Lake Macquarie History

Teralba School of Arts

Reminiscences by Clive Read, 2004

After the Teralba Public School was built at its present site in 1898, the old school building on Billygoat Hill was renovated and used for several years as a School of Arts. In the early 1900s a new purpose built School of Arts was erected on the corner of Margaret and Macquarie Streets. Macquarie Street was renamed Anzac Parade after 1918 when the war memorial was located there.

The School of Arts building was of timber construction, rectangular in shape with a simple gable type roof. There was an entrance part way along each side of the function hall and there was also a stage door entrance. The main entrance was on the Anzac Parade side. A large round ventilator high up in the gable at each end was a feature of the School of Arts but there doesn’t seem to be any close up photos of the outside of the building.

My recollections of the inside of the building date back to the 1930s although electric lights had been installed for some years, the old tin kerosene lamps with little reflectors remained on the walls. The backdrop on the stage was very special. A newspaper article once described it as looking like "a scene from an Italian chocolate box". There are glimpses of this in photos taken at functions held there. Wooden stairs led up to a trapdoor in the floor of the operator’s box from which movies were projected. Pictures were first shown briefly in 1907, again in 1915 and regularly from 1924. In 1929, when "talkies" were introduced, it was advertised as “School of Arts Perfect Talkie Theatre”. The movies ceased in 1931. (Source: “Front Stalls or Back” by KJ Cook and LR Tod).

I remember the Teralba Public School annual concerts held here during the 1930s. There was always a variety of acts, singing, piano and violin solos and of course, tap dancing. Many kids at the school had grandparents and other relatives living in the town so there was always a good crowd. Sometimes the lighting on the front edge of the stage made grotesque shadows going upwards on the faces of the children performing. One act I remember well because my brother was in it, was called a "Coach and four". The horses were four boys on hands and knees wearing brown horse suits made from chaff bags followed by a coachmen with a whip and ribbons for reins. One little boy was in the middle of the group playing a passenger while others were spinning open umbrellas to simulate coach wheels. As the act proceeded the antics became more animated, lots of stamping, neighing, shouting, whipping and the exchanging of kicks. The roars of the crowd all but drowned out the song being sung which was about "riding in a coach and four". You can't judge an act like that by today’s standards!There were no microphones for the performers in those days, one time there was some little children singing in an act, but their voices were not going to be loud enough to be heard properly in the hall, so my mother and a Mrs Rodgers stood behind the curtains and sang loudly with the kids. This didn't sound as good as they may have hoped!

Once in a while there were travelling showmen passing through the district and they would perform their acts at the School of Arts. Our Headmaster would allow these acts, ventriloquists, men with animal acts etc to give a short demonstration on the school veranda. All the kids would then pester their parents to take them to see the full show. I wonder if the headmaster got a free ticket? At one of these shows featuring little dogs doing their tricks in the hall one of them relieved himself in the middle of the stage. Somehow, I don’t think this was part of the act, but everyone roared with laughter, so they must have thought it was a good performance. Occasionally a children’s fancy dress parade would be held. These were always well patronised. There would be a few swagmen, as well as Dad, Dave and Mabel impersonators taken from a popular radio serial of the time. One young girl probably seven or eight years of age, wore only a pair of bloomers with fig leaves pinned all over them. She won the first prize of two shillings portraying the biblical Eve.

The Teralba Court of Petty Sessions was held on a regular basis in the School of Arts and the seating would be rearranged for this purpose. The office of the Clerk of Petty Sessions was in one of the rooms with the entrances in Margaret Street, I believe that the Teralba Births Deaths and Marriages Registry was in this office as well, opposite the police station.

There was also a library room in the Margaret Street end and every day someone would come and unlock the door. One of the grey-painted glass windows had the word Library painted on it. Inside there were several cupboards against the wall, a long wooden table and a form to sit on. There may have been books inside the cupboards but no one ever seemed to be there to ask. Old newspapers were stacked on the table for anyone to read. Newspapers may have been harder to come by at that time as everyone had fuel stoves and after reading they were usually used as fuel for the fire.

During the war years the Teralba branch of the Red Cross was established and their many fundraising events and functions were held in the School of Arts, one of these remembered was an "ugly man competition". My mother told dad not to enter as he had an unfair advantage! A few men were nominated and concerts and other fundraising events were held in the name of each contestant and the one credited with raising the most money for the war effort was rewarded with this dubious title. Some ladies started a "soup kitchen" to raise money for the Soldiers Comfort Fund. They also knitted socks for the troops. Miners, returned soldiers and lodge meetings were held here.

At times, it was used as a polling booth in the Shire Council elections. During the 1950s when the pupil numbers at Teralba School grew larger one or two classes were conducted in the School of Arts until new classrooms were built. Learner dance classes for young people were held there on Saturday afternoons. Numerous other functions, wedding receptions, concerts and dances were held in the School of Arts over the years but most are largely forgotten.

In the late 1950s the court hearings moved to the old Council chambers building at Speers Point. The School of Arts building was then demolished and the Community Hall was built on the same site, the official opening occurred in 1960. This was the end of a colourful era!