The first sitting of the Bunyip Court was held on March 15, 1905. The bench consisted of Mr Cresswell, the Presiding Magistrate, and two Justices of the Peace, Ramage and A'Beckett. The first case concerned Myrtle Morris who was charged with having no visible means of support. Myrtle was remanded to Prahran for a further hearing. The second case involved a twelve year old, John Mannix, who was charged with endangering property by setting fire to some scrub, which destroyed gates and fences. He was released into the care of his father who entered a recognizance for the boy's future good behaviour. This article shows how the legal system has changed (for better or worse depending on your view point) as a 12 year old would never have his name mentioned in relation to a legal trial today.
In another case heard on March 16, 1910 before Presiding Magistrate Harris and JPs A’Beckett and Pearson, George Nicklen of Iona was charged with inflicting grievous bodily harm on his 15 year old niece, Elizabeth Bidwell. The report in the South Bourke and Morning Journal said that he was in the habit of beating the girl unmercifully and the case had been brought under the notice of the Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Children. In her evidence, Lizzie Bidwell said her uncle had chained her to a bed for days at a time and he had threatened to hang her with a rope. In the end the poor girl ran away to neighbours who took her to the doctor. Nicklen denied giving the girl more than she needed and was fined £10.00, plus costs or three months in gaol. Ironically, on the same day the Court fined a man £8.00 for stealing four heifers or three months in gaol, if he didn’t pay. I don’t know what happened to poor Lizzie Bidwell but it’s sad to think that the Court valued her suffering at about the same rate as the theft of four cows.
The Bunyip Free Press of January 15, 1914 reported that the court was crowded when four cases of sly grog selling were launched against an aged Assyrian with the very Anglicised name of John Ellis. Ellis was represented by Mr M. Davine and had brought his own interpreter as he didn’t speak English. A Revenue Detective, Joseph Blake, had been working undercover in the area and he had visited Ellis on a number of occasions as Ellis had a little shop, with general stock; Ellis also did hair cutting. Blake alleged that Ellis sold him alcohol, Ellis denied this. Patrick McGrath, who leased the house to Ellis and had known him for nine years, called Ellis one of the best and straightest men on the Swamp. Mr Davine presented evidence that Joseph Blake was a professional liar and an informer. In the end, the case was dismissed with the payment of costs; the Presiding Magistrate said we will give Ellis the benefit of the doubt if he will pay costs. The costs were just over £17.00 but were reduced to £15.00 after some haggling; a report a few months later said the costs had been paid. There was a similar outcome a few months later when Frederick Carpenter was charged with conducting a gambling house in Garfield. The charges were withdrawn on the condition that he paid the Crown’s cost of £15.00.
There are reports of cases in the Court up to the 1950s and they cover the whole range of legal matters from a committal trial for murder, theft, assault, traffic matters, debts and failure to send a child to school - in 1914 there was a spate of these and the recalcitrant parents were fined five shillings or 48 hours in the lock up. I presume that the Court met at the Bunyip Hall, so I would be interested to know if that was the case. According to the State Government Gazette the Bunyip Court closed on May 1, 1981. The announcement stated that the books and other records of the said Court and of the Clerk thereof be delivered to the Clerk of the Warragul Magistrate’s Court. My parents have no memory of the Court at all, in spite of the fact that Dad has been at Cora Lynn for all his 85 years and Mum has been there since she was married 63 years ago, so perhaps it wasn’t used very often after the Second World War. The last case I could find in the papers was from May 1953 when the Dandenong Journal reported that Berwick and Cranbourne Shire rate payers will be pleased at the success Health Inspector K. N. McLennan is having in his war against roadside rubbish dumpers. Mr McLennan successfully prosecuted at the Bunyip Court, J. Lyon, grocer, of Boronia, fined £3, with £3/6/6 costs, for depositing rubbish on the Princes Highway near Tynong. He also had four cases at the Pakenham Court. (Dandenong Journal, May 6, 1953)