The Old Town Hall Perth
The Significance of Heritage Buildings & How They Have Shaped COnservation Today
The Old Town Hall in Perth was built as a main civic facility for the growing colony in 1870 where its form and presence became a landmark for the growing city. The undercroft particularly was intended to ‘participate in the life of the city’ and was used briefly as a daily market but ended a few years later due to its ‘gloomy’ atmosphere. After years of use and some alterations later there were multiple requests to have the building demolished due to rapid growth within Perth requiring a larger space for the growing council house. There was a strong push back from multiple groups within the community which resulted in it being retained and a new building was purchased on another site to become the council house.
The Old Town Hall was saved! The decision to preserve the building at the time recognised its significance as a symbol of township, a tribute to Perth’s beginnings and a well-built structure that could continue to function as a civic building for years to come. This successful building conservation effort laid down some foundations for what we choose to preserve and why here in Perth today.
The outcome of this conservation debate and many of a similar nature became a basis for the processes and procedures that now exist today in the conservation of buildings and places within the state and nation-wide. The major document which is still in use today is ‘The Conservation Plan’ written by JS Kerr in 1982; this document acts as a guide to the procedures behind preserving buildings in accordance with The Burra Charter and also endorses local input and processes for the execution of conservation.
The process for acknowledging and legislating the conservation of buildings starts with recognition from individuals, groups and societies. This first step exists thanks to early conservation movements such as the retention of the Old Town Hall and many others where the community recognised its significance because it held aesthetic, historic, scientific and social value to the people of Perth back in 1925 (when it was debated to be demolished). Today, individuals, groups and societies can now lobby to have their nominated building promoted to a listing as a part of The National Trust. This step offers state recognition of a building’s significance; The Old Town Hall was classified by The National Trust in 1973. The final step is to obtain a statutory listing that will legally conserve the building permanently. The Old Town Hall was listed on the Australian Heritage Council List in 1985. The Old Town Hall would not be standing today without the crucial first step of this process outlining its significance to the community and recognition of its value which was carried out back in 1925.
Although the retention of The Town Hall is a strong symbol of successful early conservation movements within Perth; today it is lacking utilisation in its prime position within the epicentre of the city. Its original purpose has been lost over time and its civic engagement has been significantly reduced. What may be required is a reactivation of the site in a similar way The Treasury buildings have experienced with great success. This could be achieved through a possible repurposing of the original undercroft into an entertainment or recreational space that can be utilised by people already residing in the city for work or education. The Burra Charter outlines how restorations and renovations should be addressed with consideration to the building’s significance to the local community. If an opportunity like this was harnessed the Old Town Hall could reintroduce itself into contemporary culture while still maintaining its historic integrity and the cycle of building conservation would continue.
Register Of Heritage Places – Assesment Documentation. 1985. Ebook. 1st ed. Perth: Heritage Council of Western Australia. http://inherit.stateheritage.wa.gov.au/Admin/api/file/8c4ec538-6b84-404d-a378-e82f5a10befe.
“Inherit – State Heritage Office”. 2021. Inherit.Stateheritage.Wa.Gov.Au. http://www.inherit.stateheritage.wa.gov.au/Public/Inventory/Details/210dee80-f68f-427a-ad20-d2028265b650.
Van Bremen, Ingrid. 2021. “Evolution Of Conservation – Different Approaches In History”. Lecture, The University of Western Australia, , 2021.
Kerr, James Semple. 2004. Conservation Plan. 7th ed. Sydney: National Trust (NSW).
Lomas, Kyra. 2021. “Heritage Organizations”. Lecture, The University of Western Australia, , 2021.