I acknowledge the Traditional Owners on whose land I walk, I work and I live. I pay my respects to Elders past, present and future.

Monday, 25 July 2016

Shire Hall sagas

The recent work carried out to the façade of our Shire Hall gave a dated building a much needed facelift and brought it into the 21st century. The Shire Hall is a pivotal building in any small community for it is usually the hub of civic administration. As Janice Wegner writes in her thesis ‘Hinchinbrook: The Hinchinbrook Shire Council, 1879-1979’: “At the heart of the business section is the Shire Hall; from here the Hinchinbrook Shire Council controls an extensive system of roads and community amenities, and regulates public health, safety, town planning, building, and many other of the multitude of functions given to local government.”
Furthermore it is the setting for some of the most significant events in people’s lives including debutant balls, wedding feasts, naturalization ceremonies, community revitalization workshops, industrial meetings, concerts, eisteddfods and so much more. Perhaps we shouldn’t get too fond of this particular building because it seems to be all too woefully common that beautiful buildings of our past have been deemed to be too old-fashioned or unfunctional and demolished. Even if they are still standing too many of them go unappreciated for the distinctive style of their architecture or their role in our history.
Where our Shire Hall now stands isn’t the original site. The first Divisional Board Hall was erected near Palm Creek and adjacent to the present Royal Hotel. The Board took advantage of government loans to borrow £600 to erect a Hall in 1883 and a further £500 in 1886 to enlarge it and add offices. Described as a "plain, unpretentious weatherboard structure, neither lined nor ceiled, of no architectural beauty" it was no more than a cottage, but it nonetheless sufficed for all Divisional Board (Shire Council after 1903) purposes, as well as doubling as a dance hall, and picture theatre leased by the Lyric Picture Co. with piano accompaniment played on a rented piano until the Council bought a piano in 1913. When the Board spent £277 furnishing the Hall it created much the same furore as occurred when a recent Council acquired a new Council meeting table. Then it was chairs "which are very massive and leather covered” which upset the rate payers!
The first Shire Hall was also a predecessor to our library with its reading room. Public meetings were held there as well as the agricultural section of the annual Show. It also provided shelter in flood and cyclone times. The building served as an occasional Mass centre after 1885 when Father James Cassar began visiting the Valley regularly. However he did not appreciate having to say Mass on a stage used by dancers and begged the community to build a church. He is on record as having said that “he would no more offer the Holy Sacrifice on the stage dedicated to the feet of the ballet dancer”! Rentals of the Shire Hall were a steady source of income until challenged by the building of other halls such as the Masonic Hall in 1901.
On the morning of Tuesday March 7, 1916 the first Shire Hall was destroyed by fire and with it, all books and records which were not kept in the safe which was too small, but on the Shire Clerk’s desk, though the contents of the safe and the piano were saved. Lost also were all the music, music stands and an instrument belonging to the Town Band, that were all stored in the hall. The fire was observed to have started in the office of the Shire Clerk. The story goes that an errant cigarette of the Shire Clerk was responsible. Russel Charles McWilliam, the Shire Clerk at the time, admitted to a Magisterial Inquiry held several weeks after the fire, to flicking his matches and throwing his butts on the ground and not checking if they were out. He also admitted that there was a bin near his desk which was full of paper and that there was paper on the floor. There was a suggestion, though the former Shire Chairman, Frank Cassady, thought it unlikely, that McWilliam had deliberately started the fire to destroy evidence of wrong doing. He had control or all cash and monies and was supposed to present a balance sheet at the General Meeting to be held that day. He had previously failed to present a balance sheet in February. Figures of revenue and expenditure presented previously to Ralph Godshall Johnson, Chairman of the Finance Committee,  by McWilliam, did not, according to Johnson tally, and McWilliam kept putting off presenting a balance sheet, saying that he was too busy to complete it. Whatever the truth of the situation was, the day the hall burnt day, was meant to be McWilliam’s last day as Shire Clerk anyway as he had enlisted. By the time of the inquiry Ralph G. Johnson, was the Shire Clerk (1916-1918).
