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Rockhampton Town Hall

  • 601572
  • 232 Bolsover Street, Rockhampton

General

Also known as
Rockhampton Council Chambers; Rockhampton City Hall
Classification
State Heritage
Register status
Entered
Date entered
29 April 2003
Type
Government administration: Hall—town / city / shire / divisional board
Theme
7.4 Maintaining order: Local government
Architect
Hockings & Palmer
Builder
Hutchinson, John
Construction period
1939–1941, Rockhampton Town Hall (1939 - 1941)
Historical period
1919–1930s Interwar period
Style
Classicism

Location

Address
232 Bolsover Street, Rockhampton
LGA
Rockhampton Regional Council
Coordinates
-23.382105, 150.513846

Map

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Significance

Criterion AThe place is important in demonstrating the evolution or pattern of Queensland’s history.

The Rockhampton Town Hall is important in demonstrating the development of Rockhampton as Central Queensland’s primary regional centre. The size, design and quality of materials demonstrates the important role of the Rockhampton local authority.

The construction of the place, which took place between 1939 and 1941, is the result of a 1930s governmental unemployment relief project that saw the construction of modernised local government buildings across Queensland.

Criterion BThe place demonstrates rare, uncommon or endangered aspects of Queensland’s cultural heritage.

The Rockhampton Town Hall contains an extremely rare example of an intact World War II air raid shelter. Hundreds of shelters were built in 1941-2, and a small group of these structures survive throughout Queensland. This shelter is the only known example where the internal fabric including seats, railings and sandbags survive.

Criterion DThe place is important in demonstrating the principal characteristics of a particular class of cultural places.

The Rockhampton Town Hall demonstrates the principal characteristics of a regional town hall. Located in a prominent position near the centre of the town, the Town Hall is a dignified and substantial two-storey masonry building with a dominant clock tower. Its impressive front façade with sweeping entrance stairway was designed to exude civic dignity. Its interior includes council chambers and administrative offices that accommodate the staff of a major City Council. High ceilings, wide balconies and light wells allow maximum natural light while minimising the ingress of direct sunlight. The building contains finishes and fabrics of the highest quality including the Gracemere granite floor in the main entrance and front stairs, Ulam marble dado in the main foyer, silky oak joinery, window and doors, and terrazzo finishes in various rooms. The parquetry floors throughout add to the quality of the building. It is a particularly fine example of a building combining Art Deco and Stripped Classical motifs.

The place is a confident and accomplished design by notable Rockhampton architectural firm Hockings and Palmer, is of excellent quality construction and locally sourced materials, and is highly intact.

Criterion EThe place is important because of its aesthetic significance.

The striking and handsome Rockhampton Town Hall stands prominently in a precinct of civic buildings in Rockhampton near the main business district. Substantial and imposing, the building makes a dramatic contribution to the townscape, being a landmark within the town centre. Situated prominently on a large landscaped site, it is designed to be viewed from all sides as a finished piece. The aesthetic qualities of the exterior are enhanced by the variations in the Flemish bond patterns, and the use of darker-coloured bricks for emphasis. Its interior features (reflecting the art deco design) include marbled and timber dadoes, parquetry floors and decorative panelling throughout the building. The Rockhampton Town Hall has aesthetic significance for the high standard with which it was designed and realised, its landscaped grounds, and exceptionally fine interiors.

Criterion GThe place has a strong or special association with a particular community or cultural group for social, cultural or spiritual reasons.

The Rockhampton Town Hall has a strong association with the Rockhampton community as a focal point for community, recreation and social functions. This site, which was reserved as public land from the first survey of the town, has special historical and social importance as the long-time and continuing municipal focal point of the city. Rockhampton's Town Hall also possesses a special association with the life, work and families of the City's council staff, mayors and aldermen.

