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Ballan Shire Halls – controversy & compromise all around

This week, we explore the fascinating and controversial processes of construction, deconstruction, and design associated with the various Ballan Shire Halls.

Back in October 1867, the Ballan Shire Council were working on modified plans for the Shire Hall. These improvements included the arrangement of the front elevation window to create a more “ornamental” appearance. It was suggested that the plans be on display at the Courthouse, coinciding with the Secretary being present, so ratepayers “may gratify their natural curiosity to know what sort of building their money is to be expended upon”.

The enthusiasm for the Hall’s plans waned. A Funeral Notice was entered into the local newspaper on 12 March 1870 summing up the sentiment of the Hall contract as “Anti-Jobbery,” however as the entry was not authenticated, it was omitted from being published.

In March 1870, the Hall’s proposed site was reserved, and the Shire Engineer proudly opened it the following year. At the Ploughing Match hosted by the local Agricultural and Pastoral Show in Myrniong, six photographic views of the Hall were awarded to the first three winners.

In 1882, the Bacchus Marsh Mechanics Institute was interested in the Ballan Hall’s plans and building costs possibly to assist them with their construction of a hall in Bacchus Marsh. Donations were sought for this construction, with Mr Staughton, M.L.A. donating his second £25 on the condition that the hall not be smaller than 35 x 55 (Ballan Hall being 46 x 20). Construction for the Bacchus Marsh Hall commenced in 1883.

A meeting between the Railway Commissioner’s Chairman, Mr Speight, and two M.L.A. Mr Staughton & Mr Armytage was held in April 1890. It was concerning a report indicating that blasting operations of the railway had caused damage to the Ballan Hall. Rather, Mr Speight indicated that the building was faulty in construction and not a result of blasting. He asserted that the Government should not be held responsible but rather the contractor who built the Hall should be. The final decision was reserved until a department officer had examined the matter.

July 1891 the Council was again alerted to the unsafe condition of the Shire Hall. There was a motion to erect a new building, borrowing £1000, to be extended over five years with interest. The damage was deemed as a result of blasting works at the Ballan Station which increased cracks due to the rough rubble not properly bonded when set in bad mortar during construction – a compromise having been achieved between the Railway Commission and the Government.

In September 1892, a heated debate occurred regarding the new building. The discussion included determining each Riding’s contribution to the new hall. There were intense sentiments about both the existing hall’s location and the idea of rebuilding at the same spot, with some considering these locations as “out-of-the-way places.” Interestingly, a council member who was present during the original building’s location argued that it was not central at the time. However, he now conceded that the township had extended eastwards, making the present site more central.

Much discussion was conducted as to whether the rebuild was to use the existing building’s materials, or not. One proposal suggested that any existing materials not used for the new building could be used for road metal. Another motion showed concern that if the existing building was sold to the contractor, they “would utilise every stick and stone in it”. The notion of the new building being associated with their name for some years, and not spoiling it, was put forward as a reason to use the existing building for “incidentals”. Regardless, the amount of £800, including contingencies, was put to the vote and carried.

A letter to the editor of The Ballan Times dated 17 March 1893 expressed their “disgrace” that labour for the rebuild of the Ballan Shire Hall is not using local contracted labour, instead relying on outside employment, “strangers doing the work … ratepayers have to pay for”! The disgruntled nom de plume (signed “ratepayer”) was outraged that no townsman labourer or mechanic would derive any benefit from the rebuild. Similar sentiments were expressed 23 years earlier!

So, what happened to the original building materials? Stay tuned for next week as we uncover their final destination!

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