Whilst the current building dates to 1935, the site was used for court and justice services for 138 years.
Prior to a court house being built, the Resident Magistrate held sessions at the Oakley Inn on the east side of the Murray River. The Resident Magistrate provided banking and other government department representation, in addition to justice.
The First Court House
The first Court House was built in 1864 of brick and shingle, next to the police station, on the land formerly occupied by the military barracks. The building also featured a verandah and a reportedly beautiful garden that was tended to by the prisoners held in the lockup in the police station.
By the early twentieth century the first Court House was falling into disrepair. When the new school opened in 1921, court services were transferred to the Old School House in Henry Street. The first Court House was demolished in about 1925 with a new building planned to be built soon after. However, the Depression severely reduced state funds and any plan to build a new court house was shelved.
By the mid-1930s the economy was recovering and the State Government commissioned the building of the second Court House.
The main types of cases heard at the Court House included all the standard- traffic, illegal betting and petty crimes, but also a high proportion of fishing offences. This was not so unusual given that Pinjarra was located on the Murray River and included the Peel-Harvey Estuary, and that there was a successful fishing industry at the time.
Murder in the West Murray
The court house was not equipped to hear serious cases – though inquests were held before sending the accused to Fremantle or Perth for trial and sentencing. An inquiry was held at the Pinjarra court house in 1908 into the murder of James Henry Shaw at his home in West Murray (now known as the Yunderup and Delta Island area).
Mr Shaw and his family had settled to West Murray the year prior. Mr Shaw entered into a joint fishing and gardening business partnership with a Japanese man, Mr Oki Iwakichi. The business was not successful and Mr Shaw travelled away to find work, leaving Mr Iwakichi to support the Shaw family. Mrs Shaw soon gave birth to twins, fathered by Iwakichi. Mr Shaw returned to dissolve the business partnership and move his family to Perth, away from Iwakichi.
It is reported that Iwakichi started to act strangely with a gun. The Shaws attempted to restrain the man by tying him up- but a fight broke out and the gun was fired, wounding Mr Shaw.
Iwakichi fled the house by boat, leaving the eldest Shaw boy to swim across the river to find help. Help arrived too late with Mr Shaw found dead.
A group of police and settlers formed to track down the fugitive. Iwakichi was caught several days later at another house in the Delta Islands.
During the inquest held October 1908 at the Pinjarra Court House it was revealed that Iwakichi had been poorly treated by the Shaw family and was also suicidal. There was some evidence suggesting that the gun was discharged accidentally with Iwakichi threatening to take his own life. In spite of this, the jury determined that Oki Iwakichi was guilty of the wilful murder of James Shaw. Oki Iwakichi was hanged two weeks later in Fremantle.
Closure of the Court House
The State Government initially sought to close the Court House in 1998, but strong lobbying from the Shire and wider community prevented its closure. There was a great deal of ill-feeling and resentment from the local community as many government services were being diminished or withdrawn altogether, and being relocated to Mandurah.
The Court House was finally closed in 2002, despite the very vocal objections from the community. All local matters are now dealt with in the Mandurah Court House.
The building then underwent conservation works and passed on to the National Trust. The building is currently used by the Shire to provide Ranger Services.