History

Rockhampton developed as an important Queensland regional centre during the 1850s and 1860s. The settlement emerged to serve pastoralists and grew quickly following a gold rush at nearby Canoona. It was surveyed in 1858 and a site was reserved for a town hall.[1] Rockhampton was proclaimed a town on 15 December 1860, and by 1861 had a population of nearly 700 people. Six aldermen were elected in February 1861 and the Town Council held its inaugural meeting in March.[2] In 1862 the Rockhampton Town Plan set aside a new town hall reserve. This reserve, which had been designated a public square in the 1858 survey, was part of Section 59A, a block of more than four acres bounded by Bolsover, William, Alma, and Derby Streets.[3] A timber building was erected on the Bolsover Street frontage to serve as the Council Chambers and town hall.

By 1871 Rockhampton’s population had grown to over 5,000 people, thanks in part to the introduction of beef cattle.[4] A replacement Council building was built in 1878, so modest that Hopkins’s Rockhampton Almanac declared, ‘OUR MUNICIPAL EDIFICES [sic] are more useful than ornamental.’[5]

Rockhampton’s growth accelerated after the discovery of gold at Mount Morgan in 1882. Wealth flowed into Rockhampton, fuelling a building boom in the town and its surrounds. The town became the main port and commercial hub of central Queensland, serving a vast swathe of pastoral, agricultural and mining lands. By 1891, with a population of around 11,600 people, Rockhampton was the second largest town in Queensland, and was increasingly recognised as the ‘capital of central Queensland’.[6] A separation movement which gained traction in the 1890s proposed that Rockhampton should become the capital of a new central Queensland colony.[7]

In light of Rockhampton’s growing prominence, the town’s main civic building was underwhelming. In 1890 the Daily Northern Argus insisted that Rockhampton was vastly underserved by its council building, ‘an edifice as indifferently representative of its civic dignity as a bush cabin’.[8] Aside from its aesthetic shortcomings, the town hall was too small to host public meetings, but aldermen were conscious of the financial burden ratepayers would have to bear if a new building were constructed. A foundation stone for a future town hall was laid by Rockhampton Mayor Wilson Weaver Littler on 22 June 1897, part of Empire-wide celebrations to mark Queen Victoria's Diamond Jubilee.[9] The ceremony was largely symbolic, as the town could not afford to proceed with construction. Nevertheless, Mayor Littler believed that a town hall would be built within the ensuing decade. Plans for a new building were prepared, but not developed.[10]

Although no building was forthcoming, improvements were made to the Town Hall reserve in the late 19th and early 20th centuries. The Council chambers occupied only a small part of the site, allowing Council to open the rest of the site as a public square, with gardens, a band pavilion and tennis courts. The reserve’s central position made it more appealing for public meetings, concerts and gatherings than the comparatively out-of-the-way Victoria Park and Botanic Gardens.[11]

Proposals to build a new town hall were raised in the 1910s and 1920s but the Council had more urgent priorities. Rockhampton had been declared a city in 1902, with a population of over 15,500 people. The population continued to climb steadily, reaching 18,239 in 1911 and 29,269 in 1933. The growth spurred the Council to construct substantial new infrastructure. Electric street lighting was installed in 1924, and the Mount Charlton pumping station opened in 1926, improving water supply. Sewering began in the 1930s. Transport improvements came with an airport established in 1930 and Council-operated bus services from 1939. The Council itself grew, employing eleven aldermen and approximately 600 staff by 1939.[12]

In 1936 the Council resurrected the idea of a purpose-built town hall. Loans and subsidies were being offered to local councils for construction projects with the aim of reducing mass unemployment brought on by the Depression. Across Queensland, town and shire councils took advantage of the economic assistance to construct new civic buildings. Many were designed in the modern Art Deco style, including Southport Town Hall (1935) (QHR 601649), Gayndah Shire Hall (1935) (QHR 602124), the Johnstone Shire Hall (1935-8) (QHR 601579), Goondiwindi Civic Centre (1937-8) (QHR 600531) and Murgon Civic Centre (1938) (QHR 602812). The style had been imported from Europe by way of the United States, where it was associated with the growth and modernism of the 1920s. By the time it reached Australia, it was more closely connected with post-Depression recovery and optimism.[13]

The Rockhampton City Council successfully applied for a £50,000 loan from the Queensland Government in August 1936.[14] Three Brisbane architectural practices and one Rockhampton firm were invited to submit designs for a new administrative and auditorium building, at a maximum cost of £50,000. The firms submitted seven designs between them, none below the budget. After some redrafting, the modern, Art Deco design of Rockhampton architects Hockings and Palmer was selected in June 1937.

