6 March 2024

The verdict is a new roof to help protect historic Old Wollongong Courthouse

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Building surrounded by scaffolding.

Work is underway to help weatherproof the 1858 Old Wollongong Courthouse. Photo: Wollongong City Council.

Wollongong’s oldest surviving public building is undergoing a facelift to repair weather damage and ensure its future.

The Old Wollongong Courthouse, on the corner of Cliff Road and Harbour Street, was built in 1858 when the harbour was the centre of the growing town.

Its current roof, dating from about 1938 and containing asbestos sheeting, will be replaced during the works, as well as improved guttering and downpipes to help protect the building from significant weather events.

The work is expected to take about 10 weeks.

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Wollongong Lord Mayor Gordon Bradbery said the building had been impacted by the harsh beachside environment.

“Plus, we’ve seen some pretty significant weather events in recent years that have demonstrated the building’s guttering and downpipes need to be improved to better manage the impacts of an east coast low event,” he said.

“In 2022 the timber cladded ceilings within the courthouse building were damaged by water from one of the weather events.

“While this damage has been repaired, replacing the stormwater guttering will allow the building to better manage the impacts of heavy rainfall in the future.’’

Crowds outside the old Wollongong Courthouse.

Crowds at the 150th anniversary celebrations of the old courthouse in 2008. Photo: From the collections of Wollongong City Libraries and the Illawarra Historical Society P18/P18639.

The site functioned as a district court until 1885 when the current courthouse was built in Market Street, marking the transfer of the town centre.

The brick and stone old courthouse and weatherboard customs office are both part of the Wollongong Harbour Precinct, listed on the NSW State Heritage register.

The precinct also includes the 1872 breakwater lighthouse, one of the earliest lighthouses in NSW and one of only two wrought iron lighthouses in the state, the remains of the 1891 Flagstaff Hill Fort, the Nuns’ Pool/Chain Baths, which date from the 1830s, and the Mt Keira and Mt Pleasant tramway alignment.

The old courthouse has had many uses over the years including as an Army depot, drill hall and Sea Scouts base.

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The National Trust’s Illawarra and Shoalhaven branch campaigned to return the building to public use in 1987. At the time it was home to the Naval Reserve Cadets but the building was suffering from rising damp and squalid grounds.

During the late 1990s Wollongong Council negotiated with the Navy to find a new location for the Sea Cadets, so the building could become available for community use. The site was transferred to council for $1.

The building was repainted in 2016 in the genuine Department of Works colours of 1858 when it was built.

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