Dardanup Hall and Civic Precinct

by Terri Gibbs
Updated: 15 May 2022

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Dardanup Agricultural Hall (the old hall)

The original Dardanup Agricultural Hall was built and opened in 1894 and demolished in 1956. The Hon Henry Whittall Venn, as member of the Legislative Assembly for the colony of Western Australia, put forward the idea of District Agricultural Halls to be used for assembly of the local communities. He believed such buildings were needed for social, cultural and recreational purposes. He said “it would be money well spent”. He hoped all districts in the colony would apply for one such building.

Venn spoke about this at the Dardanup Ploughing Match Dinner on 27 September1893, held at Coonan’s Inn, Dardanup, when he announced the building of the Dardanup’s first hall.  

I hope soon that there will be another room in Dardanup in

addition to the one in which we are at present. I refer to the Agricultural Hall. Tenders will be called for the building shortly. It will be erected near the railway station and I hope that it will be a great convenience to the district. It will be such a building as can be used for the meetings of our local bodies, such as the Roads Board, or for a festive occasion such as we are assembled today to celebrate. Similar rooms will be erected at the Brunswick and other parts of the colony.

Southern Times Saturday 30 September 1893

The Agricultural Hall was not an ornate building but was certainly up to its purpose, being 6 x 12 metres and reportedly well ventilated. The inside was described as lined with ‘matchboard’ that being tongue and groove lining boards. Sturdy Jarrah weather boards covered the outside of the building. It stood between the Picton-Boyanup Road and the railway line just north of the current tourist information bay.

1956 – The Dardanup Agricultural Hall prior to demolition

On the 14 of March 1894, the Hon HW Venn declared the Dardanup Agricultural Hall open, “Hoping the hall would be of great service to the district”. First though, he accepted the nomination for a second term representing the Wellington electorate at the upcoming election. He retained his seat.

Dardanup community support for the opening was overwhelming, with every person within a 13-kilometre radius, said to have attended the event, including 100 visitors from Bunbury. They celebrated with a dinner and concert preformed by local and Bunbury men and women. The audience were lucky to acquire a chair for the performance, however they were assured this would be rectified by the spending of the £20 5s 6d proceeds of the opening being spent on seats and other furniture for the hall.

After “God save the Queen” by the audience, the seats were removed by willing hands and dancing kept up with great spirit till the train left for Bunbury.’

‘Opening of the Dardanup Agricultural Hall’ – BUNBURY Herald Wed 21 March 1894.
CWA ladies meet in the Dardanup Agricultural Hall

The Agricultural Hall stood the test of time for 62 years until a new civic centre was created on Ferguson Road with a new brick hall as its main focus. The last function in the old Hall was a ‘Farewell Ball’ organised by the Fundraising Committee of the Catholic Church. 

The old hall was pulled down in 1956 but timber from the demolition took pride of place in the new building, reborn as the stage.

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Dardanup Hall

The Civic Precinct at Dardanup was created when in 1950’s the land beside the new Roads Board Office was set aside for a new Hall.

The new Dardanup Hall, designed by Architect Mr J W Johnson of Perth, comprised a dance hall with a right-angle smaller supper hall. One of the innovations is the kitchen with dual access to both halls. The Dardanup Roads Board had raised a loan of £12,000 ($25,000) which went to tender in December 1954. Tenders were accepted, and money was allocated in progress payments.

The money allocated for the brick work was paid out to the successful contractor, however the brickworks weren’t paid and refused to give more credit. This caused a halt to the work with the work at 1.8 meters high. Then the builder absconded!

The site sat abandoned for months, a sad reminder of what could have been.

In March 1955, a ‘Welfare Committee’ was set up to find a way through and complete the hall construction. There was much fund raising done by the community. Arthur Wickstead was chairman. Brian Wells was secretary. George Harris was Treasurer. Also on the committee were Father Cunningham, Frank Craig, Bob Hewison, and Frank Mather.

George Harris was the local shop keeper and in his window was a thermometer with a reading of the number of bricks required to complete the Hall. The Dardanup district community would donate funds to buy a brick and watch the thermometer go up until they had enough to finish the brick work, then bricks could be ordered and paid for at the brickworks.

Father Cunningham, a member of the Welfare Committee and helping build the Hall

Father Cunningham and Brian Wells would lead the charge every weekend with many, many local people doing whatever they could to move the project along. Bob Hewison cut all the red gum planks used for the scaffolding for the brickwork.

Fred Littlefair and Fred Edwards were the employed bricklayers, they worked at a rapid pace laying 90,000 bricks in 90 days at the equivalent of $5 each per day.  Eric Turner was the electrician working for Bricknell’s and Brian Smith was the plumber working for L.G. Brilliant. George Beckingham did the plasterwork

Father Cunningham taught life skills by enlisting the 11and 12-year-old boys to help him cart the planks of wandoo into the hall for the floor on three or four occasions. Peter Giumelli was one such boy who enjoyed these impromptu lessons outside the classroom. He recalls the long floor boards being in a pile outside and they carried them through the double doors on the western side facing the current war memorial.