Edwin Morton Hockings (1870-1942) commenced his architectural career under the tutelage of Brisbane architect Richard Gailey. In 1890 Hockings won a design competition for the new Rockhampton Girls' Grammar School (QHR 600780), and departed to Rockhampton as the project's clerk of works. In 1895 he was elected an Associate of the Queensland Institute of Architects and commenced his own practice in Rockhampton, designing amongst others, the CJ Edwards Chambers (1914) (QHR 600803). In 1915 he formed a productive partnership with Leslie Tarween Palmer. Hockings and Palmer designed a number of structures around Rockhampton, including the 1922 Rockhampton War Memorial (QHR 600819) and the Therapies Block and Medical Superintendent’s Residence at the Rockhampton Hospital (QHR 601967). In the 1920s and 1930s the firm prepared plans for numerous town halls around central Queensland, including the Longreach Town Hall (c1927), and the Peak Downs Shire Hall in Capella (1936). The Rockhampton Town Hall, Hockings’ last major work, was completed before his death in December 1942.[15]

Construction of the new Rockhampton Town Hall was delayed by discussions which took place over the twenty months after July 1937. Though Hockings and Palmer’s design was the cheapest submitted, the cost of constructing the entire building was still over the Council’s budget. State Treasurer William Forgan Smith approved an additional £10,000 loan, acknowledging that ‘a place like Rockhampton should have a town hall befitting the dignity and standard of the people of a place of such importance’.[16] Ultimately, however, the Council decided to omit the auditorium. The merits of day labour were debated but the contract was let to Brisbane firm John Hutchinson and Sons. As debates pushed back construction, architect Leslie Palmer left the firm for a job in Brisbane in 1938. Hockings’ son Thomas, an architect with the Department of Public Works, was brought in as a replacement partner. [17]

On 25 February 1939 Rockhampton Mayor RW Evans turned the first sod for the start of work on the new town hall. The foundation stone was laid a month later, and construction began. The work took over two years to complete, as progress was delayed by wet weather, and by labour and material shortages after the commencement of World War II.[18]

The new Town Hall was opened by Premier William Forgan Smith on Empire Day, 26 May 1941. The Premier expressed his approval of the building:

Its design is one of simple dignity. It has been built with due economy to secure the maximum of every square foot of space, and in time to come this building will be recognised as one of the civic centres of the State of which you can be justly proud.[19]

Former Mayor Littler, who had laid the first foundation stone, sent a congratulatory telegram: ‘Although the egg laid 44 years ago has had a long hatching, I trust the result will give pleasure and service to many generations of Rockhamptonites.’[20] Newspapers described the new building as a ‘massive block, which in size, design and appointments surpasses any civic centre in Queensland outside of Brisbane.’[21]

Hockings and Palmer had published a descriptive resume of the building in 1937, emphasising their focus on providing ventilation and natural light. As well as being prominent considerations in the design of commercial Art Deco buildings, the architects had taken into account the site’s exposed position, and their own experience of ‘local climatic conditions’. Doors and windows with decorative features were spaced throughout the building to provide filtered light and air. Balconies and verandahs wrapped around the building to allow ventilation and protecting offices from direct sunlight.[22]

Local material had also been a focus of the construction, with Stanwell bricks in contrasting colours and Flemish bond patterns comprising the structure and Gracemere granite used for the building’s plinth and entrance stairway. A suspended steel awning with the Rockhampton coat of arms was made by building firm Wunderlich. Ulam marble from FJ Lowther and Co’s nearby quarry was used to panel the main entrance foyer to 6ft (1.8m). Queensland maple was used for the central stairway, with rubber installed on the stairs. Glass in the plate glass entrance doors was supplied by RS Exton and Co, and terrazzo finishes were used in the facilities.[23]

