Dr Penny Davies, Jim Evans, Wayne Gregson and Pip Johanson.

BENDIGO’S law courts have emerged as a strong contender to be the future site of a museum, with Court Services Victoria offering no objections nor foreseen hurdles to the project, according to a leading advocate.

Wayne Gregson, who is the interim convenor of a community taskforce lobbying for a museum, said he met with CVS officers this week who said they wanted to maintain courtroom one as a heritage court in Bendigo to be used for formal occasions such as the start of the legal year.

“They haven’t thought too far down the track to what will happen to the old law courts but they saw a lot of synergy in what we were saying to them, that of all the buildings in Bendigo, that is the one that most looks like a museum,” Mr Gregson said.

“They agree a museum on that site would not be incompatible with their need to maintain a heritage court.

“They encouraged us to keep working on the idea and to maintain contact with them and they will keep us in touch with what might be the future of the old building.”

Also propelling the proposal is the potential for the project to be a state election campaign vote winner.

All parties fielding candidates in the November state election have backed the project but are divided on who should pay.

A museum fit-out for the law courts all depends on the Victorian government funding new courts for Bendigo, infrastructure to which it has already allocated $3.9 million to develop a business case with Bendigo TAFE’s city campus as the preferred site.

It is understood CSV is in negotiations to use a portion of the McCrae Street campus for a 10-courtroom facility by mid-2022.

It would leave the old courts empty.

Mr Gregson said the museum proposal was in its infancy and the work now for the loosely formed taskforce, consisting of himself as Bendigo Heritage chairman, Bendigo Historical Society president Jim Evans and member Pip Johanson, and La Trobe University doctor of history

Penny Davies, would be formalised in the coming weeks.

“There is a long, long way to go, and they say it is going to be at least 33 to 35 months before they get into any new project assuming a decision is made reasonably soon,” Mr Gregson said.

“There is no rush, that building is not going to go anywhere.”

He said after having informal talks with the City of Greater Bendigo, “I think there is now an appetite among the councillors to have a genuine museum in Bendigo”.

“But they are not as convinced as Jim and I as to whether that is the spot,” Mr Gregson said.

Bendigo West and East candidates for the Liberals, Nationals and Greens supported the proposal.

Greens candidates Laurie Whelan and Nakita Thomson called on the incumbent government to “commit to funding for transition of the law courts to a new museum once the new courts have been
constructed”.

“A museum for Bendigo has been talked about for a long time as well as new court facilities that provide the required space, client meeting rooms and separation for victims, especially those escaping domestic violence,” Mr Whelan said.

Bendigo East Nationals candidate Gaelle Broad said she liked the idea of a museum being located in the old law courts, as an extension of the cultural centre “that already exists in the heart of Bendigo”.

“It’s also important that plans for a museum take into account renovation expenses as well as ongoing maintenance and running costs,” she said.

The Liberal Party’s Bendigo East candidate Ian Ellis, who spent working hours in the courts as a police officer, said he supported a transition to a museum as well as retention of a courtroom, but the project was a long way off and City of Greater Bendigo ratepayers should not ultimately pay for the building’s upkeep.

Bendigo West incumbent, Labor’s Maree Edwards did not respond in time for publication.

CSV was contacted for comment.