Jock Johnston lent his tractor to help with the concrete entry, the second story concrete projector room and stairs at the front of the hall ready for the movie nights. The concrete staircase has now been covered over so it is no longer visible.

Fred Ridgeway and Eddie Fitzgerald were paid carpenters whose most impressive work can be seen in the stage area, crafted out of the timber from the 1905 old hall on Picton-Boyanup Road. The stage area was the last item to be built, using timber from the old hall, and was seen as essential by the strong local repertory club members.

Brian Wells spent many hours on this seemingly never-ending solid wandoo floor. The boards are 4.6 meters long, and were only 65mm wide. He recalls “they needed to be drilled and then the nails could be hammered through to the joists, as wandoo is so hard”. Even on the day of the opening Brian was frantically working to finish the floor with only a few hours to spare. His will to finish this beautiful floor had been driven by the determination to be the first to dance on it. That night at the opening Gala Ball as Jack Bartlett’s 5-piece orchestra limbered up, Brian partnered with Gwen Harris, ready for the first music beat on which they stepped across the floor, indeed giving Brian his reward of ‘being the first to dance a lap’ upon his seeming nemesis, the dance floor.  This floor remains one of the Halls finest features almost 70 years later.

However it was not until Mr Iven Manning, MLA snipped the entry room ribbon that the Dardanup District Hall was finally truly open.

The new Hall was extensively used, and still is, for weddings, kitchen teas, parties, Christmas functions, concerts and dances.  It is still regularly used for badminton and has hosted big badminton tournaments like the S.W. Championships.  The Repertory Club used it extensively and Junior Farmers (Rural Youth) used it for many functions and State Debates.   Red Cross and CWA Ladies, Church Groups also used the Hall on many occasions including First Aid and Blood Bank visits. A Picture Theatre travelling group was a highlight for a while but floundered after a couple of years due to lack of patronage.

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Dardanup Roads Board/Shire Offices

The Shire of Dardanup, originally the Dardanup Roads Board, held their first meeting on the 9th April, 1895. Mr James Dixon served as secretary, for £13 per annum, from 1895 to 1912.

Mr Hayward, on the opening of the new Road board office in 1950, told of the shaky start as the Roads Board’s first minute book would attest, disclosing the first year’s revenue was £47 and expenditure £428/16/10. Mr Hayward said “Evidently, they were able to get pennies from heaven in those days!”

The Dardanup Roads Board office in Little St, newly built in 1950. Photo source: Gwen & Brian Wells

The 1950 building, a mid-century symmetrical bungalow, was purpose built for the Dardanup Roads Board. Until that time, the Roads Board office had been located in the house of Mr C. Terry Hayward, who became secretary of the Roads Board in June 1913, retiring February 1951 some 37 years later.

Terry and Geraldine Hayward’s home in Dardanup housed the Roads Board office until 1950. Photo source: Kaye & Terry Brett

In 1961 the Local Government Act created the Shire of Dardanup. The Shire Office was renovated in 1989 with sympathetic extensions to the side and back to meet the growing need of the Shire.

In 1992 a referendum was held proposing Australind and Eaton leave their rural shires of Harvey and Dardanup to amalgamate, creating the Leschenault municipality. The Shire rejected the proposal. However, by 1998 a new Administration Centre was opened in Eaton, replacing Dardanup as the main office. The Little St office then became a branch.

The beautiful Avenue of Trees was planted on Arbor Day by school children in the 1950’s. By the 1980’s their leaves and twigs had become a problem for the Councils Post-War bungalow building. However, with renovations and an extension being planned, a resolution was found. Eager residents drove past the newly completed building. not caring about the change to the original symmetry, just gasping “It’s got no gutters!!!”. Danny Harris recalls the lack of gutters being controversial. This was not entirely true as the front porch did have a gutter.

The building has been under utilised since the change of offices. However, it is hope it will gain a new life as the home of the enthusiastic Dardanup Heritage Collective, whose purpose is capturing the history of this great community with archives of the past, to be saved and displayed for the enjoyment of all.

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RSL War Memorial & Digger’s Club Memorial Wall

The War Memorial commemorates and names soldiers who died in the First and Second World Wars. It was consecrated in 1960 by the Reverend Father O’Mahony. Among those present were Mr Bill Ratcliffe, then Shire President; Mr Max Kellow, President of the Dardanup RSL at the time; and Bill Lonnie who was the State President of the RSL. The Memorial was restored and repositioned with a number of missing names added in 2021 and a 1.5m granite statue of a solider positioned atop in time for Anzac commemorations in 2022. Alongside sits a rammed earth memorial wall for the display of a Waterloo Diggers Plaques.

Sir James Mitchel Memorial Plaque

Plaque commemorating Sir James Mitchell. Photo: Barbara Rae

Few realise that Dardanup was the birthplace of James Mitchell. He was born at Dowdell’s Line, Paradise in 1866. Sir James was Premier of Western Australia 1919-1924 and again 1930-1933. He then became Lieutenant Governor of Western Australia from 1933-1938 and then Governor 1948-1951.

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