Pier

Gem Pier has been the main entry point to Williamstown from Port Philip Bay many generations and it remains that way today.

There are a number of services that leave from the pier which I’ve listed below.

Enterprize Tall Ship

The Enterprize is a replica of the ship that in 1835 sailed from Van Diemen’s Land (Tasmania) up the Yarra before mooring at the present day William Street and setting up camp. These were the first white settlers in Victoria.

It’s possible to join a short cruise with The Enterprize on the third Sunday of each month for three trips out into the bay. They also run sunset sails on select Saturdays during daylight savings.

SAILINGS: Third Sunday of every month: 1100, 1230, 1430. Select Saturdays 1800.
COST OF ENTRY: Adults $35. Kids $20
WEBSITE: Enterprize.org.au

The Yarra Cruise

The Yarra Cruise takes passengers up the brown Yarra river for a tour of the riverside sights of Melbourne. It takes about an hour to get to the city passing by the Melbourne Star Wheel, the Polly Woodside and Flinders Street Station.

You can go for either a one hour trip for $24 and get the train back to Williamstown from Flinders Street station, or take the two hour return cruise ($35) which will bring you back to Gem Pier.

St Kilda Ferry

A view from a boat of blue water with bright sun In the top of the frame and a city skyline in the distance

The St Kilda Ferry has been running a single boat since 2016 to St Kilda, and in 2018 added a stop off in Port Melbourne.

They are a locally owned business, with the route they offer giving easy access to the far side of the Bay, which means quick routes in to the city by tram or a chance to hang out in St Kilda, or wander up to Albert Park.

TIMETABLE: Available here
PRICES: Williamstown to St Kilda $18 one way/$27 return ($9 & $13 for kids)
Williamstown to Port Melbourne $15 one way/$23 return ($8 & $11 for kids)
WEBSITE: StKildaFerry.com.au


HMAS Castlemaine

The first thing you’re going to see when approaching Gem Pier is the imposing grey hull of the HMAS Castlemaine.

The HMAS Castlemaine was a minesweeping ship that was built in Williamstown’s very own dockyards and served throughout World War Two. It completed nearly 200,000 kilometres around the coast of Australia and amongst the South Pacific Islands.

It has now been fully restored to become a museum ship and is the only one of its kind that is still floating. You can access her at the weekends to get an idea of what it would have been like to serve on one of these ships.


Gem Pier Seafood

Gem Pier Seafood is a 5th Generation fishing family that sells fresh seafood from their barge beside Gem Pier.

They are open 0800-1400 every Saturday and Sunday and sell whatever’s been caught over the previous couple of days, so follow their Instagram page (below) to see what’s on offer.

My personal favourites are the crayfish or the homemade lobster rolls. Yum!

Crays, Garfish


Gem Pier On Screen

Gem Pier has featured in a couple of movies over the years was also included in the background of some filming by Sky Sports for the Formula One Grand Prix in 2019.

The independent movie Blood Vessel was shot at the pier and I believe the HMAS Castlemaine was used for a number of the boat interior shots.

I also read that the 1959 movie On The Beach which starred Eva Gardner and Gregory Peck featured Gem Pier, but after watching this video it looks more likely that it was Gellibrand Pier that is slightly further along the coast.

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