Construction began on the Patent Office on the corner of National Circuit and King’s Avenue in 1939 and was completed in 1941. It is classified by the National Trust of Australia as ‘a significant public building for its time which contributes strongly to the King’s Avenue streetscape and forms an important contribution to the group of Canberra buildings termed, ‘Federal Style Architecture”.
The sandstone-faced building looks fairly staid from the outside, but it’s interior holds clues to its rich history. When the PM of the day Robert Menzies attended the opening ceremony, the Patent Office included a staff recreation room at roof level, which at one stage was extended to include a timber dance floor.
The building was very modern for its time and was crammed with high tech gear including ‘photostat’ equipment and dark rooms that were used by other Australian Government Departments. Despite this, there were problems finding enough oil to keep the heating system going during the wartime years and it was freezing.
Until 1963 the Supreme Court was housed on the ground floor of the building. It had a courtroom, a jury retiring room, rooms for judges and associates and even a small, dark cell to hold prisoners. All these things were removed during renovations in 1980, except for the cell, which remains behind a steel studded door in the basement.
The most famous of the prisoners held there were Frank Browne and newspaper proprietor Raymond Fitzpatrick who were charged before the House of Representatives with a breach of parliamentary privilege. More on them next week.
An interesting bit of trivia – the horrible concrete annex that was added to the building may be demolished when the Attorney-General’s Department moves out and into their new building at number 3 National Circuit next year – restoring the Patent Office to its original glory.