Museum Victoria Home Colonial Square home

Cape Woolamai granite

A mass of pink granite forms Cape Woolamai, on the rugged eastern end of Phillip Island in Westernport Bay, about 130 km southwest of Melbourne. Along parts of the southern and eastern margins of the cape, the cliffs rise nearly 100 m from the ocean. On the northern edge however, the granite slopes more gently seaward.

It is here, in 1891, that a quarry was established to obtain granite for buildings in Melbourne. The plug and feather method was used, with seawater causing the wooden plugs to swell and the rock to split. A jetty was constructed of granite blocks and used to load boats. However, in December 1892, the heavily laden ketch Kermandie disappeared at sea and quarrying ceased soon after. It is possible to walk to the quarry site today, where blocks up to 2 m long are stacked at the old jetty.

As far as is known, the Equitable Life Assurance building was the only Melbourne building constructed from Cape Woolamai granite. Pieces weighing up to 10 tonnes were used to make pillars and blocks for the base-courses and portico. The pleasing pink colour of the granite is due to thin films of reddish iron oxides in feldspar crystals. The granite also takes a fine polish and is remarkably resistant to crushing.


Quarrying at Cape Woolamai
magnifyQuarrying at Cape Woolamai, Phillip Island, 1891

Granite blocks
magnifyGranite blocks on Cape Woolamai quarry site (mid-distance)

Granite blocks
magnifyGranite blocks showing plug and feather method
© Museum Victoria Australia