28 April 2022

Wallendbeen Hall's centenary marks a village legacy of family, community and service

| Genevieve Jacobs
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woman with Australian flag

Wallendbeen historian and “unofficial mayor” Marcia Thorburn with a historical display for the Hall centenary. Photo: Genevieve Jacobs.

A century ago there were red, white and blue streamers, music, dancing and dignitaries galore when the community of Wallendbeen opened its Soldiers Memorial Hall on Anzac Day, 1922.

One hundred years later, the South West Slopes community came together again to mark Anzac Day and celebrate the centenary of their much loved (and much used) local institution, which continues to host everything from wedding receptions and school awards nights to polling booths.

The devastation of the Great War was only a few years past when the hall was opened. Private W.T. Wasson was the first to fall at Lone Pine, and Governor-General Sir Ranald Munro Ferguson unveiled a plaque in his honour when he inspected the 1915 Wagga Kangaroos recruitment march at Wallendbeen. That plaque is now also installed in the hall.

group cutting cake

Simon Forsyth, Peter Sackett, Marcia Thorburn and Alexander Baldry cutting the centenary cake. Photo: Genevieve Jacobs.

While the streamers and dancing were absent in 2022, many family names were the same as a crowd of 140 gathered to mark the event, cut a celebratory cake and reflect on the enduring ties of family and community. An Australian flag hung at the front of the hall decked in poppies, a replica of the decorations used a century ago.

Those enduring connections are testament to the powerful community spirit in the small rural village, midway between Cootamundra, Harden and Young.

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“We are now walking in the footsteps of your grandparents and your great grandparents and possibly your great great grandparents,” Peter Sackett said. He was the descendant of George File Sackett who was mayor of Wallendbeen municipality when the hall was opened.

“We are walking in their footsteps in this hall. They left us with this gift not only of the hall but of the Anzac Spirit and of the memories that they, as a town 100 years ago, have passed down through the ages to us in 2022.

“This is such a beautiful little village with so many people here today – I counted about 140 down at the service. What’s the population? You are really punching above your weight!”

Wallendbeen Hall

The Wallendbeen village hall is still used frequently by the community. Photo: Genevieve Jacobs.

The Wallendbeen Hall was built with the assistance of a peace loan by Cootamundra builder Frank Mitchell, using bricks stamped GBT for Wallendbeen brickworks owner George Beattie. Despite the fanfare, there was still 900 pounds owing on the building at the time it was opened.

The foundation stone was laid in 1921 by Alderman L.P. Forsyth and an engraved silver trowel used by him has passed down through generations of the Forsyth family. They were also present at the centenary celebrations.

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War trophy guns were unveiled in the Hall at the official opening in 1922, followed by a “plain and fancy dress ball”. Two trees were planted, one representing the soldiers and the other “for the mothers of our heroes”.

Later, guests enjoyed “music and elocutionary items by Mr E. Boxsell, Misses Morrow, Davies, Bassingthwaighte, Edwards, Forsyth and Mrs G.L. Brook”, many of whose descendants were also present for the centenary celebrations in 2022.

Wallendbeen’s magnificent War Memorial granite obelisk had already been erected by Donald Mackay of Wallendbeen Station in 1920 and an avenue of honour was planted first in 1917 and then replanted in 1995.

War memorial with wreaths

Wreaths were laid at the Wallendbeen War Memorial for Anzac Day. Photo: Genevieve Jacobs.

War service plaques were first unveiled in the hall in 1923 by Major General Kenneth Mackay, who raised Australia’s first light horse unit at Harden-Murrumburrah in 1897.

Tea rooms, further extensions and memorials for those who lost their lives in the Second World War were added to the hall in subsequent years.

Today, the hall is maintained by a committee including the Baldry/Mackay family members and Wallendbeen’s “unofficial mayor” and local historian Marcia Thorburn, who organised the centenary celebrations.

Cootamundra-Gundagai deputy mayor Leigh Bowden also paid tribute to the “tireless work” that maintains facilities in small country communities. “And Marcia,” she said, “we want another ball!”

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