I've kept this blog, on and off, since 2006. In 2015 I used it to chart daily encounters, images, thoughts and feelings about volcanic basalt/bluestone in Melbourne and Victoria, especially in the first part of the year. I plan to write a book provisionally titled Bluestone: An Emotional History, about human uses of and feelings for bluestone. But I am also working on quite a few other projects and a big grant application, especially now I am on research leave. I'm working mostly from home, then, for six months, and will need online sociability for company!

Monday, January 12, 2015

My Year with Bluestone: The Old Morgue

Yesterday we took the ferry from Southbank over to Williamstown: a beautiful ride down river past the docks and under the Bolte and West Gate Bridges. There are bluestone sites a-plenty here in the old town, and I will have to go back another time. But here's a taster.

In 1859 the busy city of Williamstown (main port for Victorian goldfields) established a morgue at the end of Gem Pier, where our ferry docked. The plan was that the remains of autopsies and mortuary procedures would be washed away at the end of the pier, and the fishes would do the cleaning up... But apparently this became a little unsavoury and in 1873 the building was taken down, bluestone by bluestone, and reconstructed a few blocks away in Ann St. It was used until 1925.

As you can see from this last photograph, it's not an active tourist site, though you can book a tour with the local heritage guides, which I will do in March. It's part of an enormous marine precinct, with a little museum, and if you walk down further on the dock you come to the berth of the Sea Shepherd. The little morgue is small and very unmonumental, in comparison to many bluestone structures. The low roof is also striking, as bluestone is often associated with gothic style in this period.

I touched the stone and tried to think about death and its mysteries. But the historian in me was mostly thinking about the effort and the decision taken to move the morgue, but keep the same building. Was it a heritage question? They clearly didn't need any larger building. And because there are bluestone quarries in the area, you wouldn't think the stone would be in very short supply.

I looked it up when I got home. One website said the morgue was moved because it was becoming too much of a tourist destination! An excess of affect, then. And as many of the heritage sites we visited reminded us, the stones themselves were "hewn" by convicts, who slept at night on the big prison hulks anchored in Hobsons Bay. This will be a common theme of much of the bluestone building in and around Melbourne.

I also found a site that offered late night ghost tours of the morgue. Apparently it is haunted (of course!) by a young girl who just might grab your arm in the dark....

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