Friday, June 13, 2014

Koo-Wee-Rup Memorial Hall

The Memorial Hall used to stand between the Presbyterian Church and the Historical Society in Rossiter Road. The first hall had been opened on this site in April 1902 – the same year that the original Catholic Church was opened. In 1912, the Hall became a Mechanics’ Institute. In the nineteenth century the term ‘mechanic’ meant artisan or working man. The Mechanics’ Institute movement began in 1800 when Dr George Birkbeck of the Andersonian Institute in Scotland gave a series of lectures to local mechanics. The lectures were free and popular. They led to the formation of the Edinburgh School of Arts (1821) and the London Mechanics’ Institute (1823). The movement spread quickly throughout the British Empire. The first Victorian Mechanics’ Institute was the Melbourne Mechanics’ Institute established in 1839 and renamed The Melbourne Athenaeum in 1873, which continues to operate in its original building on Collins Street. Over a thousand were built in Victoria and 562 remain today.

Mechanics’ Institutes were generally connected to a Public Hall. Bayles was another local town which had a Mechanics’ Institute. This was located in the Bayles Hall which had been re-located from Yallock and officially opened in January 1932. The Tooradin Mechanics Institute was built in 1882, burnt down in 1937 and the existing Hall was opened in 1938. The old Cora Lynn hall was also originally a Mechanics Institute.  Mechanic’s Institutes generally had a library, and may have offered lectures, discussions or classes.

The Koo-Wee-Rup hall was of weather board and it was extended in 1919.  The brick front and other rooms were added in 1923-24 and it was renamed the Memorial Hall to honour the First World War soldiers.

 Hall before the 1923 extension.  

The Returned Sailors and Soldiers Imperial League of Australia paid £300 to help fund these additions and had a lease on the Hall at the rental of one peppercorn per annum.  The Hall was used for various entertainment s - Colvin’s Pictures began weekly screenings on September 11th, 1922, this was five years before the Wattle Theatre was opened. The first Koo-Wee-Rup Scout troop gave a display in the Hall in August 1929. Public meetings, wedding receptions, debutant balls, twenty first birthdays, kitchen teas were all held in the Hall.

The original Hall and the brick extension are clearly seen in the photograph, which was taken during the 1934 flood 

During the Back to Koo-Wee-Rup celebrations of late October, early November 1969 the Hall was used for activities. Students of Koo-Wee-Rup High School would well remember having their H.S.C exams in the Hall in the 1970s.  In one of my exams there were about five of us in the Hall, and we were at least equalled in number by the sparrows flying around the ceiling. The Hall was demolished in 2002 and plaque on the fence marks its location.

These two views of the Hall are photographs from the Mechanics’ Institutes Resource Centre at the Prahran Mechanics' Institute

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