Licensing Court 1920 hearings

From Hotels of Ballarat

In March 1920 the Licensing Court began a series of hearings into closing a number of hotels in Ballarat and district.

Background[edit | edit source]

The hearings were part of the process of reducing the number of hotels in Victoria. Through community consultation, and Local Option polls, the License Reduction Board had come up with a formula which allowed for a certain number of hotel per head of population. Beginning in 1888 the board had slowly reduced the number of hotels by cancelling the licenses of those which were deemed as not being necessary. Licensees and owners were paid compensation for being forced to close, the amount being based on the size of the trade, and the commercial value of the building if not used as a hotel.

The hearings[edit | edit source]

The first hearing began at the Supreme Court in Ballarat, in March 1920.

LICENCES REDUCTION BOARD. BALLARAT DEPRIVATION SITTINGS.The Licenses Reduction Board commenced sittings at the Ballarat Supreme Court building yesterday, to take evidence in connection with hotels in the Ballarat and surrounding districts which the police had listed as not being required. The members of the board were Messrs Barr (chairman), Lock and Graham. The Chairman said that in Ballarat East there were 33 hotels, 8 of which had been listed, and the board had power to close 8 ; in Ballarat West there were 47 existing hotels, 16 of which had been listed, and 11 could be closed; in the Dowling Forest district there, were 9 hotels in existence, 4 of which had been listed, and 2 could be closed; in Sebastopol there were 9 hotels in existence, 3 of which had been listed, and 2 could be closed. The board would have jurisdiction to close 23 hotels but it was not anticipated that they would go as far as that. Mr Pearson —I would like to say something to the board about the general condition of affairs in this district. It was said some time ago that Ballarat was a decaying town. The Chairman—We have asked the licensing inspector to prepare a summary showing the whole of the hotels in Ballarat East and West, their accommodation, and the extent to which this accommodation is used. Mr Pearson —I will address you later for the purpose of showing the general rise in the prosperity of this district that has undoubtedly taken place. Licensing Inspector Robinson deposed that if it was essential that hotels must be closed, those in the list should in his opinion, be closed first. Mr Pearson—You do not suggest a sweeping closure of all these places, do you?—No. What do you think of the prosperity of Ballarat?—l think Ballarat is on the improve. Do you think the proposed sewerage will add to the prosperity of the place? —I think so. It certainly is a step in the right direction.[1]

The Ballarat Star reported on some of the "discussions and debates" which took place during the hearings:

Many a witness steps airily and jauntily into the witness-box before the Licenses' Reduction Board, and proceeds to give his special reasons why his own particular “pub” should not be swept into oblivion. But let him beware of generalities, or of statements which he cannot prove up to the hilt. They are “wily birds,’’ these members of the board, and not to be caught with chaff. They are skilled debaters, too, and when they see a flaw in a witness’s armor they proceed good-naturedly, but nevertheless trenchantly, to drive the sword of logic so vigorously through his inefficient cuirass, that it is soon made to look like a badly damaged colander. They are pleasant gentlemen, too, are Messrs Barr, Lock, and Graham, with a turn for repartee and a liking for a witty allusion, but all the time with the magisterial eye fixed on the duty imposed upon them by the Legislature. A witness yesterday, who stated as a fact unassailable, and not to be denied premise or axiom, that there should not be a hotel in the City or Town closed, found himself within a minute engaged in a life or death duel of debate with Mr Locke, who in a few moments of cut and thrust had the witness’s argument torn into shreds. Not that there was not a great deal of truth in the contention of the witness, who is a man well versed in the affairs of the City. He argued from the point of view that whenever there is any gathering of importance in Ballarat, hotel accommodation is over taxed —a fairly reasonable statement. The trouble with him was that he did not present his facts in logical order and relation before the board with the result that, to use a sporting phrase, “he was a gift” to the sternly logical Mr. Lock. That the latter enjoyed the debate was evident from the fact that at the termination of the sittings he invited witness to again make himself heard, should he gain any new facts which he might desire to bring before the board. It was like a skilled boxer inviting a new chum at the game to come up for another ‘‘hiding,” and it is hardly likely that the witness, who accepted his defeat yesterday with characteristic geniality, will accept the overture for another “round.”[2]

