Back in 1901, Gunning village was described as “a prosperous town meeting the needs of travellers, villagers and the surrounding rural communities”.
It was a thriving community with five hotels, Universal Providers department store, boot polish factory, rabbit freezing works and courthouse.
Four of the pubs might be long gone, along with the boot polish factory, frozen rabbits and other businesses, but one building remains that has lent new life to the historic town – the courthouse.
A classic example of 19th-century Australian architecture, the courthouse ceased legal activities back in the 1970s but retained the brilliant acoustics and prime location in the main street that today make it the centre of Gunning’s revival as a cultural hub.
Like-minded community members who recognised the building’s potential banded together in 1998 to form the Gunning Focus Group. Back then, visiting musicians, actors and other performers passed over Gunning, only visiting Canberra, Newcastle and Wollongong outside Sydney.
Today, Gunning no longer misses out on the travelling shows and such is the reputation of the courthouse as a great venue for music, it now also hosts exclusive events.
Next month, the Gunning Focus Group will host Loosely Woven, a 21-person music and dance troupe from Sydney’s northern beaches, which performs only a few times a year to small venues across the country.
Gunning Focus Group secretary Bob Spiller said they were delighted to welcome Loosely Woven back after their last performance in the courthouse about two years ago, right as COVID-19 hit.
“We first met Loosely Woven when they toured with Gilbert and Sullivan’s Trial by Jury a few years ago – they loved performing in our courtroom,” he said. “That was the start of our connection with them. Performing in the courthouse for that show was perfect.
“They performed a medley of folk songs, satire and with a touch of classical as well – it was just a rollicking good time.
“They were keen to come back to Gunning after COVID and we’re delighted to accommodate them in this exclusive performance.”
Bob said Mike and Wendy Coley established the Gunning Focus Group 20 years ago primarily to give locals access to fine music. A representative of the then Arts Council prompted it, suggesting it would be good for the region.
“It works because we have such a wonderfully creative community here around Gunning,” Bob said. “Like harpist Alice Giles from Yass and the wonderful cellist David Pereira who used to live in Gunning and still lives in the region and the acclaimed duo Stephanie and Edward Neeman.”
The Gunning group recently partnered with Music in the Regions, a NSW Government-funded program to raise the profile of notable musicians in the bush.
“We’re also in the throes of rejuvenating the courthouse, thanks to a grant to improve the seating for guests and the musicians and enough to buy a small but concert-grade grand piano. This will make it ideal for chamber music performances,” Bob said.
He said these plans, along with those of Upper Lachlan Shire Council to build on Gunning’s natural attractions and the Southern Tablelands Arts project to rejuvenate the old Gunning Railway Station, would culminate to position Gunning as a regional arts hub.
Loosely Woven will perform at Gunning Court House on Saturday 2 April, at 1 pm. General admission is $30, members $20 and under-15s free – email [email protected] or phone 0429 906 834 to book.
Concert guests are invited to stick around after the show for MAX-a-mania, a night of films featuring Gunning’s own Max Cullen. The iconic Australian actor lives across the road from the courthouse at the historic Coronation Theatre. Tickets are $10 and proceeds will help with the restoration of the old theatre. More information is available here.