C.J. Dennis Memorial Hall
by Joanne Priestley
The first building used as a hall in Toolangi was built in 1895 on the Toolangi Primary School site and measured 22 feet long and 14 feet wide. It was built by the local Toolangi residents and leased back to the Education Department as a school for all days as required.[i] At other times it was the community Hall and used for meetings, social events and Church services. The second school building, also built by locals in 1907,[ii] continued to serve as both a Public Hall & School building. In 1943[iii] an entirely new school building was built so the 1907 hall/school was relocated to the Toolangi Public Hall Reserve land on the Main Road by tractor, where it served exclusively as the Toolangi Hall, including a period side by side with the newer C.J. Dennis Hall. The building was sold for $25.00 in 1969 and carted away for scrap timber.[iv] The original 1895 school/hall was relocated a few times but remained on the Primary School site.[v] The building served as a shelter shed for many years, before walls were added and it was utilised as a library/art room. In 1991 it was demolished due to severe termite damage and a wooden sculpture of horses and timber log cart pays tribute to the founders of the 1895 school.
From 1944 the Hall committee, the Toolangi Progress Association and the Toolangi Social Club began fundraising to build a new Hall. Events included dances, open gardens and bazaars.[vi]
Official Specifications of Work and Materials for the erection of Hall were produced in 1947 with addenda added in 1952.[vii]
By 1952 when tenders were received and work commenced on the building, the Hall Committee, the Toolangi Progress Association and the Toolangi Social Club had raised over £1,400. The Public Works Department had promised a donation of £1,000 but only £870 had been received, and the Shire contributed £100. This left a shortfall of about £600 from the estimated cost of £3,100.[viii] Healesville Shire loaned the committee £160.[ix] Also, some 200 debentures were issued and about 50 of these were taken up to enable the building to begin. Each of these were for £5, to be advanced to the C.J. Dennis Memorial Hall and included the promise to be repaid, with interest, within two years.[x] Work commenced in December 1952 but the money in hand was not enough for a proper contract of work as costs had increased to £4,000-£5,000. Undaunted, the people of Toolangi and Castella donated timber and skills to save money, with Healesville builder Mr M.E Padley supervising construction work.[xi]
Power and lighting for some of the early functions held in the hall was provided by a Ferguson tractor loaned by Mr Milner. Later, a diesel engine was purchased for this job and was housed in a shed on the eastern side of the hall. The diesel engine remained until the SEC power arrived in 1963.[xii] When the shed was no longer needed for the engine, the Toolangi Tennis Club used the shed as a clubroom until the supper room was built.[xiii]
The name of C.J. Dennis Memorial Hall was agreed upon before building began. Mr Jack Brenda of the Castella Post Office and a Healesville Shire Councillor, claimed the honour of naming the Hall in C.J. Dennis’ memory.[xiv] The late Jack Biggs was the hard-working secretary during the construction period and was also involved with maintaining power from the diesel engine.[xv]
The hall originally contained a large stage with curtains and the plan allowed for the showing of films with room for a projection box above the main entry area. There was a Public Appeal in 1953 to raise funds for an up-to-date plant for projection of films on alternate Saturdays to the dance[xvi] but the idea did not come to fruition. The stage was eventually removed to make way for the kitchen and supper room, which was built in 1969/70.[xvii] Toilets were planned to be at the front of the hall,[xviii] but costs prevented this from proceeding. In 1955 an application was submitted to the Healesville Shire for a grant of £800 to build toilets.[xix] These were built in a separate building at the back of the Hall. Although still in use today, a grant obtained from VBRRA in 2011 saw the construction of three internal, unisex toilets[xx] that are very appreciated by users of the Hall, especially in winter!
Other improvements in more recent years have included:[xxi] the building a commercial kitchen and meeting room in 2008 to replace the old kitchen and supper room, installation of three air conditioners for heating and cooling as well as block-out curtains on the windows. A storage room and cupboards were added, the septic system upgraded and floors re-polished. A playground was added in 2010, with community notice boards and bike racks installed in 2011. After the 2009 bushfires saw the district without power for many days, a generator was purchased and installed in 2011.
