Almanac Communities: Some reflections on a small town community hall




Over the past few years when travelling in the countryside of various states, I have often read and heard about a small town losing, or being under threat of losing, its community hall and the effect such loss might do to a community’s sense of itself and its health and well-being.


There are varied reasons given for this such as councils wanting to sell community halls due to increasing costs and lack of volunteers to manage facilities, councils building new multi-purpose recreation centres to replace community halls, lack of funding for ongoing upkeep, changing demographics, lack of employment for locals – especially younger folk –  the impact of new technology and improved infrastructure at schools and sporting clubs impacting local hall hire and usage.


In the country Tasmania of my youth the local community hall was the heart and soul of practically all small country towns.  In my town, the community hall was a facility that contributed very much to the town’s social well-being.  It was instrumental in creating social harmony, a sense of togetherness and relationship building. It was a place where locals would engage in social, sport and recreational and cultural activities and where the community would gather for celebrations, such as a wedding, a birthday milestone or a whole community event such as a barn dance or a community fund raiser.  The hall really was the centre of my small town’s social life – in effect it was the glue that bound the community together.


When considering this issue several thoughts came to me about the contribution the community hall in my town made to the social fabric and family life of the local population when I was growing up. 


The Picture Theatre – that’s what the community hall became and was called on a Saturday night in my childhood years (as distinct from a cinema).  For me this was most certainly the key role for the hall when I was very young.  Every Saturday night Merv Lewis (a highly respected and decorated WW1 and WW 2 veteran) provided two pictures, (movies in todays speak), a B-grade feature followed by the main feature; the latter was usually the latest Hollywood western starring the likes of Glenn Ford and Alan Ladd, Gary Cooper and John Wayne or the ancient world films of David and Goliath, Spartacus and Ben Hur starring Charlton Heston – a superstar of the day. It was in the community hall where I was continually ducking below seat level during the many horror films of the day such as Alfred Hitchcock’s Psycho.


Merv Lewis did well to get some of these films which were at the time still relatively new productions. The Saturday day night picture shows were attended by adults and children alike and the hall was nearly always full.  Adults, very wisely, sat at the back of the hall. While Merv Lewis showed the pictures, I remember my father helping him by selling tickets, ushering and other miscellaneous tasks including keeping the rabble in line.  At times this was somewhat embarrassing for me; being an occasional member of the rabble.  There was a half time break during which there was a mad rush to Bill Darke’s milk bar next door for Fantales, ice creams and Jaffas.  It was tradition to roll the Jaffas down the aisle or under seats or perhaps throw one at some kid you didn’t like.


I remember Merv receiving the picture posters from Hobart every Tuesday for the next Saturday night picture shows and pasting them onto billboards located outside Morey’s General Store and at the hall itself.  As kids we waited eagerly every Tuesday to see what was coming up for the next Saturday’s viewing.  It was such an occasion in those days that I can remember parents making sure that children/youth were all dressed smartly and tidily, which of course only lasted as long as the ice cream, coca cola and chocolate Fantale stains at half time.


The Boys Club – for many years the community hall hosted what was then, the Swansea Boys Club, which was organized and managed by Peter Singline, the Council Clerk and prominent local sportsperson.  Peter was ably supported by another local sporting identity John Quinn. Both Peter and John were good footballers and cricketers. The Boys Club was a once a week event attended by boys of all ages in the town.  It kept all the boys busy in a broad range of sporting and gymnasium activities.  From the weekly Boys Club John Quinn started the local Boys Club Cricket Club, which in my youth ended up winning nearly all the local cricket premierships.


Badminton – for many years the hall was used regularly for badminton competition including games between the various small towns along Tasmania’s east coast. I was not old enough to play but I remember going along every week to watch the men and bigger boys play.  It was a strong and fiercely contested competition.


Sporting Clubs – The community hall was the focal point for presentation nights for all the local sporting groups, in particular, the local football club’s annual presentation and dance night – an event always eagerly anticipated and well attended by the local community.  As a 14-year-old I remember winning a trophy for the best player in the reserves finals and feeling pretty special when I had to walk up to the stage to collect it.  The local ‘Bulldogs’ football club was very strong in those days both in playing strength and community support. The presentation night was a really big deal and a well attended social night with dancing, speeches, trophy presentations and an enormous amount of cakes and biscuits and other sorts of goodies.  These were all made by the wives of players and officials who made up the ‘Bulldogs’ ladies committee – in many respects the real engine room of the club’s social and fund raising activities.


