The majestic fine classical Gundagai Court House, built in 1859 (clock added in 1877), is without doubt the most imposing building in Gundagai, due both to the quality of the building itself and to its elevated site giving it a dominating presence above the town’s main street.
Invariably when one comes across a 19th century building like this in a country town in Australia it shouts out ‘gold rush’. As country towns benefited from Australia’s gold rush money flowed and opulent public buildings were the order of the day. Gundagai had a population of only 600 people when this building was built!
Gold was first located at Gundagai by the Rev. W. B. Clarke in 1842 and a full gold rush hit the area in 1858. This initial gold rush continued until around 1875 with a second one following in 1894. It was during the time of this second gold rush that Herbert Hoover, a future President of the United States was the mining engineer in the local ‘Prince of Wales Mine’ (circa 1900).
In addition to attracting future US presidents, gold rushes also attracted lawlessness and criminal elements, including bushrangers, into towns like Gundagai. Consequentially, the need for a new court house (and the nearby gaol) were high on the list of priorities when the town was rebuilt after being completely destroyed in 1852 when the Murrumbidgee River flooded, as never before. The interior of the new brick court house was decked out in red cedar but this was, alas, destroyed by a fire in 1943 after which it was replaced with mountain ash.
This National Trust listed building, designed by New South Wales official architects, Alexander Dawson and Walter Liberty Vernon, has been the scene of many important historical court cases, including the committal trail of the bushranger, Captain Moonlite. For more information on this fascinating bushranger cum Anglican lay preacher see my separate review.
For the benefit of my non Australian readers, a bushranger was not a guardian of Australia’s beautiful national parks but rather an outlaw or highwayman many of whom, such as Ned Kelly and Captain Moonlite have now taken a place in a very romanticised version of Australian history – Australia’s Robin Hoods, if you like, but without any evidence that they in any way benefited the poor.
The court house is still Gundagai’s operating court house and while I didn’t go inside I understand inspections are available when the court is not sitting – check with the court office which is open Monday – Friday: 9.00 am to 4.00 pm.
Address: 161-169 Sheridan Street