PROPOSAL BY KENT MAYO on behalf of
URALLA ARTS COUNCIL
URALLA’S 1885 COURT HOUSE
It’s really wonderful that Council decided to allocate grant funding to the refurbishment of the redundant 1885 Court House.
One can only wonder why the NSW government of the 1880’s decided Uralla needed such a commodious building, a “Taj Mahal” as a newspaper described it at the time.
Maybe it had something to do with the nearby Rocky River gold fields’ “where there’s gold there’ll be crime” syndrome.
Or perhaps it was prompted by the 1870 death at Uralla of the notorious bushranger
Anyhow, the raison d’etre doesn’t matter now.
It’s past tense.
What does matter now is that Uralla takes full advantage of this huge building, that Uralla does not underestimate the value of this opportunity to provide an exciting new life for the building, and a vibrant new asset for the whole community. Present tense.
I’m aware that there’s been a hiccup or two with the project so far, but it’s most reassuring to learn that the project will proceed only after advice from our Heritage Adviser, Mr Mitch Mackay.
Evidently Council has decided that the refurbishment should be tailored to allow use as a
“multi-purpose facility”, e.g. for meetings, art exhibitions, weddings, display of Court House pieces, celebrations, etc.
We need to be very careful that we don’t treat this building as we would any old redundant church hall, nor provide spaces that are already available, and regularly used, in town.
I’ve thought long and hard about our huge Court House ever since it closed, and especially since the stage and dressing rooms were removed from the RSL Memorial Hall.
URALLA COURT HOUSE THEATRE
In essence, the Court House was a theatre, featuring the cast of Players, the Judge, Barristers and Defendants. The audience was composed of the Jury and the Public Gallery.
Acoustics was always crucially important in design so that a speaker’s voice could be understood by all present and to enable the officer recording proceedings, by shorthand or typewriter, to be accurate.
So, our Court House is already a Theatre!
Uralla lacks a designated space for the Performing Arts.
Touring performers, musicians, stand-up comedians, choirs, dancers, etc. use McCrossin’s Mill. Typically they express their delight at “the historic ambience” and “the absolutely beautiful garden”.
That’s all very well for a wedding.
But not so for performances!
The Mill has a flat floor, the audience view is interrupted by cast iron poles, and there is no stage, no lighting or sound system, and performers have to compete with the sound (and smells) of cattle trucks on Thunderbolt’s Way, right outside the door!
I’ve attached my draft plan for the re-purposing of the Court House as the Court House Theatre (see below).
I must thank Council Officer, Mr Dean Weiley for so obligingly providing access for Annie and me, giving us “a tour”, and holding the end of the tape measure as I checked that the Court Room would indeed accommodate my Theatre proposal!
Sincere thanks, Dean.
The building’s spaces can still be used for other community activities … e.g. meetings and exhibitions, art, craft, etc. and yoga, tutorials, etc. Whatever…
The full gamut of this proposal won’t be possible within the current budget. But it will still provide a basic performance space, and spaces for other activities.
Completion of the Theatre/Cinema to a fully professional standard can be achieved when funding becomes available.
Let me point out a few things before you consider this proposal.
I have considerable practical experience in the Theatre as a Writer, Designer, Actor, Teacher, and particularly as a Director. So I do know what I’m talking about! Secondly, I am thoroughly conversant with The Burra Charter, the rules which govern the Restoration and Conservation of heritage items in Australia. Therefore I consider my proposal’s minor alterations to the fabric of the building satisfy the Charter.
1) As per the Council brief in regards to re-roofing, repairs, painting, and removal to storage of original interior cedar fitting and furniture.
The installation of a replica picket fence is also included in this budget. (I have two of the original gate posts in our home. The contractor is welcome to pop in to help reproduce the original dimensions and profiles.)
2) Carpet to “Green Room”, “Foyer”, “Bar” and Hallway. (See plan attached.) These floors were evidently originally carpeted; the clatter of leather footwear on floorboards would have been intolerable!
The recent suggestion to polish the floorboards may be very “trendy” but, in my opinion, inappropriate.