Offices and rooms for the mayor, aldermen, town clerk, city’s accountant, auditor, city engineer’s department, Medical Officer, City Inspector, poundkeeper, caretaker, facilities (including lavatories, cloak room and bicycle room), and a reception room for the mayoress, were spread across the two floors. In the council chambers, a high ceiling, decorative timber panelling and indirect lighting made it ‘probably the most striking room in the building’. A balconette was constructed above the Bolsover Street awning to provide the chambers with the desired supply of light and air. In lieu of the auditorium, a reception hall was built in the centre of the building, behind the stairway, with a 30ft high, two-storey ceiling and stairs on either side. Light and ventilation was ensured with balconies on three sides and light wells.[24] Wall and floor tiles throughout the building were installed by the Australian Tesselated Tile Co, a Victorian company. Rendered cement balcony floors contrasted with internal parquetry floors, patterned in local timber.

Reflecting wartime considerations, the architects had also left openings in the foundation walls to allow access to the basement, with the suggestion that the space could be used for a bombproof shelter. On 7 December 1941, bombs were dropped on Pearl Harbour by the Japanese Navy, prompting a hasty defence reaction in the Allied countries. In Queensland, the State government requested the implementation of air raid protection measures. At a meeting of the Rockhampton Town Council on 17 December 1941, the city Engineer was authorised to make the openings in the Town Hall ground floor for the provision of the air raid shelter. Work on the shelter was underway in April 1942, when a labour organiser visited the worksite, and seems to have been completed by June, when the Council informed the Inspector of Police was informed that no objection would be raised to the installation of a telephone in the Town Hall air raid shelter. The seats, railings and sandbags of the shelter are still extant.[25]

In August 1942, the Rockhampton City Council placed the city at the disposal of Australian and American army authorities, contributing to Australia's defence during the Pacific Campaign (1941-45) of World War II. Rockhampton’s new Town Hall became the headquarters for General Eichelberger and the 41st Division of the United States Army. The building was returned to the city in 1944, after minor restorative works. During a city-wide beautification scheme that followed, the grounds of the Town Hall were laid out in line with plans prepared by the H George Simmons (Curator of the Botanic Gardens) in 1939, with flowerbeds including roses, canna lilies and lantana, lawns, shade trees, pathways and an official reception driveway.[26]

Through the second half of the 20th century, the Town Hall hosted meetings of the Council, local organisations and committees, public talks, radio services, concerts and community health services, and was a stopover on the 1956 Olympic Flame relay. The Rockhampton Art Gallery was run from the reception hall between 1967 and 1979. A reception was held at the Town Hall for the Queen and Duke of Edinburgh during the 1954 Royal Visit. Hand-carved chairs made for the Queen and Duke by local furniture makers are now displayed in the building.[27]

Minor alterations were made inside the building, including the addition of a partial mezzanine floor for the art gallery (extended to full length in the 1990s) and walls between the main foyer and general office were relocated. Verandahs and colonnades were enclosed on the Derby Street and School of Arts sides of the building.[28]

In the 21st century the building was opened for additional civic events, citizenship ceremonies and Australia Day awards. Minor works have been undertaken, including replacing water-damaged parquetry, refurbishing the mayor’s office and Council Chambers, and installing new offices. Canna lilies were planted in the flower beds in 2015, in accordance with the 1939 planting scheme.[29] In 2017 Rockhampton Town Hall continues to function as the centre of the city's local government authority and its operations.

Description

Rockhampton's Town Hall, addressing Bolsover Street in the city centre, is an imposing two storey brick building on a granite plinth. The freestanding building stands within expansive grounds known as the Town Hall Reserve. These grounds, being mostly level, feature a simple arrangement of lawns and mature trees including plantings of Cuban Royal Palms (Roystonea regia), Traveller's Palms (Ravenala madagascariensis) and other species.

