Years ago in the dying days of the Lilac Time Hall’s public ownership a cinema operator wanted to re-configure the hall to create several smaller theatres.
Movies were bringing paying customers into the hall, which was taking on rising maintenance costs and losing bookings. People preferred licensed clubs for weddings and entertainment.
Much to the chagrin of the performing arts community Goulburn Council sold the hall for $500,000, and a four-theatre cinema has operated there ever since.
Almost two decades later the risk of an under-used venue in Goulburn looms again. Plans for a performing arts centre in a re-purposed town hall have met much criticism, scepticism and ambivalence. From such a shaky foundation, this ambitious $12 million project could be a white elephant.
A name synonymous with sport (and not the arts), Cr Margaret O’Neill breathed life into the project when she questioned the cost and called a public meeting last month. That’s when Goulburn’s performing arts supporters found their voice on this issue.
On the eve of the public meeting Lieder Theatre artistic director Chrisjohn Hancock in a selfless gesture wrote: “It would be foolishly naive and irresponsible to vote against such an important vision and an integral development for the town.”
At the meeting Jennifer Lamb, Ursula Stephens, Liz Barling, Jock McLean, Lynda Yeadon, Geoff Bell and others then set out strong cases for a PAC. They and most of a large crowd at the meeting want a place for children to sing and dance and recite, and for the wider community to enjoy an exciting, more diverse night-time economy that will flourish from touring artists and theatre productions.
Goulburn Regional Conservatorium of Music director Paul Scott-Williams came from Melbourne seven years ago, with the benefit of seeing the regional Geelong PAC revitalise a precinct around the library and Old Courthouse. He can see the potential for Goulburn PAC having a similar relationship with Sydney and Canberra as Geelong has with Melbourne.
Goulburn Mulwaree Council general manager Warwick Bennett says the council will plunder regional cities like Queanbeyan, Wagga Wagga, Griffith, Albury, Tamworth and Armidale for ideas on how to fill the Auburn Street venue with events for 100 days of the year.
I believe Goulburn is brim full of expertise to be plundered too, from widely travelled theatre patrons, to talented artists, music teachers, writers and arts entrepreneurs. These people must be involved to collaborate and foster community ownership of the performing arts centre.
They are the ones who can recapture and magnify in a 400-seat theatre the creative sparks that show promise in Goulburn today. If they are encouraged to do this, doubts about the viability of this old hall, fears of a costly fiasco and despair at what precious heritage has been lost will evaporate.
Anyone who settled into a seat at the Goulburn Regional Conservatorium of Music for the Leonard Cohen concert in March knows this. They saw Josh Arnold, 11, almost steal the show with his confident, opening recital. They heard local farmers sing. They chimed in with ukulele players and sang Hallelujah as one, 300-strong community of believers.
Goulburn was booming in the 1880s when civic leaders instructed architect Edmund Cooper Manfred to design something extraordinary for a town hall. He made nine designs. The council chose the ninth and Manfred used the best materials he could find. At the opening he said no bricks were covered with cement, no cement was marked to represent stone, the new town hall was honest and no sham.
Consequently, the elegant new building lifted Goulburn. A thriving performing arts centre will lift it again. It will change the perception of Goulburn and build a healthier, happier, more fulfilled community.
Captions, top: Josh Arnold (in costume for Concavitate IV), one of many gifted youngsters whose talent will grow with a performing arts centre. Photo: Goulburn Regional Conservatorium of Music. Above: Broken Arrow band from Bungendore. Photo: Susan Conroy.