Town halls were once the beating hearts of our communities — and in some cases, they still are. But in many towns across regional WA, the status of these halls is fading with time and precious history is in danger of being lost. In a new series, the Herald speaks to passionate Great Southern locals about their halls in a bid to preserve some of the history and learn what role they still play in their communities. In part six, we look at the rocky road travelled by Dumbleyung’s halls. Disagreement, depression and a hall pushed to the brink of collapse — Dumbleyung’s two town halls have faced plenty over 111 years. But after some early strife, the present hall’s later years have been somewhat kinder and it has grown into a reliable home for groups such as the Dumbleyung Theatre Club. Despite many changes, drama has always followed the town hall. Built in 1909, Dumbleyung hall quickly rose to prominence, hosting Christmas parties, evening balls and even serving as a schoolhouse for two years. But these good times were short-lived, and in 1913 a storm tore through Dumbleyung, uprooting hundreds of trees and dragging the newly built town hall to the brink of collapse. The community sprang into action and the hall’s committee decided to reinforce it with asbestos, but with the hall damaged, the storm would continue to haunt it for the rest of its days. Residents began calling for it to be replaced. An account of the history of the hall, written by Natalie Carthew and Jenny Williams, notes that around 1920, John Thomas West suggested the old hall be sold for £2500. By 1925, one resident said, “jokes aside, our civil edifice is a standing disgrace ... a willy-willy blew it over but unfortunately, a few days later it returned from the opposite direction and straightened the structure up again”. The committee’s decision to install props on either side of the hall did little to assuage these doubts; some wanted to improve the hall while others championed a replacement. The disagreement caused a rift within the committee between the Dumbleyung Road Board and Progress Association that eventually led to the committee’s dissolution. “It seems strange that the more wealthy members of our community are either antagonistic or passive with regard to the erection of the hall,” Mr West said. “They are content year after year to sit on backless seats in great discomfort, in a densely packed room to endure quips from visitors who pass jocular remarks about our tottering building.” By 1927, many in the town were fed up with the Road Board making minimal headway, so community members took it upon themselves to erect a new hall. Sidestepping the Road Board, residents set up a new committee, taking out loans and asking for donations which the community responded to emphatically. People power won out on March 20, 1929, with the official opening of the new Dumbleyung Town Hall, which replaced the original. The grand opening was even attended by Isaac Smith, chair of the Road Board. The community was jubilant — Dumbleyung again had a reliable hall that it could proudly call its own but, unfortunately, the 1930s would not be remembered for their economic prosperity. When the Great Depression hit and employment nose-dived, loans taken out on the hall for its construction were in danger of default. To ensure the hall’s survival, the committee agreed to transfer ownership of the hall to the Road Board whose stewardship has since helped it thrive. In 1933, the first wedding breakfast was held at the hall, followed by a hospital ball with 340 people attending. Celebrations boomed when victory in Europe was claimed in 1945 and the festivities kept rolling when Japan finally surrendered on August 15, bringing another party within its walls. In 1954, the Dumbleyung Theatre Club was established and members including Rodney Frost and Jacki Ball have been putting on performances there ever since. Mr Frost is part of three generations of theatre members with his parents and son heavily involved in the club. It is a similar story for Ms Ball, who has been with the group since the 1980s, enduring the club’s difficult years in 1990s before the club recovered and her daughter-in-law, Roisin, joined as well. Through the involvement of multiple generations, the hall has strengthened the Dumbleyung community and helped this community remember its past. A recent production chronicled Donald Campbell’s history-making feat on Lake Dumbleyung in 1964, where he became the first man to break two world speed records inside a year. Mr Frost played the lead in 2019’s Three Weeks in December, drawing on his experience witnessing Campbell first-hand some 57 years ago. “I saw it of course because I was 16 at the time ... first thing in the morning, dead calm, engine roar, echoing across the lake,” he said. “He’s a man who’s been in the back of my mind ever since he did it, I suppose.” Ms Ball wrote the show and said that these performances helped the theatre club to grow. “The theatre club sort of went into a bit of a lull because a lot of the older members retired or were moving on,” she said. “It’s sort of gone from strength to strength now, we’ve got a lot of young members and they’re all really keen. “I see a really positive future, if the theatre club keeps going the way it is now where people are so keen and we’ve got young people that are keen, too, which is really important. “It’s very special to us at the theatre club because we’ve put on so many shows there and you get the beautiful smell of the polish on the boards and you just think, ‘We’re back here again’.” And in a sign of good things to come, the hall recently had further renovations — and, this time, no committees were dissolved.