Pictured: This Crown St building, owned by Wollongong Alderman McDonald, was at the centre of a local government stoush when it was leased as a council chamber and free library in 1878. Credit: From the collections of the WOLLONGONG CITY LIBRARY and the ILLAWARRA HISTORICAL SOCIETY
A dispute between the Mayor of Wollongong and his fellow aldermen in November 1878 resulted in the extraordinary situation of the civic leader holding court with the Town Clerk on one side of Crown St while the rest of council operated on the other.
The trouble started when Mayor George Osborne gave notice to the owner of the building in which the council and Free Library operated, that the lease would be quit and the tender readvertised.
Peculiarly, he did this without first notifying the council. With the decision made, however, the council had no choice but to call for tenders, the winner being announced as Wollongong Alderman McDonald, who owned a building directly across the street.
But when the time came to have the council's furniture and library books relocated, the labourers arrived to find a notice on door, warning that, "Pending the opinion of the Attorney-General … all persons are hereby cautioned against removing any of the council's property from this building until further notice. By order of the Mayor."
The aldermen, angry that the Mayor had landed them in this predicament, retaliated by removing the furniture in the dead of night.
The farce continued at the next meeting of the council, when the Mayor and Town Clerk William Osborne attended the old chamber and the remaining aldermen mustered in the new room. Within 30 minutes, "both parties retired from their respective positions without any meeting taking place", the Mercury said.
Fed up with the situation, several prominent citizens called a public meeting and asked the council to account for itself.
Mayor Osborne said he opposed the new chambers because Ald McDonald refused to sign a lease agreement. Ald McDonald said he refused on principle because council had not asked previous lessees to sign such an agreement.
Six weeks later the deadlock continued, bringing council business to a halt and leaving contractors and labourers unpaid in the days leading up to Christmas. When a council meeting was called to resolve the wages issue, it lapsed because a venue could not be agreed upon. Concerned that the council was about to become "defunct", a deputation met with the Mayor in the New Year of 1879 and issued an ultimatum: either meet with the aldermen in the new chamber, or resign as mayor.
The deputation said they did not desire him to sacrifice his principles, only that he "waive his opinion in the interests of the borough".
Within hours, Mayor Osborne instructed the Clerk to call a meeting of the council in the new chamber at which he would enter his protest, before resuming business "in the ordinary way".
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