Point Gellibrand Coastal Heritage Park: Complete Guide

If there’s one place in Williamstown makes me realise how lucky I am to live here it’s Point Gellibrand Coastal Heritage Park.

As a runner, this 850m stretch of coastline is a regular highlight of my Sunday long runs. Whether it’s Cape Town, Lisbon or Barcelona I love a city on the sea and Point Gellbrand brings a smile to my face every time run along Battery Road.

It also has some nostalgia for me. After emigrating from England, our first morning in Australia involved a jetlagged walk around Williamstown. I have fond memories of sitting on a rock at Point Gellibrand watching the sunrise over Melbourne, the city we had decided to call home.

But there’s more to it than that.

Point Gellibrand has a fantastic history and a multitude of others things to do alongside the jaw-dropping coastal views.

In this post, I’m going to take you through the history of Point Gellibrand Heritage Park and cover those reasons you might want to come and visit.

So without further ado, let’s kick-off.


Where is Point Gellibrand Heritage Park?

Point Gellibrand Heritage Park is on the south-eastern tip of the Williamstown peninsula, with fantastic views over Port Phillip Bay to St Kilda and Brighton.

If you are coming to Point Gellibrand from Melbourne then these are the best ways to access it:

By Car: Head over the Westgate Bridge and take the very first exit to Williamstown. The most scenic route to get here is by taking a left at the roundabout just after Newport Station, and following the road down to the coast. You can then follow The Strand all the way along the seafront (it eventually becomes Nelson’s Place) before ending up at Point Gellibrand where there is parking by Timeball Tower.

By Train: Take the Williamstown line from Flinders Street Station and get off at Williamstown Beach. From there it is a short walk to Point Gellibrand.

By Boat: There are a couple of service including the St Kilda Ferry and Yarra Cruise services that come from Melbourne or Port Melbourne over to Williamstown. They all disembark at Gem Pier where it is about a ten minute walk to get to Point Gellibrand.


Point Gellibrand History

Point Gellibrand is famous as being the location that the first white settlers landed in Victoria but, as with the whole of Australia, its history stretches back a long time before Europeans arrived.

The Yalukut Weelam people occupied this area for anything up to 50,000 years before the foreign expeditions started to arrive in 1798 and the final occupation in 1835 led by John Batman.

Before the arrival of the Europeans in 1835, the area around the mouth of the Yarra River was occupied by the Yalukut Weelam clan of the Boon Wurrung people or language group. Yalukut Weelam means ‘people of the river’ or ‘river home’. The entire Port Phillip area was a big floodplain before the sprawling city of Melbourne changed it forever.

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This area was filled with lagoons (such as what is now known as Albert Park Lake) and woodlands teeming with wildlife. Some went as far as describing it a ‘temperate Kakadu’ referencing the famous National Park in the Northern Territory.

Whilst there is no evidence that Point Gellbrand had any indigenous settlements (probably due to the lack of fresh water here) the area was an important area for fishing amongst the mangroves that would have grown all along here at the time (and can still be found in Williamstown at The Jawbone Reserve).

The Yalukut Weelam people occupied this area for anything up to 50,000 years before the foreign expeditions started to arrive in 1798 and the final occupation in 1835 led by John Batman.

When Batman (this still makes me chuckle!) stepped ashore he named the area Point Gellibrand in honour of a barrister friend of his back in London, Joseph Tice Gellibrand.

Gellibrand Bluestone Quarry

View of Point Gellibrand Quarry, earthworks with blue sea and sky in background
There is stil a lot of evidence of the old Gellibrand Bluestone Quarry

The most important tasks for the early settlers were to set up farming, communication with the ships and a quarry to construct buildings.

Within a couple of years of landing, a quarry was established at Point Gellibrand, which you can still see evidence of today in the steep contours of the landscape. This tiring work was carried out by convict labour, with famous Australians such as Ned Kelly set to work here, both removing the stone from the ground and constructing the sea wall and what is now known as Battery Road.

