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Byron Shire
March 20, 2023

Here & Now #78 Burning down the hall

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Here & Now 78 picS Sorrensen

Wadeville. Saturday, 9.45pm

This month, 30 years ago, my band The Papers played a full moon gig at Wadeville Hall. A few days later, the hall was burnt to the ground.

Okay, maybe I wasn’t the best guitarist in the world – but I think burning down that beautiful old hall was an overreaction. A simple ‘Piss off, ya hippe!’ accompanied by a half-full can of VB aimed at my head would have made the point.

Or if the vandal was too cowardly to face the music, then smashing the headlights of my beloved ’71 Valiant Regal (neck-snapping quick, but steered like a bullet) parked outside while I was inside rocking it with a ’69 Les Paul Goldtop would also have got the point across.

And Wadeville Hall would still be standing proudly on Wadeville Hill, looking across to Mount Billen under whose cliffs I still hang my sarong.

But back in those days hall burning was a pretty common way of expressing a dislike of the young settlers that had drifted into the area with their green aspirations and red eyes; and with their weirdo ideas of sharing and sustainability. Nearby Cawongla Hall had been torched in 1981.

Wadeville Hall was built on private land in 1921 by a local community encompassing the areas of Larnook, Cawongla, Wadeville, Barkers Vale and Stoney Chute (about half an hour north of Lismore). There was already the hall at Cawongla, built in 1914, but in those days, before Subaru Foresters, the four and a half miles to Wadeville was quite a horse ride just for a soft-shoe shuffle and a tipple, so the community thought, hell, why not build another hall?

The timber was cut at Roache’s Mill in Cawongla. (Edmond Roache also supplied the timber for Cawongla Hall.) Cawongla doesn’t have a mill anymore. It also doesn’t have the public school, butter factory, butcher and petrol bowser it used to have. The general store is still there, though, in the old bakery building, and there’s an excellent preschool for the locals’ kids. Aldi in Lismore now supplies other needs.

Wadeville Hall had a special floor. It was narrow boards of teak and both ends were laid in a semicircular pattern. Beautiful to dance on. And for all of its long life people danced on that floor. Dancing for the soldiers, the school, the fire brigade, newlyweds and newly dead. A lot of community spirit got danced into that floor.

On November 5, the sun rose on a smoking pile of ashes and twisted corrugated iron where once Wadeville Hall had stood. The community was shocked. It decided to build another hall – the perfect act of defiance against a cowardly prejudice.

But this time it wouldn’t be on private land.

Around me, under a canopy of stars, young children run and shriek. Teenagers, lit blue by phone screens, huddle in conspiratorial groups near the stage door. Young dads wear board shorts and sit on eskies. Young mums in tight jeans hold children on their hips while sipping Margaret River wine from plastic glasses.

And the young faces I used to see at Wadeville Hall – the faces of that generation of settlers who left the suburbs to participate in a land-based evolution of community – well, those faces are now older. (Sadly, for some the fashion sense has not aged…)

But the happiness and hope that infuriated a vandal with a match 30 years ago still radiate from those faces.

In the flickering light escaping the round windows of beautiful Hanging Rock Hall, Wadeville, we raise our glasses in memory of the old hall, acknowledge our history, and salute the power of community.

Special thanks to my friend Helen Trustum of Bentley whose research into local country halls fascinates me.


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