The Italianate Town Hall and Court House was built in 1886, reflecting a confident and prosperous town. It combined the functions of Court House (replacing the 1858 Court House in the Botanical Gardens), Town Hall, and Council Chamber for the Borough of Buninyong. The foundation stone was laid by Mayor D.M. Davies, MP, on 30 August 1886. Architectural drawings of several proposals for the building survive in Ballarat architect John Vernon's collection and it is possible that there was a competition to choose the winning design. The architects were Tappin, Gilbert and Dennehy, a Melbourne-Ballarat firm of architects who also designed the Ballarat Art Gallery at about the same time. The builder was the local, Richard Rennie, who constructed the building from locally produced bricks and the cost of the building was £2,600. (Argus, 31 August 1886, p. 6). The Town Hall was completed in June 1887, and the occasion celebrated with a grand ball.
On 1 October 1915 the Borough of Buninyong amalgamated with the Shire of Buninyong, and the hall became the Shire Hall, centre of district social and political life. Portraits of former Mayors and Shire Presidents adorn the walls of the building. In 1915 a supper room and kitchen was added to the complex. The building was enlarged by a concrete addition designed by Shire Engineer Charles C.P. Wilson in about 1913. (P. Griffiths, Three Times Blest, p. 114)
The building incorporates many architectural features of municipal buildings of the period, including arch-headed windows, projecting cornices, balustrading, pediments and parapet urns. The central slate- roofed tower with dormer ventilators is a significant feature. (Coleman Sutherland Buninyong Conservation Study, 1983) The interior was painted by John Davis for the firm of Whitlaw and Ruddock, the painter having signed the ceiling in the Supper Room on 2 May, 1887.
The Buninyong Court was declared redundant in 1980 (Courier, 6th Dec., 1980). Furnishings from the court were removed, but rescued by the Historical Society in June 1991 and were returned on loan to the Council Chamber in 1991 (Courier, 29 June, 1991, p. 13).
The records of the Court from 1852 are in the Public Records Office, Ballarat, as are the records of the old Shire of Buninyong and Borough of Buninyong.
In response to a proposal from the Buninyong and District Historical Society in 1983, the Shire of Buninyong agreed to restore the Town Hall and former Court House and Town Hall for the 150th anniversary of the State of Victoria in 1985. At its May 1984 meeting Council asked Mrs Heather Wright, conservation consultant and heritage adviser, for a report on the feasibility of restoring the Town Hall and Court House. The Shire decided to link the restoration to an enlargement and re-development of its office complex, and in November 1984 commissioned Ewan Jones, a Ballarat architect, to draw up plans. The plan involved building a link between the existing Town Hall and the Shire offices. A heritage adviser guided the restoration, during which the original paint scheme was re-interpreted throughout the buildings, and new light fittings were commissioned for the Court House. During 1985 the Historical Society mounted a historical display in the Court House as a contribution to Victoria's 150th Anniversary celebrations.
The project became the centre of controversy in 1986, when the Victorian Labor Government announced that it wished to re-structure local government, and in particular eyed the cluster of municipalities around Ballarat, wishing to bring about an amalgamation. In February 1986, against the advice of the Minister for Local Government, the Shire announced that it would proceed with the restoration and re-development of the Town Hall complex, seeking a $350,000 loan for the $700,000 development (Courier, 22 Feb., 25, 26 April 1986). In May 1986 scaffolding was erected outside the Town Hall as the masonry was restored. The Courier photographer captured the moment, and the hostile stance of the Shire to the amalgamation proposals of the State Government. The interior painting began in September 1986, when the latter-day painters found the signature of the original painter of 1887. The Courier of 20 July 1987 has a picture of the restored court house complete with new Council furnishings, reporting that Council is ready to sit in its new surroundings. The beautifully restored building and the additions to the Shire Offices were officially opened in 1988, when Buninyong celebrated its 150th Anniversary, and Australia its 200th.
With the election of the Kennett Liberal Government in 1992, the issue of local government amalgamation was once again firmly placed on the agenda. This time the Government did not flinch before local opposition, and in December 1993 the Local Government Board recommended a new super Council for greater Ballarat. This signalled the end of the Shire of Buninyong, which held its last meeting in April 1994.
The City of Ballarat kept the former Shire offices open until 11 November 1994, when the last staff left the building. In March 1995 the Commissioners of the City of Ballarat entrusted the former Court House to the care of the Buninyong and District Historical Society.
The Town Hall and Supper Rooms continue to be used by a wide variety of community groups, including the Senior Citizens for weekly gatherings, Baptist Church for Sunday services, Theatre group for drama classes, craft fairs and markets, and many other groups for monthly or less regular meetings. Weddings and public meetings are held at the Town Hall. The City of Ballarat established a Management Committee for the Town Hall, representing community users.
The former Shire Offices were vacated by the City of Ballarat in 1995, and advertised for lease. In June 1996 the modern complex, adjoining the Town Hall, was leased to a mining company, an arrangement which ended at the end of 1997, when the gold price suffered a dramatic fall. The City of Ballarat put the offices up for sale in mid 1998.
In 2007, the shared facility between the Town Hall and the new Shire Offices was finally sold, and the area was vacated by the Lions Club. In November the Town Hall was painted. Early in 2008 a real estate agency was established in the facility. The former Shire offices were used by Porter Plant contracting company for a couple of years, then from 2011 by Nicholson Constructions of Ballarat.
The Town Hall complex is on the Victorian Heritage Register, and included in the Buninyong Heritage Precinct of the City of Ballarat's Planning Scheme.
Anne Beggs Sunter
Griffiths, Peter Three Times Blest, Buninyong, 1988
National Trust Newsletter, Feb. 1974, p. 4
Coleman Sutherland Buninyong Conservation Study, 1983
Withers, W.B. History of Ballarat 2nd Ed., Ballarat, 1887
Australasian Builder and Contractors News, 18 June 1887