Breakwater is an industrial and residential suburb south-east of central Geelong, extending from the Geelong showground to the Barwon River. If Fellmongers Road is taken as the middle of Breakwater, it is 3 km from Ryrie Street, Geelong.
The name came about from a breakwater built across the Barwon River for Geelong’s water supply in 1845, to stop the tidal inflow of salt water from marshlands near the mouth of the Barwon. The structure was superseded in 1874 by an alternative water supply and was incorporated in the Breakwater Road crossing over the river.
The Western District and Geelong wool industry used the land south and east of the breakwater for wool scouring, fellmongering (curing and treatment of sheep skins) and tanneries. The industries’ hold over the land is recorded in street names: Fellmongers Road, Leather Street and Tanner Street, and the industries were also located in the adjoining suburbs of Marshall (Woolscour Lane), South Geelong, Thomson and Charlemont.
Workers lived within walking distance of their employment. A Church of England school opened in 1853 and ran for ten years, and a post office opened in 1867. The first church to be built was Baptist (1869) in Tanner Street, and the Catholic community was active with both a school (1876) and regular services in borrowed buildings. There were three hotels, including the All Nations which continues in Tucker Road, renamed the Breakwater. The community fielded cricket, football and other teams, football continuing until 1933 when it was announced that not enough young players could be recruited.
The Geelong showground and racecourse opened at Breakwater in 1907 and 1908. Non-Catholic school children in Breakwater had to travel to outside schools at Thomson and Geelong East.
The area west of the railway line and the racecourse was apparently considered to be part of Breakwater until the 1960s, although it is now in South Geelong. The land there is north of the breakwater structure, but less prone to flooding. In the 1880s fellmongers and tanners were permitted to set up there, and in the 1930s and 1940s six or seven such establishments were located along Gravel Pits Road, discharging into the Barwon. An intact Sunnyside Wool Scour building still stands in Tucker Street as a reminder of the wool processing industries, and the building is heritage listed.
About a kilometre to the south-east there is Breakwater’s other heritage structure, a reinforced concrete sewer aqueduct (1915), its design copied from the Firth of Forth steel bridge, Scotland. It ranks as one of Geelong’s most visually prominent heritage remainders, and ceased operation in 1996.
Breakwater has a few corner shops, a sports reserve, a Polish community centre and several industrial sites. The Royal Geelong Show is held over four days in October and the racecourse has 21 meetings a year.
Breakwater’s census populations have been:
At the 2011 census, Breakwater had about double the average proportion of labourers among its employed population and an above average proportion of technical and trades workers. Median incomes were 77% of the Victorian median (2011 census).
William Smith, Sand, fireworks and boxthorn: the history of Breakwater and area, Geelong, 2009