Research Stream


Stephanie Trigg
The University of Melbourne


Victorian Bluestone: An Affective Cultural History

Bluestone has become synonymous with cultural heritage in Melbourne and Victoria, but what are the cultural and emotive associations of its use in architectural contexts, in rural, domestic, and urban spaces? And how has it become such a strong symbol of heritage culture?

Victorian Bluestone: An Affective Cultural History

Image: Williamstown Morgue, courtesy of Stephanie Trigg.

This project examines the cultural and affective history of Victorian bluestone. The volcanic basalt plains of Western Victoria are the third largest in the world, and date from 4.5 million years ago. They flowed from the west and south-west of the state more or less to the point where the Merri Creek meets the Yarra River in Melbourne.

Bluestone is hard, and difficult to carve, but immensely strong for building and foundations. It was used by Indigenous people to make stone eel races at Lake Condah, and by English settlers to make dry stone walls that were reminiscent of home but that are now distinctive of the south-west of Victoria. Bluestone is used for churches, schools and civic buildings such as the National Gallery of Victoria. Pentridge prison in Coburg was built near the bluestone quarries along the Merri Creek so the prisoners could dig out the materials to build the walls for their own gothic style prison. It is also a contested feature of urban architecture: many local councils want to concrete over the kilometres of bluestone laneways that are expensive to maintain, but are a characteristic feature of Melbourne and its inner suburbs.

This research project examines the cultural and affective history of this distinctive stone, which seems to elicit very passionate and emotional responses.

Bluestone was often quarried by convict labour, and it has been suggested that Ned Kelly, the Victorian bushranger, might have laboured in the bluestone quarries in Williamstown. Bluestone sites (cemeteries, morgues, gaols) are often said to be haunted: a major feature of contemporary heritage tourism.  Bluestone was also sent back to England as ballast in ships that had brought convicts, settlers and supplies to Australia. The stone was used in buildings around the port areas of London, so bluestone also has a global history. More recently, bluestone was used to create a Cretan labyrinth near the Merri Creek in 2002: a new age meditative practice using local stone to express an ancient tradition. This labyrinth is cared for by members of the local community.

In 2015 Stephanie Trigg dedicated her Humanities Researcher blog to keep a daily record of her research on and encounters with bluestone, from bridges, churches, monuments, schools and prisons, to debates about heritage culture, and the emotional language used to describe this stone and its distinctive use in Victoria and Melbourne. With research assistant Helen Hickey, she is building a digital archive of the way Victorians and Melbournians have worked with bluestone, in preparation for an illustrated book to be written over the summer of 2018–2019.

Trigg, S. J. ‘Bluestone and the City: Writing an Emotional History’. Melbourne Historical Journal 44.1 (2017: for 2016): 41–53.

Melbourne’s Bluestone’, podcast for My Melbourne interviewed by Andrew May, December 2017.

Helen Hickey, Walking tour of Melbourne bluestone

Public Event
Stephanie Trigg, Talk introducing live improvised performance by Ricochet, a Melbourne-based sound art group, to accompany a screening of An Embroidery of Voids by Daniel Crooks. This video takes the viewer down the mysterious bluestone laneways of Melbourne. The performance was part of the Screening Melbourne conference, February 2017.

Readers are welcome to send photographs, images and stories to Stephanie at or via Twitter @stephanietrigg using #VicBluestone.