I wasn’t sure if this year’s Open House Hobart was going to go ahead as normal because of the covid pandemic, but the organisers did a great job in putting together a program that included a mix of in-person tours, virtual tours and livestreamed presentations. We had to book everything we wanted to do this year, which mean no more rocking up to buildings that were on the way to other buildings, and making sure we left enough time between things not to be late for the tours.
It all worked out well and our first tour of the weekend was the Hobart Magistrates Court in Liverpool Street.
After being read the covid statement and being asked to confirm that we didn’t have any symptoms, the first of many such checks over the weekend, we were able to go into the court to go through the security. The tour was run by the Court Administrator (whose name I have forgotten) with the building’s architect, Andrew Shurman and the Chief Magistrate, Catherine Geason. I believe this was the first year the court has been open in the Open House Program so it was exciting to be able to tour the building with the architect.
It spans a site on Campbell and Liverpool Streets that includes the former Blundstone Boot Factory, which was built in 1909 on Campbell Street. Over the years from the 1940s the state government acquired the buildings surrounding the factory and incorporated them into the Magistrates Court. In 1971, the government acquired other buildings on Campbell Street, which were mostly demolished, except the the cafe on the corner of Liverpool Street, and the remaining factory buildings, other than the main building which is heritage listed, were demolished in the 1990s.
The new section in Liverpool Street that was completed in 1995. This section connects to the Hobart Reception Prison in the building next door.
The brief for the 1990s building was that it needed to have the most advanced facilities available, including the capacity for people to give remote video evidence, which is now a protected witness room that people can give their evidence in sensitive matters from rather than have to go into the court room. It has a separate entrance so people using the room don’t have to go through the main entrance.
Another feature of the complex is the incorporation of artworks throughout the design, including some beautiful timber and copper works and the magnificent vertical sculpture that sits alongside the staircase in the main entry.
Andrew told us that the entrance and the waiting area on the first floor were designed to provide views out onto the street and allow natural light into the spaces to try and make it less uncomfortable for people coming into the court. Another feature is the tiled floor that represents the Hobart rivulet, as well as the carpet, which was especially designed for the court. None of the government standard red circles for this place (though I do love that carpet).
We were able to go into some of the court rooms as well as some of the areas that aren’t open to the public like the magistrates’ chambers, the staff amenities room, which is actually the original factory floor from the Blundstone factory, and the Administrator’s office, which has the original hoist from the factory tucked away in the corner.
Andrew explained that they had wanted to retain as much of the factory as they could when they fitted it out as a court house, so there are lots of exposed wooden ceiling beams, joists, and timber framework in the Campbell Street part of the building too.
I asked what determines whether a matter goes to the Magistrates Court or the Supreme Court. For offences where there is a value attached, if it’s above $20,000 it will go to the Supreme Court, and certain serious crimes, like murder also go there. For some matters, the person can choose which court they wish the matter to be heard in.
The court actually sits on a Saturday so as we were leaving out the side door, there were people coming in for hearings through the main door, which was interesting.
On the way out, we stopped outside to take some photos from the street.
Of particular interest was the “crown” on the Liverpool street side, which represents the headpiece wreath of the statues of the blindfolded Lady of Justice in Greek Mythology. I had walked past this feature many times without even making that connection. It sits atop a large window that is the conference room we’d just been.
Finally, on the way to our next tour, we walked along Campbell Street to have a look at the Blundstone factory side of the complex.