I went to Auburn early last weekend – on Friday arvo instead of my usual Sunday morning. This was so that I could go with dad to the opening of the renovated Auburn Institute that evening.
The Institute was built in 1866 and funded by subscription of townsfolk of the time – ie people contributed a share of the cost. It’s since been used for all manner of purposes. In my time it was the setting for the end of year school concerts. Each class put on a play of some kind, and it was truly a highlight of the year – I remember having to have a rest in bed after getting home from school before the concert. This was because it would be a late night and lots of excitement, and it was the thing people did with kids back then. Of course we didn’t appreciate it at all! We were far too keyed up to rest! I have mentioned one of the school plays here before…
As well as school plays, the Institute was used for dances – there was a period where regular ‘old style’ dances were held there when I was a teenager – waltzes, barn dances and the like. And when I was younger the teenagers of the time had dances there too (not old style!). There were other theatricals too – The ‘Auburn Players’ had yearly shows for nearly 30 years from the early ’70’s – they were ridiculous funny melodramas usually, with all kinds of unlikely folk treading the boards, and used as fundraisers for many local groups and organisations. I used to be a ‘waitress’ for some years (there was a dinner along with the play). The hall was also used for many a wedding reception (my two sisters’ to name but two), and it was the polling booth to vote the first time I cast a ballot. There was a library in one corner of the building for some time – I spent lots of time there. There was a table tennis club that met there for a while I think, and lots of deb balls (thankfully they had dried up by the time I got to the age!).
The place was managed by a local committee for years and years. Dad was on the committee for ages throughout my childhood – either secretary or treasurer (he did either of these roles in many local organisations for years). In the 1960’s sometime, ownership of the hall was passed to the local council, which continued to own it till just recently when they handed it back to the town again. This was linked to the renovations in some way, and there is renewed interest in getting it used more.
Dad was one of the people who were asked to participate in the opening ceremony – cutting the ribbon. I think he got the guernsey because he is the oldest person in town now, and perhaps because of his associations with the Institute committee in previous times. Three older folk and two young ones were part of the official ceremonies on the night. The young ones were relatives of people who had made a contribution in previous generations. It was terrific to have that connection between the old and young.
It was a really lovely night – people got frocked up, and the schoolkids were there in their red and black (for Auburn) handing around the food while the adults mingled and talked.
I felt little ripples of connection through time – all the people who have contributed to town life for 150+ years, and those who are still making things happen, whether they have lived in the district for years or just a short while. It’s easy to think that we don’t make much difference to things as we blunder and wander through life, but times like last week remind me that our little contributions add up and create all sorts of practical and not so practical outcomes – buildings and activities for sure, but also feelings – of connection and hopefulness, pride and happiness.