18 September, 2016

Cementing Fyansford's future

Whilst the Gen Fyansford development on the Moorabool so far only occupies the flats on the east bank of the river, the high ground further to the east of Hyland St is also part of the development and has its own extensive history.
With the arrival of European settlement and the development of Geelong during the gold rush, came the expected social problems and so it was deemed necessary to build an orphanage to house the destitute children of Geelong. The first site chosen was at Fyansford where the Protestant Orphanage Asylum was erected at the top of Fyansford Hill overlooking the Moorabool Valley below. Built in 1855 of local bluestone in the Gothic style, it was designed by Geelong architect Andrew McWilliams, winner of a design competition for the building. A north wing was added to the orphanage in 1857 then in 1865 a Common School designed by Joseph Lowe Shaw was built.
The Protestant Orphanage Asylum/Cement works Retirees Museum June, 2012
Surprisingly perhaps, it was not until 16th November, 1868 that the land where the buildings already stood was temporarily gazetted for use as a Protestant orphan asylum by the government. The area of land totalled just over 15.75 acres. On 7th February, 1881, this order was made permanent and then on 10th June, 1887 approximately 6.75 more acres adjacent to the existing land were also gazetted for the use of the orphanage.
The Protestant Orphanage Asylum 1873 showing the original building and newer
north wing (right). Image by Thomas Washbourne, reproduction rights held by the
State Library of Victoria
From 1889, the remainder of the land between the orphanage and Hyland St was leased by the  Australian Portland Cement Company (APC), established by Peter McCann to exploit the limestone deposit at nearby Batesford. On the low ground beneath Fyansford Hill the company established its cement works. The company operated with limited success over the following years. Liquidated in 1895, re-launched, liquidated again and opened a third time in 1904, it was not until 1912 - some four years after the death of Peter McCann - that the production process and equipment was modernised and the company found a more stable footing. By now, it was under the management of Wesely B McCann, Peter's youngest son.
Over the years, small portions of the original land grant to the orphanage were revoked for the benefit of the cement works. Initially, just prior to the opening of the railway line to Fyansford in 1918 a section was reclaimed for the Board of Land and Works (Railway) to enable the construction of the line to the cement works. Next, the ownership of a small portion of land at the north east corner of the orphanage block was transferred to the ownership of APC in 1927.
It was only around two years before this, on 13th January, 1925 that the company had finally purchased the land on which their works had stood for the past 35 years. In the same year APC also made another significant land purchase when it bought the "old Fairview gardens" (The Age, 2nd March, 1925) along with additional adjacent land, including many of the quarter acre blocks within the Fyansford township reserve which had first been sold in 1854. It was on this site that they built a new plant constructed of steel and concrete, modernising and expanding their operations and floating the company on the stock exchange as Australian Cement Ltd. 1926 also saw the opening of a private railway owned by the cement works which carried limestone from the quarry at Batesford to the new works.
An aerial view of the cement works showing the newly-erected plant on the
site of  the old 'Fairview Gardens'. Photographer Charled Daniel Pratt, 1926
 Image held by the State Library of Victoria
Unsurprisingly perhaps, the orphanage and cement works did not always make compatible bedfellows. On 12th October, 1912 the Geelong Advertiser reported that dust from the cement works was such a nuisance that there were concerns for the health of the children living at the orphanage. Not only did it settle on the grounds and the exterior of the buildings, but also in the dormitories where the boys slept. All would be resolved it was claimed, when new machinery arrived from Germany. Eventually however, in 1933 it was decided to relocate the orphanage to Belmont as the building at Fyansford was deemed too old and too close to the cement works.
The new building was located in Broughton Dr, Belmont where until 1955 it was known as the Geelong and Western District Protestant Orphanage after which it became Glastonbury - Geelong Protestant Orphanage. Today, the building is home to the junior school campus of Christian College Geelong.
At Fyansford, following the departure of the orphanage, the old buildings and the land at the top of the hill were sold to the cement works who used the property to build leisure facilities for its employees. The buildings were converted into a recreation hall, library, billiard room and concert hall whilst tennis courts, a bowling-green, a sports oval and a croquet-lawn were constructed on the additional land. For a time during the 1950s the orphanage building was used to house migrant workers, then in the late 1970s a museum collection was established in part of the building. Over the years it grew to become the Geelong Cement Works Retirees Museum which occupied most of the building.
The Fyansford Cement Works viewed from the south in 1996. Image taken by
Joyce Evans, downloaded from the National Library of Australia
The cement works closed in June, 2001, however the museum along with various sporting clubs continued to operate out of the site after the company's closure. Whilst the Geelong Cement Bowls Club is still in operation today, the museum closed in recent times and the collection was disbanded.
Whilst the orphanage buildings and bowling green still stand, the cement works buildings along with their iconic chimneys were demolished in 2004 to make way for a proposed residential development - Fyansford Green - the brainchild of Robert Moltoni, owner of Moltoni Group Pty Ltd who had been in talks with the City of Greater Geelong as early as 2001. Little remains of the cement works besides the silos which remain a prominent feature of the skyline above Fyansford Hill.
Remaining cement silos at Fyansford, September, 2016
Moltoni envisaged a 2,000 home residential development on both sides of the Moorabool river, utilising the former cement works land to the east and the disused quarry on the west bank of the river. To this end, significant environmental rehabilitation works were undertaken on the former cement works site and in 2008 the land was rezoned from industrial to residential.
In 2011 however, all these plans were put on hold when Moltoni Group ran into financial difficulties. Development of the area stalled until the land was sold to developers ICD Property who are now implementing the first stage of the Gen Fyansford development.
Gen Fyansford development, September, 2016


