Official Opening of ‘The Court House’
Assistant Minister and Member for Cairns, Mr Michael Healy; former Member of the Executive Council of Queensland, Mr Ian Walker; Your Honours; Mayor, Cr Bob Manning and Mrs Claire Manning; fellow Councillors; distinguished guests; ladies and gentlemen; girls and boys.
I at once acknowledge the traditional owners of these lands, and extend respectful greetings to Elders and emerging leaders. I further thank Dr Henrietta Fourmile and Uncle Gavin Singleton for their Welcome to Country.
It is a great honour for Kaye and me to join you on what is our 21st Cairns visit since 2014, this time for the official opening of this impressively conceived Court House precinct.
There is some nostalgia here. I sat as a Judge when this was a court house on countless occasions over many years, and then one of my first undertakings as Chief Justice in the late 1990s was to oversee the first full year of the Far Northern District of the Supreme Court.
I had been sorry when the building was earlier surrendered to commercial interests, but I was, I now acknowledge, driven by sentiment not practicalities.
Our distinguished MC tonight, the Honourable Stanley Jones, was appointed as the inaugural Far Northern Judge in 1997.
This was a major moment in the history of Cairns, of Far North Queensland, of the Supreme Court of Queensland.
For the first time, the City had its own, permanent Supreme Court Judge, operating out of a new court precinct. I warmly welcomed the establishment of the Far Northern Region of the Supreme Court, though that meant we Brisbane-based Judges were denied the FNQ sojourn, and that was the era of Tawney’s, Barnacle Bill’s, and Verandah! I sat here regularly as Chief Justice, but always, by design, in November or December – so to avoid any suggestion I was lapping up the cooler months.
The creation of the post of Far Northern Judge projected a confidence and maturity befitting this modern, sophisticated tropical City.
It also built on the significant legal heritage of the Far North, which can be traced back to the first courtrooms which operated from the customs precinct from the 1870s.
The building we tonight celebrate is in fact the third Cairns Court House (the second was part of the police reserve on the Esplanade).
It was built between 1919 and 1921 in those City-defining post War years, and served the legal and community needs of Cairns for the next seven decades.
Those who worked or appeared here may remember its busy pace and charming architecture, not to mention just a few colourful characters.
I vividly recall one major trial over which I presided, I think for a cannabis production charge.
This was an era when all relevant unlawful substances had to be physically tendered into evidence. The exhibits consumed the entire lengthy verandah! It must have been quite a spectacle for people walking by on Abbott Street: the cache, I should confirm, remained intact. The people of Cairns are inherently law-abiding citizens!
Of course, the building’s iconic classical facade remains a cherished part of the built and social heritage of Cairns – like the complementary former Mulgrave Council Chambers next door, which will also form part of the new Precinct. Part of that heritage should be the “giant sensitive plants” on the footpath – which intrigued me for many years. Kaye gave me the name decades ago, and it is relevant for a 72-year-old, because at the touch it shrivels up!
This building has served as a backdrop for a courthouse, a pub – with, I am reliably informed, an impressively large TV screen – and a fine arts gallery.
Thanks to the vision of Mayor Manning and the Council, and generous community and governmental support, this wonderfully historic building will now form the centerpiece of the Council’s visionary new Gallery Precinct, with its important focus on Indigenous art and culture. Kaye and I were very disappointed this year with the necessary cancellation of the Cairns Indigenous Art Fair, which has always been an energising part of our annual calendar.
I thank and applaud everyone involved in preserving an important part of Queensland’s history, and for returning the building to its former glory for the ongoing benefit of the community – notwithstanding the absence of a judge’s bench and lock-up!
I have every confidence the Court House and this entire precinct will continue to make an important contribution to the cultural life of this City, as will no doubt be confirmed when the Mirrka Youth Dancers and Kaweyova shortly perform for us all.
It is now my immense honour, as the 26th Governor of Queensland – and, may I be permitted to add tonight, the 17th Chief Justice of Queensland – to declare officially open the refurbished ‘Cairns Court House’, and to express Kaye’s and my very best wishes to you all.
Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year. Thank you.