Geraldton Heritage Precinct conservation project underway

Geraldton Heritage Precinct conservation project underway

Conservation Council & Volunteers Natural Heritage Places

The Geraldton Heritage Precinct, Ngurra Barlunggu conservation project is well underway with the stonework contract signed this month. The State Government has provided $7.57m between 2024 and 2026 for the project to undertake urgent conservation of heritage building fabric, and to uplift safety, access and amenity for visitors, workers and the community.

The project focuses on three buildings in the Geraldton Heritage Precinct: Victoria House (B-03), Campbell House (B-04) and Crowley House (B-05).

Priority works are to address paving and ground drainage, replace asbestos roofing (including guttering, downpipes and pigeon proofing), repair external verandahs and joinery and install a lift to provide access to upper floors. Some internal and upgrade works will also be included if funding permits.

Geraldton Heritage Precinct, Ngurra Barlunggu

The Geraldton Heritage Precinct is located on the northern edge of the central business district of Geraldton. The site, bounded by Chapman Road, Bayley Street, George Road, and Lewis Street, is a reserve created in the very earliest days of Champion Bay.

Geraldton Heritage Precinct, Ngurra Barlunggu (the Precinct) comprises eight major buildings set in landscaped grounds in close proximity to Geraldton’s CBD. The precinct is significant for its substantial number of fine, relatively intact, late Victorian and early Federation period hospital buildings, and the Old Gaol which is the earliest surviving cell block in a regional area in the State. The buildings are in an increasingly deteriorating condition.

The Precinct is a unique commercial property offering the largest amount of commercial space within one footprint in the City of Geraldton. The 2.985 ha property has a net lettable area of 2,652 square metres in a highly visible, central location close to the Marina, Batavia commercial development and the WA Museum. Only 43% of this area is currently leased due to the deteriorating condition of the buildings. A commercial property manager is engaged to manage day to day leasing operations.

Clear evidence has established Aboriginal people living on the west coast of Australia for at least 40,000 years, though it is unclear when the first Aboriginal people reached the area around Geraldton. The original local Aboriginal people of Geraldton are the Amangu people, with the Nanda immediately to the north and Badimaya immediately to the east.

Today the Aboriginal people of the region generally identify as Yamatji or Wajarri people. Wajarri country is inland from Geraldton and extends as far south and west as Mullewa, north to Gascoyne Junction and east to Meekatharra. The Aboriginal people of the Murchison-Gascoyne region were instrumental in assisting early settlers in the area in identifying permanent water sources, and worked in the pearling, pastoral and fishing industries.

Many European mariners encountered, or were wrecked on, the Houtman Abrolhos islands 60 kilometres west of present-day Geraldton during the 17th and 18th centuries. Although two mutineers from the Batavia were marooned on the mainland in 1629 there is no surviving evidence that they made landfall at or near the site of the current town.

The explorer George Grey, while on his second disastrous expedition along the Western Australian coast, passed over the future site of Geraldton on 7 April 1839. George Fletcher Moore, the colony’s attorney-general, on the colonial schooner Champion, explored the region in January 1840 and ‘discovered’ what became known as Champion Bay. He was followed by Captain John Clements Wickham and Lieutenant John Lort Stokes of HMS Beagle, who led an expedition to the area in April 1840, and named and surveyed Point Moore and Champion Bay.

A decade later, explorer Augustus Gregory travelled through the area. A member of his party, James Perry Walcott, discovered lead ore in 1848 in the bed of the Murchison River. The Geraldine mine was subsequently established, named after the County Clare family home of Charles FitzGerald, the 4th Governor of Western Australia. The town of Geraldton, named after Governor FitzGerald, was surveyed in 1850 and land sales began in 1851.

