Residents of the small south-west Victorian town of Dartmoor are up in arms over the “theft” of their historic former police station.
- The original 1890s Dartmoor police station has been relocated by truck. Only one half of the building was initially taken
- Glenelg Shire Council issued a cease-works notice to Victoria Police but the rest of the building was relocated in the early ours of Tuesday morning
- Victoria Police say the building has not been sold and are working with council to find a “community-based” solution
The heritage-listed building was relocated by Victoria Police despite of a council order demanding works be stopped due to a lack of appropriate permits.
Built in 1892, the former police station was the subject of a community campaign in the early 2000s to save it from demolition.
But about two weeks ago, residents noticed contractors were working at the empty building, which was located next to the new police station built in 2009.
Half of the building was put on a truck and taken to a residential block on the fringes of Port Fairy, just over 100 kilometres away.
The heritage-listed former Dartmoor police station has been moved about 100km to a residential area in Port Fairy. (ABC South West Victoria: Matt Neal)
No permits issued
Dartmoor District Museum proprietor, Michael Greenham, said he and other residents assumed the Department of Justice had “managed to rescind [the] heritage overlays … so that whatever they were doing was above board”.
But the bush telegraph started to suggest things were not above board, and Mr Greenham contacted Glenelg Shire Council.
A Glenelg Shire Council representative told Mr Greenham on Friday, June 7 that shire officers had left a message with the contractors and spoke with Victoria Police to issue a formal cease-works notice.
No permits had been issued for the heritage-listed building to be removed.
However when Dartmoor residents woke on Tuesday, June 11 the remaining half of the police station had also gone.
“It seems like it was either deliberate or ignorance,” Mr Greenham said.
“To have it quietly disappear — and the second half went before light early on Tuesday morning — it seemed a little bit too deliberate.”
Police put their case
Victoria Police is understood to have lodged a retrospective permit application, according to Glenelg Shire Council.
A police spokesperson said it did not receive a cease-work notice from the council.
“The old police station has not been sold, however it was recently relocated to a rural property in Western Victoria,” the spokesperson said.
“This was approved based on a 2009 report which stated that no planning overlays were in place for the site.”
The police spokesperson said that Victoria Police was actively working with the council to “mediate a community-based solution”.
The former police station and its nearby lock-up and stables, which remain on the block, were gazetted by Heritage Victoria in 2014.
The heritage organisation’s report described the former police station as:
“Architecturally significant at a local level as an intact police complex of the early 1890s … [and] historically significant at a local level as a demonstration of police practices in the remote parts of Victoria in the late nineteenth century.”
‘A bit of subterfuge’
Mr Greenham said the empty building “was always a bit of burden” for Victoria Police.
“Their main role isn’t to look after heritage buildings,” he said.
“They’ve got to man the streets and keep us safe.”
A watercolour painting of the former police station by artist David Williams in 2004. (Supplied: Michael Greenham)
But Mr Greenham described the “theft” of the historic police station as “a little bit of subterfuge”.
“I reckon if I did something like that then Victoria Police would be down on me like a tonne of the demolished chimney bricks that are still sitting on site,” he said.
“It would indicate they didn’t want to go through that public process because they might have encountered some opposition to their plans.
“We could have easily come up with other alternatives; relocating it within the town, offering for public display somewhere else within our police district.”