Posted Jun 05, 2017
by: Isabella Newman
Innisfail is known for having an intact streetscape of Art Deco buildings in its CBD - one of the very few remaining in Australia. One of these Art Deco buildings is the Johnstone Shire Hall; situated on Rankin Street. The Johnstone Shire Hall was constructed in 1938 by the Van Leeuwen Brothers and designed by Messrs Hill and Taylor; prominent local architects working in North Queensland between the first and second World Wars. It was a larger building than anything envisaged at that point in time in Innisfail and remains a massive structure, not only dominating Rankin Street but making up a significant part of the landscape as you enter Innisfail, due to its location on the side of a hill with its four stories and fly tower.
The Johnstone Shire Hall is an excellent example of an intact regional public building with Art Deco detailing, featuring locally inspired motifs. The building has a distinctive, elaborate, symmetrical façade and is of the inter-war modernist style. The tall, complex parapet is divided into three bays with towers and art deco ornamental panels. The building also has a cantilever canopy with original art deco ornament. The first-floor balcony has a wrought iron balustrade and the hall has its original semi-circular arched street levels opening with art deco leadlight panels.
Over the years, the Johnstone Shire has had 4 Shire Halls on the site, 3 of which have burned to the ground. In 1918, a tropical cyclone ravaged Innisfail and left very few of the town's timber buildings standing. The AS Mellick building (also on Rankin Street) gave refuge to 200 people during the cyclone and stayed standing due to its reinforced concrete construction. This cyclone and the damage it caused influenced the future construction of buildings in the town, at a time when the Art Deco style was popular. This contributed greatly to how Innisfail developed as town, in which commercial buildings were almost exclusively built from reinforced concrete. The Council's initial estimate for the new Shire Hall building was £12,000. By the time the building was completed in late 1938, the cost had risen to £54,725, the equivalent these days of around $4.6million.
In March of 2006, Cyclone Larry devastated Innisfail and caused damage to the Shire Hall including damage to the roof, windows, awnings, plaster ceilings and external render. Consequently, the building has now been renovated and restored to its former glory.
The Johnstone Shire Hall is a landmark in Innisfail with its massive art deco façade dominating Rankin Street. It now services the Cassowary Coast as Council offices and a civic centre.
The prosperity of the region is reflected in the number, scale and style of many buildings constructed in the town during the 1920s and 1930s. Today, many of these buildings continue to make up a unique town centre containing an unusual collection of concrete buildings dating from this period.
This makes Innisfail well worth the visit.
The Cassoway Coast Regional Council are running free weekly guided tours of the Shire Hall every Tuesday at 10:30am between May and October.
Photo: Tropical Coast Tourism