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The Substation

The Substation is Melbourne’s newest contemporary, community-based arts centre. Housed in the historic Newport substation, The Substation is a not-for-profit organisation which presents the very best in contemporary arts, as well as nurturing the arts in the local community through workshops, classes and public programs.

The Substation is one of Melbourne’s newest and most exciting arts destinations, and is quickly establishing a name for itself as a vibrant artistic hub for the people of Hobsons Bay and beyond.

After a 15 year restoration process led by a small band of committed volunteers, The Substation opened in 2008 as Melbourne’s newest community-based, contemporary arts venue.  It aspires to be one of Melbourne’s leading presenters of the Arts across all art forms, and boasts a 250 seat, flexible performance space, creative development studio, visual arts workshops & studio spaces, as well as the western suburbs’ most extensive gallery space.

The Substation seeks to establish a unique brand of programming that seamless brings together innovative community-based projects and the best of contemporary arts programming.

With a firm commitment to making the Arts accessible to all, The Substation aims to enhance our community’s appreciation and knowledge of the Arts through encouraging active participation in public programs, such as classes, forums, a schools program, artists’ talks and more, as well as exposing our audiences to challenging, thought-provoking and stimulating artistic experiences.



The Newport Substation was built in 1915 for the purpose of converting electricity from AC (alternating current) to DC (direct current) to electrify the suburban rail system in the local area.

Its other purpose was as a switching station for electricity supplied by the old Newport Power Station. Changes in technology precipitated the removal of much of the original equipment at the Newport Substation.

In 1965 the Newport Tie Station was built, (the small brick building at the southern end of the Newport Substation). This switching station replaced the function of the Newport Substation and continues in that role. After ceasing operations in 1967 the Newport Substation was used for a brief time as the railways upholstery workshop, in 1969 the building was finally locked up. Most of the original equipment had been removed in the preceding years.

Over the years that followed the building closure, vandals and thieves entered the building and damaged or removed almost all of the remaining electrical equipment and fittings. Almost every window pane was broken, ceramic insulators were smashed for the copper rods inside, lead flashing was removed from the roof, decorative tiling removed from walls, original signs and anything of value were stolen from the site. At various times between 1969-1996 people were known to use the building as a squat.

By the 1990's the building had become derelict. The roof structure had deteriorated and the downpipes blocked with asphalt. When it rained it seeped through cracks in the roof and overflowed from the blocked drains, flowing into the building. Water also penetrated through the broken glass, rusting the steel window frames and causing damage to the footings of the Newport Substation.

With broken glass, damaged fittings, rubbish and rubble everywhere, many pigeons using the building and vandals constantly gaining access and spraying graffiti everywhere, the Newport Substation had become an eyesore both inside and out.

In 1996 two local residents, Nigel Edwards and Darren Williams developed the idea of restoring and adapting the Newport Substation into a community arts facility. Over the years that followed the two established an Incorporated Association the "Hobsons Bay Community Arts Centre" and secured a twenty-five year lease on the building and the land surrounding it.

The association now has a committee of local residents and many hundreds of members. It has gained the support of all levels of government and from the wider community including residents and business sponsors.

The Hobsons Bay Community Arts Centre Inc. embarked on its restoration program in March 2001 with a "Work for the Dole" program in partnership with Victoria University and supported by the Federal Government. This program ran for nine months on a part-time basis. During that time the site was cleaned and fall protection was installed around the building.

In early 2002 the association was successful in securing funding from the State Government to conduct a Community Jobs program. Hobsons Bay City Council also provided financial and administrative support. The grant allowed the association to employ twenty workers on a full time basis for sixteen weeks and was conducted from May-September 2002.

Many restoration tasks were completed during this time. Power, water and plumbing were reconnected and installed throughout the building. The roof surface was cleaned and restored and included the application of a waterproof membrane. Downpipes were cleaned of debris and restored to working order. Glass was removed from all windows, the steel frames removed, repaired, repainted and reinstalled. New glass was installed to all window frames and mesh screens fabricated and installed to protect the new glazing. All graffiti was removed from the external brick and rendered surfaces.

