Looking back at 2020: The building that unites the Upper Lansdowne community - its much-loved hall

Helen and Alastair Breingan, Phil and Sue Sutton, Robyn and Roger Oliver, Ian Turier and Sue Brook and Rita Preece and Chris Galloway are some of the dedicated committee members of the Upper Lansdowne Hall. Photo: Scott Calvin.
Helen and Alastair Breingan, Phil and Sue Sutton, Robyn and Roger Oliver, Ian Turier and Sue Brook and Rita Preece and Chris Galloway are some of the dedicated committee members of the Upper Lansdowne Hall. Photo: Scott Calvin.

Essential for bushfire response

The Rumba Dump fire complex bore down on the valley in early November. It had already left a trail of devastation in other parts of the Upper Manning before it arrived.

Hall committee and Lansdowne Rural Fire Service member Alastair Breingan helped with the crisis on the coast before turning his attention to protecting Upper Lansdowne.

He said the town wasn't as affected as towns like Killabakh and Bobin but it was still a close call.

The fire stopped mere metres away from the hall.

"Fortunately we had a bit of warning that it was coming over the ridgeline at Coxcomb (north-west of the town)," Alastair said.

"People were lucky enough to get appliances and it was stopped on the (Upper Lansdowne Road)."

He said the next week was a blur as crews began to mop up.

Alastair stressed the importance of the hall during this time.

"The hall was very important and now council have realised this is a structural element (that's needed)," he said.

"The community came together, there was food for the firies anytime they came here and people were being offered water."

The hall was also used by residents who didn't feel safe in their homes.

It was at this time power was lost to the hall.

Hall secretary Helen Breingan and committee member Robyn Oliver worked around the clock to provide food to firefighters and those in need.

All they had were generators and gas barbecues.

"It shows what you can do when the need is there," Helen said.

"To feed the firefighters for me, because my husband (Alastair) is one, was a really important thing I could do to help in that situation.

"So many of the firefighters were grateful they could come into the hall and have a cup of tea, have something to eat, refuel themselves and then go back out."

It wasn't the first time Robyn or husband Roger helped out in a bushfire emergency.

In 2003 while living in Canberra, the couple fed more than 100 people for a fortnight while they battled bushfires.

"I felt it was an experience I'd already seen so I knew what to expect," Robyn said.

In the aftermath to the crisis, MidCoast Council launched the bushfire recovery program to ensure halls can support their local communities if another emergency occurs.

Where the Upper Lansdowne Hall proved an asset to the community, others such as Rainbow Flat weren't as lucky.

Without a community hall of their own, locals was forced to meet and organise at a service station.

This in itself proved community halls are more than just bricks and mortar.

The Upper Lansdowne committee was later contacted by a group from Mosman that wanted to deliver donations to bushfire victims.

The committee agreed and soon a large truck arrived brimming with supplies.

The hall has been a part of the Upper Lansdowne community for more than 90 years.

The hall has been a part of the Upper Lansdowne community for more than 90 years.

"There were kids toys, food, adult clothes, just a whole manner of things," committee member Ian Turier recalled.

"It was literally a truckload, it took us many days to sort it.

"We let the people in who were fire-affected to select whatever they wanted first before we opened it to other people."

With an abundance of items remaining, the committee held a sale and raised about $3500 for the Lansdowne Rural Fire Service.

Now nine months on from the disaster and with decent rainfall so far this year the valley has a new lease on life.

"Everything is green again which is the way Upper Lansdowne should look," Alastair said.

Endless amounts of fun

The hall is arguably one of the most active in the region. The committee can barely go a few days without hosting some form of activity or social gathering.

Committee president Roger Oliver said these events are 'big business' and keep the hall functioning.

"It's keeping us alive where a lot of halls in the area are slowly dying and that is a shame in itself," Roger said.

The most popular events include Sunday morning coffee and cake sessions, craft, yoga, pizza nights, concerts and performances.

Chris Galloway is heavily involved with the music/concerts and yoga program.

"I've visited a lot of halls in the district and the more you use a hall the better it feels," Chris said.

"People come here to enjoy themselves and have fun and that gets captured in the energy of the building.

"The place takes on a life of its own and that where we've got to with this hall, it's got a great feel to it and it's a place where people can come and do a variety of things."

He was proud of the hall's ability to attract Australian and international artists.