Building a new Shire Hall did not proceed immediately given that the country was at war and Council was divided on whether to apply for a £7 000 government loan. There was also contention as to how the building should look, with some wanting a substantial brick building. Council meetings were held meanwhile, in the Court House. By November a tender from Messrs Hanson and Sons had been accepted and by December 1919, a government loan had been secured. As continues to happen today, when the Council decides to implement change, there was a petition of protest when the Council proposed a change of location for the future Shire Hall. Despite the protest the hall reserve was then changed from next to Palm Creek to its present site on the corner of Townsville Road and Lannercost Street: 25 Lannercost Street. Progress of building the new two storey building, constructed of local bricks and fronted with a stately façade, was held up by wet season rain. By June 1920 it was beginning to progress well. The use of returned soldier labour was a condition of the Government loan required for its construction.  The former Hall reserve was then auctioned for perpetual lease as two blocks.
By March 1921 the building was almost finished and equipped and leases arranged to various businesses including a dentist. The main lessee of the Hall was again a picture company, this time the Ingham Picture Company. The lessee installed an electricity generator. The Council bought back some of the Hall electricity supply to power twelve electric street lights.  Not unexpectedly, fireproof storage was installed for the Council records and fire extinguishers were at the ready. The Council did not use all the land acquired and there was a consequent altercation between the Council and the Lands Department, the latter refusing to allow the Council to lease the land, stating that the land was to be used only for the original intention: for Shire Hall purposes.
Despite being described “as the best in the north” in 1921, already in 1934 there were hopes to construct a new Shire Hall. Plans drawn up in 1937 featured two stories, an upstairs theatre and returned soldiers recreation room, and several shops and offices but finances were not available. The Ingham Picture Company, in return for being granted a virtual monopoly on picture theatre activity in the town of Ingham, undertook to carry out improvements to the theatre, and that, with extensions to the Hall and the enclosure of a verandah area, had to suffice.
Before the construction of an official Anzac Memorial in Lannercost Street in 1959 the Honour Roll was housed in the Shire Hall and Anzac Day ceremonies were conducted outside that building. Up until the disastrous 1927 flood when it became patently clear that a better warning system was needed, a red pennant was flown on a flagpole outside the Shire Hall to warn of an impending cyclone.
By the 1950s the Shire Hall was becoming increasingly inadequate for all the uses being demanded of it and so construction on a new Hall began in 1961. The work was carried out by J.E. Allen and Co. for £73,000. Again there was community outcry from some quarters over the "waste" of money on a new Hall rather than expanding the old. Nevertheless, in retrospect it was realized to have been a wise move. The present Shire Hall was officially opened on December 15, 1963, well in time for a sitting there, of State Cabinet in June of 1964. The facilities of the new Hall included air-conditioning, offices, shops and a hall capable of seating 650 people. It also included a theatre complete with a very practical soundproof crying room equipped with a picture window through which mothers could still watch the movie while nursing and comforting their fretful children.
By 1979, in the year of the 100 anniversary of Divisional Board (Hinchinbrook Shire Council) there was again talk of a new larger Shire Hall and Civic Centre that would more adequately meet the needs of a growing town and district, and not the least, relieve the ever growing pressure on office space for the Council's staff. However all that has transpired in the intervening years was that spaces were reconfigured with the store spaces disappearing. In 1987 the Shire Hall was refurbished and the one remaining picture theatre remaining in Ingham relocated to the refurbished J.L. Kelly Memorial Hall, the former library. There have been further interior refurbishments undertaken in 2014 and exterior refurbishments as recently as 2106. A mosaic which pictures iconic aspects of Ingham and district now adorns the Lannercost Street frontage.
Vidonja Balanzategui, Bianka. Portrait of a Parish: A History of Saint Patrick’s Church and Parish Ingham 1864-1996. Ingham: St. Patrick’s Parish, 1998.
Vidonja Balanzategui, Bianka. The Herbert River Story. Ingham: Hinchinbrook Shire Council, 2011.
Wegner, Janice. “Hinchinbrook: The Hinchinbrook Shire Council, 1879-1979.” Masters of Arts diss., James Cook University of North Queensland, 1984.
“Ingham Shire Hall Burned.” The Brisbane Courier, March 8, 1916.
“Herbert River Notes.” Cairns Post, March 15, 1916.
“Shire Hall Fire.” Cairns Post, March 23, 1916.
“Herbert River Notes.” The Northern Herald, April 7, 1916.
“Herbert River Notes.” Cairns Post, October 11, 1916.
“Herbert River Notes.” Townsville Daily Bulletin, September 1, 1921.
Lannercost Street Ingham 1912. Divisional Board Hall on left. Hinchinbrook Shire Library photograph collection.

Ingham Town Hall 1920. Hinchinbrook Shire Library photograph collection

Ingham Shire Hall during 1977 flood. Note the shop fronts. Hinchinbrook Shire Library photograph collection.

"Ingham Hall," Daily Standard, March 7, 1916.

"Herbert River Notes," The Northern Miner, March 5, 1921.


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