The first buildings and structures were erected on the Geraldton Heritage Precinct Ngurra Barlunggu site not long after – during the convict period (1856-72). In the 1870s-80s, as the town and port developed further with agricultural expansion and development of mining in the hinterland and the associated railway, the medical officer’s residence and a large hospital were built and the gaol extended. In the 1890s gold boom period, major additions were made to each building, especially the hospital, and warders’ quarters were built. In the twentieth century, further development of the place as a hospital and gaol/lock-up/prison and latterly as a community recreation complex was associated with significant periods in the development of Geraldton, the region and the State.

In the latter part of the 20th century, the precinct was named the ‘Bill Sewell Complex’ after the Australian politician who was a Labor Party member of the State Legislative Assembly representing the seat of Geraldton. The place demonstrates the development, expansion and evolution of a large and complex site over 150 years, which included a convict depot (of which only portions of walls remain), gaol and well, medical officer’s residence and hospital buildings, including nineteenth century operating room, through conversion of the surviving buildings to serve as Geraldton Regional Prison and their later conversion to a community recreation complex for the town and region.

The major buildings were designed and built under colonial architects James Manning, Richard Roach Jewell, and George Temple Poole. David Gray, an expiree, James Kelly, and James Dawson built the three main stages of the hospital.

The City of Geraldton was responsible for management of the Precinct until 2008, when it was vested with the National Trust of Western Australia for heritage purposes. The National Trust sought engagement with the local community to rename the Precinct and include an Aboriginal name. The Precinct became known as Geraldton Heritage Precinct Ngurra Barlunggu in 2020 in order to better reflect its history and significance.


Geraldton Heritage Precinct[1], has cultural heritage significance for the following reasons:

Primary Significance

The former hospital is a rare example in Western Australia of a pavilion design hospital dating from the Victorian and early Federation periods, and has a substantial number of fine, relatively intact, late Victorian and early Federation period hospital buildings, including the operating room, possibly the earliest surviving purpose designed and separately built such facility in the State, and one of the earliest surviving purpose-built Medical Officer’s Quarters (Margaret House).

The Old Gaol is the earliest surviving cell block in a regional area and served its intended purpose for a longer period than any other penal building in the State other than Fremantle Gaol.

The hospital complex is the only large collective group of structures in Geraldton dating from the Victorian period. The place dates from the early period of European settlement at Geraldton when the Convict Depot was established at the site and the Old Gaol was built, and its subsequent development with hospital and gaol buildings and associated buildings occurred at significant periods in the history of the town, region and State.

The hospital buildings are good examples of the design work of colonial architects Richard Roach Jewell, and George Temple Poole, of the design of a two storey, pavilion hospital in the late nineteenth century, and the work of their builders David Gray (expiree), James Kelly and James Dawson.

The place has been an integral part of the townscape since the mid-to-late nineteenth century and is a landmark on Chapman Road and Bayley Street.

Secondary Significance

The place, in the grouping of the buildings, their setting and natural backdrop, makes a significant contribution to the townscape and landscape of Geraldton.

The place is a large and complex site that developed, expanded and evolved from the 1850s, including a convict depot (only portions of walls extant), gaol and well, warders’ quarters, medical officer’s residence and hospital buildings, including an early, separate, operating room, through conversion of the surviving buildings to serve as Geraldton Regional Prison, and its 1980s conversion to a community recreation complex.

The place is valued by the community of Geraldton and the region for its important part in their history, especially for health services at the hospital for about 100 years, for its aesthetic qualities and contribution to the city’s built environment and may be of historic and social significance to some Aboriginal and European people for its use for penal purposes.

The place has the potential for archaeological investigation to yield further information about the convict period, particularly the Depot site and the cell block (Old Gaol), and to demonstrate gaol design and pavilion plan hospital design in the nineteenth century.[2]


[1] Note: the State Register listing maintains the previous name of Bill Sewell Recreation Centre

[2] Philip Griffiths Architects and Chinnery, Robin, ‘Bill Sewell Complex: Conservation Plan (2007)’, pages 262-264.

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