It’s been a local icon since 1921; now the Tuncurry Memorial Hall is reaching out to the local community for support. We chat with Leigh Vaughan OAM about the history of the hall, what makes it so special and what’s required to keep it up and running.
Tell us a bit about the history of the Tuncurry Memorial Hall …
From 1919 the people of Tuncurry decided they should build a hall in memory of those who fought in the Great War, which would also provide a large meeting place for the community. Public meetings were held, committees formed, plans drawn up and a debenture scheme established. Building materials were all sourced locally, and there was a large band of community volunteer workers.
The official opening was held in September, 1921, with much ceremony, a brass band, concerts, dances, a woodchop and a chocolate wheel. From 1934 with the support of local funding, a High School was run in the hall. Also from that time, to 1937, there were regular travelling silent moving pictures shown in the hall, which were soon followed by talking movies.
The gala opening of the refurbished hall/cinema on 17th April 1937, showed the now classic Australian film Tall Timbers. Special guests were Bert Bailey (Dad) and Fred McDonald (Dave) from On Our Selection. Ms Richards later starred in the film Dad and Dave Come to Town. Kemble Thompson, the local projectionist, was paid 7s and 6p a week for his work, which included cleaning the theatre. Mrs Wilga Wedlock sold hot soup on cold nights and ice creams in the summer. In 1974, despite the advent of TV, Don Howard took over the lease, renovating extensively and continued operating the theatre in the hall until 1999, when he erected a three-cinema complex on Manning Street. The hall was then transferred back to a Management Trust, and once more reverted to a multipurpose facility, providing many entertaining and educational classes for the community and also providing a venue for weddings and other social events. Today it is managed by the Tuncurry Memorial Hall Management Committee under the auspices of the Department of Industry (formerly Crown Lands).
What events are held at the hall?
You name it, we have it: concerts, visiting performers, weddings, funerals, birthday parties, art exhibitions, craft displays, quiz nights, and life-drawing classes. We also have a number of regular users, which include line dancers, boot scooters, Taekwando, a Physie club, a social touring club, meditation and yoga groups and the ABC Boating College. In the past there was a very active Drama Society that performed plays and musicals (sadly no longer). Over the last two weekends we have been delighted to host Brazilian jazz singer and guitarists Anna and Guy, and a solo cellist with percussion Rachel Ben with their amazing Bach in the Dark. We are really wanting to promote the hall to its former glory and make it a centre for creativity and performance that will not only encourage local performers to share their skills, but make it a small theatre venue that encourages visiting artists.
The hall is not owned by council. What does this mean for its ongoing future?
It means existing literally on the smell of an oily rag, with no external funding, on the small income we get from hiring the hall.
What are the challenges facing the hall?
Lack of money to do the necessary upgrades to bring the hall to modern standards and thus improve our income by encouraging more participation.
What renovations does the hall need?
The main foyer and kitchen area need to be renovated to better meet modern standards. An upgrade is needed for the main front doors: refurbishment to better secure new facilities and allow smoother access for wheelchairs, the elderly and disabled. The total refurbishment of both female and male toilet facilities, including upgrading and improvements to disabled facilities, is required. There needs to be an upgrade of the stage area, including new flooring, installation of a rear backdrop wall, upgrading the proscenium arch and painting.
How can people support the hall?
They can join the volunteer Management Committee, assist in writing grant applications or offer ideas to raise funds, donate their skills to help with maintenance, or help to organise functions that will raise money for ongoing maintenance.
Nyaree Donnelly is the Hall Booking Manager; she can be contacted through the hall website www.tuncurrymemorialhall.com.au or on 0404 279 710 or contact me:
Interview: Bronwyn Davis.