History of the Courthouse……..
The Courthouse is the second courthouse of Araluen in response to gold fever. There are no traces of the first, roughly built court house of 1862 across the Araluen creek. A court at Araluen was officially proclaimed 10 years earlier, in 1851. The present court house (1886) was built by a well respected colonial architect of the day “James Barnet” (see below). It is a Victorian period quadruple brick building still bearing Queen Victoria’s insignia in the cast iron lace work. It is a fine example of early Australian architecture and good craftsmanship there are no cavity walls in a quadruple brick building, instead the bricks run criss-crossed. It is commonly known as “rat-proof” course because there is no cavity for access.
The Courthouse also housed the “Police station” whose staff and their families resided on the premises. The Courthouse closed in the 1930s however the police station operated for another 20 odd years until 1956. Araluen locals still refer to the building as the “police station” because it operated whilst they were attending school next door when the last school in Araluen closed in 1971.
The two prison cells are quite large for their time with high ceilings. Glass was a luxury so the prison windows bore only metal bars. Not a pleasant experience in the extreme conditions of the Araluen seasons. The magistrate moved around a circuit area and visited Araluen about every three weeks. The cells were large enough to keep them filled with detainees until they overflowed. Extras were chained to the peppercorn trees awaiting the magistrate’s visit. The trees still exist on the property.
The bricks were locally fired because the treacherous access to Araluen prohibited transport of many material needed for the building. There were six suburbs of Araluen. The present court house stands on the site of “Redbank”, named because of the redness of the soil. It is evident in the redness of the building’s bricks today.
‘Barnet’s country court houses usually had a simple form in their construction. Face stone was rarely used except for details, even though it was readily available. In small places such as Araluen he often built in red brick with stone or plaster dressing. He often rendered brickwork where good quality bricks weren’t available such as on the window ledges of the front verandah at the Araluen Old Courthouse. The locally fired bricks and mortar are soft and crumbly. A very effective effort was made to copy ornate lintels above door and windows that were a fan–like design. The effect was painted on rather than built in. It is still very well preserved.
Between 1877 and 1891 the rate of court house building was hectic. More than 100 were built or enlarged in NSW. A vigorous policy of public works had been advocated by the governor of the day Sir Hercules Robinson in 1872.
Barnet’s plans were orderly and usually symmetrical. He sometimes sacrificed convenience for formality. His courtrooms were spacious and were fitted with impressive panelled benches, jury boxes and canopies. None of the fittings exist at the present courthouse today. The judges’ podium is well preserved and there are obvious marking on the floor where the public gallery was cordoned off. Barnet didn’t focus on climatic conditions. Typical of his style, some of the court room windows are small and high which didn’t allow full advantage of the northern sun. His fireplaces were often too small, which is not the case in Araluen. All six fireplaces draw exceptionally well. He tried to overcome the humid conditions here by building moveable round ventilation ducts into the brickwork. They are still intact today. The wide verandah here which works extremely well to counter the western sun was a more realistic approach to effect climate. These measures were fairly haphazard. There was no real effort made to tackle the problems of climate by a planning for it.’*
The architect of the Courthouse – James Barnet
‘No other single person contributed to the unity and common quality of the 19 century courthouses and did Colonial Architect James Barnet. He took up office in 1860 and for 30 years exercised a powerful and direct influence on the character of public buildings in NSW. All important public buildings in NSW including court houses were designed by Barnet and his team. 130 court houses were built under him. His style was in the classical tradition because he was classically trained in London.
Other well known iconic buildings designed by Barnet in Sydney were The Australian museum on College St, The General Post Office in Martin Place and the Department of Lands on Bridge St.
As Barnet approached retirement there was growing public distaste for the “riot of extravagance’ in public works spending. In 1887, a year after the Araluen Old Courthouse was built; Sir Henry Parkes introduced a Bill to cap spending on public works. Anything over $20,000 pounds had to be scrutinized. It was also recommended that the Office of the Colonial Architect be abolished, which it was in 1890. The office was in fact reorganised*
*footnote- parts of this content have been reproduced from “Historic Court houses of New South Wales” by Peter Bridges Public Works dept NSW Publisher Hale & Iremonger 1986 pages 67, 76, 84-87.