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Town and Country

Bendigo Law Courts: Designing with Town & Country

The new Bendigo Law Courts development is improving court services to communities across the Loddon Malley region. It is also establishing itself as an enduring marker of community values.

In our design of this building, a deep consideration of the built and cultural heritage of place caused us to respond to both Bendigo’s recent history as a Victorian gold rush town, and to the ancient song lines of creation that connect the past, present, and future across Dja Dja Wurrung Country.


Alluvial gold was in discovered in Bendigo Creek in 1851. Twenty short years later Bendigo was declared a city – a city that was built upon accumulated riches. The many fine Victorian buildings that were constructed in rapid succession are an overt expression of this wealth. Their clock towers, steeples and mansard roof forms sit above the surrounding buildings and contribute to a skyline that is so defining for the city.

Hargreaves Street runs parallel to Pall Mall. Historic images show the Town Hall, which remains standing, and the City Market that was demolished some time ago. This tells us that Hargreaves Street has always been at the centre of the daily life. Today Hargreaves Street connects the retail precinct, the town hall, the library, and the recently refurbished TAFE college.

The new courthouse is also located in Hargreaves Street where it too joins the patterns of daily life. The forecourt and main entry are oriented in this direction. At five levels above ground the courthouse rises above the surrounding buildings, and yet it sits comfortably in its place.

The base of the building is characterised by brickwork. Entries are sheltered and clearly articulated. Large areas of glazing offer views into foyer spaces. This creates ease in way finding and diminishes anxiety for those apprehensive to enter.

The form above is broken into smaller parts to find a more sympathetic fit with the buildings around it. The orientation of the parts breaks the shear face of the upper form, and views are framed out across the city and back to the historic courthouse.


“Country soars high into the atmosphere, deep into the planet crust and far into the oceans. Country incorporates both the tangible and the intangible, for instance, all the knowledges and cultural practices associated with land. People are part of Country, and their/our identity is derived in a large way in relation to Country.”

Dr Daniele Hromek

Every First Nations groups across Australia has its own culture, customs, languages, and complex systems of lore. After tens of thousands of years of continuous living culture these were profoundly disrupted just over 200 years ago.

On 7 February 1788 at Sydney Cove Captain Arthur Phillips proclaimed the Colony of New South Wales. At this time English common law was adapted to meet the circumstances of the new colony and applied throughout the whole of the continent. Aboriginal people were immediately and unilaterally held to be subject to a foreign system of law. It is under this system of law that Aboriginal people have been subject to many discriminatory laws, policies, and procedures, and endured countless traumatic experiences when interacting with the criminal justice system.

The Bendigo Law Courts acknowledges that these two systems of law coincide in this place and seeks to reconcile these through design.

Indigenous Elders, family and kin group members, and organisations offering support are encouraged to join the hearing. Elders have their own room to which they can retreat in recognition that the status of an Elder in Indigenous law is like that of a Judge under English law. While this configuration is not a first, it is a profound acknowledgement of Country.  

‘The end of the Rainbow, Golden Square, Bendigo’ depicts a vast expanse of ground disturbed by alluvial mining. The artist uses the rainbow to suggest that the settlers were fixed on the extraction of a precious resource, and less concerned with the impact to Country. The Dja Dja Wurrung have described this disturbance: “When settlers discovered gold beneath the earth, trees were cut down and burnt, creeks twisted from their ancient channels and holes were dug everywhere. What was left was ‘Upside-Down Country’.”

The forecourt at Hargraves Street offers a meeting place outside the main entry. It incorporates native planting and rock boulders that symbolise the healing of Country. The paving is designed to suggest plumes of smoke reminiscent of the smoking ceremony – a cultural practice with healing and cleansing properties.

The Djarra people are bound by the law of Bunjil, the Eagle Hawke. His law governs all aspects of their existence, across the past, in the present, and into the future. It is through his law that they understand their connection to each other. Artist Racquel Kerr, a proud Dja Dja Wurrung, Barapa Barapa and Boon Wurrung woman, proposed incorporating an image of Bunjil into the building at a height equal or higher than that of the Australian coat of arms as this would reflect his significance to the Djarra people.

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