(Carpet is likely the more economical, especially in terms of maintenance. Much easier to run a vacuum cleaner over the floor than a polisher!)
3) The Bar should be of modern design and construction and to include refrigerator, MW oven, Bain Marie, glass and dishwasher, sink, etc.
I suggest that any idea of “knocking up” the bar/counter from the original cedar pieces is not to be encouraged. That may have been “a la mode” in the 1970’s, but is not acceptable any more. Ditto: “wainscoting”, evidently never a feature of the original fabric.
The recycling of original features into some other purpose and/or decorative element is ill-advised, detracting from both the integrity of the pieces and the fabric of the building itself.
4) No kitchen as such. Cooking odours will pervade all the spaces. It seems that odours from the cafes at, e.g. NERAM, and the Art Gallery of NSW, aggravated many patrons. At least the Museum of Contemporary Art at Circular Quay had the good sense to put their café al fresco, out on the roof!
You’d expect patrons at our Court House might expect canapes/”nibbles”/”finger food”, but nothing more elaborate, and certainly not a curry or “chicken and chips”!
(A barbecue in the courtyard might not be out of the question.)
5) Extension of the existing “Judge’s Bench” platform to form “a stage”. Many modern theatres, with raked audience seating, provide a “ground level” performance space, not a stage, but we’ll compromise as a matter of economy, and common sense, because half a stage is already there.
6) Installation of some basic stage and house lights to enable performances.
7) Provision of sixty stackable padded chairs. (These could well be acquired at a bargain price at a Restaurant Liquidators’ sale at an auction house, always on somewhere!)
I figure that sixty is capacity for this space. But in Uralla that’s considered to be a healthy audience number. It certainly makes a touring performance financially viable.
Anyway, if need be, Taylor Swift, e.g. can do shows, 4pm and 7pm.
8) Opening in one interior wall to join “Bar” and “Foyer”, and another in exterior courtyard wall.
9) Decor of local artist Fay Porter’s stunning caricature portraits from “Mrs O’Malley’s Magnificent Music Hall”, framed by Barking Dog Gallery, Uralla. These can be rotated, as there are about one hundred of them. (See examples attached) Hallway, Foyer, Bar, and eventually, when the roof is added, in the Courtyard but not in the Theatre. These will add a distinctive Uralla flavour to the whole place!
10) Refurbishing of existing W.C.’s (as per attached plan), but to include Accessible Toilet, and separate “Gents” and “Ladies”.
11) Remove “antique style” lamp at front gate.
All this completed, the Court House can begin the operations as a place for the Performing Arts (Theatre) and for other community purposes.
STAGE TWO :(When funding becomes available.)
1) Replace Casuarinas with shade trees. (Exotics)
2) Install Skillion Roof over courtyards.
1) Install Bio-Box, lighting bars and sound system, cinema projector, and screen. (Local firm “Macsound Electronics” has the required expertise).
2) Install modern Theatre seating, front row on the floor, the five rows steeply raked on new timber stepped platform over original floor. (As per Armidale Playhouse).
These seats, at $500 each, will be sponsored by individuals, families, business houses, etc. and the donor’s name displayed on an attached plaque, as is the proven practice elsewhere.
Apart from the obvious benefits to our local community, imagine what The Court House Theatre might do for our already growing tourist trade.
People would flock to this “heritage town”, to enjoy what we already have to offer but also to see some “Thunderbolt Drama” on stage at our Court House Theatre, and/or the screening of the surviving fragment of the 1908 movie, followed by the 1953 version of “Thunderbolt”!
And what amusing irony, outlawed bushranger “Captain Thunderbolt” now a money-spinner for Uralla, and in, of all places, a Court House!
From all over they came in droves to Mrs O’Malley’s”, so our Court House Theatre may be just as alluring … and habit-forming.
Kent Mayo OAM
(On behalf of Uralla Arts Council)
Mob: 0421 087 574 b.h.
President, Uralla Arts Council
email@example.com Mob: 0412 424 718 b.h.