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Memorial Hall at Chelsea

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The Carrum Memorial Hall. The name of the hall was changed to Chelsea Memorial Hall in 1929 when Chelsea was proclaimed a City. Courtesy Chelsea and District Historical Society.

The Great War of 1914 – 1918 was over and most of the Australian troops who had survived the conflict had returned home. Many individuals in communities around the nation wanted to build memorials to honour those who had served. The Borough of Carrum, a relatively new local district, was no exception. [1] However, what had to be resolved was the nature of the memorial to be built, where it was to be built and how its creation was to be financed.

A public meeting was called in December 1920 by the mayor, Cr Groves, at the request of the local branch of the RSSILA. The purpose of the meeting was to appoint trustees and open subscriptions to a fund to erect a Soldiers’ Memorial Hall at Chelsea. The meeting held in the Kismet Hall was poorly attended. The mayor expressed his disappointment at the attendance for what he considered an important gathering. He reminded the audience, perhaps hoping the message would be spread, that when they were sending boys to the war front, meetings were packed with people waving flags, and singing and hooraying, but now the majority of those people had refrained from joining a public movement to erect a Memorial Hall in honour of the fallen. [2]

A second public meeting was held in April 1921 in the Aspendale Fire Station where several suggestions were put forward as to the form the memorial should take. Cr Hunter suggested that money already collected by the soldiers should go towards the establishment of a library, while another individual suggested a memorial technical school. Rather than making a decision on the form the memorial should take, the meeting resolved that the ratepayers of the borough should provide the answer. It was, however, determined that a carnival should be held on the Aspendale racecourse to raise some of the necessary funds for the memorial irrespective of what was decided. [3]. A committee was elected with the Rev E Durance, chairman, Mrs Capp, treasurer, and Mr R Taylor as a temporary secretary.

The Edithvale Progress Association held a well attended meeting to elect a local committee to work in conjunction with those committees formed at Chelsea and Aspendale. At this meeting the Rev Durance after reminding the audience of the sterling deeds of Australia’s soldiers said he favoured a hall that was attached to the property where the council proposed to erect their permanent offices. Mr Armstrong, the president of the Returned Soldiers’ League, said the soldiers were not absolutely tied to a hall. The position they took was first raise the money, see how much is collected and then select the best memorial that matched the money raised. A centrally located park with sports grounds was an alternative suggestion. Cr Hunter who favoured a memorial technical school suggested the decision should be left to the ratepayers on council election day when they could chose from three or four suggestions. [4]

The Aspendale committee reconvened in May to discuss arrangements for the carnival. Graham Carey agreed to provide an aeroplane display and to take passengers on flights by appointment. The Chief Commissioner of Police confirmed that the police band would be in attendance free of charge. In addition, the program made provision for horse and foot races as well as a tug o’ war. [5]

Further discussions on the form the memorial should take were the focus of a meeting chaired by the mayor, Cr Groves, in July 1921. Strong support was given to the idea of a memorial high school although some people present thought the idea was premature and breaking faith with those people who had already donated money in the belief it was for a memorial hall. The mayor, in answering this criticism, suggested the committee would only be too pleased to refund any donation if a donor objected to his money being used to establish a memorial high school. Mr Davis, speaking on behalf of the soldiers, said they favoured the high school provided it had certain facilities for the children of returned soldiers and special rooms for the use of returned soldiers. The Rev Durance, while accepting the value of a high school for the district, pointed out the committee had commenced operations with the intention of erecting a memorial hall, and in his view the returned soldiers were not getting the support they were entitled to. Cr Williams, supporting the Rev Durance, said in fairness to the subscribers no proposal other than the memorial hall should be entertained. [6] Clearly there was a sharp divide amongst groups and individuals in the community on the best option for a memorial.

