BEROWRA DISTRICT HALL - HISTORY

1. Berowra School

The present Berowra District Hall began its life in 1898 as a one-room school with a verandah on one side. Before that time, school had been conducted in Berowra in a spare room in the home of Mary Wall in Waratah Road, with up to 25 pupils in the one room.

The original building was built by Mr William Humphries of Maroota, Pitt Town for the tender price of 99 pounds, and was completed in March 1898. The specification stated:

"The school building is to be constructed of wood and is to consist of a schoolroom 21ft x 16ft with a verandah 8ft wide extending along the front of it the full length of the building; the verandah to be closed at the ends. The walls of the schoolroom are to be 10 1/2 ft high, inside measurement."

The school grounds consisted of 2 acres, bounded by roads known as Park Street, King Street and Crown Street, and crown land on the western side. It apparently included the area now occupied by the tennis courts. Pan toilets were provided some distance away from the main building, initially in the area of the present tennis courts, but later relocated down the slope towards the western boundary. They were described as being "half hidden in the bush".

The building was given internal linings, a ceiling and a coat of paint in 1903, for the grand price of 27 pounds. The grounds were fenced in 1907, and new steps, additional verandahs and an extra window were added in 1910. By this time the school was accommodating up to 40 students (if they all came to school at the same time). The head teacher wrote that:

"At present, four children are accommodated in the enclosed verandah on the western side of the school owing to the air in the schoolroom becoming vitiated when 25 or more children are in the room for an hour or more."

The school was extended with the addition of the larger room in 1912, with the intention that the school should anticipate catering for an extra 40 pupils as the community of Berowra grew. The cost of the extensions was apparently 487 pounds. The additions were officially opened by the Director of Education, Mr P Board, on 7th September 1912. At this time, water was not connected, and two rainwater tanks were located adjacent to the building.

The community then lived with the threat of bushfires, just as we do now. In 1930, the school was used for a "Sale of Work" because the local hall had been burned down, and on two days in October 1937, the head teacher had to take the senior boys and go and fight bushfires while the school was left in the charge of Miss King.

Apparently little was done to the school building until 1937, when complaints about its poor lighting, ventilation and general run-down condition lead to the expenditure of 235 pounds on painting, repairs and other unspecified remodelling, which might have included larger windows. At some stage in this period, it appears that the main hall was extended on the northern end - the area that now houses the stage - and the roof line changed from a hip to a gable shape.

During the middle 1940s, the head teacher and the Berowra community began to suggest that the school had outgrown its site, and that land bounded by Hillcrest Road, High Street and Crown Street be acquired for a new and larger school. This eventually took place in 1948, and in March 1949 the Department of Education decided that

"... no objections will be raised to the transfer of the existing school site at Berowra to the Hornsby Council for public recreation purposes when the area is no longer required by the Education Department."

By August 1950, the two-room school with its verandahs was accommodating 95 students, taught by the Head Teacher and his assistant. The local school inspector advised that he expected the enrolment to increase to 110 in 1951. The building was not large enough to allow a third class to be established, and the grounds were also considered to be too small. The building itself was also reported as being in very poor condition, and not suitable for relocation to the new school site. The inspector recommended the provision of three prefabricated classrooms on the new site as soon as possible, or failing that, one prefabricated classroom be erected at the existing site, to avoid protests from parents.

In 1952, the new school was under construction, and the Education Department received representations from the local member, Mr Storey MLA, for the old school building to be made available for use as a "Baby Clinic, Library, Community Hall or for similar purposes ...". The Education Department considered that the building was in such poor condition that it was not worth retaining when it was no longer required for school purposes.

The new school was occupied on 30th October 1952, and the dedication of the original two-acre site as a school was revoked on 18th September 1953 by the then Minister for Lands, Mr F. H. Hawkins, who at the same time agreed that the site be reserved from sale to be used for purposes of "Public Recreation".

2. Berowra District Hall

Hornsby Council formally took over control of the old school in 1953, and it became known as the Berowra District Hall. It was used by a number of community groups, including Churches, Senior Citizens Club, ballet and dance groups and Mothers Clubs, and the Berowra Progress Association. And despite no longer being owned by the Education Department, some school classes were held in the hall when the numbers of students at the new school exceeded the rooms available there.

The hall was apparently managed for the first few years of its life under the Council by a Council officer who lived locally; Mr Charles Woof. In 1957, Council invited the Berowra Progress Assiciation to nominate three of its members to join Mr Woof on a management committee. The committee so formed comprised Mr Woof, Mr Dan Fitzgerald, Mr William Johnston, and Mr Henry St J Arnold. Council approved the new committee to charge the following fees:

  • Monday-Friday (small room), 7pm - 11pm: 7/6d
  • Monday-Friday (Hire of Hall), 7pm - midnight £1/0/0
  • Saturday 6pm - midnight £2/0/0
  • Saturday afternoon 1pm - 6pm £1/0/0
  • Youth development organisations, Sunday Schools, Churches etc - nominal charge - 5/-

The cost to register the Hall under the Theatres & Public Halls Act at this time was £1/0/0 or $2.00.

The Berowra Progress Association made regular representations to Council for repairs and improvements. In 1959 they suggested that the new brick toilet block should be built attached to the hall, and then when it wasn't, wrote many letters to get a path laid and the storm water drainage between the hall and the toilet block fixed.

In 1966, the Chief Secretary's Department approved renewal of the licence for the hall subject to the provision of

" ... panic lighting ... one or two oil-burning lamps, suitably placed, may be sufficient."

Soon after this, in 1967, Council had the piano dismantled, serviced rebuilt and tuned by Mr Peter Passmore at a cost of $94. His note to Council after the work was completed declares:

"After inspecting this piano I came to the conclusion that some residents of the Shire do not deserve to have a Hall and a piano available to them."