There are major bluestone buildings all over Melbourne such as St Patrick’s Cathedral and Pentridge Prison, though these were probably made from quarries elsewhere in the city. There are also local buildings such as The Old Morgue and Timeball Tower which were likely built from the bluestone cut from Gellibrand Quarry.

Fort Gellibrand

Fort Gellibrand was constructed in the mid-1800s, on direction of Governor Bourke who was concerned about an attack on the Britain’s newest colony from the sea.

Aerial view of Fort Gellibrand

From the satellite images on Google you can clear see the large defenses that were built here.

Ironically, the biggest threat ever faced by Fort Gellibrand was from the colony itsel . With the Gold Rush coming to an end, there were less ways to make money and many tired and poor settlers turned to a life of crime.

With Melbourne Jail full, even an overflow at Pentridge Jail in Coburg (re-opening in November 2020 as a mall and cinema complex, what a change!) couldn’t deal with the new prisoner numbers. It was decided that huge floating prison hulks would be moored off of the coastline of Point Gellibrand.

These were barbaric places, run by sadistic men such as Samuel Barrow, who liked nothing more than hanging prisoners by their thumbs for hours on end, with the yards often ‘wet with the blood that had run off of men’s backs.

The Sydney Morning Herald has a great article titled Melbourne’s forgotten convict history: The horror of the hulks of Hobsons Bay if you want to read more about Gellibrand’s Jails.

Point Gellibrand Cemetery

If you’re looking for the cemetery at Point Gellibrand you’re about 120 years too late! The bodies from the cemetery were exhumed in the late 1800s and moved to the new cemetary in North Williamstown.

If you’re looking for the cemetery at Point Gellibrand you’re about 120 years too late!

This created the largest mass grave in Australia, with over 800 bodies buried together and any surviving gravestones mounted on a vault that was built a couple of years later.

The originial cemetary at Point Gellibrand was little more than a burial ground, taking the dead off of the ships after a 100 day journey from the other side of the world.

Some ships lost a quarter of their passengers, with Yellow Fever a big killer. There were no special ceremonies here, just a shop selling spades and finally, a place to lay family members to rest.


Point Gellibrand Lighthouses

Timeball Tower

A picture of timbale tower in williamstown with blue skies behind it

Timeball Tower (which is sometimes known as Williamstown Lighthouse is the big focal point of Point Gellibrand Heritage Park.

It is the second oldest lighthouse in Victoria and has been standing on this spot in some form since the late 1840s.

It was originally a lighthouse, before being repurposed as a timeball tower. The large metal ball you can see at the top of the tower was dropped once a day at 1pm, allowing the ships in the bay to set their chronometers.

It has changed functions multiple times in its lifetime before finally being restored by the Williamstown Historical Society.

Click here to read more about the Timeball Tower of Williamstown

Lightship and Pile Light

There was also a series of lightships and pile lights which occupied the shallow water off of Point Gellibrand for many years. These were designed to help ships navigate around the various hazardous reefs that are concealed by the water.

Orignally these were lightships, essentially circular vessels held in place by an anchor with large lighthouse style lights on top.

In the late 1800s the boats were replaced by a more permanent structure using piles to connect it to the seabed and surrounded by thousands of tons of bluestone rocks.

In June 1976 the pile light met a rather dramatic end, being hit by a 7,000 ton boat on a foggy morning. The harbourmaster deemed it too dangerous to fix, so the order was given by the Port and Harbours authority to set the structure on fire. I don’t know a lot about this things, but it seems like quite an extreme response!

…the order was given by the Port and Harbours authority to set the structure on fire. I don’t know a lot about this things, but it seems like quite an extreme response!

If you look out from Point Gellibrand now you can see the location of the old pile light marker by a single steel pile with a solar panel on top, marking the edge of the reef.


