Formed in 1872, it began supplying gas in 1873, operating 24 hours a day and employing several hundred men. Coal was hauled from the town pier at the end of Bay Street, Port Melbourne by horse drawn tram.
The Gasworks was the largest employer in the area, experiencing some quite famous events. In 1920 without warning a large gas holder exploded, reducing it to a mass of buckled metal within seconds, the explosion was heard 60 km away. Remarkably no one was hurt.
The Gasworks survived the depression and was the site of Melbourne’s first stay-in Strike in 1937. By the 1940s, however, the Second World War took toll and chronic coal shortages caused mayhem in the Victorian gas industry. This shortage of black coal continued throughout the 1940s making it a permanent concern, and people began to look for other sources to supply their energy demands.
By the late 1940s the solution had been found, brown coal gasification, was supported by all three major political parties who were in favour of State involvement. By 1950 the State-controlled Gas and Fuel Corporation of Victoria was formed. It was a combination of the Metropolitan Gas Company, the Brighton Gas Company and the finance of the Victorian Government, its primary goal was the construction of a brown coal plant in Morwell, Victoria.
The first few years were dedicated to the construction of the Lurgi Gasification Plant in Morwell. This was opened by the Duke of Edinburgh. During 1956 the Morwell Plant began producing coal. By this point, other sources of cheap gas-making materials had appeared on the scene.
In 1957 the South Melbourne Gas plant was closed after the commissioning of the brown coal plant in Morwell. In 1960 substantial natural gas reserves were discovered around Australia.
Over the next five years all the Gas plants in Melbourne had closed down, over 1000 workers were made redundant by the discovery of natural gas deposit in Bass Strait, and over one million gas appliances in Melbourne were converted to natural gas.
Melbourne still relies on the gas supply in Bass Strait. The gas meters, which measured the flow of gas remained at South Melbourne until 1985, when they were moved to a new location.
In 1986 the old South Melbourne Gasworks was recreated as Gasworks Arts Park. On eight acres of beautiful parkland, Gasworks is now a thriving community arts centre owned by the City of Port Phillip. The heritage industrial buildings now house two theatres, art galleries, artist studios, workshop spaces and more.