Australia’s justice system is steeped with generations of history. It was first derived from the English criminal justice system during the country’s early stages.
Since then, it has developed and moulded into its present-day form, thanks to the historical influences of historical government officials and the current constitutional systems.
In both generations past and the modern-day era, the proceedings in which these laws are applied and overseen lie within the walls of the courthouses dotted across the nation.
And while the High Court of Australia is certainly one of the most notable courthouses in Australia, there are many more courthouses with deep histories.
In fact, many people’s lives have been changed forever by decisions made in these lesser-known courthouses.
This article takes a tour of four of Australia’s most prominent and historic courthouses, delving into their unique features and rich history.
Situated in the city of Wollongong, New South Wales, the Old Wollongong Court House is a historic site steeped in rich cultural and architectural significance.
While this building officially opened in November 1885, it was built as early as 1858, making this local courthouse one of the earliest buildings standing in Wollongong.
In fact, this very courthouse is the oldest surviving civic building in Wollongong—an impressive feat considering that Wollongong is the 3rd largest city in NSW and the 10th largest city in Australia overall.
This structure is located within Old Court House Lane, which is sandwiched between Cliff Road and Hector Street. It exudes a Victorian Italianate architectural style, which is reminiscent of the building styles most commonly built during that time.
While this courthouse is recognised as a heritage-listed building and is more famous now for its weekly exhibitions and workshops, Wollongong locals don’t have to travel out of the city to go to court.
Currently, there’s a newer courthouse called the Wollongong Local Court about a kilometre away from the old courthouse.
It’s located within Harbour Street and is more commonly used to hear legal proceedings. The nature of the legal proceedings heard in this court tends to be lower-level civil and criminal disputes.
If you require legal representation in the state of Wollongong, getting in touch with local lawyers like LY Lawyers can be beneficial to ensure that you’re adequately represented in court.
Another well-preserved and historic courthouse is the Beechworth Historic Courthouse. Built in 1858, this courthouse continues to be used as a place to hold court hearings today, with many rooms still using furnishing from centuries past.
What makes this courthouse so special is the history behind the town itself. Back in the mid-1850s, Beechworth—and much of Victoria—had been discovered to be home to a vast amount of gold, with people as far as China finding their way here to capitalise on the gold rush.
During its boom, a variety of industries have gained traction and buildings have been erected, from barracks and taverns to shops and a post office. The courthouse has also been built during this time, producing a place where legal proceedings can be heard and settled for disputes among miners and locals.
This courthouse has also witnessed numerous historical events.
Among them is the story of Ned Kelly, who was a notorious outlaw, gang leader, and convicted murderer of police officers. The tale of Elizabeth Scott, the first woman to be tried and executed in Victoria, is another significant event that unfolded here.
Besides serving as the small town’s local courthouse, this place also offers an exhibition that depicts the rich history of the building. A Courthouse Law Library can also be found within the premises, featuring a rare collection of books not found anywhere else.
Port Adelaide is home to one of the largest continuous groups of colonial buildings in all of Australia. And one of the buildings that make up this chain of colonial-era structures is Port Adelaide’s very own courthouse.
Built in 1859, the Port Adelaide Courthouse is found at the corner of Saint Vincent Street and Commercial Road. It’s made of blue stone and Italian-style brick, a Victorian architectural style that’s distinct from all the other historical buildings surrounding it.
One of the prominent happenings that occurred within this courthouse is the founding of the Port Adelaide Mechanics’ Institute in a public meeting, which was the predecessor of the current Port Adelaide Institute.
If you swing by the area, be sure to also check the eighteen other colonial-style houses in Port Adelaide too. There are two banks, three hotels, a telegraph office, an institute building, a customs house, a town hall, a police station, and some shops.
In fact, the courthouse is part of the area’s greater Port Adelaide Visitor Centre Complex, which consists of the police station and customs house. You can easily spend a day roaming this historic site, so be sure to dedicate a day or two to fully immerse yourself in the area!
We cannot conclude a list of historic Australian courthouses without mentioning the iconic Darlinghurst Courthouse in Sydney.
This grand structure is one of Mortimer Lewis’s most iconic structures, featuring an old colonial Grecian architectural style. This style went on to inspire the architectural style of many courthouses that have been erected in Australia years later.
This Darlinghurst building was built for one primary reason—it was meant to solve the overcrowding problem in Sydney’s old courthouses. In a sense, it was Sydney’s first purpose-built courthouse.
When the courthouse started holding court proceedings in February 1842, the governor of that time, Richard Bourke, made it mandatory to hold all future Quarter Sessions for the Town and the rest of Sydney within this courthouse.
Before it even got erected, the courthouse was a venue for many community gatherings.
For one, it served as a church for people who live by the South Head Road. It also served as the venue for the town’s annual St Patrick’s Ball in the 1840s, which attracted around 300 to 400 people.
Today, this sandstone building contains three courtrooms and galleries that are still used by the public and the New South Wales Supreme Court today.
It’s also a courthouse that hears both serious criminal matters and minor civil matters, making it a busy place that’s frequented by all types of Sydney-based lawyers.