MORE than three years ago, the ‘Weekly published a feature story about the iconic Langtree Hall, Mildura’s oldest public building.
A visit to the museum is truly a must for locals and visitors to the city alike.
Since that story appeared, owner and local historian Barbie Cornell has done some rearranging inside the hall and on the occasion this year of the 30th anniversary of the restored building’s relocation to Walnut Avenue, we thought it fitting to revisit the museum.
And this time, to also highlight the more than 100 year-old cottage, originally from Dunolly, which is located in front of the hall.
”I have completely revamped the hall,” Barbie said.
“Originally my mother had collected everything and put it on display and it was pretty much as she’d arraigned things.
“This time round, we have culled a few things from the collection in an effort to make it a more pleasurable experience for people visiting the museum.”
There is no doubt Langtree Hall is Mildura’s hidden treasure and many locals won’t ever have visited the museum.
Playing tourist in your own town can be a lot of fun, with so many wonderful attractions to see in the district.
“I’d really like people in Mildura to visit the hall and the cottage, as much as holiday makers who are in town,” Barbie said.
To visit the painstakingly restored former billiard saloon, is to take a journey back in time to an era when Mildura’s first public building was the venue for everything from roller skating to court house trials.
Originally located at 63-63a Langtree Avenue, the hall was built in 1889, when Mildura’s population numbered little more than 250.
By 1892, the population had swelled to more than 2500, growing exponentially at ‘gold rush-like’ speed.
As the town expanded and shop space was in demand, the hall was ‘moved back’ from the street front by about 40 feet (12 metres), to make way for a shopfront, which would eventually become Cornell’s Sports Store.
At that point the hall basically disappeared from public awareness and would ultimately become a billiard and snooker saloon.
The history of the hall is a fascinating tale of changing identities, which continued, when in 1936, Barbie’s grandparents who came to Mildura seeking a drier climate, noticed that the shop in front of the hall, and the one next door, were empty, and the hall was basically unused.
“My grandfather had a barber shop and a billiard saloon in Geelong, and so he re-established the billiard room in Mildura,” Barbie said.
The hall remained a billiard room until 1975, when Barbie’s father Jerry closed it down and sold most of the tables and it became a storeroom.
In 1985, with a little bit of luck, Barbie’s mother Thea, who was a member of the Historical Society, found an old photo of the Langtree Hall when it was the Lyric Theatre.
“She then looked at some old newspapers and came across an advertisement seeking tenders for the hall to be expanded, and it detailed the block number,” Barbie said.
”This raised mum’s curiosity, and so she took the block number around to (Mildura) Council and said, ‘Where do we find this property?’ The Council officer said it was 63-63a Langtree Avenue.
“My mother must have given him a puzzled look, and he wondered why.
“Mum explained that her husband owned the two properties at that address, but to her knowledge there wasn’t a hall like that.”
Closer inspection of the hall, when compared to the old photo, revealed enough ‘evidence’ to show that the Cornells actually owned the oldest public building in Mildura.
“When we looked at the hall − a true journey back in time − we could see the remains of the facade of the stage and the diagonally-laid timber ceiling, and so we knew we had the original Lyric Theatre on our property,” Barbie said.
“Given my mother had done all the research into the hall’s history, we thought we would restore it.
“After years of restoration work, we celebrated its 100-year birthday and reopened it as a museum on the original site in 1989.”
In May, 1991, the Langtree Hall was dismantled and the museum found its way to its new address in Walnut Avenue, which at the time, was the site of a run-down old cottage with some vacant land behind it.
The cottage has its own rich history, having originally been a hotel in Dunolly, which was relocated to Mildura in 1917 by bullock and dray, in five pieces, and became a family home.
“I was granted permission to re-build the hall and it reopened to the public in 1993,” Barbie said.
Today, apart from being the entrance to museum, the cottage also boasts an extraordinary collection of all sorts of memorabilia and collectables. With COVID having forced businesses to close for extended periods in the last 15 months, tourism has been particularly hit hard and Barbie’s museum is but one example.
“The only consolation for me, is that I was busy doing a lot of revamping to the hall during that time and so I was able to complete that,” she said.
“I had a planned re-opening date, but of course that came and went and I had to remain closed during the lockdown.
Visitors to the museum have the benefit of Barbie’s knowledge of the history of the hall and indeed Mildura.
“If I have a group of people I will sit them down in the theatre chairs and give a 15-minute talk about the history of the hall and the items they will see as they discover what is on display,” she said.
Prominent among the collection of memorabilia is a photo display which features a famous picture taken in the hall in 1910.
“That is a 1910 photo of W.B. Chaffey’s farewell before he embarked on a trip to England to try and raise some money to expand his projects in the district,” Barbie said.
“That picture actually shows you what the hall looked like when it was located in Langtree Avenue and how people dressed in their finery for such occasions back then.”
Interestingly, the hall was originally built to be a roller skating rink and would eventually become the town’s court house.
“The hall was only 45 feet long and I wouldn’t have considered it was big enough for a roller skating rink, but obviously it must have been,” Barbie mused.
There was an imperative to see the court house opened in Mildura and it is said that all of the court’s equipment, including the prisoner’s dock was brought into the Langtree Hall from Yelta, where at that time the police in the district were stationed and courts matters were dealt with there. Yelta was a long trip for people to make in those days.
The hall’s walls and ceiling are made from Murray Pine timber which was readily available in the district in years gone by.
“It’s all Murray Pine timber. It is a beautiful timber that was supposedly growing around this area, but today is mostly found growing in areas further north of here,” Barbie said.
“When my family took over the building the timber walls and ceiling were painted green. People tended to paint over the natural timber in that era.”
Currently, visits to the museum are by appointment but it’s normally open Wednesday, Friday and Saturday afternoons between 10 am to 2pm. Admission is $6 for adults, $5.50 concession and $1 for students. Barbie suggests calling her to confirm a visit phone 0427 113 090.
– By John Dooley