Central Government Offices
Over their 140-year history, Central Government Offices have been used as Public Offices, a Police Court and cellblock, Treasury, Survey Department, GPO, Immigration Offices, office of the Premier and Cabinet, Lands Department and Titles Building. However, towards the end of the 20th century, the buildings were vacated and stood empty for nearly two decades.
Starting with just three small buildings to run all of State Government business, various additions were made to the site on the corner of Barrack Street and St Georges Terrace, firstly in 1874, designed by Richard Roach Jewell. It was not until 1890 that the complex started to take on its more familiar look, when architect George Temple Poole drew up plans for a new General Post Office in the French Second Empire Style.
More buildings, and sometimes storeys to existing buildings, were added, and in 1904 the facades of the older buildings were remodelled to match Poole’s GPO, giving Central Government Buildings its much-admired elevations which remain today.
During the last half of the 20th century, various government departments left the building for new accommodation, with the last being the Department of Land Administration who moved to new premises in Midland in 1993. After this, the site was empty for nearly two decades and a variety of proposals for its redevelopment never saw the light of day. However, it now has a new lease of life with a variety of upmarket bars, cafes and retail spaces, and the luxury COMO The Treasury Hotel in a new building behind the complex.
Over their 140-year history, Central Government Offices have been used as Public Offices, a Police Court and cellblock, Treasury, Survey Department, GPO, Immigration Offices, office of the Premier and Cabinet, Lands Department and Titles Building. However, towards the end of the 20th century, the buildings were vacated and stood empty for nearly two decades. Today they have been sensitively redeveloped into a complex of hospitality and retail, as well as the luxury COMO The Treasury Hotel.
The three interconnected heritage buildings known as the Central Government Office sit on the corner of St Georges Terrace and Barrack Street in the centre of Perth. However, this complex was not intended by the town planners of 1835 to be developed on this site. The original plan–which is endorsed ‘Apprvd. Jm. Stirling’–for the area, including the Cathedral, is marked for barracks. By 1840 a small barrack building had been erected, although by 1845 plans started to show a ‘Cathedral Green’ on the site. During the 1860s, the barracks relocated to the Pensioner Guard Barracks on St Georges Terrace, and the old Barracks were adapted for use as the colony’s General Post Office
As early as the 1840s, more office space was needed to accommodate the growing public service. A government administration building had been erected in 1836 on the southern side of St. Georges Terrace, between Government House and Stirling Gardens, and although additions were made to the building, further space was required but could not be carried out due to lack of funds in the struggling colony. In fact, all government business was conducted within three small buildings on the Terrace. One contained offices for the Colonial Secretary, the Colonial Treasurer, the Attorney General, the Survey, and other departments. On the other side of the street was the Comptroller General’s office, which technically belonged to the Imperial Government, and the old building used as a Post Office.
It was not until Western Australia was granted representative government in 1870 that the colony had the ability to raise loans. The passing of the Loans Acts permitted an increased public works programme, and the Public Works Department was established. The Government commenced construction of new offices in a very modest way. Around 1873 they began a building, designed by Richard Roach Jewell, which later became occupied by Public Works, the Police, and the Attorney General’s Departments. It was a very simple building, in the ‘workhouse style’, with no decorative embellishments. The West Australian described these types of buildings as a “rectangular brick box with a few holes in it for doors and windows” and demanded more attractive facades for St Georges Terrace.
More additions were made in the next few years, including a Colonial Secretary’s office, the Treasury and the Audit office, followed in 1882 by Jewell’s design for a two-storey building on the corner of St Georges Terrace and Cathedral Avenue for the Lands and Surveys Department. After his retirement in 1884, the new Colonial Architect. George Temple Poole, was commissioned to link the various wings with a new building. Complications arose when it was discovered that the foundation of an earlier Jewell wing were faulty, but finally, in 1890, the two wings of government offices along St Georges Terrace were united by replacing the old Barracks with a two-storey building to be occupied by the General Post Office. The new additions were very different from Jewell’s simpler facades, instead being in the French Second Empire Style.
In 1893 a further wing for the Department of Lands and Surveys was added to the Central Government Offices, with Poole once again being influenced by French architectural trends. The Lands and Survey Building was the first government building to contain a lift. Interior finishes included the walls of the public hall were painted in three shades of green.
The last of the major buildings was the Lands Titles Office building, constructed in 1897. A five-storey building, again designed by Poole, the building was constructed on the corner of Cathedral Avenue and Hay Street, with the main entrance in Cathedral Avenue. The building accommodated the Land Titles Office, Audit, Treasury, Colonial Secretary’s Department, and additional office space for the Public Works Department. In 1898, a third storey was added to the Post and Telegraph building. The main hall of the General Post Office was renovated and electric lights were installed.
In 1902 a third storey was also added to the 1883 Jewell wing, for additional office space and in 1904 an additional storey, with eight large offices, was added to the 1874-78 wings. At the same time Jewell’s simple facades were remodelled to resemble the style Poole had used for the General Post Office. When the General Post Office was moved to a new building in Forrest Place in 1923, the old GPO was renovated to become additional government offices.
During the last half of the 20th century, various government departments left the building for new accommodation, with the last being the Department of Land Administration who moved to new premises in Midland in 1993. After this, the site was empty for nearly two decades and a variety of proposals for its redevelopment never saw the light of day. However, it now has a new lease of life with a variety of upmarket bars, cafes and retail spaces, together with one of Perth’s top hotels constructed behind it, the COMO The Treasury Hotel. Central Government Offices is likely to remain a key tourist attraction in Perth for many years to come.
‘News of the Week.’ West Australian 18 July 1885
‘The New Public Offices.’ Daily News 28 August 1890
‘The Public Offices.’ Western Mail 11 February 1898
‘News and Notes.’ West Australian 6 January 1904