Wednesday, July 14, 2010

Bellingen Courthouse centenary overlooked

My letter published today in The Bellingen Shire Courier-Sun: Sir, Almost nobody ever wants to enter the Bellingen Courthouse, excepting perhaps officers of the court, and I have my doubts even about their enthusiasm. Most reasons for a person to enter our courthouse involve stress, troubles, and sometimes tears, and this has been so for just on 100 years. For more than a third of the life of our courthouse, my foundations, too, have been in Bellingen clay and loam. I feel that our courthouse is part of me. I’m sure others must feel this way, as well. Under the building’s rusty roof, on the beautiful brickwork (good bricklaying being almost a lost craft in our shire), is the date '1910'.

Bellingen Courthouse is one of our shire’s most beautiful buildings, and oldest. We commemorate its centenary this year -- or at least, I think we should commemorate it -- but, sadly, as far as I know, no commemoration is planned.

Due only to my good fortune, I’ve never been required to sit in Bellingen Courthouse, but that’s not why I love it so. I love it because it is a jewel in our main street, and because it is redolent of a rich history of Bellingen Shire’s legal charges, disputations and fearsome fights, exoneration, hand-shaking and making up, and making amends; a long history of convictions, imprisonment, probable errors of judgment, and many dealings -- sometimes acrimonious, sometimes friendly -- between a century’s worth of local citizens and pioneers, most of them now dead. I love it because it is a beautiful building, and its brick walls speak to my heart. I love it for its beautiful construction, its history, and its flowering trees in springtime. I love it because local churches provide free tea, coffee and biscuits to anyone, on Court Day (Thursdays). I love it because as I pass by on a Thursday, I see friends and strangers, miscreants and pillars of the society, waiting, smoking and drinking cups of tea while waiting to hear what His Honour will order them to do, or not to do.

How dismayed I am that, in the centennial year of a magnificent Bellingen landmark, the NSW Department of Justice and Attorney General (which administers the courthouse), and the Shire Council, have chosen not to repair the rusty, disintegrating roof, nor repair the water leaks that trouble this magnificent building, nor even to celebrate in any way, even with a simple Devonshire tea, an important local centenary of our community. Surely it is not too late for those with more authority than I to correct this oversight.

Pip Wilson

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