If halls had ears

Official opening of the North Perth Town Hall (Lesser Hall), 30 June 1902. Photo from Vincent Local History Centre, COV PHO484

THIS week’s history corner from the City of Vincent Local History Centre looks at the past lives of the North Perth Town Hall, from its early days as the region’s bureaucratic hub, to its bawdy nights as an RSL venue, and its time as a hub for the Jewish community during World War II.

IF walls could talk, the North Perth Town Hall could provide enough content to fuel a podcast series multiple times over. 

No other building in North Perth quite captures the changes and diversity of the community over the last century like the grand hall on the hill in View Street. 

The North Perth Town Hall is made up of two buildings constructed separately in the early 1900s to serve as the civic heart of the burgeoning new municipality of North Perth. 

The smaller of the two buildings, the North Perth Lesser Hall, was designed by Henry Prockter and was built in 1902.

In its heyday as council chambers and offices, it hosted fortnightly meetings where local concerns were thrashed out by councillors and residents. 

Although not built to his original design, Prockter was involved in the planning of the larger adjoining Town Hall that was built later in 1910. 

Given its proximity to the local primary school, the North Perth Town Hall was often used for school concerts, meetings and even as overflow classrooms. 

In 1916, the Education Department proposed to buy the buildings and adjoining land to expand the school. 

Perth City Council was keen to offload the asset, but the sale was opposed by residents of the North Perth Progress Association (The Daily News, 13 September 1916). 

In subsequent decades, North Perth Town Hall was hired out for everything from private weddings, dance classes, fancy dress balls, church services, charity events and film screenings to wrestling matches and table tennis tournaments. 

The Lesser Hall (or Mayor’s Parlour as it was also known), provided a regular meeting place for a wide range of local community groups. 

The Returned Servicemen’s League was a frequent user with their Saturday night dances sometimes attracting complaints about “cat calling, horse play and unseemly behaviour” in the adjacent park. 

In October 1939, the North Perth Town Hall was the venue for an afternoon of opera by the coach of the touring national Palestine soccer team, Egon Pollak, who also happened to be a baritone with the Palestine Opera Company. 

Pollak became stranded with his team in Australia after WWII began and turned to singing to earn a living.

Shortly after during WWII, the North Perth Town Hall was commandeered by the Civil Defence Council as a First Aid Post. 

Black out screens were installed in the hall and bunds and slit trenches were dug in the adjacent park. 

The hall was handed back to the council in 1944 and the park was re-levelled and reopened as a children’s playground. 

The North Perth Town Hall had special significance for the Jewish community before and after the war. 

In late 1943, the hall hosted the first meetings of the WA Council of Jewish Affairs which aimed to combat anti-semitism (The Westralian Judean, 1 Jan 1944). In the late 1940s and early 1950s, the State Zionist Council of West Australia and the Maccabean Youth Club of WA held dances and sporting events at the town hall. 

Although the hall was a little worse for wear after the war, its size and location made it an attractive venue for many, including the Australian Broadcasting Commission’s State Symphony Orchestra (the forerunner to today’s WASO). 

In 1951, the ABC approached Perth City Council with a proposal to relocate their music library and rehearsal facilities to the North Perth Town Hall, but the proposal was dismissed. 

Decades later, the North Perth Town Hall became the headquarters for a very different music organisation that reflected the multi-cultural character of the area. 

Musician Linsey Pollak established the North Perth Ethnic Music Centre in 1982. 

His vision was for a community arts organisation that reflected and celebrated the music traditions of diverse ethnic groups. ‘Caf√© Folklorico’ performances and dances were held at the Town Hall on Friday nights. 

The Centre was based at the North Perth Town Hall from 1982 until 1996, when it moved to Fremantle. 

To learn more about the North Perth Ethnic Music Centre, watch the Music in Vincent series produced by the City of Vincent Local History Centre and the State Library of WA: https://www.youtube. com/watch?v=zv_1JJ8UKfk 

The City of Vincent Local History Centre has more great images of the North Perth Town Hall at https://cityofvincent.imagegallery.me/

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