Courting better society hopes

March 27, 2018

Reconstruction works to the St Georges Rd streetscape started yesterday with the street closed to north-bound traffic between Swallow St and Hayes St.

The new Shepparton courthouse building was opened on Friday.

The feat of construction, which has narrowed our main street and stunningly changed our skyline, has finally been completed (well, the first stage, anyway).

A key feature of the design is a move away from traditional British and American court buildings, with intimidation and the power of the state at its centre, to a more functional design that can instil a sense of calm in those using it.

Witnesses can get to court rooms without having to pass the accused.

Groups of people in dispute can be kept apart from each other until the court is ready for proceedings. These elements seem so obvious you wonder why they were not part of the previous facilities.

Another aspect of the new Shepparton courthouse building is the aspect itself.

It is the first building of significant height in the city, and offers a unique view of the metropolitan area and the physical geography surrounding it.

What struck me was to be reminded just how the Strathbogie Ranges create a grey and blue circular rim to the south-east.

How the river red gum forests with their expanse of green eucalyptus foliage dominate the landscape to the immediate west.

We are such a flat region that apart from aviators and those who traipse to the top of the Telstra tower, few of us get to consider the view from above, and the fact we are a fertile river valley.

A stark contrast to the lofty feelings of panorama and city development is considering many of the people who find themselves before the court.

Many of us have made mistakes and most vow to move on with positivity and a sense of renewed obligation to society.

But as for those who appear before the court again and again — you can only guess at the combination of childhood neglect, failure to develop any sense of self-respect and appalling decision-making that has led them to continually transgress the rules and conventions of our society.

Part of you feels anger that they trash the reputation of a city many of us are trying to build, while wasting our taxpayer funds along the way.

Part of you feels compassion for the lot in life they may have been dealt and think ‘there but for the grace of God go I’.

You wonder if a significant adult interest somewhere in their childhood or teenage period could have altered the trajectory.

Of course, the court is not only for criminal matters, and there are many family and commercial disputes that will be dealt with in the new building.

But it may be a laudable, even if unrealistic, ambition for our society that the new courthouse be required less, and not more.

We can then use it mostly for admiring the beautiful part of the world we are lucky enough to live in.

Sam Birrell is chief executive of the Committee for Greater Shepparton.

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