From the Curator | National Mutual Building
On the corner of what came to be Sturt and Lydiard Streets was originally a 160 foot deep mine shaft known as ‘Bath’s Claim’. A former miner recollected that as men descended the shaft in slings they looked like “strings of onions going down a cellar.”
After the shaft was abandoned for more promising leads, a “handsome” but “deficient in height” building was erected in 1861. The building was owned by Joseph Benjamin and Abraham Rees, the goldsmiths, watch and clock makers.
Cobb & Co. coach company’s booking offices took up the corner tenancy, with such prominence that the building came to be known as ‘Cobb’s Corner’, even after Cobb & Co. vacated.
By the turn of the century, the corner tenancy was taken up by Marks & Co. jewellers. When the building was demolished in August 1904, unrealised rumours circulated that there would be “sundry finds of money and valuables” to be found underneath the floorboards of the former jewellers.
The foundation stone for the National Mutual Building was laid in November 1904, and finally opened on the 25th June 1906.
The building was designed by J.J. Clark, the architect who designed the Melbourne Treasury building at the rather precocious age of 19, and his son, E.J. Clark.
Despite being built in a Venetian Gothic style, the Ballarat Star notes that the “patriotic Australian will find that the company has, instead of going abroad for its material, used as far as possible the home product,” such as Stawell and white Sydney stone, and Harcourt granite. The building also boasted the first electric lift in Ballarat.
The terracotta dome that crowned the top of the building, made by the Mitcham Tessellated Tile Company, reportedly provided a “magnificent panoramic view of the whole of Ballarat”. The fate of the dome, and precisely when it disappeared, is a mystery much speculated upon.
Note: This image was one of a selection of images exhibited as, Rupture at the BMI as part of the Ballarat International Foto Biennale 2023 (curated by Ellen Becker).