March into a different Drum

The Dandenong Town Hall''s restored original staircase. 182868_01 Picture: STEWART CHAMBERS

By Cam Lucadou-Wells

Behind the head-turning architecture, the Drum Theatre and Dandenong’s former town hall have been the stage of a long-running feud.

The century-plus conflict between Dandenong Shire Council and Mechanics Institute will be revealed during an Open House Melbourne tour on Sunday, 29 July.

Not to mention the proverbial back stage visitors’ pass, as well as access to the historic stairwell, passages and meeting rooms.

Drum Theatre co-ordinator Cheryl Rush will present the tour, as well as historian Chris Keys.

Ms Rush said up until recently the feud was very much alive even as late as 2006 – with some Mechanics members opposing plans for the Drum Theatre.

Before the town hall was built, the Mechanics resided in a small weatherboard building on the site from 1862.

The council rented offices in the building, but soon outgrew its quarters.

It proposed to house the Mechanics in an improved public building elsewhere in exchange for the council taking ownership of the site.

Despite some fierce opposition in its ranks, the Mechanics voted in favour of the plan. And by 1890, the grand town hall was built and opened to the public.

Ms Rush said the original council chambers was located in the present-day bar area. The original wooden floorboards and windows still remain.

Nearby was the original care-taker’s in-house ‘apartment’ where he lived with his wife and children.

Other details to spot include the former magistrates’ room, original marble fireplaces and delicate ceiling roses.

The tower’s clock wasn’t installed until 1934. It’s reported that when it opened, it wouldn’t stop striking, but continued 117 times.

The hall underwent major renovations in the 1940s. It was the place to go for popular ballroom dances on Saturday nights, and was filled by concerts in the 1960s featuring acts such as local boy John Farnham.

The most astonishing facelift of all arrived in 2006 with the construction of Drum Theatre.

The sweeping red curves of the modern Drum was daringly wed to the formal, upright lines of the old Town Hall.

The creation won a host of design awards such as from the Master Builders Association and the Australian Property Institute.

In with the new was also a chance to restore the old – such as the original wooden staircase, the original interior paint schemes and the original windows.

Ms Rush says the façade’s spectacular multi-coloured light show has helped soften the imposing hall’s exterior.

“It’s designed to look accessible, friendly and to welcome people in.”

As part of Open House Melbourne, Dandenong’s oldest building St James Anglican Church, the Heritage Hill properties and the civic centre and library will also be opened.

The free event is on 28 and 29 July – though note St James Church opens only on 28 July and Drum Theatre only on 29 July.

Details: or 8571 1000.


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