Town Hall Exterior

All four of the building's facades are similar symmetrical, articulated planes of face brickwork with projecting bays, stepped parapets and verandahs to both levels for most of the perimeter (although many of the verandah areas have been in-filled). Whilst the principal façade addresses Bolsover Street, the building's other three facades can be viewed from Derby, Alma and William Streets, although other buildings sit within the block at its north-eastern end (including the 2009 library building).

The articulation of the brickwork and set out of openings reflects classical proportions of columns, spandrels, balustrades and entablatures. The facades are stepped, both horizontally in the projecting and recessing of façade bays, as well as vertically in the parapet. The brickwork is laid in a version of Flemish bond, with two stretchers and one header alternating in each course. Darker bricks emphasise string courses, opening lintels and sills, and the parapet capping.

The main entrance, centred on the north-eastern Bolsover Street façade, is approached by a broad flight of granite steps, returned at each end. Over this entrance is a cantilevered awning clad in bronze which carries the City's coat of arms. Above the awning is a small balcony opening from the Council Chamber and over that is a clock faced with ceramic tiles.

Town Hall Interior

On the interior, a central entrance foyer leads to the hall’s main staircase. The reception hall sits at the back of the building, accessed via corridors to the left and right of the staircase. The hall, originally open to roof height with light wells on both sides, now features a mezzanine floor. Offices and facilities for council staff occupy the rest of the ground floor. The mayor’s office, council chambers and first floor entrance foyer are directly above the ground floor entrance foyer, with the offices of the Chief Executive Officer (formerly Town Clerk) on the School of Arts side of the building, and the former offices of the City Engineer on the Derby street side. Walls have been added in some of the larger offices to create additional rooms. Verandahs and balconies wrap around three sides of the building on both floors; there are balconies on either side of the reception hall on the Alma street frontage.

Inside the glazed entrance doors, the entrance foyer has a marble dado to doorhead height and a high plaster ceiling with broad cornice. From the entrance foyer, the main stair of polished timber has a broad lower flight to a mid-level landing, then quarter-turn upper flights on both sides. Above the upper flights is a clerestory window lighting the stair and the upper foyer.

The Council Chamber, reached from the upper foyer, has high dadoes of timber panelling, parquetry flooring and a high plaster ceiling with cornices between exposed beams.

The air raid shelter sits directly underneath the ground floor corridor on the Derby Street side of the building. It is accessible via steps on the southern verandah and steps and a hatch ladder on the rear balcony.

Landscape elements, settings and views

The most intact elements of the reserve’s original landscaping remain on its areas facing Bolsover and Derby streets. This scheme included curved driveways separated by large areas of lawn edged with concrete and dotted with tall palms.[30] The original 1897 foundation stone is laid in the front (Bolsover Street) lawn.

The Town Hall standing in the middle of its generous landscaped reserve is a landmark in this part of Rockhampton.

Non-significant elements within the heritage boundary include extensive bitumen areas for car parking on the Alma street side of the reserve and the parts of the 2009 library building on the northeast.

