In the old days, a Town Hall was as much the heart of a community as the pubs or the parish church. But building a new one requires co-operation and consensus.
My Tasmanian home town of Ulverstone drew tourists from very early times, due to its lovely beaches, the Leven River, and its picturesque countryside. Here is a newspaper advertisement from The Commercial Hotel;
However, by the early nineteen hundreds the town was being badly let down by its public buildings. A correspondent to The Daily Post did not hold back. He praised the town’s fine accommodation, but then wrote;
Ulverstone possesses the poorest Town Hall of any town of its size, not only in Tasmania, but in Australasia. It is small, ill-built, and altogether antiquated. It encumbers one of the finest sites in Reibey Street, and by its ugliness and unsuitability repels many fine companies from visiting the town….A poll was taken of the whole municipality on the question, but naturally enough the country people voted against it. (Daily Post, Thursday, Feb. 18 1915)
The much maligned old Hall is pictured below at left.
In April 1915 another poll was held. This time there were three specific questions. One – Were ratepayers in favour of a new Town Hall? Two -Were they in favour of borrowing up to £5,000 to buy a site for a replacement building owned by Mr James O’Neill? This block was located at the river end of town, beside the Commercial Hotel on the corner of Reibey Street and The Esplanade.
Question Three – Were residents in favour of borrowing up to £5,000 to erect a new building on the same site as the old one?
The result appeared in The North West Post on April 23. There was overwhelming support for a new Town Hall, with 289 ratepayers saying yes and just 45 content to keep the old one. However, there was no consensus on a preferred site. The O’Neill site received 127 ‘for’ votes, but 138 ‘against’. 83 people ticked the box for rebuilding on the same site, but 191 said no. It was back to the drawing board for the council’s committee.
So what was it that the naysayers disliked about the O’Neill site?
Well, there was a strong temperance movement in Ulverstone and the idea of close proximity to a hotel was anathema to the diehard anti-alcohol brigade, such as the writer of a letter in the Advocate signed, PROGRESS;
Sir, I trust that the ratepayers will give an emphatic veto on Thursday to the proposal to build the new hall so near to the backyard of an hotel. No matter how well conducted a house may be, there are times when men, under the influence of liquor, get beyond control. The hall, wherever it is built, will be used for children’s concerts, religious gatherings such as Sunday school anniversaries and other daylight festivities...
Then there was this unsigned piece calling out perceived hypocrisy on the part of the Warden, Mr A. C. Solomon, who backed the O’Neill site;
Some time ago, when it was proposed to purchase a piece of the bowling green at the back of the present hall, Mr Solomon, who is leader of the temperance party at Ulverstone and his temperance friends, objected on the grounds that the property [at the rear of Furner’s Hotel] was owned by an hotel keeper….the same Mr Solomon has now swallowed his temperance objections and is ready to build a new hall right against an hotel. But the Reibey Street magnates were never remarkable for consistency. They strain at a gnat today and swallow the camel tomorrow. Mr Soloman has struck a very big camel. (Daily Post, April 22)
Here is a photo of Mr Solomon on a day when politics was forgotten and the town came together to celebrate Wattle Day.
The photograph below shows the large premises of Furner’s Hotel and the bowling green (see arrow), which was situated more or less behind the old Town Hall.
The continued machinations of local politicians, ratepayers and business owners meant that a new Town Hall simply did not eventuate. Finally, in January 1921, it was destroyed in one of Ulverstone’s largest fires. I suspect everyone was secretly relieved. A new Hall was constructed on the same site before the year was out.
The ‘new’ Town Hall made way for a supermarket in the 1970s, but Ulverstone now has a very fine Civic Centre.