Vegemite factory one of three Fishermans Bend sites given heritage protection

David Schout

The industrial and social heritage of Fishermans Bend has been recognised, after an independent panel recommended three local sites be granted heritage protection.

The former Kraft Vegemite Factory, Shed 21 and the Electricity Substation on Salmon St have all been added to the City of Melbourne heritage overlay.

Perhaps most notably, the smell of Vegemite from the factory — an aroma that drivers passing over the Westgate Bridge might know well — has been recognised for its “intangible cultural heritage” in what could be a first in Australia.

Now owned by Bega, the factory at 1 Vegemite Way has produced Vegemite since the 1920s.

After the City of Melbourne agreed with a National Trust of Australia (Victoria) push in 2021 that the distinct smell from the former Kraft Factory in Port Melbourne should be recognised, that view was agreed with by Planning Panels Victoria.

“The distinctive smell of the Vegemite manufacturing process is a significant intangible element of the site and should be referenced in both the review citation and statement of significance to appropriately reflect the importance of this element,” its report concluded.

The National Trust has previously concluded that the smell of Australia’s most iconic spread was “an excellent example of intangible cultural heritage and allows the purpose of the building to be understood.”

In most cases, heritage protection recognised the historical and aesthetic importance of a location, however it argued there were “numerous examples internationally of efforts to recognise and protect” the “sounds and smells” of cultural landscapes.

The council’s planning chair Nicholas Reece said he was pleased the distinct aroma — and the overall industrial history of Fishermans Bend — was being recognised.

“When it comes to the industrial history of Australia, there is no more significant location than Fishermans Bend,” the Deputy Lord Mayor said at a May 3 Future Melbourne Committee meeting. “It’s the place where they built aircraft and armaments during World War II, it’s the place where the first Holden car rolled off the production line, and it’s the place where they make Vegemite. It is indeed an important part of the industrial and social heritage of this nation.”

The council’s heritage review of the area had in 2021 concluded that Shed 21 in Docklands and the former SEC Electricity Substation in Port Melbourne were also “important reminders of Victoria’s wartime industrialisation and postwar prosperity”, something the independent panel agreed with.

Heritage protection does not prevent future development outright, but ensures that any works on the site must be done so sensitively and go through checks by the council.

Deputy planning chair Cr Rohan Leppert said it was timely that important sites in Fishermans Bend — a precinct set to go transformational change in the coming years — were granted protection.

“For just three places, this has been quite and elaborate process. That’s fair enough; this is a precinct that is going to undergo a lot of change in years to come,” he said. “We always want to ensure when we’re adding places to the heritage overlay that we’re doing so with the most robust evidence we possibly can.”

Should Minister for Planning Richard Wynne sign off on the recommendations, the three sites will officially be granted protection. •

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