Lessons from Mapleton Hall


I’ve lived a few years of life in smaller rural communities in the Australian bush.  And I’ve driven big mileage about the countryside which takes you through regular hamlets and small towns, some in varying states of decay.  One constant in these communities is the presence of a community hall, again in varying states of repair.

Mapleton has a community hall, a lovely one actually.  I was driving past it the other day with my boys and they asked me what it was, and what it was there for.  As it happens the Mapleton Hall sees quite a bit of use.  There’s karate lessons there twice a week, a pick-up game of touch football, regular tennis lessons and on the weekends various events like craft shows, trivia nights and fund-raising dinners.  But it saddened me that I needed to explain the purpose of a community hall to my kids, rather than just let them experience it.

Is the community hall, and the many hundreds like it spread throughout the regional countryside, past the halcyon days of the past?

I did a bit of a fish for information about Mapleton Hall with a long-term resident and they confirmed my suspicions that if you go back long enough the Community Hall was the social hub of the community.  Mapleton may not be the best example because apparently only 40 years ago the town only consisted of a handful of houses and a general store servicing a predominantly pastoral locality.  But I think if you start to look at the typical rural community from 50-100 years back you’d find the community hall was one of the major focal points of the community.

We’re talking about the community dance every Saturday night.  The venue for community concerts and meetings of the various community groups around the town.  Movie nights, sausage sizzles, birthday parties and so on.

Okay, so many of these still happen in life, in various and at times twenty-first century guises.  But better roads and mechanised travel mean we can roam much further for our entertainment and social events.  Here at Mapleton we think nothing of the 30km trip down the range to Maroochydore for a movie for instance.

When the community hall was having its heyday cars were few and far between and the roads pitted and rutted (on the Blackall Range particularly).  Travelling away from home was either a luxury, difficult or expensive.  Which meant that communities congregated along geographic lines, rather than what we see today where people congregate around interests and niches.

Perhaps neither congregational option is superior, but I wonder if in the rush towards mass entertainment we’ve paid a price in the form of a loss of intimacy.  The foyer of QCCC Mapleton has some amazing photos from the turn of the 20th century (so circa 1900) showing the state of the roads (muddy tracks plied by ox wagons) and community days out where the population, dressed in their Sunday finest, went to Nambour and back (only 10km away) on the back of open cane wagons, pulled by a puffing steamer.  Primitive, yes.  But what a fantastically exciting family day out.

See it through kids eyes, jumping on the back of those wagons, going on a wild and slightly dangerous adventure with all your mates from next door and the schoolyard.  Compare that with being herded individually into SUVs to a sports ground 50km away to play in a team with kids drawn from a 100km radius against a similarly disparate team, on to a party at a plastic Maccas franchise miles from home and back home to a gated community.

Please don’t take this as a sentimental wander down idealist lane.  I know we have some things pretty good in the twenty-first century.  But go back 50-100 years ago and I reckon people were far more likely to know their neighbour and regularly interact with them, often in a fun setting.  And it’s that ability to *regularly* interact in *enjoyable* ways that I think is in decline, and to our detriment.  Despite all the technology and conveniences of modern transport at our disposal, it’s almost impossible to replicate frequent, enjoyable community unless it’s with people in the near vicinity of our homes.

The Community Hall could still have a very important role to play in the fabric of our societies.


One Response to Lessons from Mapleton Hall

  1. Pingback: Look out, not in! « Co-mission

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