The works program was a huge undertaking for a community organisation and was managed and supervised solely by volunteer staff. The outcomes achieved for both the participants and the completion of restoration activities were staggering, with the works undertaken by these staff still a central part of the building's success today.


Originally used to convert electricity for the railways for half a century, Newport’s substation is one of the oldest in the metropolitan system, and also one of the largest.

Once operations at the substation ceased in the late 1960s, the building was left abandoned and derelict for 27 years. In 1996 local residents embarked on the enormous task of restoring the building and converting it into a community arts facility.

After 12 years of hard work The Substation has officially opened its doors to the public in late 2008.


Construction: 1915

Architect: Victorian Railways Way and Works Branch, in association with Merz and MacLellan

Builder: Victorian Railways. A site on railway land was selected for the Newport Substation in 1913, and by June 1915 the building was two-thirds complete. It was one of the first five substations, constructed by the Railways Department because of delays in receiving tender documents from Merz. Completed in June 1916, it was designed to house three 1500kW rotary converters, which were not installed until 1919. The building was designed so those larger units could easily fitted if required. It began operation when electric services were extended to Williamstown on 27th August 1920, and it function was replaced by new buildings erected at Yarraville and Williamstown in 1967.

Owner: VicTrack

Significance: Newport is one of the oldest substations in the metropolitan systems, and also one of the largest, comparable to the North Fitzroy substation and slightly smaller than the Newmarket substation. It displays an exceptionally high level of integrity not seen in any other extant examples of this substation design, and although much of the original equipment has been removed or vandalised, the building is highly demonstrative of early twentieth century power generating practices. The building has strong visual and functional associations with the nearby Newport railway workshops, established in 1882.

The building has strong associations with the inauguration of electric services, due to its construction during the first phase of the scheme. It is also important for its associations with the engineering firm Merz and MacLellan, who designed the electrification scheme as well as the early substations in association with the VR Way and Works Branch. Its construction by the Victorian Railways sets the building apart from contemporary Railways structures built under contract.


The Newport Substation is a large red brick and cement render neo-Classical building designed by the Way and Works Branch of the Victorian Railways in conjunction with the engineering firm Werz and MacLellan.

The facades are divided into three sections: a cement rendered basement with square perforated metal ventilation openings; a face brick lower floor with rectangular window openings having cement rendered voussoirs; and a 'piano noble' with tall rounded arched window openings having rendered drip moulds and keystones. A rendered moulding separates the lower floor from the main level, and another encircles the building at the arch opening line. A deep rendered cornice and a brick parapet top the building.

The two halves of the building are distinguished by the machine hall projecting forward at each end as separate pavilion, topped by a semi-circular pediment. The switch cell section has brick panels dividing the upper window openings, and has an insert balcony along the side of the building at the mid-level; wrought iron balustrading spans between the brick piers.

The whole side of one side of the building is taken up by the machine hall, which is a full height space broken up at the lower level by dividing walls, forming separate bays, which housed the rotary converters. At one end is a loading bay originally served by a siding from the adjacent track, and a bay for signaling equipment is adjacent to the bay in larger substations. At the basement level on this side of the building are separate walls designed to support the heavy equipment; these form a series of catacomb-like rooms.

On the other side of the building is the switchgear housed on three levels in separate cells with interlocked doors; each cell is continuous through all levels. Various types of switching apparatus are located on the first two levels, the second level opening to the balcony. At the top level is the bus bar chamber, which provides power to all the cells. Stairwells at each end of this section provide access to all levels; steel ladders reach the bus bar chamber.

The main operating floor is the middle level, which has a gallery and balcony overlooking the rotary bays. An office and bathroom are provided at one end of the this level, below which are battery rooms and other ancillary spaces including the building entry. Below the operating gallery is a row of DC switch cells.

