General History & Background


Altona was well known as a holiday and fishing village. The local residents saw the need for a hospital, similar to the typical country nursing hospital. Many residents gave donations of a penny a week and, with much other local fundraising, the ‘Altona District Hospital' was opened in 1938. Dr Louis Joel became the hospital's first medical officer and a well respected figure in the district.

1940's to 1950's

The ‘boom years' for the 25 bed maternity hospital which was a significant part of the Altona community. The hospital was managed by a community based Board of Management. Many past and present local Altona identities were born here. Numerous extensions and a nurse's quarters were built made to meet the demand for its services.

1960's to 1980's

Increasingly, the requirements of government health funding were determining the future of hospitals, particularly small district hospitals such as Altona. The Altona District Hospital, and title to its site, was taken over by the State Government.


The Hobsons Bay Community Advancement Co-operative was formed in May 1997. After vigorous community action, the hospital building (and some 60% of the site) was saved and purchased by the Co-operative on behalf of the broad Altona community. The vision has been to use, further develop, the facility as a community centre with particular emphasis on arts and community resources. The Co-operative's ‘Business Plan' further outlines this vision. The HBCA Co-operative is registered under the Co-operatives Act 1996, is a Registered Charity with Deductible Gift Recipient status, and has an 11 member elected and voluntary Board of Directors.

1998 to 2001

From 1998, Stage 1 of the Louis Joel Centre development aimed at necessary financial viability and limited physical development. Some 50% of the remaining building was leased for commercial medical purposes, while use of the other half of the building was directed to the development of community programs including the Hobsons Bay Artists Society, HBC Council sponsored community groups, the Community Information Centre, meeting room provisions for community groups etc. We appreciated the support of HBC Council and other sponsors in this time, including Council's $135,000 building grant in 2001. This support and the Co-operative's considered management saw the initial large mortgage on the property reduced to some $122,000, although the original building with many of its ‘rabbit warren' limitations and maintenance issues remained.

2002 to 2004

It had always been our intention to develop modern facilities for the Louis Joel Centre, either by way of new buildings or by major redevelopment of the existing structure. This became possible in December 2001 when the State Government announced that it would provide a grant of $425,850 from its ‘Community Support Fund'. Community consultation, architectural planning, town planning and tendering took considerable time, with delays and rising costs becoming a concern. However, we received further grants of $50,000 from the HBC Council and $62,170 from CSF of the Victorian Government. The Bendigo Bank approved mortgage funding of some $600,000. Finally, in November 2004, these processes were finalised and we were able to proceed with the $1.2 million ‘Stage 2' redevelopment of the Louis Joel Centre.


We acknowledge the outstanding architectural advice from Garner Davis Architects, our project architects. Their advice and desire to largely retain the historical form of the building lead to a plan that has essentially kept the original main
Building structure by involved major internal reconstruction. This includes a gallery area, meeting room and offices, plus demolition of unsuitable outbuildings and construction of two new activity areas and external site-works. We also acknowledge the efforts of Merkon Constructions Pty Ltd who, as our builders, have brought these plans to a reality.


During this new and exciting phase in the life of the Louis Joel Centre, we have seen many successful exhibitions and functions; held a great number of classes; and seen a wide and varied number of groups use this wonderful facility. We also provide occupancy for a number of organisations including CIC, Hobsons Bay Art Society, University of the Third Age, Seabreeze Quilters to mention a few. Not a day goes by without the hustle and bustle of people using the top class amenities at the Louis Joel Arts and Community Centre.


What a fantastic year! The Centre is active five days and nights and many weekends. The Gallery has showcased fifteen exhibitions of an excellent standard, attracting over 250 people to some of the Opening Nights. The Altona U3A has 120 members and runs programs 3 days a week and Friday Social Gatherings.  The garden is blooming.  Our Corporate Sponsors have been very generous.


The Louis Joel Centre could not afford the $8,500 to install automatic doors when the building was planned.  Many of the people coming to the Centre had a disability or are older and frail and needed a walking stick or frame.  The doors we had were far too difficult to manually open. A submission to the Altona Sports Club requesting financial support was responded to immediately.  The Sports Club covers the whole cost of beautiful automatic doors.  What a difference the doors have made to everyone who comes in to the Centre


It's Art Wear It 2009 saw the addition of a very glamorous Fashion Parade to launch the textile and jewellery exhibition.  The Fashion Parade was attended by 175 people, a stunning evening with everyone receiving a gorgeous show bag of personal care goodies and great magazines to take home. Our textile artists were very pleased with the excellent sales over the two week exhibition.

Dr. Louis Joel, MBE - 1902-1989

In Dr. Joel’s formative years he lived with his parents on a dairy farm in Altona adjacent to the area where the Toyota Motor Company plant now stands. He rode his horse, Dolly, to school every day in Williamstown. Prior to entering his teens, his family moved to Carlton and the young Louis attended Wesley College and then Melbourne High School from where he graduated to Melbourne University qualifying as a Physician and Surgeon in 1926. Following graduation he worked as a Ship’s Surgeon and arrived in England. He moved to Edinburgh where he furthered his studies at the University extending his surgical skills.

On his return to Australia, he married his sweetheart and settled in Williamstown, an industrial suburb where he felt people needed his skills whether he received payment or not. Many years were spent in Williamstown and he was heavily involved with the Williamstown Hospital.

Altona, an idyllic small fishing village with many little fibro houses owned by the local Maltese fishermen, was always close to his heart. He realised that Altona was without medical services and he set about developing the first Altona District Hospital in an old house in Pier Street. To staff the hospital, he appointed a Williamstown Nursing Sister Irene Webber to the position of Matron and the little hospital soon became overburdened with patients.

Dr. Joel raised the funds to purchase this property by borrowing from one of Melbourne’s leading families who were in the confectionary industry. The debt was repaid together with interest within the agreed time frame and the financiers handed him back a cheque for the amount of interest as a gift to the hospital. Naturally he was quite emotional about this most generous gesture.

To meet the needs of the growing population within Altona, he, together with a committee, set about funding the construction of a new larger, modern hospital. This building is now known as the Louis Joel Centre.
Shortly after opening the hospital, Louis Joel realised that it was essential to have consulting rooms in the town where he serviced patients by visiting them two and three times a week.  As the practice grew he brought in another doctor, John Lewin, who became the Resident Doctor.

Dr. Joel was known for his dedication to his patients who looked upon him not only as their Physician but as their confidante and mentor. He was known to drive from Williamstown to Altona at any time of the day or night to meet the call for acute operations, delivery of babies or any other need. He was admired for his dedication and the numerous babies he brought into the world, many of whom helped to increase the population of Altona.

Driving to Altona was no easy task, particularly during the winter months when the old Blackshaws Road flooded and he had to detour through Seaholme. He, like others, was an expert at getting bogged and carried hessians bags in the boot of his car to help in these conditions.

There are many more stories about Dr. Louis Joel, MBE, and his fifty years of service to the City of Williamston and Altona, his decoration by her Majesty the Queen and his involvement in the community affairs of Williamstown and Altona, where both the area and the people were close to his heart.