What do the National Trust, the leader of the Country Women’s Association and a D registered building having common ? According to my research, absolutely nothing! My role in creating an interpretative brief for the Wellington courthouse has seen me follow several individuals through history; such research has often highlighted the common differences in the goals and priorities of those involved—the odds of archaeology.
In a series of letters I discovered an exchange between the National Trust and the leader of the Country Women’s Association (Murray Bridge sector). The Leader of the CWA, Jane Smith*, was rather passionate in her advocation for the Wellington Court. Several of her letters requested additional funding and attention from the Trust, however she was continuously met with apologies; the Trust was simply unable to facilitate such requests. Such an exchange provides an excellent example of the odds of archaeology and heritage management. While it was quite humorous to see that such formalities and niceties were lost over a period of several years, I was rather proud to see a single individual lobbying so passionately for something she believed in. To me the Wellington Courthouse is simply an assignment, to the National Trust it was a D registered building, but to Jane Smith it was a building of childhood memories and a crown jewel for Murray Bridge and South Australia alike.
*For the sake of anonymity, names have been changed for the purposes of this post.
With baited anticipation I present the second installment of the history of the Wellington Courthouse, my current Directed Study. We’ll start with the things I have learnt. Modern day Wellington is nothing more than a little settlement on the banks of the River Murray. It was settled in approximately 1830, when Captain Charles Sturt reached the settlement in his whale boating, searching for answers to Australia’s inland sea. Some years later, a man named John Morphett opened the area to colonial land development. By 1839, Wellington was one of the most important settlements along the Murray River. The township was seen as an important stopover for travellers, farmers and eventually the Victorian gold rush. With such importance, Wellington decided it need a police station. In 1841 they got their wish—the building was stationed on the banks of the river, namely the site of the present court house. Additional buildings were sought, with the current courthouse itself being built in 1864.
Thus far, facts have been relatively easy to come by. Stories, on the other hand, have been rather difficult to locate. My brief is currently seeking more personalized stories rather than information. This has posed a question: the Wellington Courthouse was built in 1864, that’s 149 years of history—1788 months or 7,748 weeks or even 54,385 days of history, to be exact. How much of this can an archaeologist hope to recreate? I have found articles on court proceedings, advertisements for new police officers, tenders for manual labour and complaints from little old people complaining about the drafts inside the courthouse. Surely with so much history, there is more to be found. How much of the Wellington Court house history is missing, lost, destroyed, forgotten or even hidden in a box underneath someone’s bed? What’s an archaeologist to do with all this time?
Once upon a time, there was a little archaeologist who aspired to be the greatest of them all! That little archaeologist, who grew up to be me, thought he would be the first person in the world to discover the lost city of Atlantis. Fast-forward 16 years and I am currently undertaking my graduate diploma of archaeology at Flinders University. As a graduate student I have been able to undertake the important process of a directed study. I have been tasked with forming an interpretative brief for the Wellington Courthouse in Murray Bridge. Hardly the opportunity to discover Atlantis, but an exciting opportunity nonetheless and my very first taste of archaeology!
Built in 1864, the Wellington Courthouse has a long and important history in the area of Murray Bridge. My interpretive brief will consist of an historical summary of the site, from the days before it was built to today and from the people who worked, lived and played with the site. The site has recently been sold by the National Trust to a private owner. Currently, the owners (who will remain anonymous), are planning to re-establish the site as a tourist hotspot. Intentions for the site currently revolve around a restaurant, bed and breakfast and a museum of the site for the wider community. My directed study will give the necessary information required to interpret the site, making it excellent and profitable!
I look forward to the adventure ahead, the highs and the lows. More importantly I hope to prove to myself that I am an archaeologist and capable of more than just digging a hole.
The Wellington Courthouse