There are five surviving examples of this type, located at Newmarket, Newport, Glenroy, North Fitzroy and Albion. The largest is Newmarket while the smallest is Glenroy. At Newport and North Fitzroy, the basic plan is varied by the switchgear section being one window bay shorter than the machine hall at one end of the building.

The use of the neo-Classical style for these substations are comparable with other buildings designed by the Way and Works Branch during the same period. These include Flinders Street Station, additions to the Spencer Street Administrative Offices, and the Jolimont Car Repair Sheds and several other station buildings.


The electrification of the Melbourne suburban rail network has historical importance both nationally and internationally.

On a national level, it was the first large-scale electric transport network, preceded only by a few electric street tramways. The first electric railway line in Sydney did not begin until 1926, and the only other Australian cities to have an electrified rail network are Brisbane, which did not convert its lines until 1979, and Perth, which began electric services in 1991.

On an international level, the Melbourne suburban network was, at the time of its completion, the largest electrified service converted from steam operation in the world, and its power generating capacity was unsurpassed in the Southern Hemisphere.

In January 1924, the Victorian Railways Magazine noted that the only comparable system would be the recently approved electrification of the Chikako Lake Shore lines, based on a similar 1500 DC overhead transfer. The adoption of this type of systems for the Melbourne electrification systems was a bold move, as in 1912 as no railway had installed an overhead system with a pressure of 1500 volts DC. In this respect, the Melbourne electrification scheme became the model for later installations in England, France, Holland, Brazil, Japan, New Zealand and India.

The importance of the railway electrification scheme can also be measured against the development of Melbourne's network electric street trams. The first electric tram in Australia began services in Box Hill in 1889, but was short-lived. The Victorian Railways established an electric tram service between St Kilda and Brighton in 1906, at the North Melbourne Electric Light and Traction Company built electric lines in the same year.

In July 1919, the Melbourne and Metropolitan Tramways board was formed, just two months after the inauguration of the electric rail services. The purpose of the Board was to bring together the operation of the various municipal tramways that had been established, and to arrange for the electrification of the entire network. By the completion of the rail electrification scheme, the Victorian railways were beginning to experience a decline in patronage due to the improved tram service, and also to the introduction of the motor buses.

The electrification of the suburban rail system proved to be a major factor in the Railways' maintaining a competitive stance in the transport market. The electrification scheme also played an important part in the development of the State Electricity Commission and the utilisation of the Latrobe Valley's brown coal reserves for large scale power generating purposes.

Prior to the establishment of the Railways' power station at Newport, a number of small-scale plants had been established for generating domestic lighting and for some industrial purposes. It was not until the Railways began producing electric power that Melbourne and its suburbs were able to receive the full benefits of electricity.

When the SEC established its own power station at Newport in 1924, the Railways continued as a major power generator until they handed over full responsibility to the SEC in 1951. The electrified network also has a social significance for its role in determining the spread of Melbourne's suburbs. Up until the 1950's Melbourne development closely followed the railway lines, a direct consequence of a fast efficient rail service which could only be achieved with electrification.

It is only in recent years that the significance has been obscured, due to the gradual takeover of road transport. The surviving built structures associated with the electrification scheme are the:

  • Jolimont Car Repair Sheds
  • Substations
  • Overhead support mask and bridging
  • Automatic signaling structures
  • Surviving Tait rolling stock

They are all-important reminders of the significance of the electrification scheme.

The substations are of a major significance as their existence is directly attributable to the adoption of electric power. The earliest groups of substations are historically important for their associations with the inauguration of electrified services, and architecturally important for their adoption of the Neo-Classical style on a grand scale for what are essentially utilitarian structures.

From a scientific viewpoint, the equipment employed was at the forefront of the technology then available, and the changes in the design of the substation reflect the advancements in this technology. This significance has been compromised by the removal of the early equipment. The earliest groups of substations are also socially important due to the fact that at the same time of their construction, they were dominant structures in the Melbourne's outer suburbs.














Quest Williamstown