About Us

What is the Auburn Tower?

Auburn Uniting Church has been a part of the history and life of Hawthorn since 1889. Its majestic tower, visible from all around, is one of its most notable features. The church complex, designed by architect Alfred Dunn in the Lombardic Romanesque style, is rare in containing a complete, intact and authentic set of church buildings.


Open to all, Auburn Uniting Church is valued by its congregation, its local community and by visitors. Its unique qualities have been recognised, with its accession to the Victorian Heritage Register and its classification by the National Trust. Its tower, as well as being a landmark by day and (since 2003) by night, is open to the public annually, and to small groups by appointment. It offers panoramic views of Melbourne, from the Dandenongs to the Westgate Bridge, and from Kew to Caulfield.


Although resembling a Venetian campanile, it is not in fact a bell tower, as the Wesleyans did not believe in the necessity of bells to summon worshippers. It is purely for architectural effect, but none the less valuable for that.


The Tower is in five levels. The ground floor forms part of the narthex, giving access to the street and to the auditorium. The cantilevered basalt stairs are a unique feature of this level. The second and third levels provide landings between stairs and increasingly steep ladders. The fourth level is the observation deck, open on all four sides, affording spectacular views. The fifth level gives access to the mini-balconies on the four sides of the pyramidal roof, and is for maintenance access only. The top levels of the Tower, and the weathervane, were repaired by the Auburn congregation in 2002-03. (Yes, the tail of the weathervane is gold plated, but this was not extravagance on the Congregation's part - the gold plating was generously donated by conservation architect David Bick.)


Since 2004, the Friends have raised funds for the installation of a gate at the entrance to the observation deck; flooring to the observation deck; and an electronic bird deterrent system to keep the pigeons at bay.


In 2010, the Friends, in conjunction with the National Trust of Australia (Victoria), established a tax-deductible appeal to raise up to $80,000 for the repair and re-painting of the 32 iron columns forming the arcade to the observation deck of the Tower.


Who was Alfred Dunn?

Little is known of Alfred Dunn's early life. 

  • He was born near Ilfracombe, Devon, England, on 29 August 1865, and educated at the Bible Christian College at Shebbear, Devon.
  • After leaving college, he served his articles with Alexander Lauder, an architect in Barnstaple. 
  • He then took an extended course of travel, studying architecture in France and America, arriving in Australia in March 1882. 
  • He is believed to have worked for a number of architects before setting up practice in Collins Street in about 1884.
  • He became an Associate of the Victorian Institute of Architects in 1885. 
  • He applied unsuccessfully for Fellowship in 1888. 
  • Finding it difficult to break into the architectural establishment, he entered many design competitions, including one for the Trustees of the Hawthorn Wesleyan Methodist Church in 1888. 
  • His winning design is exhibited in the Minister's Vestry, and is shown here
  • He may be seen in the photograph of the laying of the foundation stone (left of foundation stone, with moustache and top hat).
  • Also in 1888-89, he designed the Wesleyan Church at 2 Yann Street in Preston (now Greek Orthodox), and the Coffee Palace (now Palace Hotel) in Broken Hill. 
  • On 16 April 1890, he married Miss Lizzie Robb at the Toorak Wesleyan Church.
  • They went on to have three children, Norman, Marjorie and Alfred Cyril.
  • In 1891 he and Lloyd Tayler submitted the winning design to the Commercial Bank of Australia for its new premises in Collins Street, the dome of which has been preserved (after a memorable conservation battle led by the National Trust) as part of the building now known as 333 Collins Street.
  • He designed many houses in Toorak and other suburbs of Melbourne, and designed furniture for others (including 'Coonac', owned by his father-in-law, John Robb).
  • In 1892, Dunn, and many others in the building industry, became insolvent, and he paid his creditors 6d in £1 (ie 2.5%).
  • He died in 1894 at the age of 29.  
  • In a practising career of only six years, Alfred Dunn designed and supervised the construction of over 80 recorded buildings, many of which remain.
  • Who knows what success he might have achieved had his career not been cut short by the Depression?
  • He is buried in the Melbourne General Cemetery. Auburn Uniting Church remains as one of his finest surviving works.


Who are the Friends of the Auburn Tower?

Auburn Uniting Church remains a functioning parish church of the Uniting Church in Australia, in the Presbytery of Yarra Yarra, Synod of Victoria and TasmaniaThe Congregation maintains the buildings, employs the minister, choir director and organist, and conducts the usual services of worship, baptism, marriage and funerals.


However, restoration of a suite of buildings designed for a congregation of 600 is now beyond the resources of the congregation. That is where the Friends come in.


In 2004, just after the congregation's 150th Anniversary, a group of interested people formed the Friends of the Auburn Tower, at the suggestion of then-member for Hawthorn Ted Baillieu MP, an architect before entering parliament. The association was incorporated under the Associations Incorporation Act (Vic) shortly thereafter.


The Friends is an independent, non-denominational association, whose members wish to see the Auburn complex, particularly the unique square tower, preserved for future generations and accessible to the public. It raises funds, through such activities as Tower Open Days, concerts and excursions, for the maintenance and improvement of the Tower. The Friends are joint sponsors of the National Trust External Appeal for the Auburn Tower.


On 1 May 2017, Friends of the Auburn Tower Inc became registered as a charity with the Australian Charities and Not-for-profits Commission (ACNC). 



The Friends is run by a small committee, elected annually at the AGM, usually held on an evening in October. All members are welcome to stand for election to the committee. Brief biographical details of the current committee are here. The AGM is usually followed by a presentation by a guest speaker prominent in the field of heritage conservation or a related field. A list of guest speakers to 2022 is here.


The Rules of the Friends follow the Model Rules, and may be downloaded here.