For those of us who are law abiding citizens, the inner workings of the police station and law courts may be a mystery. I have never been inside a court room and only visited the Toowoomba Police station once and that was to hand in a lost wallet I found outside our house. The little I know about the legal system comes from watching police and legal dramas and I expect those to be rather less than truthful. Years ago when a friend of mine was studying law, she said that real court cases were far less exciting than the TV dramas made it out to be. I expect also that the elegance and stateliness of many of the old court houses would provide a stark contrast to the misery, violence and suffering of many of those who pass through their doors.
It’s hardly surprising that one of the first buildings that proves necessary in an emerging town would be the police station. It must have something to do with the reality of human nature. The first police barracks in Toowoomba were erected in the mid 1860s and the court house pictured above was built in the late 1870s. Like many of the heritage government buildings in Toowoomba, it was built to replace a smaller building which had been quickly outgrown by the rapidly growing town. The court house was built in 3 stages, with additions in 1913 and 1943. The picture below clearly shows the change in architecture over time, as first a section was added at the rear, and then years later, a second storey. While the exterior of the court house still retains its historic style today, very little of the original interior remains as it has been renovated repeatedly to meet differing purposes. The building was used for its original purpose for almost 100 years until the court was relocated in 1979. It was then used as offices by a variety of government departments until the 1990s, by which time it had become seriously run-down.
Quite surprisingly, it was eventually sold in the year 2000 to be a private residence! It’s difficult to imagine living in a building of this size, unless of course one has lots of relatives who come to stay. Just think of all the cleaning. Apparently the new owners had to work with the Queensland Heritage Council to ensure that any restoration or renovations retained the building’s historic style. I quite liked the cherubs in the garden and the light stand. Very cute.
The police station, on the other hand, has had a somewhat different history. The original barracks were replaced with a police station in 1881 but this was demolished in 1935 to make way for the current building pictured below, which was constructed as part of the Queensland Public Works program during the Great Depression. Queensland was actually not as hard hit by the depression as other states initially, as its economy was more reliant on agriculture rather than manufacturing. Interestingly, Queensland was the only Australian state at the time of the depression to already have a support scheme for the unemployed. While the scheme was established in 1922, it was never really designed to cope with a major economic depression. In 1930 the unemployment rate in Queensland was a mere 11.6% – about half the national rate – but it exploded in 1931 to over 30%. The public works scheme provided male workers with jobs building and repairing roads, bridges and railway lines, planting trees, improving school grounds, and constructing government buildings like police stations. You can read more about that here, if you are interested.
Old architecture can be quite inspiring. There is something quite elegant about arches, decorative plasterwork and fancy brickwork. But sometimes the most interesting thing about heritage buildings can be the circumstances in which they were built. Preserving the buildings that were part of the public works project of the Great Depression also serves to remind us about the hardships of that time, the workers and families left destitute, and the important role that governments play in not only providing physical sustenance but ensuring the dignity of its citizens. One wonders if in the 21st century our leaders have forgotten this responsibility.