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Spearwood Agricultural Hall

The Spearwood Agricultural Hall was built in 1927, and had originally been the surgical ward of the Fremantle Hospital. The hall was a long-overdue addition to a flourishing district, and had been planned in one form or another for 15 years prior to its construction. As it was planned and built by the Spearwood Fruit Growers and Market Gardeners Association, it was often called the Fruitgrower’s Hall by locals.

Early rumblings: the need for a community hall

A growing district

Since 1912, when the first Spearwood Progress Association (SPA) was formed to represent the interests of the fledgling gardening district, the need for a hall had been felt. Small semi-rural communities needed spaces to meet, talk, and entertain, and increasingly to display the fruits (and vegetables) of their labours with district agricultural shows.
Spearwood Agricultural Hall c1964

Neighbouring Coogee, a district established some decades earlier than Spearwood, had built their Agricultural Hall in 1897 at the south-western end of Coogee Lake. For many years the two districts held combined agricultural shows there under the name Coogee-Spearwood, but the young, rapidly-growing Spearwood community began to feel the need for a hall of their own.

False starts and interruption by war

Reports were made in December 1912 that the SPA had decided on a site for the hall, and were in the process of purchasing it. Nothing more was said until February 1913, when local entrepreneur and charitable powerhouse William Watson donated a five-acre block of land to the SPA, and they immediately began on plans to build a hall there. That land was modern-day Watsons Oval on Rockingham Road.

The SPA petitioned the Minister for Works to purchase the adjoining five-acre block for a school, which was done in September 1913. By June 1914, the school (now Spearwood Alternative School) was up and running, but the hall had yet to materialise. It is very likely that any progress in this department was halted by the advent of the First World War, as the Spearwood Progress Association ceased regular meetings soon after.

Halls by proxy: church halls and making do in wartime

During the war years, two churches were built in Spearwood. The Wesleyan Methodist church (now the Spearwood Uniting Church, Rockingham Road) was completed in 1914, and the Anglican church on Mell Road (Now St Michael and All Angels Anglican Church) in 1916. 

These two buildings alleviated some need for the public hall, as they provided spaces to hold meetings, dances, displays, and fundraisers. The Anglican parish hall was frequently used, and often referred to simply as the ‘Spearwood Hall’. 

Ten years of waiting

However, the desire for a secular hall belonging to the community remained. Every year, public speakers and newspaper correspondents proclaimed themselves hopeful that the hall would be built soon. ‘Next
Parish Hall, Spearwood.
year, Spearwood will have a hall…’ wrote a local columnist optimistically in 1914. And in 1915, after the Coogee Hall was resumed for the Naval Base and the site for the new hall in doubt: ‘[this year] Spearwood will hold a show if the new hall be up in time’. 

Premier ambushed

In 1920 the Premier, Sir James Mitchell, was on his way to Rockingham when a group of Spearwood residents halted his car on the road and read him a list of demands, including a grant to aid in the building of a hall. Politely, the Premier explained that the government grants for community halls had ceased some years ago, although he recognised that ‘in a great new country like this, where people were greatly scattered, halls were a necessity’.

Opening the Spearwood Show in 1923, Alex McCallum, the local Member for the district and the Minister for Lands, hoped that ‘the next show would be on the society’s own grounds, in a commodious hall’. It would be another five years before this dream was realised.

Soldier-settlers and the new Fruitgrower’s Association

After the war, when Spearwood became a fertile ground for returned soldiers looking to start a new life on the land, the various associations and committees coalesced into the Spearwood Fruitgrowers and Market Gardeners’ Association (FG&MG), which held its first annual agricultural show in 1920 in the Anglican parish hall. The next two years’ shows were also held there, until 1923, when it was admitted that the church hall was far too small to contain the multitudes of displays by local gardeners.
From 1923 until 1927, the annual show was held on Watson’s Reserve, the original reserve offered by William Watson to the defunct Spearwood Progress Association. Tents, marquees and hessian walls were erected and displays set up within - a veritable ‘canvas town’. A showground for animals and athletic displays was set up some distance away from the tents and parking site, and the train ran a Show Special service for those travelling from further afield. Horse races and jumps were the main attraction for outdoor entertainment.

Building the hall

Finding the land

At the 1927 show in February, president of the FG&MG William Pearce assured attendees that this would be the last time they held their show
Horse jumping at the Spearwood Agricultural Show, 1923 [picture]
‘off their own grounds’. The land had been purchased and plans were underway to build a hall not far from where they now stood. This land - current site of the City of Cockburn administration building on Rockingham Road - was to be ‘not only a show ground, but a sports ground for the recreation of residents’. 

Sarah Atwell, Spearwood landowner

The purchase had in fact been made some years earlier. The land was owned by Mrs Sarah Phoebe Atwell of Fremantle, who had inherited a fortune in land and property from her husband’s death in 1908. Henry Atwell had made his money in firewood supplies in the 1870s and gone on to run successful stores in the port city. Sarah improved the properties left to her, and Atwell Arcade in Fremantle was her lasting legacy. Her son, Ernest, is the name behind the modern-day suburb of Atwell.

The FG&MG had bought the 12 acre lot from Mrs Atwell in 1921 for £250, and had been diligently paying off the loan ever since. When the land was paid out in December 1926 and the deed transferred, the hall could go ahead. As it turned out, this was the only debt on the Spearwood Hall that the FG&MG would be able to pay off in full. The ensuing years were plagued with financial instability and increasingly demanding debt collection letters from ministry officials and banks.

The surgical ward

By September 1927 the hall was nearly completed. The FG&MG had secured one of the Fremantle Hospital’s old wards for a low price, and the entire cost, from dismantling, transporting, and rebuilding on the new site, came in at under £300. A wood and iron structure measuring 70 by 25 feet, the building had a large open hall space, smaller offices at one end and a verandah wrapping all the way around the outside.

Members of the association were urged to give their time in painting and carpentering to help the hall be ready in time for a planned gala ball opening in September. Under the supervision of local builder Alf Lydon, volunteers spent their weekends putting the old hospital ward together on its new home.

Though the gala ball does not appear to have come off, the hall was in use by March 1928, when the first Spearwood Show was held on its grounds. The Minister for Lands was there to open both the show and the hall.

A community hall, 1928-1964

For the next 36 years, the hall was used for the FG&MG’s meetings and agricultural shows, as well as hired out to members of the community for parties, dances, and events. In the early 1950s Albert Ivey and William Angwin ran a movie theatre out of the hall on Friday nights.

Decline and replacement

By the late 1950s it was becoming a financial burden, as the FG&MG was not generating enough money to keep it in good condition. They leased it to the Spearwood Rovers Soccer Club as clubrooms, and over the next few years the area transformed into a sporting facility, with soccer grounds and a bowling club.

In 1963, unable to pay for repairs and upkeep any longer, the FG&MG transferred the land and hall to the council for a nominal fee. The transfer was the FG&MG's idea, but the fee was requested by the council to ensure the transfer was considered legal. The FG&MG made the transfer on the condition that the area would be used for a public hall into the future, as they had taken their role as community facilitators very seriously. The FG&MG itself ceased functioning in 1965.

The council demolished the original hall and built the administration buildings that are still there today – what is now the Seniors’ Centre was called the Civic Hall, and many community events were held there in the spirit of the old Spearwood Fruit Growers and Market Gardeners Association.



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