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Byron Shire
May 26, 2024

Mandy Nolan’s Soapbox: To Hall and Back

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Corndale Hall as it was; part of the fabric of who we are. Photo Kate Nutt.

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.

Where Corndale Hall once was. Photo Tree Faerie.

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.

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  1. Great tribute to our humble community hall. Perhaps the most significant impact is when the hall doors open on election day to welcome voters. This one day when the community gets together to shape their future and enjoy a democratic sausage sanga.

  2. Yes the loss of our Corndale hall is devastating. Our community needs the support of the thousands of people who experienced its magic to pressure the government to rebuild it ….. super strong, with big cement posts on the upstream side to protect it from flood debris…. And also we need to salvage some of the old hall to put back in the new one.

  3. I have had many of the same thoughts Mandy, but you have said it beautifully. Like the weatherboard country church sitting in green paddocks, they seem to stand as comforting beacons with a unique aesthetic.

    Nothing builds community like a an accessible, affordable place to gather. I have often thought that the dearth of such places in Byron Bay itself contributes to its feel of soullessness.

  4. Town halls are great. Europe can keep it’s town squares.
    Free Market Capitalism would have no problem with a cheap hall that can be used for small businesses that need space a few times per year for events. We should give Free Market Capitalism a try at some stage. And ‘tragedy of the commons’ aside, Town Halls work here. We should be protecting them.
    Good article

  5. Thanks for a trip down memory lane Mandy.
    Some of the best times in my life were dancing my hippy saddles off to Oka up in the Coorabell Hall. Servings of Steaming Chai and lashings poppyseed cakes in the break…crawling exhausted but happy into my combi bed at the end of the night over the road with views of the hinterland stretched out before me….these were a regular gathering that bought the good spirit and soul of the Shire together for a wild fun night of collective heaving and gyrations that enriched our community……this went on for years…..until someone from Sydney moved into the farmhouse down the road and complained to council about the noise…. .

  6. My family go back to Corndale Hall further than the 50 years of my life. Each December we had our Corndale Public School Concert and Xmas tree, the highlight of our school year, showcasing our acting talent! Lol! and the excitement of someones dad turning up as Santa later. Kitchen tea dances where Jack and Marion were the best dancers there!! Later there was Dimboola-dinner and a show! trivia nights and the annual Spring Ball, just to name a few. This is just a slither of the memories we have of growing up in Corndale on our farm and what the Corndale Hall meant to us! To see it gone and the destruction the the whole Northern Rivers area is absolutely heart breaking.


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