By Gus Underwood
The Walls Have Spoken – the first 150 years of the Shire Hall at Rushworth is the title of a new book to mark the big birthday of the Heritage Council Victoria-listed building, written by former resident Alan McLean.
The book recalls hall events involving people from Rushworth, Stanhope, Colbinabbin, Murchison, Whroo and farming districts in between, together with visitors with lofty titles from places far and wide, prime ministers included.
Almost every district family, other than some arrivals in the past decade or so, is mentioned. One Rushworth family has had an extraordinary seven generations involved in events at the hall. The individuals are shown by name in the book. Several other families have five or six generations who were entertained, or provided entertainment, in the building.
Foundation stone disturbed
In 1869, some creeping reptile lifted out the newly-laid foundation stone.
It was re-set days later, calling into question claims by other historians that the stone was never seen again.
The silver trowel with an ivory handle, which was used to lay that stone, has been found, and a photograph is in the book.
In 1895, a furious shire councillor used rude words “derived from some bullock driver’s vocabulary” in vigorous debate in the council chamber at the hall.
At the pictures, and the dances
Pictures still and moving, silent and “talking”, have been a mainstay of hall activity.
In a town with no picture theatre, the hall has been the cinema.
“I feel strongly that if we must have pictures, then they should be clean and worthy to be displayed to our young people,” wrote a female letter-writer to the Rushworth Chronicle within her vigorous and moralistic complaint in 1928. She added that she definitely did not go to the pictures or look at the rude posters around town which promoted these films.
Balls in the hall in the early years were rated a success if dancing continued until dawn.
Before daybreak, only a full moon or a horse-drawn buggy with good lamps, helped dancers get home any earlier to remove their dancing shoes, or boots.
Ballet, bird shows, and boxing
Concerts of all styles of music have raised funds for many worthy causes, and theatrical productions (usually musical) have given the hall’s old stage a fair workout.
During World War II, patrons could have attended ballet, a bird show, and boxing, depending upon their interests.
The celebrations at war’s end, and the “welcome home” events for local servicemen were huge events, as people spilled out on to the streets.
“The Shire Hall is a disgrace!” said the 1962 Waranga Shire president, after the council meetings had moved to new premises in 1961. There was quite a ceremony to open those new Waranga Shire offices, now known as Shire of Campaspe Service Centre.
Performances by Rushworth’s band
The local band, in its various identities, has played thousands of tunes at literally hundreds of hall events during the past 15 decades.
Visiting Scottish and Welsh musicians have played to packed houses.
In 1977, football premiership celebrations included the coach and some players clambering up the Youth Club’s climbing apparatus to within touching distance of the ceiling.
The words “health and safety” were rather hard to hear at that height that night.
Debutantes by the hundreds
In a great number of years “radiant debutantes” have made formal and frocked entry into local society at the hall, partnered by handsome young men with tight collars, buttoned-up suits and shiny shoes.
For the young women, of course, there can only be one debut; however some of their male partners became serial offenders, asked to partner other debutantes.
In 1990, Rushworth police closed a debutante ball early, citing “too much noise.”
Public meetings at the hall have addressed hopes to gain a railway service, water supply issues, gold mining and the need for a powder magazine to store explosives, a proposed brickworks, hospital services, aged care accommodation, public toilets, and plans for a sewerage system.
With the help of newspapers published at Rushworth and beyond, the Shire Hall walls have told these stories and a great many more, which are reproduced in the book.
Listening and watching for 150 years, the walls have stood the test of time, and passed with honours.
It is to be hoped that this magnificent public building is long preserved to gather more tales of great interest in the years ahead.
Get your copy
The Walls Have Spoken has more than 200 pages, and includes more than 70 photos and is priced at just $24. Copies are available from Rushworth Variety Store, or direct from the author by phone on 0412 143 660 or email at