Melba’s arrival at Narrandera for her concert on September 1, 1909 was overwhelming. All the tickets had been sold two weeks earlier so a full house was guaranteed for the concert in the public hall.
As the party in the vice regal carriage attached to the regular mail train pulled into the station, the Mayor Cr and Mrs Elwin and the Town Clerk P.W. Higgins and several prominent citizens welcomed Melba on the platform.
The school children were given the day off so they could welcome the diva.
The Narandera Argus and Riverina Advertiser of September 3 1909 reported on the arrival.
“From the platform to the conveyance a strip of carpet was laid, and this was lined by the school children bearing bunches of fragrant wattle, forming an avenue which the party passed as the children sang “Advance Australia” under the baton of Mr W. Johnson.”
The event is recorded in the book Narrandera Shire by Bill Gammage but no one mentioned the location of the public hall.
Thanks to the help from the Parkside Museum and the Narrandera Library which is part of the Western Riverina Libraries, the puzzle was eventually solved. The public hall was a private building erected in 1890 and burnt down in 1925, never to be re-built.
Determined to find out more and hopefully an image, I wandered through the museum and what should I find tucked away in a frame with a series of other images – the Public Hall and Globe Theatre in East Street (Narrandera’s main commercial street).
Armed with a photograph of the image, library manager Sue Killham helped connect everything together for me. Without her help and that of fellow librarian Jenny and Robert and Roy at the museum, this small slice of the town’s history would have been forgotten.
It was in 1909 that the shire and leading citizens decided more needed to be provided for the community and it was a time many public buildings were erected including halls. It would be nice to think that perhaps Melba’s visit helped in some small way.
Below is another wonderful gem found at the museum. Melba and the concert party stayed at the Royal Mail Hotel. The sketch is from 1891 and the photo is of the hotel today.