Things to do at Point Gellibrand

Point Gellibrand Coastal Heritage Park Sign

Fishing

Point Gellibrand is a popular location with local fisherman, who can often be seen casting off late in the day from the concrete walls in front of Timeball Tower.

The area is good for catching Flathead, Snapper (though often the juvenile ‘Pinkies’) and Whiting. There are also some big schools of Salmon that are regular fished along this stretch of coastline.

Point Gellibrand Park and Picnic Area

Point Gellibrand Park And Play Area with blue skies behind

At the western end of Point Gellibrand there is a great kid’s playground with a wooden fort-style play area and all the usual swings, slides and roundabouts you’d expect to find.

Beside this is a BBQ area and a toilet block. Whilst the area can be a bit windswept and doesn’t have lots of share it is a nice open area for kids to run around in whilst enjoying a spot of lunch looking out over the water.

Running/Cycling

A winding pathway with surfboard bronze sculpture on the right leading to a city view in the distance

Point Gellibrand is a really popular part of many people’s recreational runs and cycles.

The pan-flat (other than the speed humps!) Battery Road is full of cyclists on a Sunday morning, with the adjoining pathway perfect for runners.

My favourite run takes me from the Baseball Wolves Baseball Ground, all the way along the sea-front with spectacular views of Melbourne, then swinging round Point Gellibrand and up to the far end of the Jawbone Reserve, passing by Williamstown Beach.

It is the perfect run! Sometimes a little windswept, but always with the guarantee of an ever-changing panorama over the water.

Rock Pooling

There are some wonderful rock pools and even an old lava crater at Point Gellbrand, so it is a fantastic place to play in the shallow waters.

Make sure you time it for low tide though as the water comes right up against the sea wall at high tide.

Point Gellibrand Oval and Williamstown Seagulls

AFL players from Williamstown seagulls line up facing away from the camera with arms over each other's shoulders singing an anthem

The Point Gellibrand Oval (officially known as the Williamstown Cricket Ground) is home of our local Aussie Rules team the Williamstown Seagulls.

It’s a stadium with some of the best views in Australia, looking right out over the Bay.

The Seagulls play in the VFL (Victorian Football League) which is the State version of the AFL (Australian Football League).

The above photo was taken when we went to see them play in the VFL final in 2019 where they lost to Richmond Tigers, though admitedly this was taken at Princes Park in Carlton North where the final was played.

If Williamstown are playing when you’re in the area this is a wonderful open stadium which is great to watch a game.

Watching the Sunrise

Sunset of a large boat with Melbourne city behind it

Point Gellibrand has the first place we saw the sun rise in Australia. The photo above was taken on a jetlagged walk around Williamstown on the morning of Anzac day in 2019. We walked from our apartment by Gem Pier, through Point gellibrand Heritage Park up to the beach and then back through town.

Whilst it’s not the absolute best place for the sunrise photo over Melbourne (you will need to be near Gem Pier or Ferguson Street Pier for that) it is fantastic for a sunrise looking out over the other side of the bay. As in my photo above, there are often big container or fishing ships coming in early and the skyline of St Kilda and Brighton make the perfect backdrop.


Aerial Shots of Point Gellibrand

I love this video and how well it shows of how wonderful Point Gellibrand is.

It starts off over Williamstown beach, but at around 1:20 the drone gets above Williamstown Seagulls’ Oval and then has awesome shots right the way along the coastline showing Melbourne in the distance.


Finishing Up

I hope you’ve enjoyed this post about Point Gellibrand Heritage Park.

This truly is a place that makes me feel lucky to live in Williamstown and when combined with a walk from Gem Pier around to the Jawbone Reserve this is a piece of coastline that ranks up there with many in the world, including incredible views of Melbourne, a wonderful beach, lots of history and some of the only Mangrove trees in Port Philip Bay.

If you take the time to visit after reading this article, then let me know with a quick comment below! If there’s anything I missed then I’m always updating these post, or just share a few works on why you did (or didn’t) enjoy it!

Thanks for reading!

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