Lake Macquarie History

History of the Courts of Lake Macquarie

The Courts of Lake Macquarie started as Courts of Petty Sessions. These courts were presided over by Stipendiary Magistrates and Police Magistrates. Stipendiary Magistrates were magistrates who received a stipend (payment) for their services. The Attorney General and the Solicitor General were responsible for the Courts Of Petty Sessions, having been allocated this responsibility in 1866.

These courts dealt with simple offences such as stealing, vagrancy, and assaults. They also heard small debt cases. In 1982, the Local Courts Act abolished the Courts of Petty Sessions. This Act replaced them with Local Courts. Today, the Local Courts in Lake Macquarie are located at Belmont and Toronto. The latter is a new Court which was opened in 2000.

In the Lake Macquarie region, eight Courts of Petty Sessions courts existed. The Courts of Petty Sessions were located in the following areas, and operated during varying periods of time:

Belmont 1936-1984
Boolaroo 1958-1969
Catherine Hill Bay 1906-1936
Charlestown 1901-1936
Morisset 1919-1933
Swansea 1890-1906
Teralba 1900-1958
West Wallsend 1904-1940

Belmont Court of Petty Sessions

In 1934, Lake Macquarie Council had been told that a Court would not be established at Belmont, as it was felt that there was no suitable location for the Court. However, by October of 1935, the idea of having a court at Belmont was being given serious consideration. It was suggested that the Clerk of the Court could also be the Assistant District Registrar for Births, Deaths and Marriages, providing this service for the residents of Northumberland and Kahibah.

The Belmont Court of Petty Sessions was established in 1936. It closed in 1984, once the Local Courts Act had abolished the Courts of Petty Sessions. The Act replaced these Courts with Local Courts.

Boolaroo Court of Petty Sessions

In 1946 it was proposed that Boolaroo could have a Court. It was felt that the conditions of the Court at Teralba were not good, and that perhaps Boolaroo would be a more central location for a Courthouse.

The Court opened in 1958. When it closed in 1969, its records were taken to the Wallsend Court of Petty Sessions.

Catherine Hill Bay Court of Petty Sessions

This Court opened in 1906. It closed in 1936, and its records were taken to the Belmont Court of Petty Sessions.

Charlestown Court of Petty Sessions

This court was established in 1901 in order to provide services for those residing in Belmont, Charlestown, and Dudley. Before this court was established, the residents of these areas were required to travel to Lambton if they had to appear in the court. It was decided that the Stipendiary Magistrates would hold court either every fortnight, or every month.

By 1907, it was felt that having a Court at Charlestown was fully justified. In 1906, there had been 41 cases heard under the Vagrancy and Police Offences Act. 19 small debt cases had been heard in that year. 14 persons had applied for tobacco licences. 76 letters had been received, and 82 had been sent. 192 dogs had been registered.

The Court closed in 1936, and its records were sent to the Belmont Court.

Morisset Court of Petty Sessions

The Court at Morisset opened in 1919. When it closed in 1933, its records were taken to the Wyong Court of Petty Sessions.

Swansea Court of Petty Sessions

The Court at Swansea was established in 1890 to allow the residents of Swansea better access to Court services. Previously they had been required to travel to Newcastle in order to attend Court. The Court sessions were held on the first and third Wednesday of every month. On the first Wednesday of every month, the Small Debts Court was held. The first case heard at Swansea involved a man who was charged with not having enough money to live on. He was asked to leave the area, and complied.

In 1892 it was reported that a new courthouse was needed. The Court sessions were being held in a small room in the house of the constable, which was not suited to the needs of the Court. The Court closed in 1906.

Teralba Court of Petty Sessions

Teralba Court was established in 1900 in order to allow for the provision of services to persons who lived in Argenton, Boolaroo, Cardiff, Cockle Creek, Fassifern, Teralba and Toronto. The people who lived in these areas had previously been required to travel to the Wallsend Court of Petty Sessions if they needed to attend court. At this court, the Stipendiary Magistrates held court either every fortnight, or every month. This Court was held in the Teralba School of Arts, in the dance hall. The Clerk of the Court had a rented office in this building.

In 1948 there was some talk of moving the court at Teralba to Boolaroo. Many of the local residents were against this idea, and at least one public meeting was held to discuss the issue. The move would have affected persons living in Awaba, Blackalls, Fassifern, Coal Point, Toronto, Cooranbong, Dora Creek, Wakefield, Rhondda (now part of Teralba), Marmong Point, Wangi, Fennell’s Bay, and Rathmines. It was felt that people living in these areas would find it very difficult to travel to Boolaroo to attend the Court. The Court remained in operation until 1958, when it closed. The Court records were taken to the Court of Petty Sessions at Boolaroo, which had just been established.

West Wallsend Court of Petty Sessions

This Court was opened in 1904, in the School of Arts Hall in West Wallsend. A photo of the School of Arts Hall in West Wallsend is below.

photo: west wallsend school of arts

The Progress Committee of West Wallsend had been requesting a Court for a few years, so they were very pleased that they now had one. However, by 1940, it had been decided to close the Court, and to send the cases which would otherwise have been heard at West Wallsend Court to Wallsend and Plattsburg Court. The records of the Court were sent to the Wallsend and Plattsburg Court of Petty Sessions.

The Progress Committee of West Wallsend were unhappy with this decision, and they petitioned for several years to have the court reinstated at West Wallsend. In 1947, they were told by the then Minister for Justice, Mr Downing, that this would not be possible.

In 1946, only 46 cases had arisen which needed to be heard at West Wallsend. It was felt that this was very little work for a stipendiary magistrate, as the magistrate was busy attending to cases in Maitland Court. Also, an Acting Clerk of Petty Sessions was not available. In addition, the local police officer stated that he was too busy to undertake work in the Court.

The School of Arts, which had formerly been used as a Court, was not available, because it needed repairs. An application to register the School of Arts as a club under the Liquor laws had already been made, and so it was deemed that the restoration of the Court at West Wallsend would not go ahead.