Many years ago, Woody and I ran a catering business which often involved working at country halls. No nonsense buildings with plenty of room to host whatever the community threw at it and with big old kitchens with the space to lay out hundreds of cups and saucers for a bloody good cuppa and scones. Regular customers asked us to cater for a family celebration as they’d moved up to Murrundindi near Yea, the fact that it was more than a hundred kms away just added to the excitement (nothing has changed eh?). They’d spotted the old disused hall and couldn’t resist giving it a new lease of life for their party. Well, they got the place jumping. A horse float was backed up to a side door to become the bar and with a lack of plumbing we had to bucket what water we needed from the creek. A hot summer night in Central Victoria, the smell of the paddocks and bush, lights twinkling. It was nothing short of magical. An old girl brought back to life.
Even today the smell of an old country hall takes me back. Generations of people have left their presence in the timber of those halls. My Dad used to reminisce of the days when they were young blokes on motorbikes, Harleys and Nortons and Indians. They couldn’t afford cars back then. On a Saturday night they’d see how many halls they could ride to, not for the dancing but to time the supper. Pearcedale, Langwarrin, Moorooduc, Tyabb and, I was told that Moorooduc always put on the best supper back then. It was coming home from one of these Saturday nights that he met my Mum. She and her sister had been dancing at Tyabb and their father’s car broke down on the way home. Dad happened along and got them going again. A whizz with cars having been a motor mechanic in the army. It goes to show that you don’t need to dance to pick up a girl you just need to understand a carby.
As kids we lived between two country halls both held old time dancing. One held Saturday arvo picture shows where like all kids of the day we’d roll our Jaffas down the aisle. The other brought joy to our childhoods with Community Singing. A hall packed with families singing their hearts out following the ‘bouncing ball’. I guess that was a forerunner to Karaoke. By sixteen we were to make our debuts in ‘the hall’. A bunch of country kids trading tractors for white satin and tiaras unaware that unless we married farmers we’d soon be leaving those tractors behind.
In more recent times we’ve spent several January weekends camped at Girgarre, near Shepparton where the locals host the annual Moosic Muster. This ingenious community somehow manages to host and cater to upwards of 800 people in a tiny hall and adjoining supper room. The music never stops, from daylight to dawn with ukes, banjos and all sundry of instruments plucked and strummed. But my favourite time of all is when the crowd has thinned on a Sunday night and the last stalwarts meet in the hall for an open mike. Bare feet tapping, careful not to knock over the beers on the floor, warm sweaty and dusty on a hot summer’s night. Acts good and bad, on a stage that is flanked by memorials to battles the locals fought in wars gone by: The Somme, Beersheba and all. It makes the hair stand up on the back of your neck.