News / Planning

Historic brickworks building is demolished

Brick Press Shed deemed unsafe because of contamination and lack of maintenance

Workers began removing parts of the shed this week.

Mark Phillips
Wednesday, December 1, 2021

WORKERS have begun tearing down a heritage building within the Hoffman Brickworks in Brunswick after it was deemed beyond repair.

A crane, bulldozer and other equipment were moved onto the site at the start of this week in preparation for the demolition of the corrugated iron Brick Press Shed after a long campaign to save the building was unsuccessful.

Moreland Council’s Municipal Building Surveyor issued an emergency order last month because of site contamination and the overall deterioration of the building.

Scaffolding will also soon be erected to allow urgent repair work to be carried out on one of the distinctive brick chimneys that tower over the site which is bordered by Dawson Street and Gilpin Park.

A third brick building, known as the Steam Engine House, has been left untouched after it was repaired last year. The two buildings are both in the south-west corner of the site closest to Dawson Street.

Residents had fought to keep the Brick Press Shed in some form to showcase the brickworks’ role in the industrial history and development of Brunswick. But lack of maintenance, a fire in 2018 and a roof collapse last year had left it in a fragile state.

The 1887 building has architectural, historic and scientific significance and like all of the Hoffman Brickworks is included on the Victorian Heritage Register.

Ruth Giles, co-convenor of the Save the Brickworks group, said the dismantling of the shed followed decades of neglect by the site owner. She said the shed was a crucial element in showing how the brickworks had once operated.

“The site has been neglected … it was already deteriorating and the fire in 2018 really hastened its demise,” she said.

“I think it’s a huge blow because … the thing that makes it internationally significant was Hoffman was very progressive in its early days using the latest technology, but then became conservative and didn’t update the machinery or processes beyond switching from coal to gas, so when it closed in 1993 you had an intact working example of a 19th century industrial brickworks.”

The Brick Pressing Shed as seen from Dawson Street.

The demolition of the shed was allowed to go ahead after brick-making equipment inside the building was moved off-site in line with a Heritage Victoria interim protection order.

The demolition brings to an end a long saga during which the site owners, Sungrove Corporation Pty Ltd, have attempted several times to have both the pressing shed and the steam engine house removed.

The most recent application in 2020 was to demolish the buildings to allow the construction of a seven storey mixed use building including apartments and a café, but that application was withdrawn earlier this year.

Last year, the Building Appeals Board of Victoria found that both buildings were “a danger to life” and were in “a severely dilapidated state due to lack of ongoing maintenance”.

The demolition order follows an expert contamination report provided to the council and Heritage Victoria in August which concluded 3-6 metres of soil had to be removed from under the pressing shed to comply with an Environment Protection Authority clean up notice.

A structural engineer commissioned by Heritage Victoria concluded that the building could not be retained during the works to clean up the land.

The pressing shed was further damaged by the heavy wind storm on October 29, leading to a new emergency order being issued on November 1.

The demolition works are not expected to be finished until next year.

All heritage machinery and other items inside the shed have been temporarily relocated so they can be returned as part of a future museum or interpretative centre at the brickworks.

The brickworks have a significant place in the history of Brunswick. Dating from the 1870s, they were first modern mechanical brickworks in Australia, and in the heyday employed up to 400 men to produce 40 million bricks a year from clay dug up from what are now Clifton and Gilpin parks.

Ms Giles said Hoffman also produced porcelain (such as toilets and handbasins) and decorative vases and figures from the same site.

Top: historic machinery and equipment must be removed for safekeeping before the building can be demolished. Middle: one of the three freestanding brick chimneys on the site must also be repaired. Above: the shed is an extremely dilapidated state.

She said under the original 1996 planning permit, the site owner was supposed to reinvest some proceeds from the development of apartments and townhouses back into preserving and restoring the heritage core made up of the kilns and brick pressing shed.

“With adaptive re-use, commercial and community facilities would have drawn people in and brought the history of the Brickworks and its key role in this neighbourhood to life,” she said.

“Unfortunately a variety of factors have allowed this to slip away. So we’re at risk of having an unviable cafe, with dusty displays rather than our own vibrant precinct enabling residents and visitors to connect with this key industry that helped to build, plumb and decorate homes and public institutions in Melbourne and beyond.”

Save the Brickworks will be holding a “wake” for the pressing shed on January 16 in Gilpin Park. People who would like to know more or have stories to share are encouraged to follow ‘Brunswick’s Historic Brickworks’ on Facebook or to visit the group’s website.