4 October 2022

'Queen of Queanbeyan' honoured in $10 million upgrade to courthouse

| James Coleman
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Nellie Hamilton

‘Queen’ Nellie Hamilton. Photo: Hall School Museum.

She was born in Ginninderra on the ACT’s northernmost border 180 years ago but is better remembered for her impact on the greater Queanbeyan area, where she was adopted as the ‘Queen of Queanbeyan’.

Today, ‘Queen’ Nellie Hamilton is honoured with a room in the Queanbeyan Courthouse. ‘Nellie’s Room’ is designed to keep victims of domestic or sexual violence from having to face their alleged attackers when testifying.

The space has just shared in a large chunk of $10 million worth of upgrades to the local justice facilities.

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The Queanbeyan Courthouse, on the corner of Monaro and Lowe streets, is one of NSW’s busiest regional courthouses, finalising more than 2200 matters last year alone. The upgrade is the largest since construction nearly half a century ago.

The NSW Government initially planned a knockdown and rebuild, but community feedback pushed them down the path of a complete upgrade instead. Work began in early 2020.

Former NSW deputy premier John Barilaro said this would bring the facilities up to speed “with modern crimes, cases and situations”.

Millions of dollars and two years later, and the new facade now complements the adjacent $31 million police station, which opened last year.

Queanbeyan Courthouse

The Queanbeyan Courthouse, prior to renovations. Photo: Wikimedia.

But Member for Monaro Nichole Overall described the finished product as “more than just aesthetics”.

The upgrades include an additional courtroom, new remote witness room, new conference rooms, solar-energy system, new air-conditioning, new CCTV cameras, and greater audio-visual capacity.

“There have also been significant upgrades to the registry for court staff and the courthouse now has a dedicated assembly room for members of the public called for jury service,” Mrs Overall said.

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Nellie’s Room also received a major transformation.

This is a seperate room designed so vulnerable witnesses don’t have to come in contact with, or testify in front of, an alleged abuser or their family members.

Attorney General Mark Speakman said this is an experience which can “re-traumatise and exacerbate the stress of testifying”.

“We’ve increased the footprint of Nellie’s Room to include a new kitchen, a bathroom with baby change facilities and a new remote witness room with state-of-the-art audio-visual link (AVL) facilities,” Mr Speakman said.

Mark Speakman and Nichole Overall

NSW Attorney General Mark Speakman and Member for Monaro Nichole Overall, at the Queanbeyan Courthouse. Photo: Chris Beckhouse.

In this case, the ‘Queen’ was a Ngambri/Ngunnawal woman who grew up to become an icon of the Capital region’s history.

She is described as highly intelligent and articulate (including in English) and a frank advocate on behalf of her people.

She had four husbands over her lifetime, starting with Hamilton Hume (yes, of explorer fame). Nellie took his surname and the couple had a daughter together, later known as ‘Queen Lucy’.

Nellie moved from Ginninderra to the Queanbeyan area after the death of her second husband, Bobby. By the late 1870s, she appears to have then moved to the Braidwood area. Her last two husbands, Parson Williams and ‘King Billy’, were both from that area.

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King Billy, or Jimmy Clements, was a Wiradjuri man known for walking nearly a week from near Gundagai to attend the opening of Old Parliament House in 1927, only to be told by police to move on due to his attire. The crowd insisted he stay, however, and he became among those presented to the Duke and Duchess of York. His actions are the first recorded Aboriginal protest at Parliament.

In 1888, the Queanbeyan Council applied to the ‘Aboriginal Protection Board’ to have Nellie’s leadership as a Ngunnawal elder recognised through the awarding of a brass breastplate. The application was successful and Nellie took on the moniker as ‘Queen’. She was one of the dignitaries invited to the opening of the Tharwa Bridge in March 1895.

She died on New Year’s Day, 1897, at Queanbeyan Hospital and is buried in the Queanbeyan Riverside Cemetery.

Today, not only is there the room in Queanbeyan Courthouse, but Nellie Hamilton Avenue in Gungahlin also bears her name.

Original Article published by James Coleman on Riotact.

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