Werribee (including Werribee Park and
Part of Melbourne's sprawl famous for the
superb Werribee Park
Werribee is a city and suburb which is situated
on the Werribee River 31 km south-west of
Melbourne, near Port Phillip Bay. The City of
Werribee includes Little River, Hoppers
Crossing, Laverton (a growing industrial centre)
and Point Cook. The latter has a large air force
base. Werribee itself is located on a section of
the old Princes Highway which has been bypassed
by the Princes Freeway. It is now part of the
residential/industrial sprawl of the outer
Melbourne metropolitan area. Werribee South is a
patchwork quilt of market gardens.
Prior to European occupation the area is
thought to have been occupied by the Wathawurung
Aborigines. Evidence of their presence can be
found at the Mount Rothwell Archaeological Area,
20 km south-west of Werribee. It is one of only
four known Aboriginal stone arrangements in
Victoria and one of the most spectacular in
Australia, consisting of 95 basalt blocks which
have been carefully arranged in an oval with a
circumference of 151 metres.
The Werribee Plains were spotted from the
You-Yangs by Matthew Flinders in 1802. Hume and
Hovell reached the Werribee River in 1824,
naming it the Arndell. The first European
settlement in the district took place in the
mid-1830s. Scotsman Thomas Chirnside, already a
major landholder in what is now western
Victoria, took up land in the Werribee district
in the late 1840s. He and his brother Andrew
eventually owned 93 000 acres in the area.
Thomas's Point Cook homestead was built c.1850
and the brothers' Werribee Park Mansion in the
mid-1870s. The latter is considered Victoria's
finest colonial homestead. Both are open to the
In 1850 the village site, which later became
Werribee, was proclaimed. It was declared a
municipality in 1862. The Presbyterian Church at
the corner of Duncans Rd and Synott St was
financed by the Chirnsides.
In the 1890s farmers from the Ballarat area
began to move into the district, establishing
dairying and agriculture. The production of
vegetables commenced when an irrigation scheme
was established c.1910. A state research farm
(still in operation) was established in 1912 and
ex-servicemen were granted land in the area
after World War I.
Aviation instruction began at Point Cook in
1913-14 and the RAAF's first air force base was
established there in 1921. Still in operation it
is allegedly the oldest continually-operating
military base in the world. Werribee was
declared a city in 1987.
Things to see:
The local historical society is located in the
second shire office building (1893) at the
corner of Duncans Rd and Watton St. Their museum
display is open on the second and fourth
Saturdays of the month from 1.00 p.m. to 4.00
p.m., tel: (03) 9741 6324. The other historic
survival in town is the original shire office,
built of bluestone in 1868 at the corner of
Synnot St and Greaves St. It was later a Masonic
B-24 Memorial Liberator Restoration
A restored B-24 Liberator is located at the
corner of the Princes Highway and Farm Rd. It is
open Thursday and Sunday from 9.00 a.m. to 5.00
Werribee Park Mansion, on the basalt plains west
of Melbourne, has long been regarded as
Victoria's finest rural colonial homestead.
Today the mansion is still the state's largest
private residence. The graziers Thomas and
Andrew Chirnside commissioned the building and
it was completed between 1874 and 1877. Thomas
had first taken up land in the Werribee area in
the late 1840s. His brother later became joint
owner of the 93 000-acre property which
stretched from the You-Yangs to the sea at Point
Cook and from Little River to Skeleton Creek
(between Hoppers Crossing and Laverton). The
proximity to the markets at Geelong, Melbourne
and the goldfields ensured the profitability of
their sheep empire which was allegedly one
The mansion, built in the Classical Revival
style boasts 60 rooms, a central tower and
single-storey arcade. Built of bluestone faced
with local freestone, it can be considered an
Australian analogue of the English country house
and garden and a symbol of Australia's pastoral
elite in the colonial era.
Thomas, suffering ill-health and related
depression, shot himself in the estate's
washhouse in 1887. Andrew died in 1890 and his
wife in 1908. His son George then inherited the
mansion. He broke up the estate to enable the
establishment of the Werribee State Research
Farm in 1912 and the RAAF base at Point Cook in
1921 then sold the mansion to the Jesuits in
1923. They used it as a seminary, making major
additions to the house in the 1920s and 1930s,
including the tower. The mansion and grounds
were purchased by the Victorian government in
room complete with elephant's foot and
The driveway begins at the grand entry gates
and gatekeeper's lodge and passes the Floriana
Parterre, an ornamental arrangement of flower
beds which is in full bloom from February to
March. It is the one of the largest and most
spectacular in the country and is the focal
point of the formal gardens which cover 10
hectares. Completed in 1882, they were allegedly
laid out by the curator of the Melbourne
Botanical Gardens and, like their English
counterparts, they feature not only a parterre,
but also a lake, grotto, glasshouses, meandering
pathways, extended vistas and British fauna and
flora, including many venerable trees.
