It's summer time and the sun is shining on a Wednesday night in Williamstown, one of Melbourne’s most superlative suburbs in the west. It’s also training night at the local Williamstown Swimming and Surf Lifesaving club.
President of the Club Matt Carroll says the summer months are what he loves the most as everyone from nippers to veterans enjoy one the area’s best kept secrets.
“Williamstown is like a secluded country town with a beach. The schools here are all a stone’s throw from one another and kids know each other and so do the parents and they all mingle. The clubhouse is busiest in the summer months and people are surprised when they come down here and see how nice it really is with the beachfront, historic clubhouse and kiosk.”
Sporting and community clubs are a major part of the local Williamstown community, and one of the many reasons why locals say they wouldn’t live anywhere else. Williamstown is undergoing a transformation as more people are crossing the bridge and finding out how life in the west is best.
Increases in population and property prices are the result of this change.
“From a social point of view, research clearly shows new buyers into Williamstown feel they have finally got their foot in the door of one of Melbourne’s most sought after prestige suburbs; it’s the Elwood of the west, upmarket yet friendly bayside living," property researcher and founder of The Human Truth™ John Berenyi said.
One of Williamstown’s largest residential developments Waterline Place located on the former site of the Port Phillip Woollen Mills is now under construction and developer AVJennings has determined that bigger apartments and townhouses are the right approach to cater for families and downsizers who want extra space.
AVJennings Victorian General Manager, Angus Johnson said buyers love Williamstown because of the history, and the sea change it offers.
“From the couples looking to downsize and make life a little easier with low maintenance large apartments big enough to entertain friends and family to the young families who like the idea of the townhouse lifestyle. Waterline Place is designed for the second and third property buyers, with many housing options."
Renowned architectural firm Elenberg Fraser has worked in collaboration with AVJennings to bring the site’s masterplan vision to life. Its current focus is the design of the soon to be released Gem.
"Anyone who visits Williamstown can see it’s already got a unique character and we’re trying to respond to that and bring that together with three broad themes that drive the design forward - maritime history, industrial history but also some of the really leafy green streets and botanic gardens,” Caleb Smith Principal at Elenberg Fraser said.
Soon to be resident, Martin Carter said now his children have left home, he and his wife are planning to move from Wyndham to Waterline Place for a number of reasons.
“It’s close to everywhere. You’ve got local sporting clubs and many different types of establishments, I think there would be probably over 30 hotels within Williamstown that all operate differently and separately. There are the wide tree lined streets and parks and of course the water.
"There’s the ability to go out for a walk with nice surroundings. A couple of hundred metres from Waterline Place is the station with very regular trains heading to the city and back out again. I wanted to be closer to the city and closer to the things that we enjoy as we reach middle age."
In her early 30s and CFO for a multinational company Kate Chesney is looking forward to moving into her new apartment at Waterline Place and she is the first to admit she was very surprised to discover what Williamstown has to offer. Living in a lovely historic hidden suburb so close to Melbourne, Kate moved to Williamstown with her sister in what was a temporary move. She liked the area so much she has bought a Rosny apartment in Waterline Place and will relocate in in 2017. “The decision was a no brainer for me – so close to bars, restaurants, shops, and amazing beachfront paths and views for my daily run. Location is the key, with an easy trip over the Westgate and I’m at work faster than when I lived in the eastern suburbs,” says Kate.
John Berenyi adds the great benefit of Williamstown is its well established social infrastructure. “Williamstown has a community that has grown over the years and has an infrastructure where people know their local areas. It also has a wonderful weekend tourist trade which, given the size of the suburb means it’s over catered for with restaurants and bars so when the tourists aren’t there, the locals during the week get the advantage of all the infrastructure that’s at their doorstep. The people we talk to are really chuffed because they’ve got way more facilities than they could ever get anywhere else.
“The key for Williamstown is that all the highly valued infrastructure, parks, lakes, shopping centres, doctors, dentists, lawyers, butchers: all the amenities are already here and well established. Plus, because they were put in place a long time ago they have the human scale and accessibility that just isn’t possible in new developments,” explains John.
Director at local Real Estate agency RT Edgar Joanne Royston has grown up in and around Williamstown all her life, and says she has seen property prices climb more than other suburbs around Melbourne. “Growth is fairly consistent although in some pockets of Williamstown there is more demand than others of between 5-10%. We are seeing new buyers from the other side of the bridge moving across appreciating the qualities of Willy such as the beach, it’s quiet, easy to drive around with no traffic lights, and very much a community feel.”
Williamstown has a proud and passionate community and it’s the community spirit that Mayor of Hobson’s Bay Council, Cr Sandra Wilson says is what the local Council is committed to maintaining. She says Williamstown is the cohesion of the past and future.
“The council is busy finalising the work on our cultural precinct at the Williamstown Library and Town Hall and will soon turn our attention to our city’s oldest building – the Williamstown Mechanics Institute. Developmentally, we see change occurring, with the Port Phillip Woollen Mill development (Waterline Place) and subdivisions and townhouses being built. As a Council we are conscious of maintaining Williamstown’s unique atmosphere, particularly from a heritage and environment perspective. From an economic standpoint Williamstown has welcomed the Hellenic Hotel as a new and high profile destination. This has put a real focus on Willy as a hospitality destination and has complemented the many great eateries that can be found in this corner of the world,” said Cr Wilson.
And owner of Hellenic Hotel George Calombaris agrees. “The pub has had a remarkable history and it’s a real privilege to give the old building a new life the Hellenic way,” said George.
The change in Williamstown is part of the bigger growth in Melbourne’s west that demographer Bernard Salt says was always going to happen, “Melbourne’s western growth front offers affordable housing that is closer to the CBD than the eastern and southeastern edges. The Melbourne flip was always going to happen; it’s happening now and it’s written into the city’s strategic plan to 2050,” says Bernard.