There is something magical about a country hall.
These small wooden buildings dot the landscape. They have a frugal modesty and an old fashioned generosity.
If they had names they’d be called Thelma or Rose or Alan. They’re a pungent olfactory mix of last week’s wedding enmeshed with yesterday’s committee meeting. Curry and Jatz, tea and beer, tears and laughter.
They are the site of weddings and birthdays, of local club meetings. A jam night. Poetry fundraisers for some kid’s school camp. A cabaret spectacular for a local lady with breast cancer; and the place her friends came to mourn her with quiet conversations over tea and cake. It’s where people meet for cards. Or a cooking class. Or yoga. Or a pregnancy support group. A men’s shed get-together, or AA.
It’s a space for gathering when that gathering can’t take place at your home. Halls are for people who don’t have grand homes. They’re for us, the ordinary folk who don’t have the money to whack up a marquee in their backyard, who can’t have more than ten people for dinner because we just don’t have the chairs, or the room – or the cups.
Country halls are spaces that belong to everyone. Like a community garden, but for events.
I love being given the key to a hall. Opening it and standing in the empty space. Knowing that in a few hours I will create something remarkable, there will be laughter and conversation and applause and people, then at 11pm when I stack the last chair, it’s gone. The place is empty again, ready for the next user to make it their own. Every time I use a hall I feel like a hermit crab, finding an uninhabited shell, scrambling inside, then abandoning it in the night. It’s so transitory.
Halls are the definition of ‘liminal’. They are all about the space in between. They stand quietly, wondering what will happen next.
Wooden floors get swept clean. Chairs are stacked. Kitchens wiped over. Toilet bins emptied. Over 35 years as a comedian, I’ve performed thousands of gigs and nothing quite measures up to the country hall. And nothing is quite as humbling.
Recently I wanted to do some fundraisers for flood-affected communities. I rang the number for the Corndale Hall and was told ‘it got washed off its stumps love. It’s down the bottom of the paddock now.’
I felt for the community who have gathered there. Who have got drunk and danced and had angry meetings and well-attended sausage sizzles. I performed some of my favourite comedy sets at the Corndale Hall. It’s like losing your heart. Every community needs its hall. During the floods it was our halls – our empty spaces – that became places of sanctuary.
Halls are about community. But they are also about rules. They have rules written in biro blue tacked to the fridge. They’re usually in the sloping cursive of a Committee President who has since retired; a woman with a severe expression but a generous heart. Her photo is in black and white under the Lifetime Members sign. Her name is Edna and she loved rules. They made her feel peaceful. The rules are everything in this Spartan shared space. The hall must be returned how it is found. That is how we get to enjoy the shared resource of a community space.
Edna’s dead now, but the rules live on. And because of that, the hall continues.
Doors open. Magic Happens. Doors Shut. It’s left ready for next time.
In a world powered by the capitalist ethos, where it’s all about flashy bars, giant venues and events centres there’s an unpretentious sensibility that you can only get in a country hall where everyone is welcome.
Just make sure you wash your cups.