The Old Bush Hall

© Shelley Hansen

Winner, 2023 “Community Threads” Themed Section – Oracles of the Bush, Tenterfield NSW.

I couldn’t quite believe the sign they’d fastened to a shed
beside the old bush hall near my hometown,
inviting public tender for removal (so it said),
with option for a price to pull it down.

I glanced up high to see the date of 1925
emblazoned on the gable, thinking how
when filled with happy folk, its creaking timbers came alive
throughout the generations, then and now.

We’d planned for its centenary, but couldn’t fund the cost
when drought-affected harvests didn’t pay.
Then needed renovations were delayed when skills were lost
as people of the district moved away.

I climbed the steps and pushed the door – it opened with a squeak.
It had no further need for lock and key.
I crossed the floor. The years rolled back. A tear crept down my cheek
as perfumes of the past washed over me.

A myriad of memories began inside these walls –
which cradled wakes and weddings through the years,
along with public meetings and the annual deb balls.
I felt the rafters echo still with cheers!

I thought about the country dance where Grandpa courted Nan –
the start of sixty years of wedded bliss.
Nan told me how he’d waltzed her, how their romance first began –
And how they’d slipped away to steal a kiss!

The sturdy old piano that could still belt out a note
stood silent and forlorn beside the stage.
Untuned and lacking polish, it reposed beneath a coat
of filmy dust that only grew with age.

I wandered out the back and found the sets we built by hand
for plays our drama club put on each Spring.
The district came to see us in productions that were grand!
We pulled out all the stops to dance and sing.

I knew we had to save the hall. To lose without a fight
would deal the town its final fatal blow.
A plan began to formulate. I wondered if we might
raise money if we organised a show.

We found a good bush poet who was rallied to the cause.
A country singer joined us in the quest.
Disputes were put aside as people buried ancient scores.
The common goal we faced brought out the best.

The night we shared was reminiscent of the days of yore –
we danced until the early hours of morn.
Old friendships were rekindled with support not seen before.
Despair was cast aside, and hope reborn.

We made a thousand dollars selling meals, and at the bar.
Donation boxes filled, though times were tough,
and everyone supported us. They came from near and far –
but still we doubted it would be enough.

Then suddenly, a builder said he’d spare a week or two –
a painter came from somewhere over east.
So working bees were organised as teams of helpers grew,
and once begun, momentum never ceased.

The country women’s group, long since disbanded, rose as one
and baked the famous scones we loved so much.
They fed and fetched with spirit that made volunteering fun!
Before we knew, we’d reached the final touch.

So now the hall stands proudly, reinforced with added strength –
a testament for passers-by to see
that sometimes a community will go to any length
to save the badge of its identity.

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