brief history of the Bunbury Court buildings is probably best described by Mr Owen Smith's tenure as Bunbury's clerk of courts for 16 years (commencing in 1972). During that period Mr Smith was clerk of courts in five separate court buildings in the Western block of Stephen Street, an area of about 100 metres.
On his arrival in 1972, the Court Administration and Magistrates Court was based in the old post office, which stood where the City of Bunbury administration building is today.
The post office was a magnificent building built in 1894 but was badly damaged in the Meckering earthquake 78 years later. While Magistrate Charlie Fisher dispensed justice and court staff toiled below, an ominous 15cm wide crack, a legacy of the earthquake, scarred the walls of the uninhabitable upper floors.
Across the street, the courthouse, whose foundation stone was laid by Premier Sir Newton-Moore in 1906, played host to the District Court on quarterly circuits. The Foundation stone is now located at the Newton-Moore High School in Bunbury.
When the old post office was marked for demolition, the court staff moved across the road to an even older building with links to the post office and courts.
Built in 1855, the limestone and shingle building remains the oldest building in the Bunbury CBD and is still in use today by the WA Police Service. The building was used as a courthouse and post office and also a bond store and police quarters before being used as an annexe to the 1907 building as a court administration building.
Tenants of the building came and went over the years including the post office, leaving in 1894 to move across the road, the Police Service using the building in different roles and the SES maintained its office there.
During this time, an enduring function has been as an annexe/administration office and courtroom to a succession of four successive courthouses.
Its role as a court finally ceased in 1984 upon completion of the current building.
Upon approval of a new court complex, the 1907 building was earmarked for demolition. For the interim period court staff moved yet again, across the road to conduct court in the old municipal council building built in 1935 and still in use as council chambers. From January 1983 while the registry remained in the old court building, two courtrooms were established in the old municipal building to ensure continued sittings of both magistrates and superior courts.
Finally in January 1985 Mr Smith took possession as clerk of courts of the current building when it was opened by the-then Premier, The Hon Brian Burke.
Mr Smith's courthouse hopping record is unlikely to be matched and is a tribute to his and his staff's flexibility and stamina.
Built at a cost of $6 million the current building has a jury court, a magistrates court and two smaller courts. It also contains a jury assembly area, practitioners lounge, detention area, a large registry and access to the Family Court conference area in the adjacent Government building.
In late 1994, a "repressed memory" trial was heard before the Supreme Court in Bunbury and lasted a little over seven weeks, at the time the longest trial of its type in WA. At the time, Bunbury conducted two criminal jury trials simultaneously, a first time for a court outside the metropolitan area.
Today the Bunbury Court has a resident magistrate and a visiting magistrate two weeks a month who sit for a combined total of about 20 days per month.
The Supreme Court is listed to visit four times a year for a duration of two weeks each, while the District Court is listed for a total of 32 weeks.
In December 1999, video conferencing equipment valuing $400,000 was installed enabling communication by videolink with other sites throughout Australia as well as remote witness facilities for distressed/special witnesses.
Last updated: 1-Sep-2015
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