by Gary Warner
One of Geraldton's oldest and most recognisable buildings has a colourful and varied history. The Residency, in Marine Terrace, was built in 1861 as a residence for the newly appointed Resident Magistrate of the Victoria District, Charles Symmons, who had complained of "having no settled domicile or rather establishment of my own".

Designed by James Manning of the Royal Engineers, it was constructed by Mr. S.E Masters for the tender price of £1,413/15/- using stone and lime supplied by the Colonial Government. Timbers and fittings were delivered by boat from Fremantle and unloaded on the beach (which was much closer before the wharf was built in 1930).

Laborers were brought from Fremantle by Masters for the project and convicts also worked on it, quarrying stone and making lime. A broad arrow motif in the stone on the south-west of the building is attributed to them. It was completed in 1862 and accommodated a succession of Residential Magistrates until the early 1900s, when the magistrate of the day sought more modern accommodation.

By 1919 a number of community members and groups were actively pursuing the idea of turning the Residency into a maternity hospital. Expectant mothers of that era, particularly those from outlying areas able to come to Geraldton for the birth, were usually accommodated by midwives who operated boarding facilities in their homes.

Transferred to the Geraldton Maternity Home Committee, interest free money to help establish the hospital was loaned by Mrs Milla Sharp, of Wooleen Station, and the entire community embarked on a vigorous fundraising exercise. For at least 12 months, public appeals were mounted as far afield as Dongara, Northampton and Nabawa. Those appeals raised £1200 ($2400) which was a significant amount for the time.

July 26, 1925 was a big day for expectant mums when the Geraldton and Districts Maternity Hospital was officially opened by the Governor of Western Australia, Sir William Campion and it became a vital part of the region's health system until 1962 when Geraldton Regional Hospital was built.

The residency remained empty for five years. Leased to the Town of Geraldton in 1967, the Residency entered its third lease on life as Geraldton Community Centre, providing recreation for seniors and a base for `Meals on Wheels'.

Although several alterations had been made over the years, its continuing heritage value was recognised in 1970 when it was listed by the National Trust. A fourth life began for the old building in 1982 when it was handed over to the Geraldton Cultural Trust for use as an arts and crafts centre.

So it continues today, a significant landmark of Geraldton's early history, with its importance recognised yet again by a heritage assessment that was completed in 1997.

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