As recent investment in local arts, culture and heritage revitalises regional communities, Southern Highlands residents are ready to embrace a new era of cultural experiences with the much-anticipated unveiling of Bowral Memorial Hall. Now the only venue of its kind in the Shire, with a capacity of 300, including retractable seating for 125, excellent acoustics and highly adaptable spaces.
At the official launch on Friday 2 June, dignitaries and invited guests will be first to step through the doors of an impressive new contemporary concert hall and cultural venue, suited to a wide variety of uses. “The vision is to provide community groups with a vastly improved facility that offers greater accessibility for all, while attracting a whole new range of cultural experiences to our Shire which will certainly boost our local business and visitor economy,” says WSC GM Lisa Miscamble.
Local businesses have generously volunteered their time to making the official launch event memorable for dignitaries, media and invited guests, including event stylists Show Pony Events, MC Ian Holland of 2ST, Adam Stokheld of Highland FM, the Southern Highlands Concert Band and Southern Highlands Symphony Orchestra, as well as some surprise appearances.
Gumnut Patisserie have created a commemorative petit four for the occasion and Mark Chance Catering will showcase the sublime produce our region is renowned for in his canape selection.
Early days of Bowral arts
A grand ball at the same location back in 1926 marked the official launch of extensions to what was then the Bowral School of Arts, “to provide a new, modern hall.”
The site was originally donated to Bowral School of Arts committee in 1884 by John Norton Oxley, for a new building to replace their 10ftx16ft weatherboard structure built in 1880.
A design concept by Gordon McKinnon of Parramatta, was selected from almost 20 submitted from around Australia. The new building was opened in 1885 by distinguished local land owner Patrick Lindesay Crawford Shepherd, and later renovated to “make more room for accommodation” in 1925.
Sadly, by 1939, the poor financial state of the institution led to a referendum overwhelmingly in favour of Council taking over the building.
Fast Forward 80 years.
The total transformation of this iconic local landmark took into account every short-coming that held the venue back from taking its place as the Shire’s premier cultural venue, one that would be widely used and valued by the community as a whole.
Unrenovated since the 1960’s, the facility was aged and its structural integrity and safety standards were compromised. During Council’s community engagement process, users complained that the Hall was dated and drab, cold in Winter and hot in Summer, had no ticket or cloak room, and wind would blow through the foyer.
The existing structure was at maximum load which restricted the possibility of intro-ducing new air conditioning. Lighting and acoustic improvements were also needed to bring the facility up to standard to attract touring ensembles. An architecture firm with concert hall experience and an acoustic specialist on the team was selected to develop concept plans for the project, NBRS Architecture and Richard Steward Theatre and Production.
For a more rewarding concert experience, roof framing was rebuilt to allow for installation of air conditioning and modern audio visual equipment. The ceiling level was raised to provide more volume to the auditorium. Acoustics have been vastly improved by the stunning timber orchestra shell, an operable wall to enhance sound reflectivity back into the auditorium, and specially designed wall linings in fire-resistant Supawood Supafinish Concept Veneer in Blackbutt. Retractable seating offers enhanced sight and sound lines to the stage and makes the space readily adaptable to a range of uses.
Provision of a fore stage lift further enhances adaptability for a variety of performances, while new glazed doors open the concert hall out to the Northern courtyard.
A spacious new entry foyer creates a real sense of occasion. Front-of-house enhancements include a cloakroom, professional-grade kitchen, and modern toilet facilities. Back-of-house, new green room and storage areas have been added to lower levels, while private office spaces on the upper level award leafy street views.
Delivering a highly versatile space suited to musical concerts, theatrical performances, community events, exhibitions and expo’s, weddings and private functions, the refurbishment is expected to vastly increase the Hall’s usefulness and boost revenue from $9000 annually to $113,000. A fee structure has been designed to balance keeping the venue accessible to community groups while generating the revenue needed to maintain the new facilities to a high standard.
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