One of the oldest brick buildings in the goldfields region and a direct link to the creation of The Courier faces demolition after it was condemned as unsafe by the Central Goldfields Shire Council .
The former Talbot Leader building in Scandinavian Crescent, Talbot was built in the late 1850s and is a rare existing example of a pilastered, or columned, single-storey, free-standing commercial brick building of the gold rush era.
The Leader was one of the earliest newspapers in the Victorian colony and was established by Robert Clark and Edward J. Bateman in 1860, seven years before they loaded their press onto a bullock dray and headed on a long dusty journey to Ballarat to start The Courier.
It was bought by Alexander (Alex) McKinley and his brother in 1869, who later went on to own Melbourne Punch. The newspaper had a reputation for thoroughness and was often used as a source of news by larger periodicals in Melbourne, Geelong and interstate.
Local historian Marie Kau says the loss of the building would be significant for the town and the region.
"It wasn't the original home of the Leader. That was the other side of the street in-between what was the corner shop and the rest of the block. A fire ripped through in 1906 and burned everything down.
"But they still pushed on and produced the next edition of the Leader about three or four weeks later. This building was the one they were in when the newspaper folded in 1948."
The life span of the Talbot Leader stands in contrast to many of the small papers which flowered in the rush to the goldfields, and has another important link to the history of communications in the state, says Ms Kau.
"The goldfields had lots and lots of small papers, most of them didn't last as long as the Leader," Ms Kau says.
"What happened to begin with was Bateman set up an advertising sheet, and so did Clark. They both admired each other's work and decided to get together and put out one which was admirable cooperation, because obviously there was not a lot of room for huge amounts of competition. So that's how the Leader started.
"The newspaper took advantage of the telegraph coming to Talbot in 1861, a year after the paper's establishment. That assisted the Leader with providing timely news, making it widely read."
Ms Kau says the loss of the building would be a disaster.
"How is it going to look if Central Goldfields Shire, a participant in a bid for World Heritage status, knocks down an 1860s building, two doors down from the heart of Talbot, where the state and and federal governments already invested money significantly into the restoration of two seemingly hopeless buildings?" said Ms Kau.
Central Goldfields Shire mayor and local ward councillor Chris Meddows-Taylor acknowledged the desire of many in his community to see the Talbot Leader building preserved.
Mr Meddows-Taylor called on the Victorian and Commonwealth Government to implement funding streams allowing unique Gold rush-built heritage to be better preserved for the future generations by enabling the purchase, restoration and sustainable reuse of significant heritage buildings, especially at a time where significant resources are being invested in regional Covid recovery.
" Unfortunately some of the country's richest built heritage are in small rural municipalities which simply have no capacity to explore sustainable reuse options" Cr Meddows-Taylor said.
"The attraction of sustainable reuse is that it can enable these wonderful heritage buildings to pay their way in the future but there needs to be be a funded support process to enable this".
In a statement issued on Thursday, Central Goldfields Shire said it had "a responsibility to the community to ensure the built environment is safe for use and/or occupation."
"This includes investigating buildings that may pose a safety risk to the community due to the dilapidated condition of the structures.
"Under the Building Act 1993, the Municipal Building Surveyor can issue an Emergency Order and/or Building Order on the building owners if there is a demonstrated risk to the health, life or safety to occupants or the public. These orders override heritage controls, which means a planning permit is not required for repairs or demolition.
"Council has issued orders for two properties in the Shire, which are privately owned. These properties have been known to Council for a number of years and although efforts to repair and remediate the buildings have been undertaken previously, the structures are still deemed a safety risk.
"The intention of all orders under the Act, and therefore works carried out under the orders, is to make the building, the site and the immediate surrounds safe for use by occupants or the public. In some instances, this means a demolition of the heritage place may be required.
"Council acknowledges the loss of historical and heritage buildings is disappointing for the community and is committed to protecting and preserving historical buildings."