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Story behind Broken Hill’s Town Hall Facade

Monday, 16th April, 2018

Broken Hill’s Town Hall in all its glory. The Broken Hill Historical Society fought to save the facade when City Council sought to demolish the entire building in 1972. Broken Hill’s Town Hall in all its glory. The Broken Hill Historical Society fought to save the facade when City Council sought to demolish the entire building in 1972.

By Craig Brealey

City Council’s plan to build a new library on the back of the Town Hall Facade was a good idea, according to one of the people who helped save the architectural treasure from demolition more than 40 years ago.

Dennis Aartsen was the Honorary Secretary of the Broken Hill Historical Society in 1972 when Council, which was housed in the Town Hall, decided to knock it over and erect a modern building in its place.

The BH Historical Society was not against Council having a new headquarters but decided to make a submission that the facade be maintained and restored, Mr Aartsen told the BDT.

“This quickly grew legs as we obtained support in the form of survey, expert advice and support from the National Trust of NSW,” he said.

The Historical Society then sent a delegation to Council with its three-stage proposal for the Town Hall:

1.The Facade, to depth off street of about 10 metres, be retained and restored.

2.Demolish the rest.

3.Build the Administrative Centre on the site of the hall proper and an existing carpark. 

“The main issue as we saw it was the historic streetscape,” said Mr Aartsen. “A modern building dumped into an historic civic precinct would forever destroy the vista and integrity of that city block.

“As a result of the meeting between the delegation and BHCC, a public meeting was called and the rest is history,” he said.

Mr Aartsen said there were some “serious rumblings” in the city because of the anticipated extra cost to Council of maintaining the facade; “Broken Hill people had a practical attitude of ‘value for money’.

“As an example, I worked on the North Mine at the time and had won a position with the NSW National Parks and Wildlife Service. The Boilershop staff gave me a farewell gift of a portable barbecue plate. On it was written large ‘Guaranteed to last longer than the Town Hall Facade’. All with good humour and tongues planted firmly in cheeks.”

As to the proposal by the previous Council to move the library to the old Pellew and Moore building in Argent Street, Mr Aartsen said he was “a little baffled” by the accompanying plan to take the city’s Archives out of the library and put them in the basement of the administration block in Blende Street, at a cost of $3 million (courtesy of a gift of $5 million from BHP).

Last month, Council abandoned this plan and decided to place the archives in a new library that would be built on what is now the carpark behind the Town Hall Facade.

Mr Aartsen this would be much better and similar to what the BH Historical Society had put forward in 1972.

“Funds permitting, a purpose-built structure on the space between the Facade and the present library would solve a number of issues,” he said. 

“Everything could remain in operation during construction and then the Charles Rasp Library would be demolished to provide off-street parking for the new Library/Archives’ visitors and staff.”

Mr Aartsen said he did not oppose the demolition of the brick veneer Charles Rasp Library because it had no apparent historical value.

However, because it stood on ground once occupied by the old city fire station, items of historical value might be discovered, he said.

“Perhaps a university faculty could be convinced of its value as a teaching aid and supply a group of undergraduates with an archaeologist as supervisor to do a comprehensive survey of the site.

“My proposal would stay true to the 1972 decision by the Broken Hill Historical Society to agree with a modern building behind the Facade, provide an archaeological survey which would add to the City’s credentials and also provide suitable parking - which was one of the sticking points with the proposed move into Argent Street.”

* A two-week heritage festival will be launched at 6pm on Wednesday behind the Town Hall Facade. It features a variety of historic photos projected onto the rear of the building, old time music and food and drinks. 

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