One hundred years ago, at a time when the automobile was about to replace the horse for police work, an extensive new stables facility, reputedly the best in the southern hemisphere, was constructed for the Victoria Police Mounted Branch. The Mounted Branch, which today consists of 21 horses looked after by 30 police officers, continues to operate from the building – the last vestige of occupation by Victoria Police of the former Police Depot site, now occupied by the Victorian College of the Arts.

The red brick V-shaped building with its distinctive octagonal entrance, on the corner of Dodds and Grant Streets Southbank, was designed to house up to 53 horses, and included a riding school and a drill hall. The drill hall section of the building was converted to the Grant Street Theatre in 1976 by the Victorian College of the Arts.

The building has a surprising history. The first occupants of the building were in fact people, not horses. During WWI, the Police Depot site was taken over by No. 5 Australian General Hospital and in July 1915 the stables building was converted into vast wards providing beds for almost 500 returned soldiers. Following the war, the building was again used to accommodate patients requiring treatment during the devastating worldwide Spanish Influenza outbreak that reached Melbourne late in 1918. Consequently, the Mounted Branch did not occupy their new building until 1920.

A notable feature of the building are the original steel-framed windows. They are amongst the earliest known usage of steel-framed windows in Victoria and have been used for this building on a large scale. They remain mostly intact across the building, though some have been removed, and various frame designs are featured.

RBA have been commissioned to produce a Conservation Management Plan for the Victoria Police Stables Complex which will clarify its heritage significance and provide conservation policies to guide the future management of this unique building.

Mounted Police, with the stables in the background, during the shipping strike of 1929. (Source: Victoria Police Historical Unit)
21 December 2012

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