The first large-scale function held in the hall was the Coronation Ball on 30 May 1953. It was organised by the Toolangi District Progress Association. Admission was 5/- and 177 people attended, with a profit of £54/0/2.[xxii] The event featured performances by the local children. There was also a competition to raise money for the hall between the Queen of Timber, Miss Nancy Moore; the Queen of Produce, Miss Margaret Milner; and the Queen of Sport, Miss Janice McKay. It was won by the Queen of Timber, Miss Nancy Moore. The effort raised over £717 for the Hall.[xxiii]
A second big event was a packed-out “Switch On” Ball held in July 1963. The switching on of the power was performed by Mrs Boswell, wife of Mr Cliff Boswell, the Chairman of the local SEC committee. The hall has continued hosting a variety of events, including ‘Robbie Burns’ nights, sing-alongs (there was a piano in the hall until at least 1969[xxiv]), Rhododendron Balls, the Badminton Club, Giant Pumpkin, cooking and writing competitions, and school concerts, as well as numerous community meetings, activities and public forums. There’s even been a few weddings!
In 1947, the Healesville Shire Council stipulated that the Hall was to be managed by a local Hall Committee.[xxv] Under the Murrindindi Shire, a Committee of Management operated as a Section 86 Committee of the Shire until 2018 when insufficient volunteers could be found to form a committee. Thankfully, management of the Hall was taken over by the Toolangi and Castella Community House Inc, so the C.J. Dennis Memorial Hall can hopefully continue for another 68 years to be an integral part of the Toolangi and Castella community.
[i] Pockett, Priestley, et al, Toolangi Primary School: The First 100 years 1895-1995, 1995.
[ii] Pockett, Priestley, et al, Toolangi Primary School: The First 100 years 1895-1995, 1995.
[iii] Pockett, Priestley, et al, Toolangi Primary School: The First 100 years 1895-1995, 1995.
[iv] Bob Pockett, notes supplied to Joanne Priestley, Editor, Talking Toolangi newsletter.
[v] Bob Pockett, notes from address to Healesville & District Historical Society, October 1986.
[vi] Trove: Healesville Guardian (Lilydale: 1942–1954), 15 September 1945, page 2.
[vii] A.C. Leith and Bartlett, Architects and Engineers St Kilda Road Melbourne, Treasurer records, CJ Dennis Hall.
[viii] Trove: Healesville Guardian (Lilydale: 1942–1954), 22 May 1953, page 1, ‘Toolangi Progress Association’; Talking Toolangi newsletter, June 2005, page 6, Editor Joanne Priestley.
[ix] Trove: Healesville Guardian (Lilydale: 1942–1954), 24 December 1953, page 3, ‘Healesville Shire Council’.
[x] Original Debenture 1953, Treasurer records, CJ Dennis Hall.
[xi] Trove: Healesville Guardian (Lilydale: 1942–1954), 19 December 1952, page 1, ‘Pars About People’.
[xii] Bob Pockett, notes supplied to Joanne Priestley, Editor, Talking Toolangi newsletter.
[xiii] Minutes of Meetings, Toolangi Tennis Club Minute Book 1950-1970, CJ Dennis Hall Archives.
[xiv] Trove: Healesville Guardian (Lilydale: 1942–1954), 31 August 1946, page 4, ‘Toolangi Memorial Hall’.
[xv] Bob Pockett, notes supplied to Joanne Priestley, Editor, Talking Toolangi newsletter
[xvi] Trove: Healesville Guardian (Lilydale: 1942–1954), 30 October 1953, page 2.
[xvii] Bob Pockett, notes supplied to Joanne Priestley, Editor, Talking Toolangi newsletter.
[xviii] Original plans, CJ Dennis Hall Records.
[xix] Trove: Healesville Guardian (Lilydale: 1942–1954), 11 November 1955, page 1, ‘Healesville Shire Council’.
[xx] Joanne Priestley, Grant Applicant, CJ Dennis Hall.
[xxi] Treasurer records, CJ Dennis Hall.
[xxii] Treasurer records, CJ Dennis Hall receipt 74, 23 June 1954.
[xxiii] Trove: Healesville Guardian (Lilydale: 1942–1954), 18 June 1954, page 3, ‘Toolangi Queen Carnival’; Treasurer records, CJ Dennis Hall.
[xxiv] Insurance Document, 29 April 1969, Treasurer records, CJ Dennis Hall.
[xxv] Trove: Healesville & Yarra Glen Guardian (Lilydale: 1942–1954), 3 May 1947, page 3, ‘Healesville Shire Council’.