  1. Jo, I take my hat off to you. This is yet another fine piece of historical research with an abundance of important detail. Thanks for your ongoing contribution to Geelong's (but, more importantly, Fyansford's) history. This latest series marries perfectly with earlier entries in your Barwon Blog.
    Can you tell me of any other liquor outlets in the Fyansford locality; apart from the Fair View Hotel (Fairview Hotel, Greenwood's Family Hotel), the Junction Hotel, the Swan Inn (Swan Hotel, Fyanstown Inn), the Fyans' Ford Hotel (Fyansford Hotel) and the Balmoral Inn (Balmoral Hotel)?

    1. Hi John, thanks again! Glad it helps! There is lots of readily available info about the cement works so I didn't want to overdo that. Surprisingly there wasn't a great deal about the orphanage, so I had to dig a little further there.
      Now, to pubs. As it happens, there are a couple of others which whilst not that close, do tie in to Fyansford. The Great Western in Newtown (hey, there's that corner again!) was on the "Great Western Road" (aka Leigh Rd and later called the Lower Western Rd as landed interests wanted to promote the "Upper" Western Rd via Shelford instead) to the Western District. I assume (but have not yet done the research to confirm) that this is where the name came from. Of course, anyone passing the Great Western was on their way out of town via Fyansford Rd (Autumn St) and down the hill to Fyansford and as you mention also had to pass all of the pubs mention above. As it happens, if they were still standing by the time they made it past the Junction there were one or two other options.
      The Eureka was located at the corner of the Fyansford-Gheringhap Rd and the Midland Hwy. I don't know much about it, but it popped up c1853 in response to the gold rush. The other which is much more interesting and comes with a ghost story was the Friend in Hand which I assume was located somewhere near the road of the same name. I intend to write this one up for the blog at some stage despite the fact that it isn't really on any of the rivers. It looks like a good yarn (everyone loves ghost stories) and it ties in with the wider history of the area...so stay tuned...
      There may be others, but I can't bring them to mind. I have a sneaking suspicion I may have read about one near the top of The Deviation, but that would have been later as the road wasn't built until the 1930s.