Memoir: ‘… within the embrace of a Monolith.’



Williamstown Football Ground Grandstand ( copyright Creative Commons)



A tale full of recollections,

some parts naturally romanticised as seen through childhood eyes,  

of my time spent wandering along the Esplanade, Williamstown

while living within the embrace of a Monolith. 

by John Raffle


Any story or tale around Williamston 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.


…as I stepped out my front gate I was greeted by the sometimes calm and simmering waters of Port Phillip Bay or other times the wild whitecapped 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 r 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.

…before opening the front gate the Gellibrand Lighthouse would let me know what to expect.


Why 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 – Willy Grandstand


A strong and powerful image as it seemed to stand with its back to the bay protecting its community from any seafaring invaders who threated 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 fishing spots for fisherman, 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 there 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 now held annually at the Werribee Racecourse. Lost and forgotten in time this outstanding Monolith was left to slowly deteriorate and in the end sadly totally destroyed and along with it went some wonderful memories also lost in time.

# Reference further – Historian Tom Ferris   …   ‘Williamstown : A Great Metropolitan Racing Club.’


My childhood, it seemed, always fell within the shadows of this marvellous Monolith on the Williamstown Foreshore. I’m not sure when I fully realised there was a Morris Street as I simply thought Esplanade simply ran from Williamstown Station’s footbridge down to special 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 – just as it 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,’ adjacent to the Naval Dockyards, the Timeball Tower, convict built wall at marked the start of the Battery Road. I was  greeted, fortnightly, on this road with RED FLAGS flying as the gunners within Fort Gellibrand spent their afternoon ‘shelling the bay’– off Shelly Beach stood the Gellibrand Light House guarding the channel entrance during night and times of fog, yet one always felt it had an eye facing inland keeping 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 and could have been parts in the English comedy ‘Steptoe and Son.’


Their resourcefulness became more evident around ‘bonfire night’ where gathering resources from the local foreshore tip at the bottom of Thompson Street and collecting discarded or unwanted gear from locals. The bonfire would burn for hours when set alight and was the centre of a major social gathering during the night. Of course overlooking this event stood the Monolith all the more threatening as the flames seemed to reflect off its walls and all the time the Monolith towered over the Williamstown Tennis Club which only seemed a to exist as ‘the gatehouse’ within this Monolith’s estate.


Getting back to more youthful pastimes I remember before VFA Sunday football there was a regular local neighbourhood match played on the then mudflats on the foreshore between No 8 Esplanade and Thompson Street. I remember after the teams were selected, coin was tossed, the winning captain always elected…

‘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 the 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 crash back to ground and having to cope with sort form of minor injury, or more importantly embarrassment. My father being a shipwright always built the greatest kites, not one of them ever failed to zoom. These were the times when you would turn to the Monolith for inspiration and understanding as you struggled with the powerful sea breezes…

None came!!!


Pocket money was precious in these times 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 great resource for ‘beer bottle collecting.’ The local bottle merchant was always guiding his horse and cart throughout the streets of Williamstown seeking bottles for his business with the call, ‘BOTTLE-O.’


The seasons naturally had a great deal of influence on activities. Summer was of course the best. At the bottom of Coles Street was the Bunbury’s Baths. Initially a restricted male bathing area, next an enclosed and protected pool for fishermen’s boats with two piers and finally, even today, the local swimming pools. Spreading away along the waterfront  from this setting were many little rocky channels or inlets either for local fisherman and their boats or maybe the basalt rocks had been removed for retaining walls and buildings around Williamstown.


The Bunbury’s Baths (Men’s) had taken on a more localised name among the youth and was to become ‘The Brumbries.’ It had, as mentioned, over time became 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 and a further sense of ‘faith’ in the pool’s safety (or was it sanctity) was never more evident when at various times the nuns from the Cole Street Convent would venture over for their daily summer afternoon. Walking up the slight hill out of Bunbury’s Pools and  heading home, after a long afternoon of swimming, you head towards 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 there was another disused anchorage for fisherman – alongside it was the Hatt Reserve with the seaside of this reserve protected from the ravages of wind and tide by another manmade retaining wall which made me wonder if this reserve was built on reclaimed land. At the beach end of the reserve stood the Williamstown and Newport Angling Club with its special rock walls and piers and housing local fishing boats with easy access to the bay for fishermen.


Across the Esplanade from this area stood an imposing wall of long serving pine trees which proudly protected the Williamstown Botanical Gardens. Initially enclosed by a formidable high wooden fence which was eventually removed, this area became a popular spot for companies’ Christmas picnics.


