Bundaberg Customs House symbolises early prosperity

Bundaberg Customs House
The Bundaberg Customs House was completed in 1902. Source: Picture Bundaberg

The Bundaberg Customs House is an iconic heritage-listed building which symbolises the region's prosperity and influence.

Following the establishment of sugarcane in the 1870s, the importance of Bundaberg was strengthened when it became the port for the Mount Perry copper mine, with a railway from Mount Perry to North Bundaberg constructed in 1884.

A rum distillery was established at Millaquin sugar mill in 1888, later known as the Bundaberg Rum Distillery.

Bundaberg also developed a foundry and engineering industry to support the sugar and juice mills, and the copper mines at Mount Perry.

The first local government, the Bundaberg Divisional Board, was gazetted in 1880. The Burnett River became a major port for the region's industries.

These developments led to calls for a Customs office to be established in Bundaberg so that businesses and farmers could import and export directly from the growing town.

There was no free trade between the colonies, and Queensland Customs at the time collected tariffs on goods from New South Wales and Victoria, as well as from overseas.

Designed by prominent Queensland Works Department Architect John Smith Murdoch and constructed in 1902 by Toowong contractor Charles Miller for a total cost of 4398 pounds, the Customs House was the second to be erected in Bundaberg; its scale and design reflecting the growth and prosperity.

The location of the new Customs building was heavily debated before the current site at 1 Barolin Street was suggested by the Bundaberg Chamber of Commerce.

A poll of the ratepayers was taken on 22 September 1900, unanimously supporting the current site.

The Commonwealth Bank acquired the building in 1921. The building has remained largely intact internally, but it has been subject to numerous external alterations over time that have removed some architectural features from the original building.

Today the building is utilised as the Bundaberg Regional Art Gallery and some people believe it's haunted.

After Australia federated the need for Customs diminished and the new national government sought to reduce the number of offices.

The Bundaberg service survived several attempts at closure, first being downsized in 1921.

In 1926, businesses rallied against a move to close Customs in Bundaberg, echoing today's call for an international port to enable exports.

A public meeting called by the Chamber of Commerce heard it would disadvantage the merchants and importers compared with those of Brisbane and other places.

“To close the Bundaberg Customs Office would render the conduct of large distributing businesses difficult and more expensive … accentuating the acknowledged evil of the centralisation policy which is not popular throughout this state,” a motion stated.