Volunteers restoring Newport Clocktower

26 June 2024

The heritage-listed Newport Workshops Clocktower building is being lovingly restored to its former glory by volunteers from Hobsons Bay Men’s Shed.

Work to restore the clocktower building’s interior started in 2022 after the Men’s Shed volunteers were looking for a new challenge. 

“We were coming to the end of another project and wanted to keep the team together,” explained Virginia Coghill who, with husband Ralph, is co-organiser of the Men’s Shed group and acts as heritage consultant on the project. 

“We were doing a restoration on some historic buildings that the Hobsons Bay City Council allowed us to do. That gave us the track record and credentials to be able to restore a building like this,” Virginia said.  

“The Clocktower building was largely unused for many years. We could see the building really needed a bit of fixing up. And I love the building.”

The Clocktower’s high level of heritage protection means the volunteers can perform limited restoration on the building’s interior.   

After receiving the go-ahead from Heritage Victoria, work started to remove some 1970s-era features that had seen heritage fireplaces covered, plywood panels installed over original plasterwork and carpet tiles laid over floorboards.

Multiple layers of paint were stripped back to the bare plasterwork to reveal the original paint colours, allowing the group to prepare a paint colour scheme for approval by Heritage Victoria.  

“That took the first few months and then we started restoring room by room, assessing damage to walls, patching and filling cracks and repairing plaster where it had fallen away, and finally painting in the approved colour scheme,” Virginia said.

VicTrack has completed electrical work and repairs to chimneys and roofing that is outside the volunteers’ project scope. 

VicTrack has also partly funded the project, including a $10,000 boost through a Community Grants Program in early 2024. The grant has been used to purchase much-needed timber, light fittings, door hardware and other essential materials.

With weekly working bees, the restoration will take several years. Thousands of people took the opportunity to see the work in progress at Steamrail’s open days in March, when the building was open to the public for what is believed to be the first time. 

The heritage-listed garden is also being restored as part of the project. Volunteers researched the type of plants that were likely here in the late 1800s and have set about replanting the garden accordingly. 

Most of the volunteers are retired trades people with skills in woodwork, pattern making, sheet metal working and other skilled crafts. Putting those skills to good use is an important motivator for participants, as Ralph Coghill explained. 

“The project provides worthwhile activities, for people to continue using their skills and pass them on to others; we learn from each other,” Ralph said. 

“There's a lot of social interaction, camaraderie. 

“We do it because we think we’re providing something worthwhile. 

“And it's nice to know that we're doing something that's going to be useful in the community, and to be used by the community.”