Early in 1922 the matter had still not been resolved. A meeting between the Chelsea RSA and the Fathers’ Association was held in March where the points in favour of a memorial high school and a memorial hall were once again debated. Near the conclusion of the meeting it was moved that the memorial should take the form of a high school and the Council be approached to build a club room on council land for the soldiers. An amendment motion was put forward with the modification that the memorial be a hall and that Council be asked to grant the necessary land. The amendment was lost and the motion was carried. [7] Nevertheless the debate continued.

Three months later a meeting in the Aspendale Fire Station was held with representatives from returned soldiers residing in the North Ward and delegates from the Fathers’ Association and the Citizens’ Committee. It was moved and carried that soldiers of North Ward were not in favour of a club room as a soldiers’ memorial and that the funds in hand should be put towards the erection of a high school in the Borough. [8]

By August 1922 frustrations amongst the various committees and individuals in attempting to reach a resolution to the memorial question was strongly evident. Some wanted to call together the various committees to gain an answer. Others expressed the view that no good purpose would be served in calling a meeting of the citizens’ committee and the soldiers, as agreement was not possible. Indeed it was suggested the money the citizens’ committee raised from the carnival/gymkhana should be passed across for use in building the memorial hall. This notion was questioned saying that at the time of the carnival no mention was made of the proceeds being used for a memorial hall. This statement was in turn challenged as being a “wild statement”, and “an attempt to throw dust in other people eyes.” “It was time, that soldiers took a stand,” said Mr Armstrong from the Returned Soldiers League. [9]

Then followed a series of letters published in the local newspaper where the writers attempted to clarify events, pinpoint the roles played by the various associations and committees, and often to express opinions. S G Davis, President of the RSA Carrum Branch, reported on the difficulty the President of the Citizens’ Committee, Rev Durance, was having in getting the secretary to call a meeting of his committee. He reiterated that the case for a high school had been carefully considered but the overwhelming majority of people at a meeting of soldiers and citizens was for a memorial hall. [10] In the same issue of the Seaside News a letter was published from thirty six residents from the North Ward, who were either returned soldiers or fathers of enlisted soldiers, supporting the high school proposal, seeing it as being “of infinite value to the younger generation and an asset for all time.”

About a month later a lengthy letter from the Rev Durance, chairman of the Citizens’ Committee, was published in Seaside News in which he reported on a meeting held on September 27, and several irregularities associated with it. Firstly the circulated agenda for the meeting indicated it was a public meeting, which Rev Durance denied. He said he had no authority to call public meetings, as that was a prerogative of “a higher civic authority”. Secondly the circular calling the meeting was unevenly distributed. The bulk of the circulars were distributed in the North Ward with only a few reaching residents in Central or South wards. Thirdly, the returned soldiers who were signatories in a recently published a letter in the local press favourable to the high school option all received a circular while soldiers in the Borough of Carrum branch of the RSSILA received no information regarding the meeting. If there was justification for the distribution of this circular they were sent to people not entitled to receive them, and others who could claim the right were ignored or overlooked. The committee’s secretary did not explain why one lot was chosen and another lot left out, although the implication was there that he favoured the high school option over the hall and orchestrated a meeting of like minds.

The Rev Durance went on in his letter to examine the issue of distribution of the funds gained from the success of the carnival organized by the citizens’ committee. £240 was raised. The soldiers group argued the money should be passed to them to contribute towards the cost of the hall. Those who did not favour the hall option suggested the money should be split up and given to the four main centres in the municipality. Durance was definitely against this proposal which he saw as inequitable and unjust. The people from the South Riding were too busy arranging their own memorial to assist with or attend the carnival. Those that were present, Rev Durance said, “could be counted on the fingers of one hand.” He also said on the day of the carnival there was an important football match that kept many people occupied. He wondered whether there was an ulterior motive in this proposal to split the money equally among the four towns and it almost seemed to be a form of bribery to win support of citizens in other parts of the borough; no doubt, the clergyman said, unintentionally. [11]