At the end of the drive is the mansion with
its lavish and remarkable Victorian interiors.
Exceptional efforts have been made to restore
the house to the splendour of its heyday in the
1870s and 1880s. The furniture, fine art and
paintings also reflect the period of the
Chirnside's residence. Most of the Chirnsides'
furniture was made in Edinburgh and shipped in
58 crates. A third of these items remain. While
in London in 1881 Thomas Chirnside acquired a
collection of 73 paintings by contemporary
artists and 'old masters', 20 of which remain.
The drawing room features an exceptional
cut-glass chandelier, ebony-and-gilt cabinets,
an ottoman and chenille carpeting. There is a
magnificent staircase with rococo statue-lamps,
a billiard room with a panelled ceiling and
carvings, a marble-paved conservatory featuring
a fine plastered ceiling and etched-glass
windows, a main hall with mosaic floor,
Corinthian columns and gold-leaf, a library,
bedrooms, dining room and morning room.
The kitchen and servants' wing are designed
to provide insight into the working lives of the
numerous domestic staff required to maintain
this grand lifestyle.
In the fashion of the day the estate was
essentially a self-sufficient village. There is
a farm section at a small distance from the
mansion which retains a number of bluestone
buildings - the stables, blacksmith's shop,
men's hut, implement shed, ration house and
employee's cottage. Farmhands are in attendance.
Other features of the 140-ha estate are the
bluestone river ford that linked the two parts
of the estate, an ornamental lake with an island
that features one of Australia's few surviving
grottoes, glasshouses, the original Melbourne to
Geelong road, and an earlier bluestone homestead
(1857) which is surrounded by a ha-ha, a sunken
bluestone wall which stopped animals from
accessing the garden while preserving views of
There is a cafe which is open daily, together
with a gift shop. Picnics but no barbecues are
allowed within the grounds but there is a picnic
area with free gas barbecues in the regional
parkoutside the main entrance.
The shrubland, woodland and stands of river
red gums are home to birdlife such as great
egrets, willy wagtails, the Australian white
ibis, swamp harriers, magpie larks, migratory
waders, cormorants and ibis. There are also
platypuses and water rats along the river,
eastern long-necked tortoises, the forest
eptesicus bat and plenty of frogs.
Werribee Park is located on K Road, 4 km
south of the centre of Werribee. It is
signposted from the Princes Freeway (take the
Werribee South exit) or, if you are coming from
Werribee itself, follow Duncans Rd out of town
and turn right onto K Road. Public Transport is
available via shuttle from Flinders St Station
in Melbourne, tel: (03) 9748 5094.
From November to April the mansion is open to
the public from 10.00 a.m. to 4.45 p.m. daily.
From May to Octoberentry ceases at 3.45 p.m.
There are pamphlets with detailed information
on the culture of the mansion in the Chirnside's
time, its interiors and the other features of
the estate. Tours of the precinct are
self-guided by means of audio head sets which
are provided at no extra cost. The full tour
takes about one hour but it allows for much
Guided mansion, garden and tower tours start
from the mansion, for an extra fee. The tours
run according to request and are subject to the
availability of guides. Bookings are essential.
Furthermore, a vehicle departs every 30
minutes for an audio tour of the property (this
is known as the Park Explorer Tour). Pick-up
points are the front door of the mansion and the
gate lodge. This service also incurs an extra
Visitors can choose to stay at the Mansion
Hotel, which offers five-star accommodation and
a quality restaurant.There is also a health club
and day spa offering therapeutic treatments, tel:
(03) 9731 4000. Shadowfax Winery isopen for
tastings on the weekends. There are facilities
for disabled visitors, wedding and corporate
function venues, educational programs and a
corporate cricket pitch for hire.
Special events are held throughout the year
at the mansion, notably the Spring Harvest
Festival which includes period costumes and
crafts exhibitions, musical events, polo matches
and working farm demonstrations. For further
information on any matter ring (03) 9741 2444.