The Dowling Forest vs Sebastopol problem[edit | edit source]

In February 1921 problems were shown when the boundaries of two licensing districts created conflict:

HOW LOCAL OPTION WORKS. A PUZZLE AT BALLARAT. BALLARAT.— The deprivation sittings of Licencing Court were continued on Thursday, when further evidence was given in regard to the six hotels in Sebastopol licensing area, one of which it is proposed to close in accordance with the result of the local option poll taken in conjunction with the last State elections. The Sebastopol licensing district declared in favor of reduction. Evidence was given respecting the public utility, accommodation and situation of each of the six hotels. The court also gave reconsideration to the case of the Black Hill Hotel on the Carngham-road, in the Dowling Forest division, the licence of which was cancelled at the annual meeting of the Licences Reduction Board in March last. The members of the court paid visits of inspection during the day to the Ballarat and Grenville Hotel, Smythesdale-road, and to the Black Hill Hotel, as their determination would mainly rest on what was done with either of those houses. On the court resuming, the chairman, Mr. R. Burr, announced that it had been decided that the Ballarat and Grenville Hotel was the weaker house, and it would therefore be closed at the end of the present year. The situation as regarded these two hotels was peculiar. The Ballarat and Grenville Hotel was in the Sebastopol district, while the Black Hill Hotel, only a mile away, was in the Dowling Forest area. There were consequently two issues. One was between these two rival hotels and the other as to the reduction in the Sebastopol district itself. If the Ballarat and Grenville Hotel were allowed to remain open, one of the other two hotels in Sebastopol proper would have to be closed, and also the Black Hill Hotel, in the Dowling Forest district. The closing of the Ballarat and Grenville Hotel, however, satisfied the demands of both licensing districts. In regard to the Black Hill Hotel, the court, on reconsidering the evidence given in March last and hearing fresh testimony on Thursday, decided to renew the licence.[3]

Hotels reviewed[edit | edit source]

The following hotels had their licenses reviewed during the board hearings:

Decisions[edit | edit source]

The results of the Reduction Board hearings were reported on 1 April 1920:

As a result of the decision of the Licenses Reduction Board, eleven Ballarat and district hotels, many of them old landmarks, are to close at the end of the present year. The board, at its recent deprivation sittings, had jurisdiction to close 23 of the 33 hotels listed by the Licensing Inspector, and it decided to delicense those houses which did not give much accommodation to the public. Four hotels in the Ballarat East district, four in Ballarat West district, two in Sebastopol, and one in the Learmonth licensing district are to close. There were two surprise closings—the Bridge Hotel, in Bridge street, Ballarat East, and Beacham's Hotel, in Grant street, Ballarat East. The evidence given during the deprivation sittings of the board with regard to the progress of Ballarat North, and the extension of industrial activities, saved the hotels in that area. Later in the year—probably in September—the (board will return to Ballarat, for the purpose of hearing compensation claims by owners and licensees of the hotels which are to close.[4]

References[edit | edit source]

  1. 1920 'LICENCES REDUCTION BOARD.', The Ballarat Star (Vic. : 1865 - 1924), 17 March, p. 4. , viewed 16 Jun 2019,
  2. 1920 'SKILLED AND EXPERIENCED DEBATERS.', The Ballarat Star (Vic. : 1865 - 1924), 18 March, p. 4. , viewed 16 Jun 2019,
  3. 1921 'HOW LOCAL OPTION WORKS.', The Age (Melbourne, Vic. : 1854 - 1954), 4 February, p. 9. , viewed 16 Jan 2020,
  4. 1920 'meteorological.', The Ballarat Star (Vic. : 1865 - 1924), 1 April, p. 4. , viewed 18 Jun 2019,