The piano was retuned another twice between then and the mid-1970s.

In 1970, Mrs Newton wrote to Council saying that she had been the cleaner and key-holder for the hall for 12 years and had not had an increase in her fee of $5.00 per week. Council agreed to raise her fee to $8.00 per week.

Also in 1970, the Senior Citizens' Club wrote a number of letters to Council complaining that the floor in the main hall was so uneven that they could not find a flat enough section of floor on which to play carpet bowls. Council apparently fixed this problem, and installed a stove at about the same time, but otherwise spent the minimum amount of money on it, and many people who used it in that period remember it as being in poor condition. In 1973, the Council's Chief Building Surveyor wrote about the hall in his report to Council:

"Condition only fair ... its size and shape would present difficulties for its use for any major function and I would assume in due course it must be demolished and rebuilt."

Soon after this, Council considered seeking a Federal Government grant for its restoration, but this did not proceed.

The last significant work recorded as having been done to the hall was the replacement of the guttering in 1970 and the erection of the wire fence along three sides in 1975. (The fence was put up without an entrance to the main doors, and the contractor had to be brought back to fix it.)

Since its takeover by Council in 1953, the old hall had been given the minimum possible maintenance. Most of the work seems to have been in response to a steady stream of orders made by the NSW Department of Local Government, Chief Secretary's Department and Department of Services to have critical repairs done so it could continue in use as a public hall. Its condition was reportedly so poor that the only option appeared to be its demolition.

Just to show that nothing changes, Council's records include complaints in 1977 about noise and behaviour of young people at and after dances held at the Hall, and vandalism of St Marks Church after functions at the hall.

Community groups first started pushing for a new Community Centre in the mid-1960s, but Council was unable to provide the funds. By the middle 1970s, it was clear to most of the community that a larger, more versatile community hall facility was required in Berowra, and Council sponsored the formation of an official 530A planning committee to investigate and plan for the construction of a new Community Centre. Early ideas were for a new hall on the original Berowra Waters Road site, but the Gully Road site was the one finally chosen.

3 Management by the The Lions Club of Berowra Inc

The management of the old District Hall passed from the Progress Association committee to the Berowra Community Centre Committee from the time it was formed in the late 1970s, although the responsibility for maintenance remained with Council.

In 1980, a number of members of Berowra Lions Club visited Norfolk Island and saw an historic building there that the Norfolk Island Lions Club had restored and had the use of as a Club hall. At the same time, the Berowra Lions Club members shared the Berowra community's concern about the poor condition and uncertain future of the District Hall. They decided to suggest to Council that the Club undertake its preservation, and gain a meeting room as well, if they took on the responsibility for its restoration and management.

This suggestion was made first in 1980, but Council chose to leave it with the Berowra Community Centre Committee. However in 1982, when Council decided that it was not prepared to commit the necessary funds to the repair of the District Hall, Council and the BCCC reconsidered and agreed to the Lions Club's proposal.

After negotiations with the Council, an agreement was signed on 6th April 1984 between Hornsby Shire Council and the Lions Club of Berowra, and the Lions Club took over management of the old District Hall, rent free, but on the condition that it would be restored and maintained by the Lions Club. The first part of the agreement said:

"WHEREAS:

  1. The building known as Berowra District Hall situated on Crown Reserve 76234 for Public Recreation Berowra Waters Road, Berowra ... has been set aside and made available for recreation, comfort and enjoyment of the public.
  2. The Lions Club of Berowra has offered to preserve and maintain the building.
  3. The building is of historical significance in the community.
  4. The Club has agreed to operate the building in close co-operation with the Council.

THE PARTIES HEREBY mutually agree as follows:-

  1. The Club shall be responsible for the care, control and management of the Hall.
  2. The Club, having regard to the historical significance of the building, shall restore the Hall and thereafter maintain the Hall to the extent necessary to enable it to continue to be licensed under the Theatres and Public Halls Act and regulations."

Since then the Lions Club has done major rebuilding work on the hall, especially the original section (the western room and verandahs), which has had:

  • the piers, floor bearers, joists and floor boards replaced
  • the roof rafters, ceiling and iron sheeting replaced
  • the walls jacked up and straightened
  • the verandah room ceiling and wall linings replaced
  • new cupboard frames built in the kitchen
  • new electrical wiring, including safety switches

Other repairs and restoration work include:

  • replacement of the floor in the main hall.
  • the entrance steps and slabs rebuilt
  • laying of the large concrete slab bordering the car park
  • new lights, including emergency lighting
  • the roof repainted
  • finishing of the kitchen
  • repainting inside

This work was done largely by tradesman members of the Club, and was paid for with a grant of $10,000 from Council and $12,000 of Lions Club funds.

The Lions Club has also had the hall repainted externally and the guttering replaced, and is gearing up to do the next stage of restoration work over the next 2 years, including:

  • replacing the boundary fencing
  • removal of unsafe or noxious trees and plants
  • landscaping and plant replacement

Rental Arrangements

The Berowra District Hall is available for rent at low cost by individuals and community groups by arrangement with the Lions Club.

The Lions Club reserves the right to decline hire to individuals or groups who are likely, in the judgment of the Booking Officer, to cause or incur an unacceptable amount of damage or cleaning.

For further information or booking enquiries, please contact our Booking Officer on 0416 742 175 or by email at bookings@berowradistricthall.com.au .

The Lions Club of Berowra acknowledges the following sources for the information presented here:

  • Berowra Public School - Centenary Booklet 1994.
  • Hornsby Shire Council records
  • Lions Club of Berowra - charter members' recollections and Club records.