Heritage VIC

Westgarthtown

(last modified 31/10/2008 4:02 PM)

Westgarthtown

Westgarthtown is a heritage registered precinct in the Melbourne suburb of Thomastown. The precinct is surrounded by predominately 1970s suburban housing. It consists of a Lutheran church, a cemetery, some stone walls and a German style farmhouse. There are a further three farmhouses in adjacent streets. It is an extraordinary remnant of Victoria’s history of nineteenth century German migration.

Buildings

The buildings which now make up the Westgarthtown historic precinct were built between the 1850s and the 1870s. There are no exact dates for the construction of Wuchatsch’s farmhouse nor for Ziebell’s and the other farms contain out-buildings which pre-date the existing houses.

The sites at Westgarthtown listed on the Victorian Heritage Register are:

The Lutheran Church (1856) and the cemetery
Graff’s farmhouse (1871)
Wuchtasch’s farmhouse (late 1850s)
Ziebell’s farmhouse (early to mid 1850's)
Siebel’s farmhouse (1860)

All the farmhouses except Ziebell’s are privately owned and not open for inspection.

Ziebell's Farmhouse

Ziebell’s is the largest of the Westgarthtown farmhouses. Built between 1851 and 1856, with 61 cm thick walls, the house is a typical north German farmhouse design. Like other houses in the settlement it has a steep pitched roof.

In Germany, this was intended to prevent the build up of snow but it also provided ample room for an attic. The house was probably built in two stages with the section containing the kitchen completed first.

These buildings are all that remain of the original farmyard which, until 1972, occupied both sides of what is now a suburban street, Gardenia Road, beside the property. Across the road were the farm’s outbuildings which included a cowshed, dairy, grainstore and stable. Beyond these buildings was a dam.

The arrangement of the farm buildings close to the road is the same as you would expect to see in a German village.

Blocks of local bluestone and rubble quarried from the paddock behind the house were used in the construction. The blocks were fitted together based upon the shape of the individual stones with any gaps filled with rubble and jointed in mud lime mortar. Architects refer to this as a randomly coursed rubble work wall.

Inside Ziebell's

Ziebell’s house, like nearly all the original farm houses, had split wooden shingles on the roof. The shingles were later covered with British made "Gospel Oak" galvanised iron which gave greater protection from the elements and allowed cleaner water run off to the wells.

The internal walls are 12.5 cm thick. The rooms are arranged in a way which was typical of north German farmhouses. There is no internal connecting corridor and the rooms either open into each other or onto the verandah. This style can also be seen in houses of German settlers in the Barossa Valley, South Australia and at Schwerkolt’s cottage in the Melbourne suburb of Mitcham.

There are several outbuildings at Ziebell’s which are also included on the Heritage Register. There is a bluestone smoke house, a bath house and a cart shed constructed from bluestone. In addition, there is a bluestone lined well and a cottage garden which has been restored.

The Lutheran Church

This is the oldest operating Lutheran church in Victoria and regular services have been conducted here since it was first built in 1856. Constructed in the centre of the original settlement’s 640 acres, the church occupied a commanding position in the landscape. The deliberate placement of the building at the community’s centre showed the important part religion played in the lives of these German settlers.

The Westgarthtown church is plain. It is a simple and functional building, the only external decoration being around the windows and above the front door. The fan lights above the door are a European design feature not usually seen in church halls in Victoria.

Internally, the church design is as restrained as it is on the outside. The ceiling and floors are constructed of softwood while the walls are of white lime plaster which were previously decorated modestly with rectangular incisions.

Unlike Ziebell’s house, the church was built by professional stonemasons. Local masons Mr Einer and Mr Kringel used bluestone cut into 51cm thick blocks joined with a mud based mortar for the walls. Few changes have been made to the building although the entry door has been moved from the west end to the east end and the original mortar has been replaced in recent years with cement.

The Cemetery

Westgarthtown Lutheran cemetery is a peaceful and remarkable place. Planted with Monterey Pines along the northern and eastern boundaries, it is surrounded by a drystone wall. Italian Cypresses line the main entrance on Rosedale Drive or German Lane as it was known. Both the Pines and the Cypresses date from the 1860s or 1870s.

The oldest headstone in the cemetery is from 1867, though we know there were burials before that. Originally reserved for a cemetery in 1851, the first burial on the site was of a still-born baby in 1850. There are known to be at least 125 burials and possibly as many as 200 in this cemetery.

No burial records exist but a sketch plan, discovered on a panel behind the old altar of the church, shows the location of 14 family plots on the north side of the cemetery close to Rosedale Drive.

The graves are placed randomly within the plots, although they all face east. Most of the graves have marble head stones although, surprisingly, there is a plain wooden memorial painted white in the Wuchatsch family plot which survives from 1870. Many of the inscriptions are in German and some in both German and English.

The cemetery is unique in many ways. It is the only church graveyard in the City of Whittlesea and one of just a dozen church graveyards in Victoria. It is also one of only a small number of ethnic cemeteries in Victoria. In Melbourne, there is another German cemetery in Separation Street, Northcote.

Westgarthtown is protected under Victoria’s Heritage Act. In 1992 the site’s significance to Victoria’s history was recognised when the Lutheran Church and the cemetery, together with two of the farmhouses were added to the state’s Heritage Register. Two other farmhouses were added to the Register in 1993 and 1996 respectively.

Whittlesea Council, the local community and Heritage Victoria are working together to preserve this unique area for future generations. The Council purchased Ziebell’s farmhouse and the various outbuildings, employed a caretaker to live on the site and has set up an advisory committee comprising representatives of a voluntary group, the Friends of Westgarthtown.

The booklet 'Westgarthtown' is available from Heritage Victoria and the City of Whittlesea.

Westgarthtown is open on the second Sunday of each month from 1 – 4 pm. Guided tours of Westgarthtown may be arranged for groups of 10 or more through Friends of Westgarthtown, phone (03) 9464 5062, email enquiries@westgarthtown.org.au.

Further Information

  • John Borrack, 1988. ‘Lamplight and Bluestones’ 
  • Geoffrey Borrack. "Romancing the Stone" in ‘The Cultural Landscape of the Plenty Valley: Plenty Valley Papers Vol 1’ pp49-60.  Lucy Grace Ellem (ed)
  • Helen Lardner, 1988. ‘A Master Plan for the Westgarthtown Heritage Precinct City of Whittlesea’.
  • Celestina Sagazio (ed), 1992. ‘Cemeteries: Our Heritage’. National Trust of Australia (Victoria) Melbourne
  • Robert Wuchatsch. 1985. ‘Westgarthtown: The German Settlement at Thomastown’ Melbourne.