Urban Salvage

The Drum


      OCTOBER 2010

  • Woolstores Demolition
  • A Church Hall in Malvern Retained

Woolstores Demolition

The area along the Moonee Ponds Creek at Kensington was, at the turn of the twentieth century, a series of lakes and wetlands known as the Moonee Moonee Chain of Ponds. This locale - centred on the present McAuley Station and shadowed by the overhead Citylink freeway - was development infill - the built landscape developed well after surrounding suburbs were established. North Melbourne was founded on a rise at Errol and Queensbury Streets. Kensington grew atop the hill in McAuley Road and the stockyards to the north on an incline straddling Racecourse Road. In between these two suburbs lay grazing paddocks and the stubborn meander of Moonee Ponds Creek as it traversed wetlands and low-lying ground to drain into the Yarra at the very western end of Dudley Street.

It was because of this soggy geography and the regular flooding of the creek that the area was left as paddock till the early 1900s. The first industries were tanneries - needing to locate near both water and stockyards. Remnant wattle and eucalypt stands may have supplied tannins. Red Gums would have flourished on mixed clays and estuarine silts - and above the river flats, on the ferrous basalt rock of the western grasslands, the vegetation would have resembled the stunted open woodland forms we see beyond Deer Park. Low canopied, widespread but clumped along rocky fault planes and drainage lines.

In the closing decades of the 19th century, these wetlands became an eyesore. The industrial runoff from tanneries, sewerage from surrounding suburbs, urban waste and the tramped contamination of the shoreline by cattle created a landscape remindful of a third world industrial town.

Things improved. Underground pipes were laid from 1890 and sewerage pumped via a new station at Spotswood. Progress otherwise was somewhat qualified. The present creek resembles a stormwater culvert - lacking the amenity of a natural watercourse. The lakes were drained and filled, and the district developed with large factories and a series of Housing Commission tower blocks.

The William Haughton & Co. woolstore at the corner of Hardiman Street and Bent Street is alongside the present creek. Blazoned across the parapet behind the modern sign is the original owner's name. William Haughton was a busy man in the 1890s. He owned wool and hide businesses in Adelaide and Brisbane as well.

For all the historical patter trotted out by the developers - seeking to retain at least the facade and historical moment of the site - it is unclear what age this building is. You can find it online as the Kensington Warehouse Apartments. About 70% of the units are presold and the intention is to gut the interior of this impressive structure and build within the historic redbrick shell.

Rafferty the Wrecker prefers to salvage timber in structures like the Haughton Woolstore if time and contract allow, rather than splinter the wood with heavy machinery and consign it to landfill. This red brick warehouse is on two levels. The first floor has 150 x 28mm NZ Kauri Pine floorboards in good condition. They are supported by 270 x 70mm Oregon beams. The ground floor has 150 x 75mm Messmate joists on bearers twice the bulk at 150 x 125mm. These have found their way to Timberzoo in Geelong to be milled to 120 x 19mm floorboards.

Whereas many of Melbourne's woolstores can be dated to 1938-1944 era, the decorative brick parapet, the breakfront pillar and brick panel design of Hardiman Street point to a construction date early in the 20th century. The windows are suggestive of Edwardian design and the Kauri flooring insists pre-1925 as more likely than not. There is some question as to whether the ground floor level is in its original state. A solid paved floor to unload horse drawn carts was more likely than the present elevated timber floor. Beneath the bearers lies a single clue. I discovered this in a search for remnant hardwood block, brick or bluestone pavers. An old conveyor, planked with wooden boards on a rusted frame, a series of cogs and smooth-faced wheels, rusted and beltless now, lies in a cracked mud mosaic - suggesting that perhaps the tenants grew tired of a periodic flooding and rebuilt the ground floor five steps up from the footpath.


Part of old conveyor machinery  

Present Moonee Ponds Creek at Bent Street 


Rare Kauri Pine flooring lifted with great care

Among several unanswered question to my mind is the role of the creek. Old newspapers report the use of coal barges from Victoria Harbour as far as Dynon Road. Would barges have deployed further upstream to a landing in Bent Street to transport wool and hides? Did the conveyor operate from a wharf or a paved forecourt serviced by carthorse and trucks?

The Kauri Pine 150 x 28mm T&G flooring is available from Spotswood and would suit table tops, bookshelves and cabinets for future tenants of the Woolstore Apartments. If you are looking for a maker with a ready feel for recycled timber, Steve Mamitch from Deep in the Woods runs a workshop in the heritage-listed woolstores in Chelmsford Street, Kensington (Phone: 03 9372 1427).

Dressed-all-round Douglas Fir beams are being processed and will be available early in November.

A Church Hall in Malvern Retained

Would be a shame if a fine building like St Josephs Church Hall in Stanhope Street, Malvern were to be demolished. It is in an awkward location on the site and has a high maintenance bill per square metre compared to an alternative new low-energy building. But we seem to be finding more of a balance lately in what we keep and what we replace.

Labour's Great Leap Forward - the Building Education Revolution, came at the right time in the life of this small redbrick hall. Well-founded beneath its walls, it nonetheless had persistent subfloor problems with shifting stumps and bearers. Money had been spent 20 years previously on restumping - but the watertable is close to the surface, and the subsoil an unstable sandy marl. To allow for any permanent remedy, the floor had to come up.

Rather than trash it, the builder contacted Urban Salvage. The hall yielded about 100m2 of Tallowwood flooring 85 x 25mm and 50m2 of Jarrah flooring 87 x 22mm. Both are available at our Spotswood timber warehouse.

The Red Gum joists 100 x 75mm have been sent to Timberzoo for remilling. A dressed-all-round perhaps for furniture or decking rails?