State Rose Garden
The State Rose Garden is located adjacent the
grounds and incurs no entry fee. It features
4500 plants from 100 species in the shape of a
giant Tudor rose and is at its best from
November to April. As a continuation of the
themes established in the adjacent estate the
gardeners are in period costume. A tour of the
garden can be booked any time, but spring is
best, tel: 131 963. A summer party is held in
March. For general information ring (03) 9742
The National Equestrian Centre
Also on K Road, just before you reach the
mansion, is the National Equestrian Centre on 73
acres with a 4700-square-metre indoor arena, tel:
(03) 9741 7672.
Werribee Open Range Zoo
The zoo is on over 200 ha of land adjacent
Werribee Park mansion. Access is via a
signposted side road which heads off K Road,
just before you reach the Equestrian Centre. It
is open daily from 9.00 a.m. to 5.00 p.m.,
although no-one is admitted after 3.30 p.m.
Hours are extended during daylight savings.
Remember, this is an open-range zoo so
visitors are taken on a fifty-minute guided tour
on board a specially-provided bus. The tours
operate between 10.30 a.m. and 3.40 p.m. There
are also two walking trails. The zoo features
lions, rhinos, hippos, giraffes, zebras, deers
and antelopes from Africa and Asia, American
bison, camels, monkeys, cheetahs, meerkats,
serval cats, kangaroos, wallabies and emus.
There is also a bistro, a kiosk, a playground
and a picnic area.
Those who wish to see both the zoo and
Werribee Mansion (see previous entry) can
purchase a joint ticket which is available from
either attraction and which is valid for three
months from date of purchase.
Point Cook RAAF Museum
The RAAF base at Point Cook was Australia's
first such institution, being established in
1921. It is claimed to be the oldest
continually-operating military base in the
world. The attached aviation museum is regarded
as the finest such institution in Australia. It
is said to house the largest collection of
military aircraft in the Southern Hemisphere,
with items dating back to 1916. Some of the
vintage craft are still in operating condition
and are sometimes flown for visitors to the
museum. The museum also has 'interactive
airfield events' on a daily basis. For
information on forthcoming events ring the
info-line on (1902) 240 553.
Extensive displays of memorabilia relate to
the history of the RAAF, of Point Cook, and the
role of women in Australia's 20th-century
military conflicts. There are numerous special
exhibits, including one on World War I flying
ace, Baron von Richtofen.
The museum is located at the end of Point
Cook Rd. The simplest way is to take the Point
Cook Rd exit off the Princes Freeway at the
western edge of Laverton and follow the signs.
Alternatively, follow Duncans Rd out of
Werribee, cross over the freeway, turn left into
Aviation Rd and, at its end, turn right into
Point Cook Rd. Public transport is available
daily from Flinders St station on board the
Werribee Park shuttle which takes in Werribee
mansion, the RAAF Museum, the Point Cook
homestead and the coastal park. Bookings are
essential, tel: (03) 9748 5094.
The museum is open from 10.00 a.m. to 3.00
p.m. from Tuesday to Friday and from 10.00 a.m.
to 5.00 p.m. on weekends and public holidays.
Guided tours are available on weekdays. Bookings
for the tours are available during business
hours, tel: (03) 9256 1300. Recorded information
is available by ringing (1902) 240 553. The
museum shop can be contacted on (03) 9256 1040.
Point Cook Coastal Park
200 metres before you reach the base, as you
head south along Point Cook Rd, there is a
turnoff to the left into Point Cook Coastal
Park, a well-maintained and landscaped wetlands
park which represents one of the last relatively
unspoiled reef ecosystems in Port Phillip Bay.
It possesses a substantial lookout tower, picnic
shelters, free gas barbecues, two childrens'
playgrounds, change rooms, clean toilets, and
paved walks to the unspoilt shore which boasts a
swimming beach, walking trails and a plenitude
of birdlife which can be observed from Spectacle
Lakes birdhide or from the Cheetham Wetlands
Tower. The latter provides views over a series
of ponds populated in summer by birds migrating
from the northern hemisphere for the winter,
including the eastern golden plover from Siberia
and Alaska. These ponds were used between the
1920s and the early 1990s by a company which
used them to extract salt by evaporation.
An information centre operates at the beach
picnic area and a touch tank permits visitors to
get a closer look at the local marine life. The
shade shelters can be reserved for a fee but the
barbecues cannot be reserved. Disabled
facilities include special parking spaces,
toilets and a wheelchair-accessible path to the
picnic grounds, the edge of the beach and the
Spectacle Lakes birdhide.
