those old church halls …


 … I love old halls – school halls, town halls, church halls, theatres, old cinemas …  Here,  a mash up of thoughts about these places, what they do, how they look, how they protect,  and what they can come to mean to the communities they serve …. with inspiration across the decades from Dalby,  Queensland,  and now, in Nhulunbuy , NT.


Ssssshhhh …. listen …. Can you hear them??? …. from the curtains,   from the windows and walls …. from the wings …. that’s  the sounds of so many years … the memories of generations …. held here, right here, in the bones of this hall.   Listen carefully!    There – hear it? – the swish of tutu tulle, the oh-so-confident twirl of  capes, the clunk of toe shoes on stairs,  the thunder-thump tap of that bright red Proud Mary  ….  SSSSHHHHH! “quiet in the wings” … remember those days? – And … hear it?  The one two three one two three – turn, step and bow … the shimmer of taffeta, silk and chiffon, the jewels, the heels, the broken hearts and the brimming, borderless pride …. of how many deb balls??? Of how many senior formals? The swill!! Speech nights?? Family dances?? And Mamma Mia???  And the Town Hall markets – hear it?? There’s the sound of community, full of life, of opportunity – for fundraisers, for the crafty, the curious and the clever, and that ? Listen … that’s the sound of friendships – ours – “Fancy a quick cake and coffee in the foyer?”    I’ve mopped that floor a dozen times, I’ve stood at the sink til past midnight elbow deep in water and wine glasses, and I’ve cleaned those toilets – as I am sure, have most of you!

I love this old girl. I wish she could talk. How many blubbering messes in the toilets has she sighed with? How many miscast votes has she pooh-poohed?? How many dalliances in the wings has she turned a blind eye to? ….

…. This old girl, this Town Hall, drowsing for months,  comes to life for me again to witness and to celebrate astounding things – and looks on as we maintain the important things. Like me , she is shaken out of her slumber to quietly observe that we, the women of “Gove, Curtailed” have become the women of “Gove Still Here”  – changed in many ways, different to who we were before, but here, whether for the long haul or the short – and that our world continues – determined and dancing, oozing potential, looking after each other and having a ball …

Yes, I love halls. Old church halls, town halls, community halls, show pavilions – for how they look and for what they represent to individuals and for how they bed down and become crucial to the dna of communities. In Dalby – for me it was “St Joeys” – yes, St Joseph’s Hall, under the auspices of St Joseph’s Catholic Church, and my memory flies back … to a simple but looming weatherboard structure, with a central door and a glass fronted ticket booth and metal folding chairs and two crooked dunnies out the back, always painted to match the main structure,  and … I seem to remember,  a curious extravagance of a supper room, built solely, it seemed, to aggravate the perhaps less equipped Church of England ladies up the road at St John’s.   I remember dance recitals, wedding receptions where we kids slid around in the “pops” on the floor as the oldies danced the Gypsy Tap, a first holy communion breakfast, club trophy nights, the Post Office Christmas Party and school prize giving evenings.

St Joseph’s Hall was demolished years ago, and there’s a car yard there now, but every time I drive through that intersection – 40 years since – I can still smell it.   The heady mix of real beer from a real keg with a real tap and Mrs Rita O’Sullivan’s passionfruit chiffon pie.   I was a Japanese lady, a Scottish girl and a wee blue particle of water in that hall. My enduring childhood memory of my father remains there – as I strode proudly across the stage to get my best school work grade 2 book prize from Sister Mary St Vincent de Paul, queued between Ellie Comerford and Leo Cosgrove , I looked out and saw him, way back in the non-church goers section of the hall, in what must have been the 1969 Darling Downs version of the Mexican wave – except it was just him, standing, arms aloft, delighted –  everytime I think of him, I think of him there – on his feet in St Joey’s Hall – and remember that he was really proud of me…

…. Yes, lifetimes are held in the bones of halls, and perhaps that’s why I love this one, this Nhulunbuy Town Hall,  so much.  For here she sits – way up to the rafters with bits of us … holding things that even we have forgotten.   What say you, old girl???   Here, in your silent wisdom, built across decades and composed of a million individual moments – we hold onto each other and send our memories up to  your rafters to join the generations already there.

Keep them well….




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