References

[1] Bounded by Fitzroy, Archer, Kent and Denison streets. PC9, Plan of the Town of Rockhampton, 1858.
[2] Pugh’s Almanac 1862 p21, 1870 p24; McDonald, Rockhampton: A history of city and district, 1981.
[3] One acre of the site was reserved for a School of Arts (QHR 600788)
[4] Pugh’s Almanac 1872, p132 (census September 1871).
[5] Hopkins’s Rockhampton Almanac, cited in Evening News (Rockhampton) 30 January 1937 p1.
[6] Pugh’s Almanac, 1892 p147 (1891 census population 11,629); Pugh’s Almanac 1897.
[7] McDonald, Rockhampton: A history of city and district, 1981, p546ff.
[8] Daily Northern Argus 24 January 1890 p2.
[9] Morning Bulletin 23 June 1897 p6. It was removed for construction of the new building in 1939.
[10] By architects Eaton and Bates. Morning Bulletin 10 July 1936 p9 and 25 March 1937 p6.
[11] Morning Bulletin 4 September 1899 p5, 30 December 1903 p4, 1 December 1904 p5, 5 September 1916 p6; Capricornian 19 December 1903 p25.
[12] Queensland Places: Rockhampton; McDonald, Rockhampton: A history of city and district, 1981, p120, Central Queensland Herald 30 March 1939 p13.
[13] Ian Sinnamon, ‘Putting on a brave front: Queensland between the wars’, 2001, pp 172-3; Patrick Van Daele and Roy Lumby, A spirit of progress: Art Deco Architecture in Australia, 1997, p24.
[14] Central Queensland Herald 6 August 1936 p58; Central Queensland Herald 2 July 1936 p48; Maryborough Chronicle, Wide Bay and Burnett Advertiser, 3 July 1936 p8.
[15] Watson and McKay, Queensland Architects of the 19th century, 1994, p96.
[16] Eg, Morning Bulletin 2 March 1937 p4.
[17] Hockings and Palmer’s design positioned the auditorium behind the administrative offices, allowing it to be omitted if necessary. Morning Bulletin 27 May 1937 p13; Evening News 3 February 1938 p8; Morning Bulletin 15 September 1938 p13; Central Queensland Herald 28 April 1938 p58; Watson and McKay, Queensland Architects of the 19th century, 1994, p96.
[18] Evening News (Rockhampton) 27 February 1941 p7, Morning Bulletin 27 March 1941 p6 and 4 September 1945 p8.
[19] Central Queensland Herald 29 May 1941 p36.
[20] Morning Bulletin 24 May 1941 p8.
[21] Ibid.
[22] Morning Bulletin 27 May 1937 p13; Van Daele and Lumby, A spirit of progress: Art Deco Architecture in Australia, 1997, pp37-8.
[23] Building: the magazine for the architect, builder, property owner and merchant, 25 August 1941, p38; QU86/6567, Town Hall Rockhampton, 2 leaves typescript, Petherick Collection, National Library of Australia; Riddel Architecture, Rockhampton City Hall Conservation Management Plan, 2008, p41.
[24] Central Queensland Herald 29 May 1941 p36; EM Hockings and LT Palmer, Administrative Offices City of Rockhampton (Plan M310).
[25] Riddel Architecture, Rockhampton City Hall Conservation Management Plan, 2008, p17; Central Queensland Herald 29 May 1941 p37; Morning Bulletin 18 December 1941 p4, 4 June 1942 p5; Worker (Brisbane) 14 April 1942 p6.
[26] K Gillespie, An Architectural Survey of Rockhampton City Centre, 1987, p12; Morning Bulletin 15 June 1944 p5, 7 July 1944 p2; 21 September 1945 pp9&11; Rockhampton City Council, original landscape plan for City Hall, 1939.
[27] Evening News (Rockhampton), 6 June 1941 p4; Courier Mail 16 March 1954 p10; Morning Bulletin 18 July 1941 p4, 27 July 1943 p2, 21 June 1945 p10, 12 June 1946 p4, 25 January 1947 p4, 7 November 1947 p7; 2 December 1947 p1, 9 June 2012 p38, 21 December 2013 p26; ‘What is happening in your Home State’, Army News (Darwin) 21 January 1945 p2; ‘A History: Rockhampton Art Gallery’ (http://www.rockhamptonartgallery.com.au/About_Us/History); Central Queensland Herald 13 April 1950 p26.
[28] Riddel Architecture, Rockhampton City Hall Conservation Management Plan, 2008, pp18-20.
[29] Although the planting scheme used a range of coloured lilies, only red lilies were planted in 2015 to commemorate the Anzac centenary. Rockhampton City Council, application for exemption certificate for planting, 18 September 2014, pp1-2.
[30] Refer to the proposed landscape plan for the site on page of the Riddel Architecture 2008 CMP (RCC Plan room M310).

Image gallery

Location

Location of Rockhampton Town Hall within Queensland
Licence
Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International (CC BY 4.0)
Last updated
20 January 2016
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