Long arm of legal legacy

On Courts as told in 2000 by Max Gray, Wodonga’s first Detective, in 1958.

The Court of Petty Sessions at Wodonga was listed for one day of each week. When I came in 1958, Mr J. Bell (nicknamed ‘Jockey Bell’ because of his size) was the Magistrate. He only sat at Wodonga once a fortnight, the other two Court days of the month were presided over by locally appointed Justices of the Peace who were advised by the local Clerk of Courts on any legal matter that arose. There had to be at least two JPs on the bench when they presided. The Clerk of Courts when I arrived was a man named Donald Croft who later became a Magistrate.

The Court House was situated in the old Customs Store building alongside the Wodonga Police Station in 93 High Street. (The house where the Police Station was had originally been the home of the old Customs Officer.) The house was in a shocking condition. The old Court building was cold and had a leaking roof.

In early 1964, the Court House building was burnt beyond repair and furniture and other property destroyed. The cause of the fire was never found. The Police Station was lucky to survive but only because of the efforts of the local Fire Brigade. At half-past-one in the morning I received a telephone call: “You’d better get down here, your office is on fire. Looks like everything is going.” There were people everywhere getting the furniture out, half the town was helping until things started whistling past our heads going back in. We looked around and there was a man who will remain nameless. I yelled: “What are you doing throwing it back in?” He said: “You’ll never get a bloody new Court House if you don’t let it burn.”

After the fire, the Court was held first at the old Fire Station premises near where the Wodonga Post Office is near Woodland Grove, then it moved to a vacant building in Mitchell Street which was later turned into a Child Care Centre.

Magistrate Mr Bell retired about 1960 and was followed by a list of relieving Magistrates until Mr Jim Humphrey arrived and served the area until his death.