Stokers Siding. Sunday 4.20pm
I like the old country halls. These boxy stupas from times past honour community, when community was what you called a group of people living and working together, not a retirement village or a social media movement.
The halls are haunted by ghosts of other eras, eras that are nearly lost to the collective memory – except for a few faded committee photos, a portrait of the queen and an honour roll on the wall.
I listen to the duo on stage. Sweet. I also hear phantoms from the past – sing-a-longs around the piano, patriotic war songs from the ladies’ choir, a shuffling formal foxtrot, a bush band reel.
Yes, the musical ghosts of past gigs have stirred and are hanging about.
The bloke on stage has black clothes and silver hair. He sings of trains and lost love. I believe him. He plays guitar with a brass finger and makes it sing too. He wears his sunnies – even though he’s inside – because he’s a blues man. And there’s a beautiful woman next to him.
A country hall was once the heart of its community. Built by locals on land donated by locals (who had taken it from the original locals) the hall was a place for meetings, dances, weddings and even funerals. But as the wave of post-war prosperity broke on Australian shores with the ka-ching of consumerism, the shopping mall replaced the community hall as the focus of society. As electronic communication busted the limitations of physical proximity, community went virtual and the halls went quiet.
Some fell into disrepair. Some mysteriously burned to the ground when alternative types reactivated them with psychedelic rock and marijuana smoke. Some halls are still maintained and used; like this one, at Stokers Siding. (Pity about the missing apostrophe…)
The woman on stage keeps her eyes fixed on the blues man. Sometimes those eyes flash. Must be reflected stage light. Her harmonies shadow his voice exactly. It’s a pleasing combination.
Sunday afternoon is not your usual time for a blues gig.
The hall is filled with sunlight, not cigarette smoke. The kitchen is serving chai, not whiskey. Children run around noisily. Their parents go ‘Shhhh!’ even more noisily. But music fills the old hall, as it has done for generations, and it feels good. It feels like community.
It’s not officially called Stokers Siding Hall; it’s the Stokers-Dunbible Memorial Hall. Dunbible is an area near here and it used to have a its own hall, built in 1904. Then, in 1914, the people of Stoker’s Siding built a hall.
Note the apostrophe. Before the Geographical Names Board of NSW got rid of all apostrophes in place names for ease of data retrieval, Stokers Siding was Stoker’s Siding because the siding was on Mr Joseph Stoker’s land. The honour roll on the wall spells Stoker’s Siding with an apostrophe. Good. Unfortunately, it also spells ‘honour’ without a ‘u’. Bad.
Dunbible is very close to Stokers Siding and, in 1942, the locals thought, ‘Who needs two halls?’ So, they moved the Dunbible Hall to Stoker’s Siding and attached it to the front of the Stoker’s Siding Hall creating the Stoker’s-Dunbible Memoral Hall, now called the Stokers-Dunbible Memorial Hall. (For ease of data retrieval. Apostrophes are too difficult for URLs and bureaucrats.)
The song is finished. The audience claps. A child squeals. The musos smile. The gig is done. The ghosts of gigs past sink back into the shadows as this gig just passed joins them to become another musical memory these walls will hold, for a while, until it fades away. Like the apostrophe.