The old community hall 3



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They are there in most Australian towns. Old memorial halls honouring memories, an often lonely reminder of locals who never returned from the Grand Adventures. In smaller towns and areas they served as a constant reminder of the cost families paid. Such is the hall at Beazleys Bridge – a fly speck of a place in rural Victoria, about 12 kilometres from a place called St. Arnaud, which is a town 244 kilometres north west of Melbourne.

It has a bridge and a community hall. At some stage, back in the day, it had a sawmill, creamery and school. Now it only has the hall and bridge. The bush is nearby. It’s not the dense green bush of the mountains that can snatch the life of those who are lost, but the drabness of the dust brown wheat and sheep country.

There are four pillars standing guard at the hall — the gates and fences have long since disappeared — each of the pillars carries the names of those from the district who answered the call and never returned. The names cover the two world wars and have been gathering there since the hall was built in 1937. The inscription reads: “They sleep among the honoured dead their duty nobly done.” It was carved at a time when the world had a different view of conflict. Cars pass it every day. No one stops. No one goes there on ANZAC Day. There’ll be no Dawn Service, no flowers, no one will visit the names.

As in many parts of rural Australia, these halls mark the memories of local sons, fathers, cousins who went away. Back in the day, these halls reminded us of those who served, as well as fulfilling the role of district centre, the local heart. This was where newcomers to the district were welcomed and others were farewelled; where engagements, weddings and births were celebrated with a knock-about band and a keg out the back, and on Sunday, once a month, the local Minister came out and performed a religious service in the heat and dust.

At any function aside from the Sunday Church, you would find the men out the back around the keg during the hot summer and around a blazing fire on cold winters nights, while the younger and more optimistic women waited inside for their partners. A second group of women, older and much wiser in the ways of such functions, were inside too, preparing the supper in the kitchen and swapping recipes and gossip while we kids slid up and down the floor which had been polished with a combination of sawdust and kerosene.

It was where mothers taught their sons social graces, the waltz and the Pride of Erin (an ever popular for debutantes) and as you got older, fathers introduced you to cold beer and the company of men. They were shearers and farmers who frequented the hall; workers and jacks-of-all-trades who gathered to talk about the weather and wisely and knowingly talk about crops and harvests.

Standing shoulder to shoulder with these men moved you from boyhood to a wannabe man; a rite of passage tacitly supported by fathers and frowned upon by mothers. The hall was an important part of your journey — marking various stages of your initiation into the mysteries of men talk.

Sometimes, as they stood draining what was left in the keg, you would go to the pillars and slowly run your fingers through the grooves, tracing the names of the fallen. I did not know them — but they were part of the local folklore, part of local history. In many rural communities, just as at Beazleys Bridge, families were then, and are now and forever will be, haunted by a photograph on the mantelpiece: that honoured, iconic, faded photo of sons, husbands and brothers.

Do you have a community hall in your area?

Ross McSwain

Ross McSwain is a journalist and communications professional of 30 years experience. He left rural Victoria at a time when the men drank beer in the front bar, women drank shandies in the ladies' lounge, toffs drank spirits, and urbane wannabes drank wine. He has worked across most areas of journalism, print, television and as a media advisor to various politicians and corporate leaders.

  1. Oxley Island community hall is over 100 years old and was built with collected money from the local people. Built at the cost of 168 pounds. The hall still belongs to the people and we have a committee of dedicated folk who take care of it’s upkeep. We recently repaired the pressed tin ceiling at a cost of $8000, and had the place repainted for $10000. these funds were raised from grants and various events held at the hall.
    It is hired out for parties and funerals, school events, voting and recently we held The Cancer Council’s Biggest Morning Tea and raised $867.10 for this worthy cause. A fine effort from our small community.
    We volunteers are getting older all the time and we are worried that the younger ones are not so interested in helping out. Most young families these days have two working parents, so it is the retired oldies, or farmers like ourselves who shoulder most of the work.
    However, we love our hall, so it is all worth it.

  2. Oh Ross you stirred my memory so much. I come from the country but now live in a city. A few weeks ago I decided to visit my hometown and attend a Blast from the Past gathering in a hall that in the 40s, 50, and 60s I used to attend balls in at Sherwood on the mid north coast. Blast from the Past are a group who live or used to live in the Macleay area. We chat on Facebook and every few months the locals meet for a sing-a-long and dance. Sherwood is very fortunate in that the hall was built on a farmers land and inherited by generations. This latest generation decided to give the Old Girl a facelift with a new roof and are working on raising enough money to paint it. A group of men, well in their late 70s , provided the dance music and it was wonderful to see the grandparents teaching their grandchildren the Pride of Erin and the Progressive Barn dance! What a wonderful way for young people to mix with us oldies. This hall had one of the best floors in the area when I used to attend balls there and the Supper/luncheon has not changed – beautiful and fresh and all home made – oh it was to die for!

  3. We have a wonderful Community Hall here at Shannons Flat. Along with the RFS Shed it is ‘the town’ with farms and lifestyle blocks being the community.
    The Hall was built with community donations and with community assistance on land donated by a local farmer and continues to rely on volunteer labour and donations. It’s opening in 1946 was planned so as to coincide with the return of local servicemen from WWII and for many years it was used by local school children for activities that could not be held in the one room school adjacent to the Hall – the school is long gone.
    In the past five years a small committee has been formed and is working hard to bring life back to our Hall. The Christmas Party has been resurrected and dances are held twice a year. Attendance at these events has been marvellous – neighbours who never see each other catch up on the news and newcomers get to meet the old-timers. Other smaller events are held throughout the year and this year, being the 70th birthday of the Hall, a fantastic celebration was held with families who had moved from the area when part of the rural holdings were taken over by National Parks, returned to join with the current community.
    The committee has been fortunate to receive some small grants that have gone a long way to restoring the Hall and installing some modern day facilities – unfortunately the toilets are still ‘long-drops’ but are well looked after.
    This Hall like many throughout the country plays an important role in the community, especially for those that do not have a town, as such. It is a social centre, gathering place and welcoming beacon to passers by and newcomers.

    Where would us rural folk be without our Halls??

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