Standing alongside these gardens was Williamstown’s Lacrosse Mecca – the Fearon Reserve. A variety of sports from lacrosse, cricket, football and tennis were all accommodated throughout the year. The Fearon was bordered on one side by the Williamstown Botanical Gardens and on the opposite side was the Esplanade Tennis Club which saw many changes from box lacrosse to even bocce games area.


Back across the Esplanade onto the foreshore was the best diving and swimming spot in Williamstown ­-  Massey’s Boatshed, Slipway and Jetty as referred to by my parents yet it was always Mark’s Pier to all who visited this popular spot for teenagers.


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 foreshore’s local picture theatre affectionately known as ‘the bug-house’ which lost so much charm after being rebuilt after a fire destroyed the original theatre. Drawn then further along the promenade the next milk bar, which seemed to be built on stilts and as you settled in for a drink or ice cream you were able to look over the beach front out into the bay. The owners provided 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 another opportunity for any special delights needed while spending a day swimming at the Williamstown Beach.


Another icon of the Williamstown community. I always looked forward to each occasion I ended up at the Club. – from 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 and the joy of swimming at the Williamstown Beach.


From the end of the beach promenade a walkway topping a special retaining wall, which protected the lifesaving club grounds by keeping it high above the ravages of sea and tides slowly meandered further along the foreshore.. as it headed towards Bayview Street.


Often when you’d start this walk on a scorching afternoon the first stop off would be a quick dip in the chilling waters of the Crystal Pool. This experience provided a far cooler and different challenge to the crowded swimming area between the beach patrolled area and the many swimmers who ventured out the Williamstown Beach’s Racer and Diver structures – these structures were the lures for many beach goers and were the last remaining remnants of a long gone sea baths era. As you entered the Crystal Pool it would not be uncommon for you to be greeted with the company of some snorkelling swimmer, who after spearfishing, would be returning with his catch. A successful catch of leather jackets would also include a couple of abalone – always some form of catch for your time diving.


The end of this slow 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. A small inlet where a small band of dedicated fisherman carved out there moments of enjoyment and pleasure out in the bay. The ingenuity and resourcefulness of the fishermen who established this alcove is unbelievable.


Each of  these days 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 and with it its embracing powerful pull.


Schooling was spent at St Mary’s School and I was greeted each morning and afternoon by the ‘stable sight’ of the Monolith. Attending St Joseph’s Tech, 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 lure for me.


It wasn’t until later I discovered the true lure the Monolith had on 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, Melbourne Cup Sweep, all seemed wonderful as I was being drawn into the ultimate experience the Monolith offered.


At sixteen 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 Monolith.


I had spent many years watching this Monolith slowly became 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 winds, 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 and feel like a dungeon’ –  He explained how he had sat down to get ready for today’s game and wondered to himself 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.  I laughed and was tempted to remind him of the soap making factory opposite his ground and the odour that regularly lingered over his own ground each time I had played there.


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 within its forecourt.


I have thought of this often as I would be driving along Beach Road and looking across the bay. Football had taken me to many suburbs from Geelong West to Frankston and even across Australia but 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 yet for many leave as a Williamstown football player, loved and even adored by its football community.


Driving I would then grin to myself as the dread it had imparted on visiting footballers and forever grateful growing up ‘within the embrace of the Monolith’ – Willy Grandstand



Dedicated to my wonderful loving mother and father who quietly guided my life path which led into the great Williamstown Football Club – a monolith itself.


Thank you.

John Raffle




John Raffle has a long association with the Williamstown club. Below is an image of John with the Under 16’s team he coached in 1972. John is central in the light suit.






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  1. Colin Ritchie says

    I haven’t been to Williamstown for quite a long while. I have a couple of old friends who live there and your story has urged me to make contact with them and visit again. Thoroughly enjoyed your tour of the town.

  2. Willy were a powerhouse in the VFA. The Marlion Pickett story
    Is maybe surpassed by the audacious selection of 14 year old Ron James to debut in the 1985 Grand Final for Willy. The kid was plucked from the under 19s to play in t front if 20k. Coach Terry Wheeler
    was a left field thinker. James had some ability but was inaccurate. He died young in a wa
    tersking accident. Had played 16 games for the Bulldogs.

  3. Paul Garth says

    Loved these reminisces from Johnny Raffle .. a football man who as well as having a huge connection at Willy, has become a legend of St Bernards in the VAFA

  4. Great reminiscences, John.
    As someone who has lived in Williamstown all of my life, I am most familiar with the landmarks which you have identified.
    However, I do wonder about the future of the VFL.

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