The wetlands, saltmarsh and beach sand flats
are visited by a wide range of birds, including
the endangered orange-bellied parrot and the
rare Altona skipper butterfly can be found on
the shores of RAAF Lake. The Marine Reserve,
declared in 1982, protects all native flora and
fauna in the park (including shellfish and
snakes). It forbids fishing on the reef within
200 metres of the high-tide shoreline mark,
along with spearfishing, open fires, cats, dogs
The park's vegetation was altered by European
settlement and now consists of remnant basalt
plains grassland, with areas of coastal salt
marsh, grassy wetland, sedgeland and aquatic
species. Replanting of original tree species is
The park is open daily from 8.00 a.m. to 5.00
p.m. on weekdays in winter (opening at 8.30 a.m.
on weekends), with hours extended to 8.00 p.m.
in summer, tel: (03) 9395 1132.
at Point Cook
Point Cook Homestead
Once you are in the park grounds, there is a
signposted turnoff on the left then a right turn
onto Point Cook Homestead Rd (gravel) which
leads to Point Cook Homestead and stables, on
the edge of Port Phillip Bay. This large,
single-storey bluestone house was built in
stages from around 1850 to 1857 for Thomas
Chirnside who used it as the family residence
until the completion of Werribee Mansion (see
earlier entry); the whole of the area once being
part of the Chirnside estate.
The homestead is essentially Classical in
style but each wing dates from a different
period and hence there is some variety of
design. The substantial, single-storey stables
were constructed in a vernacular fashion, prior
to 1861, of random-coursed bluestone.
The homestead is open to the public for a fee
from 10.00 a.m. to 4.00 p.m. on weekdays and
until 5.00 p.m. on weekends. There are
educational tours and catering, picnic, barbecue
and kiosk facilities, tel: (03) 9395 1293.
Melbourne from Point Cook homestead
Riverbend Historic Park
Just to the north-west of Werribee is Riverbend
Historic Park, an ideal picnic spot on the
Werribee River where, in 1889, the Chaffey
brothers undertook early experiments with the
irrigation of farmland (see entry on Mildura).
Rivergum Animal Farm
If you head north-west out of Werribee on Ballan
Rd and turn right into Hobbs Rd it will lead to
Rivergum Animal Farm where you can experience
life on the land, milking cows, feeding
chickens, bottle-feeding lambs and kids, taking
a hay-ride pulled by Clydesdales, fishing or
strolling along the riverbanks. There are
picnic-barbecue facilities and it is open daily
but bookings are essential, tel: (03) 9741 5495.
Serendip Sanctuary offers an excellent
experience of a wetlands environment rich in
fauna with plenty of fun activities and
educational guidance and an opportunity to
observe native fauna at close quarters without
making them aware of the human presence.
It features over 150 species common to the
western plains of Victoria. Activities for
children include a ponding site where they can
catch invertebrates and a search through some
bushland for six hidden wooden animals (designed
to teach them that there are animals present in
the bush if they are willing to look carefully
enough). At the visitors' centre there are
lizards on display, an 'underwater world', an
activities room with a CD-ROM on the local
wildlife and a theatrette featuring the mating
dances of brolgas and other interesting footage.
From the centre nature trails lead past
wildlife (such as free-ranging kangaroos,
wallabies, emus and pademelons) in natural
habitats and on to birdhides permitting close
and unobtrusive observation among the marshes,
lakes and billabongs. Here video cameras
broadcast the view more widely. There is a
ranger who conducts curriculum-based
environmental education activities and a 'farm
dam' which demonstrates the compatibility of
farming and wildlife as well as providing a
refuge and a linking corridor for migratory
species. The sanctuary's captive breeding
program creates an opportunity of viewing rare
and threatened species such as brolgas,
Australian bustards and magpie geese.
To get there follow the freeway towards
Melbourne. Take the turnoff to Lara (into Forest
Rd) about 12 km from Geelong's city centre
(signposted for You Yangs Regional Park) then,
after a further 6 km, turn right into Windermere
Rd. The entrance is to your left, at 100
Windermere Rd, Lara.
Opening hours are 10. 00 a.m. to 4.30 p.m.
daily and entrance to casual visitors who are
happy to wander about on their own is free. For
those wishing to visit as a group and receive a
guided tour, the cost is $4.50 per person. Those
who want both the guided tour and a drive around
the ring road, the cost is $5.60 per person.
There are picnic areas with free electric
barbecues and disabled access is provided. For
further information ring (03) 5282 1584.