The stage at the Upper Lansdowne Hall has played host to countless concerts and performances.

The stage at the Upper Lansdowne Hall has played host to countless concerts and performances.

Pending the unpredictable COVID-19 outbreak, acclaimed South Coast band 19-Twenty will perform on Saturday, August 29 in the hall grounds.

Rita Preece is the friendly face you see when you walk into the hall for a concert. She said the hall is an ideal location for musical performances.

"I sing a bit myself and I must say the acoustics in the hall are absolutely brilliant, it's made with timber and has a timber roof," Rita said.

"The music nights are my favourite, the place just comes to life and I've met plenty of people at the door who have happy memories of coming here for dances as a teenager."

Of course with any concert and gathering a great spread of food is expected. Once again this is the job of catering aficionados Robyn and Helen.

"I've never made so many cakes in my life," Helen laughed.

Helen said an occasional stumbling block was notifying people about the events.

"Once you get that going, it seems to flow and take on its own momentum," Helen said.

A noticeboard was installed and an email list was set up to alert the community.

"These are things other halls can do - you just need to get started and try it and then the community supports you," Helen added.

The hall continues to host a variety of musical acts both from Australia and overseas.

The hall continues to host a variety of musical acts both from Australia and overseas.

The hall recently played host to another important exercise. About 20 people attended a first aid course, organised by committee member Sue Sutton.

"In a rural area, first aid is really important and the hall was a good spot to hold that," Sue said.

"Everyone said it was a fantastic day and I think for the hall to be used like that."

She said activities, namely the pizza nights, attract a younger audience.

"It's lovely seeing people of all ages joining in," Sue said.

Alastair has been the brains behind a number of grant applications in the past six years.

Projects include a water tank, kitchen renovation, painting works and new toilets.

"Each year we try to apply for a grant and do a little bit to keep the hall as wonderful as we can make it," Alastair said.

He said the kitchen was a prime example of the commitment of volunteers to restore the hall. A builder did some of the structural work before a committee member did the majority of stainless steel work.

"That not only saved us a large amount of money but a really good solution for the kitchen which we otherwise wouldn't have been able to afford," Alastair said.

He said Member for Port Macquarie Leslie Williams has been a strong supporter of the committee and assisted with funding applications.

She has frequently dropped by to see the progress.

"We've even got a photo of Leslie kissing George, our dishwasher," Alastair smiled.

Every grant application had some community involvement.

"It's important the hall changes slowly, we were a memorabilia hall at one point in time," he said.

The memorabilia aspect has been kept but moved to one side of the hall. This was to give way to musical posters and pictures as well as up-to-date photos taken around the valley.

Visit the Upper Lansdowne Hall website to book tickets and follow the Facebook page to be updated about activities.

'It needs a few people willing to do the work'

As a rural community situated a distance from other townships, the hall is considered an important hub for Upper Lansdowne residents.

This is according to Helen, who said the frequency of activities is to ensure the community stays involved.

"There's a school, church and the hall as the only facilities," Helen said.

It's a fantastic opportunity for people to come and socialise, come together and find out about what's going on in the valley and people's lives.

Robyn Oliver

"We try to use the hall as an integral part of the community. It's the community's hall so we want everyone to feel welcome here."

It's a concept other small communities in the region could adopt.

"It shows how crucial the hall is in a local community if you're willing to do some work- the rewards are fantastic," Helen said.

"The hall is a vital hub of this community and it would be the same for other communities.

"It needs a few people willing to do the work and to spread the word around."

Robyn said the hall fosters friendships.

"It's a fantastic opportunity for people to come and socialise, come together and find out about what's going on in the valley and people's lives," Robyn said.

Renovations to the hall have maintained its vintage image while bringing it into the 21st century.

Renovations to the hall have maintained its vintage image while bringing it into the 21st century.

There are currently 19 people on the committee and 45 members of the association. The mantra for the community though is 'the more the merrier'.

Roger is stepping down as president but will stay on as a committee member. He thanked former committee members for kick-starting the community hub.

"They started it off, we had a 90th birthday a couple of years ago so it's been around a long time with a lot of people helping to make it work," Roger said.

Roger said many community members have joined the committee with fresh ideas. Having younger people involved will also ensure the hall is functioning for generations to come.

This story The building that united a community - its near century-old hall first appeared on Manning River Times.