The Old Hall

Many older residents of Mallacoota and Genoa will have fond memories of the ‘Old’ Hall which was situated on the site of the now, Parks Victoria offices. Structurally, it didn’t differ greatly from any such buildings of that era, except that it had the most wonderful red jarrah floor which was fairly unique in bush halls. The maintenance of the Hall was the sole responsibility of the Mallacoota Foreshore committee which also controlled the Camping Park before the Orbost Shire Council (now East Gippsland Shire) took it over.

My first memories of the Hall was of sleeping along with other small children on the floor of the Cloak Room, whilst the adults danced the night away. There was an adjoining supper room and a porch at the front entrance. Later, when the Hall was renovated, a large stage was built. Galvanised tanks provided the water which was also used by the Foreshore campers. Later an underground tank was built and a pump installed. The lighting in those early days was provided by Tilley lanterns hung from the ceiling and had to be constantly pumped or the light would fade The congregation of insects drawn to the lights, created a real hazard and we always avoided dancing directly underneath in case one of one species which we called ‘red devil’s needles’ would land on you or worse go down your clothes. The water for the supper was boiled in kerosene buckets on wood fires outside, around which the men would gather on winter nights to yarn and quench their thirsts.

On dance nights the Hall decorated by local folk in the afternoon with fern fronds, gum leaves, pink boronia (in the spring) streamers, balloons and paper lanterns; became a place of enchantment. Much preparation went into making the dances a success! The floor was swept and covered in candle wax to ensure a good surface for dancing and in wet weather boards where put down outside to prevent the ladies’ dresses from being soiled. With no commercial dry cleaning available, the day prior to the dance, the men’s suits which would have been spot-cleaned, liberally sprinkled with napthalene to deter moths and silver fish and stored away since the last function, could be seen airing on the clothes lines around the township. Shoes would be polished to gleaming point and frocks ironed days before in anticipation of the coming event. People took a lot of pride in their appearance!

They came from miles away to attend the dances and· many a romance blossomed at them. Growing up and living over at “Raheen” had it’s drawbacks for we could hear the music drifting over the lake if the dance had commenced and as Mione grew older Dad and Mum could never seem to understand our urgency and fear that it would all be over before we got there. Remember, we only had to midnight for as soon as the strains of music for the last dance, usually a circular waltz finished, we briskly stood for the national anthem, “God Save the King” and then it was HOME. If perchance. we did not make the dance at all. you would be told by all and

Cyril Mitchellson was usually doorman at those dances of the 1930’s and many musicians’ faces come to mind, Jock Casement and Eva Allan on their button accordions, Jock Casement, Jock Mowart, Les ‘Chippy’ Greer and his brother Albert, Arthur Tasker, Joe Bruce, Ern Grover, Bella Greer, ‘Sconny’ Ray, Mr Foster and on Christmas Tree nights, Beattie Brady. Joe Bristow played the drums and his late daughter, Pat Noden told me that starting before dark they would walk the five miles in from Double Creek. Her Dad would carry the large drum on his back and various members of the family would carry the other parts. If anyone had come from out of town for the dance the. drums would get first priority for a ride home with instructions for them to be dropped off in the old tank mail box on the roadside at Double Creek and the family would travel lighter home. How many young people today would want to walk ten miles in all to a dance!

I think all females would have thought that the main disadvantage of the Hall, where the males stood half-concealed in the darkness. You could never quite see who was out there but you were aware that they could see you, alright. Many years ago when the Australian Women’s Weekly was a much larger, size-wise, magazine that wonderful illustrator, W.E.P. had a front cover depicting a country dance. We loved it as we could associate ourselves with all the characters. It could have been Our Hall with the women and children sitting on forms along the inside walls and the men eyeing off the ‘talent’ from their vantage point outside. The dances never really commenced till the Pub closed and sometimes women would dance together or with children to start the ‘ball rolling’ and on winter nights, to keep warm. The tooting of car horns and much hilarity outside heralded the male arrival and many a young lad would be dispatched outside to find Dad and tell him to come and dance!

The music would start and you would sit like a ‘wall flower’ hoping one of those, commonly called by the older men, ‘half axes’ would rescue you. The Barn Dance was a
great ‘icebreaker’ and everyone wanted to get into the act. The males would dash inside and grab a partner and it didn’t matter if he had not shaved for a week, or hadn’t read and heeded those then, very daring advertisements about the need of using Life Buoy Soap …. nothing mattered. You were on the floor and with the playing of “If
you’ve got no sense sitting on the fence, all by yourself in the Moonlight” you were away and life was wonderful.

During those 1930 years, the women folk’s dresses were just below calf length and were made from pretty voiles, fine cottons linen and crepe-de-chines. There were lace, organdie, crepe and taffeta long ball gowns too, in those pre war years. I remember our Mother having a very chic violet sheath number; the wide shoulder straps covered in gold and violet sequins. The ultimate in sophistication in those days. She was a beautiful looking lady with Irish blue eyes and blonde curly hair; she would have to been, to get away with one gown; a black sheath with orange leg-of-mutton sleeves. We children always wore our best dresses to the dances because they had been purchased for the Christmas Tree and Cinderella, the hem marks showed they had been let down many times as we grew through out the year. The men, in those
days always kept their coats on, it was the done thing and besides they covered those unsightly braces which held up their trousers.

They slicked down their hair with California(n) Poppy Brilliantine, a horrible thick, clear liquid which had a habit, if applied too thickly, of running down their faces
as they became hot from dancing. The women wore powder applied with large puffs to their faces. It was long before pancake make up and the liquid variety but mirrored compacts for powder were ‘in.’ I used to be fascinated watching my aunts applying rouge in a round dot to each cheek. Sometimes the older girls moistened their fingers and rubbed them on red hard-covered books to produce, deviously, their own ‘rouge’. Red geranium petals had the same effect. Those ladies who were not blessed with wavy hair would have set their hair with bobby pins and with the aid of butterfly clips, to form deep stiff waves, a popular style those days.

Parma Waltz, Slow Fox Trot, Valletta, Evening Two Step were favourite dances; for those venturesome enough, the Tango. By the time we had danced the Pride of Erin,
Schottische and Gypsy Tap everyone was laughing and singing along with the music. The Hall, now warmed up smelt of moth balls and eau-de-cologne, whilst the aroma of
the little pink musk lollies which the ladies discreetly chewed, wafted around. The womenfolk always kept a stock of those small sweets as a safeguard against bad breath,
of which no lady must ever be guilty! When the Quick Step became popular, the men who could afford dancing ‘pumps’ always seemed to out distance the others as they literally ‘flew’ down the Hall and pivoted around the corners. (to be continued)

Leone Pheeney

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