The Broome courthouse has a rich historical significance to Western Australia and in fact began its life as a cable station enabling early telephone communication with the rest of the world.
In Australia, in the second half of the nineteenth century, colonial governments installed electric telegraph lines that linked capital cities with one another and with ports and country towns. Messages sent over some of these lines could be sent further still, for example, to Britain, using commercial submarine cables. Two cables linked Java and Darwin and, in 1818, the Eastern Extension, Australasia and China Telegraph Company Limited (referred to as the E.E.T. Company) decided to run another cable between Java and Western Australia. The cable ship Seine landed this cable in February 1889, giving rise to the name Cable Beach.
On 9 April 1889, the simultaneous opening of the privately owned cable station and a Government owned telegraph station put Broome in direct communication with Asia, Britain and cities throughout Australia. Messages from Perth were now directed through Broome instead of Darwin and, if traffic over the Darwin line was interrupted, other Australian traffic also went through Broome. This situation prevailed until 1901 when the E.E.T. Company built a new station at Cottesloe (near Perth, WA) with a cable link to Africa via the Cocos Islands. Traffic through Broome gradually decreased and the station closed March 1914.
The ironwork for the cable station was brought in kit form from Britain. The teak for the floors, internal walls and ceilings was collected during a three-day stopover in Singapore in February 1889. Chinese workers engaged for the purpose in Singapore erected the building on arrival at Broome. This work force included a foreman builder, 11 carpenters, one stone mason, four general masons, one general labourer, two cooks and two boys.
The building was constructed of a cast iron frame erected on rendered brick piers made from the local pindan. The frame included a series of iron girders and columns supporting iron roof trusses. The roof, which comprised two layers of corrugated iron sheets separated by iron angles and included a large ventilation lantern, was designed to provide natural ventilation for the tropical Broome climate. The external walls were clad with corrugated iron and the rooms were lined internally with teak, an ideal choice to withstand termites. Window frames were teak with iron louvred shutters on the outside for protection. The wide verandahs around the building also provided protection from the climate. Decorative cast iron balustrades spanned between the cast iron columns and cast iron stairs were imported in sections for assembly on the site. Cast iron was stamped with the manufacturer's name "Fred Brady and Co Ltd Contractors, Glasgow".
The building was occupied by November 1889 and included rooms for the cable station and separate living quarters. There was also a billiard room and tennis court located in the grounds for entertainment. Vegetable gardens were developed around the building and on the adjacent lot for use in cooking, carried out in a separate kitchen building. The kitchen has been demolished but the floor slab remains and is now used for the toilet block and store.
The year 1914 was particularly bad for Broome because the outbreak of war ruined the European market for pearl shell. Many of the men from the town enlisted and there were fears that the German ship Enden would raid Broome and destroy the local wireless station (built in 1913 for ship-to-shore communication). Unfortunately, there was little demand for property. When conditions returned to normal after the war, the buildings the government used for justice purposes were no longer adequate and the cable station was acquired for conversion to a courthouse, which opened on 6 September 1921.
The Broome Courthouse is still an impressive building that services the needs of the Broome people to this day.
[This historical information was produced by Dr Cathie Clement (Perth) and Heritage and Conservation Professionals.]
Last updated: 1-Sep-2015
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