Until cyclone Yasi, the J. C. Hubinger Museum was the oldest remaining, intact building erected specifically for the birth of local government in Queensland’s north.
Built in 1892, it was an historic symbol of recycling and economic efficiency.
If you believe society has made remarkable progress over the past 120 years, consider this. The J. C. Hubinger Museum, substantially rebuilt since cyclone Yasi, was erected as Cardwell’s Town Hall in 1892 at a cost recorded as £228. Some reports put the bill at £273, but for this exercise let’s stick with £228.
According to our research, Australia adopted the British pound and used it as Australia’s currency in the 1800s, a practice that continued well into the 20th century, so that bill for Cardwell’s Town Hall, was 228 British pounds.
The National Archives in Britain conversion chart informs us that £228 (in Britain) in 1890 would have bought the equivalent of £13,655 (in the UK) in 2009. Using an exchange rate of $1 (Australian) equalling 62 British pence (£0.62), that converts to the equivalent of $22,135 (Australian). If the original Cardwell bill was £273, the equivalent cost today is still only around $26,500.
In other words, those Cardwell Town Hall builders of 1892 were either little short of remarkable in delivering value for money, or incredibly generous with their time. The insurance payout to partly rebuild the J. C. Hubinger Museum in 2012, including smaller repairs on surrounding heritage assets, approached $900,000, and that did not include the foundations or the significant internal concert stage which remain from the original 1800s building. So how did that wealth of productivity and efficiency of the late 19th century disappear over the last 120 years?
Some of the timber used to build the Town Hall of 1892 came from the former courthouse building next door, so a portion of the cost efficiencies achieved can be explained by recycling, a standard practice back then, although that’s surely well short of explaining the potential savings on today’s valuations.
It’s another good reason to remember our early pioneers, and salute their extraordinary and lasting achievements in an era long before the ease offered by today’s social, industrial and technical advances.
This is also a compelling argument why the J. C. Hubinger Museum, and its super-efficient construction history, should be publicly admired and preserved. We got the first 119 years for virtually nothing!