C Boyd, the chairman of the South Ward Borough Memorial Committee, responded in the next week’s Seaside News. He objected to the South Ward being drawn into the controversy and saw it as a great pity that in attempting to commemorate the sacrifice of local men there should be bitterness. He called upon all in the Borough to do away with unkind expressions and bitter feelings and rise above things small and of a parochial nature when dealing with a subject so sacred. [12]

In February 1923 Cr Beardsworth, accompanied by Crs Williams and McGarry, at a meeting of the Chelsea Branch of the Returned Soldiers Association put forward a proposal for consideration. He considered municipal chambers should be built on the current council site together with a municipal hall. This hall he believed would be a fitting memorial to fallen soldiers whose names could be inscribed on tablets attached to the walls near the main entrance. In addition a billiard room, smoke room and small office could be attached to the building for use of the soldiers. Part of this proposal was a complex of government facilities which included law court rooms, a post office and exchange, and a mechanics institute with financial grants being obtained for all three components. At least part of the finance for the memorial hall, Cr Beardsworth assumed, would come from Centre Ward revenue.[13]

While Beardsworth’s vision seemed to satisfy the wishes of the soldiers of the Borough not all of his council colleagues were sympathetic. It was a little more than a year and a half later that the council’s finance committee was considering a request from the Borough’s returned soldiers for land and a monetary grant towards a soldier’s memorial hall. While they were prepared to recommend that the 50 ft block of land next to the municipal chambers be granted as a hall site they did not recommend a grant from municipal funds towards the building of a hall. Their recommendations were adopted unanimously. [14]

By February 1925 several alternative plans for a Soldiers’ Memorial Hall were being considered. One by the Borough Engineer met with general approval, but because of the high cost and the lack of sufficient funds it was rejected. A modified plan was adopted after exhaustive discussion and the necessary drawings and specifications prepared to allow for the invitation of tenders. [15] The hope was that the memorial stone would be laid on Anzac Day of that year, but this did not happen.

Before a large audience on December 5, 1925 Brigadier General Elliott declared the building open using a large ceremonial golden key made by Mr Prentice to open the entrance doors. The ceremony was enhanced by the presence of the Dad’s Brass Band and boy scouts in their uniforms.

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Scout Bugle and Drum Band. Courtesy Chelsea and District Historical Society.

The building, comprised a large billiard room, library office, a long vestibule, members’ public rooms and a well-equipped kitchenette, still to be furnished. On the day of the official opening the ladies’ committee conducted a bazaar with six stalls stocked with a variety of articles for sale. The aim was to raise money for the purchase of a piano. Towards this goal almost £40 was raised.

Although its name changed from the Carrum Memorial Hall to the Chelsea Memorial Hall in 1929, when Chelsea was proclaimed a City, the facilities continued to provide for the needs of returned service men and women until 1963 when new buildings were erected.

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Chelsea Memorial Hall, 1963. Courtesy Leader Collection.

Author

Graham J Whitehead

Footnotes

  1. The Borough of Carrum was created by severance from the Shire of Dandenong in May 1920.
  2. Seaside News, April 9, 1921.
  3. Seaside News, April 9, 1921.
  4. Seaside News, April 23, 1921. Those elected to the committee were Messrs P Flyger, Levy, Mapperson, Hendy, D Prince, E Funston, C Richardson and Mesdames Levy, House and Jewell.
  5. Seaside News, May 7, 1921.
  6. Seaside News, July 30, 1921.
  7. Seaside News, March 18, 1922.
  8. Seaside News, June 24, 1922.
  9. Seaside News, August 19, 1922.
  10. Seaside News, September 2, 1922.
  11. Seaside News, October 7, 1922.
  12. Borough of Carrum News, October 14, 1922.
  13. Seaside News, February 2, 1923.
  14. Moorabbin News, August 9, 1924.
  15. Moorabbin News, February 21, 1925.

Article Cat. Historical Features
Article Ref. 408

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