A Victorian Heritage Listed Building
The site of the current buildings was allocated to the Mission in 1915. The building complex was designed by Walter Butler and was built in two stages between 1916 and 1919. The funds to build the complex came from fundraising by the Ladies Harbour Lights Guild (established in 1906), and a government grant. The current crown lease expired in 2007 leaving the MTSV with the challenge to propose cause for ownership of the title and the building.
The historical Mission complex is architecturally significant as being a fine urban example of the Arts and Crafts Style in Melbourne. Before coming to Australia, Walter Butler was greatly influenced by the Arts and Crafts Movement in his native England. He was a popular society architect in Melbourne, and designed many fine houses in Toorak.
Today the complex consists of the St Peter the Mariner Chapel, an extensive clubroom and administration area, the Chaplain’s house, a small cottage, and the Norla Dome.
ST PETER THE MARINER CHAPEL
The chapel is a common place for prayer and mediation for seafarers of all faiths and religions. Whilst most of the complex was built in the Arts and Crafts Style, the chapel and the adjoining courtyard are possibly the first example of the Spanish Mission Style in Victoria. The Mission’s chapel reflects this style in its rough-hewn timber trusses, its bell tower with its pinnacles and turret surmounted by a rustic cross, and the monastic courtyard.
Inside, the chapel is notable for its fine collection of crafted joinery by Robert Prenzel, including the altar and sanctuary chairs with their carved Australian flora motifs. The chapel’s close connection with seafarers and the sea is illustrated by the pulpit in the form of a ship’s poop, and other fittings donated to commemorate long-serving volunteers. The fine stained glass windows commemorate seafarers lost at sea, and two windows at the rear of the chapel depict the President and Secretary of the Ladies Harbour Lights Guild. The Chapel is open daily for prayer and meditation and may also be used for celebrations and memorials.
The copper ship finial on the roof and the large mariner’s compass inlaid in the terrazzo floor of the lobby, welcome seafarers and visitors. Built-in cupboards, wardrobes, panelling and studded doors throughout the buildings evoke a ship’s cabin. The ship’s bells on the stage and in the Celia Little Room are a reminder of Melbourne’s maritime history and the important role of seafarers’ welfare.
For many years dances organised by the Ladies Harbour Lights Guild were held in the main hall. Young ladies were escorted to and from the Mission to dance with visiting seafarers. The Club today offers a small shop for personal supplies, billiards and table tennis for recreation. Upstairs were the officers’ lounge and the apprentices’ lounge. At the corner of the current bar nearest the road was a dumb waiter to take meals up to the officers’ lounge. During World War II the rooms upstairs were used as dormitories for sailors whose ships had been lost.
The Celia Little Room (named after the aunt of one of the early Mission chaplains), kitchen and toilets are all located in this main part of the complex and offer seminar meeting facilities for both private and corporate entertainment.
THE NORLA DOME
The distinctive dome is most familiar to Melbournians. Norla was the residence of Sir Simon and Lady Fraser in Irving Road, Toorak. The regular fêtes held at Norla had raised considerable funds for the construction of the Mission complex, and in October 1917 £700 was raised at the fête for the construction of a gymnasium for seafarers. Building was delayed until the end of World War I. In 1920 the Ladies Harbour Lights Guild raised a further £300 to clear the debts incurred in building the gymnasium. The hooks in the roof of the dome are the only remaining evidence of the original gym equipment.
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The Norla Dome is a feature of the MTSV’s annual Maritime Art Prize Exhibition hosted in October. The exhibition was introduced in 2002 to promote excellence in maritime and seafaring subjects in art; it is Australia’s leading maritime art prize and contributes to the fundraising efforts of the organisation.
The Dome is now also the site of a new contemporary exhibition space Dome Gallery. Thanks to major sponsor Bendigo Wealth we are able to invite artists to explore the themes of spirituality, maritime and cultural diversity.