Barn dances – these were held regularly throughout the year and were always well attended by all ages from the elderly to the middle aged, to the young adults and all of us kids.  They were great nights and as a boy dancing in the barn dance circle, I could, in the space of five minutes, be dancing with an 80 year-old, and then a 6 year-old! As a boy and youth it was where I learnt not only the barn dance but the old time waltz, the Pride of Erin and the fox trot (my Mum and Dad were good at this one). When my hormones started to kick in during my early teens I used to show off my dancing skills (try anyway!) when a local attractive girl happened my way during the barn dance. My recollection is that there were never ever any major problems at these events and everyone enjoyed themselves. They were wonderful occasions and people travelled from miles around to attend. Again, the womenfolk (who else!) of the town provided cakes, biscuits and all sorts of homemade goodies for the attendees.


Visiting celebrities/shows – the hall was also the venue for a wide variety of acts and performers including country and western shows like Slim Dusty, Reg Lindsay and the ‘Sheik of Scrubby Creek’, Chad Morgan, and the occasional hypnotist. These shows were always packed to the rafters and I remember the hypnotist shows creating much mirth and hilarity within the community who enjoyed watching their own make fools of themselves while in a hypnotic state on stage.


Debutant balls –these were an annual event.  It was the fashion for young girls to make their debut. I featured on one occasion when I accompanied and danced the ‘Pride of Erin’ with a young local girl.  I remember the ‘Pride of Erin’ as being a very popular dance in country Tasmania.


Local school productions and fancy dress ball – each year the community hall played host to local school plays and functions, particularly at Easter and at Christmas time and there was also an annual fancy dress ball.  On one occasion I can remember attending the latter ball as Robin Hood and being told by my mother a few times not to keep loading my bow with arrows or she would take them away from me! She won. After all what use is a Robin Hood costume and bow without arrows? I also remember the family hilarity when a 6 year-old Garry ‘Gazza’ Gray and my brother Terry went together as Mickey and Minnie Mouse! Because of the influence of the western features shown by Merv Lewis on Saturdays, many local kids dressed up as cowboys and Indians. Inspired by Fess Parker and the ‘Alamo’ ‘Davey Crockett’ hats were also a big favourite – I had one.  I can remember ‘Billy the Kid’ aka Peter ‘Spud’ Hill, running around shooting Robin Hood and others with his twin 6-shooters.


Rock and Roll – over the summer holidays when the Rolling Stones, the Beatles and the Beach Boys were at their height, there were always two or three Rock and Roll dances put on at the hall. The bands came from Hobart and Launceston.  I don’t know who organised these events but they were well attended, not only by the local teenagers, but also by the tourists from the camping/caravan grounds.


What I have described above are only some of the activities held at my small town’s community hall during my youth.  The hall also played host to a myriad of other activities and events.  It really was the centrepiece of the town’s social life and as I reflect now as an older person, I can see how it fostered a real sense of community cohesion and connectivity.


The good news is that unlike the plight of many other small towns, the battle to maintain the community hall in my small town has been fought and won (for the time being at least). There were concerns for it’s existence and usefulness some years ago but a local committee was formed and with visionary planning, dedication, strong community support and concerted fundraising efforts money became available to complete needed repairs and maintenance and refurbishment work. The hall is now in fine condition and is a key main street facility.


Locals now tell me that while most of the hall activities of my youth are no more – barn dances, the picture theatre, debutant balls and sporting nights etc. –  the rejuvenation of the hall has seen it blossom once again. Wedding receptions, school productions and out of town artists and theatre groups as well as a local theatre group, now utilise the hall once again.  Other uses include yoga and fitness classes, a monthly market, Easter and Christmas celebrations, and the hall is a focal point for elections, emergency services and the Royal Flying Doctor Service. Hiring of the hall for special events is now common place such as for workshops and seminars and hosting wine events for the ever burgeoning east coast of Tasmania wine industry.


All in all, the community hall of my youth has seemingly modernised and successfully ‘bucked the trend’ of some other small towns. This is despite the changed demographics – more retirees these days and young people moving away, the school being downgraded from a secondary to primary school status, lack of employment opportunities and the demise of some local sporting clubs –  there is no longer a football club and only one cricket club – not the four teams of my youth. Though different in some respects from my time, it seems that my old town has re-established its community hall to be a versatile and indispensable facility exactly in line with what the local community wants.


My cousin informs me that the ‘new’ hall has really fostered a renewed and strong sense of belonging and engagement in the town with the community embracing its renaissance much like the old days. Perhaps an example of the maxim ‘build it and they will come’!


For all the reasons I have already cited above, I suspect many smaller towns will continue to lose the battle to keep their community hall. A forever changing world in every respect makes it just too hard for many small communities to mirror what my old town has achieved. With the demise also of sporting clubs in some small towns – historically also the heart of soul of smaller communities – one wonders what may happen to the social fabric of these towns following the loss of their community hall.


Based on the experience of my former small town, perhaps some other small town community halls can be saved or re-invigorated.  Of course, this would depend on a number of things such as hall location and condition, town size, the efforts of determined local residents, capacity to raise funds and some ‘out of the box’ visionary thinking. Like my home town, perhaps small communities need to embrace their community halls and find new things to do with them because in the 21st century they can obviously still be a great community resource.  Once lost, they will be lost forever.


All power to the small town community hall!



More from Allan Barden can be read Here.



To return to the  home page click HERE


Our writers are independent contributors. The opinions expressed in their articles are their own. They are not the views, nor do they reflect the views, of Malarkey Publications.


Do you enjoy the Almanac concept?
And want to ensure it continues in its current form, and better? To help keep things ticking over please consider making your own contribution.


Become an Almanac (annual) member – CLICK HERE






  1. A lovely nostalgic piece Allan. My local hall back in WA was used exactly the same as yours in Swansea without any trouble. I’m afraid most councils these days don’t see the local hall as an opportunity to bring the community together but more-so a cost and distraction. Cheers

  2. Allan Barden says

    Thanks for your comment Ian.
    Fortunately for the town, Swansea had a well led and very focussed Hall committee which was strongly supported by many locals who donated various sums of money over and above the normal type of small town fundraising activities. . At the time, a couple of determined ‘champions’ from a newly formed local theatre group also worked hard to have the hall restored. It’s now booming I’m told.

  3. Another great story, Allan! I love your trip back into the past and how it reminded me of my younger days, particularly the dances. As a teenager, I remember attending Saturday night dances in my town’s hall and surrounding rural district halls. The progressive dances were great, allowing me to dance with the girl I wasn’t game to ask for a dance, but it was not so good when the progressive change partnered me with a much older (and larger) lady who would always hold me too close and lead! The best part of the night was always the excellent supper that the country halls provided at the night’s end. Looking forward to your next engaging story.

  4. Thanks for your recollections of the small town community hall Allan. Since reading your story, I have been recalling long past experiences associated with community halls and images from childhood and teen years have been brought back to life. At that time sealed roads weren’t as common as they are today, our phone no. had 2 digits, we had no TV and relied on radio and newspapers. The community hall was essential for maintaining a strongly connected community in every sense of the word from children to teens to young families and the elderly.
    The local church held an autumn and spring fair which was well patronised with competitive exhibitions of local crafts, produce..and prizes highly valued. Primary school children were given a longer lunch time to enable us to engage in games such as lucky dips, buy up home made treats including sought after toffees. I’m sure we entered some work from school but my memories are of the treats .
    The entire district turned up to watch the screening of the film ‘Toby Tyler’ in the 60’s. It was about a boy who ran away to join the circus & may have inspired one of our local lads to do just that.
    Teen years brought the local dances /balls which always had a piano and drums and yes the Pride of Erin was very popular. It seems we all have fond memories of these occasions. The ladies presented a beautiful supper and cups of tea at the end of the evening while keeping an eye on who had slipped outside with someone of the opposite sex! Nothing got past them but it kept the occasion family friendly.
    In 2022, I had the opportunity to step inside a community hall that council no longer maintains and entry was ‘at own risk’. It was so easy to reimagine the past even though it has been condemned. The design of these buildings seems to be the same in each location and I was surprised how small it was knowing that they hosted weddings, community meetings, voting at elections etc. It certainly made me feel nostalgic for so many wide ranging events but especially of the local people who worked so hard to keep the hall in hood shape with regular working bees and planning future activities.
    Thanks for painting such a positive word picture & bringing back the importance of the community hall Allan. I’m so pleased yours in Tassie has become a vibrant essential resource for the local area yet again.

Leave a Comment