All posts by Merle Hathaway

About Merle Hathaway

I am currently Secretary of Save Civic Hall and the co-ordinator of Communications and Media. When not volunteering for SCH, I am a freelance arts administrator, curator and jack of all trades to do with promoting and supporting the arts.

Main Hall open soon


Great news today! Council has approved opening the main part of the Civic Hall from the evening of 24 April to Sunday 26 April to celebrate the end of stage 1 of the Design Process. This has not been open to the public since the tours of 2012 and currently can only be viewed through glass from the foyer.

The 10 themes or main concepts which have been developed over the past few months will be displayed INSIDE the main space of the Civic Hall.   The next stage involves developing and modifying these concepts.

Two weeks after the launch the Civic Hall will be open for public tours during Heritage Weekend, 9 & 10 May.   Watch this space for times!

Civic Hall doors to open soon!

Council has now voted unanimously to support a community design process at the Civic Hall! This will be the first time that many people have had a chance to view the hall.

The people of Ballarat will be encouraged to contribute design ideas and assist in making models and drawing up plans for the future of the long-disputed Civic Hall.

The “Open Door Studio” will be launched in the foyer of the Civic Hall with an exhibition of all previously submitted plans. At the Studio the community will be assisted in producing a number of concepts, whittling these down over time and by consensus until only three remain. Then Councillors will vote on one design for the Civic Hall and its site.

This process is quite new to Ballarat and it  puts the onus on the community to get involved in shaping the future for the Civic Hall. Councillor representation on a reference panel to support the participatory process will ensure a more informed view of the community’s wishes, and assist them make their ultimate decision.

A clean up of the building has started soon so that the foyer can be used for the “Open Door Studio” workshops. This has included air quality tests and reinstating of fire and other safety equipment.

Initially the main space may be only viewable, but it is intended that as much as possible of the main hall will be accessible again in the coming months.

Save Civic Hall encourages everyone in the community to get involved in what should be an exciting outcome for the people of Ballarat and district.

Happy Birthday Civic Hall!

Help us celebrate the Civic Hall’s 58th birthday with a fundraising film at the Regent on Wednesday 20 August at 6.30pm.

Hundred Foot Journey poster

“The Hundred Foot Journey” is a great film starring Helen Mirrin about an Indian family that moves to France to set up a restaurant.

Tickets are $15 and the profits go towards either VCAT action to prevent demolition, or, if this is not necessary we’ll fund a celebratory community event there.

Tickets from SCH committee members. Ring Zero419324042

Stars of film


Participatory design process to start soon!

Council will decide at their next Council meeting whether to fund a community-focussed participatory design process to take place at the Civic Hall in an “open door studio”.

After years of stale-mate and dissent, and much community consultation – which Council has largely ignored – this new process aims to produce 3 fully fleshed out plans.

The process should start in a month or so and will involve artists, architecture students, the general community – including children, and the stakeholders of the Civic Hall and its site.  The emphasis will be on finding consensus.

Guiding the whole process will be a stakeholder advisory committee which should represent a wide range of views on the future of the Civic Hall and its site. It is expected that members of SCH will be part of this group.

Save Civic Hall will support and actively promote this so long as the process and overarching stakeholder committee is not seen as biased towards demolition or other unsuitable, especially non-community, uses of the Civic Hall.

Save Civic Hall is encouraging Council to include representatives from the arts, health and community based interest groups.

A 7 year old's view of the Civic Hall
7 year old Leela’s view of the Civic Hall

Seeking Civic Hall memorabilia

Do you have items or information relating to the Civic Hall?

We’d love to hear from you!

Barbara, Judith and Merle are now working on an exhibition about the Civic Hall, for Heritage Weekend 2015. Several people have already come forth with original ball tickets from the 1950s and 60s, and we have several programmes of the first concerts, posters from events held there over the years, and wonderful photographs of the bands that performed there.

We know that many people did their Deb, or attended balls there. It would be wonderful to borrow one of two of those frocks!

Tickets from the very first and later balls, donated by Frank Martin
Tickets from the very first and later balls, donated by Frank Martin

The Gold Museum has also offered to be a safe repository for any items which are donated. So they will be preserved for the future. But of course we would be happy to just borrow items closer to the time of the exhibition.

And as we are gathering information about the Civic Hall, we’d also be delighted to meet with anyone who has stories or other things to share.

Get in touch if you’d like to talk – Merle: 0419 324042 or Barbara: or Judith: 5335 6290


Inspiring Forum: Civic Hall – Reopen, Revitalize!

Last Sunday’s forum, held at the lovely old Ballarat Mechanic’s Institute presented three very inspiring and informative speakers.The focus was, how do we refurbish or adapt old buildings to vital community hubs.

Ammon Beyerle, Co Director of Here Studio, and a founder of Ballarat Coworking, asked us to consider –  Do we change the use of the Civic Hall? Or change the building? Do we want large, or small changes? Are there things we wanAmmon at Forumt
to keep?
He showed images of arts and community spaces in Europe and Australia that have been developed by creatively adapting old buildings such as Paris’ Museé D’Orsay, once a railway station and London’s Tate Modern, formerly a power station. Sydney’s Museum of Contemporary Art was once a maritime services building.

Jeremy Gaden, Director of The Substation, Newport, gave an inspiring account of how the derelict 1915 railway building has become a leading conte
mporary art space in the western suburbs.

Long considered an eyesore that nobody wanted, its rejuvenation
began with just two enthusiastic people and finally involved the whole community.  Today businesses nearby are thriving and there are are fewer closed shoThe Substation interiorps. Gaden said that a key problem is that The Substation was neverdesigned to accommodate people. (Unlike Ballarat’s Civic Hall, which was designed to accommodate many people for a wide range of functions).

 Phil Roberts, historian and Secretary of the Ballarat Mechanics Institute, spoke of the $5 million process to restore the Ballarat Mechanics Institute. he meticulous restoration was achieved in stages, over fifteen years, with funding mainly from the Brumby state governmentBMI exterior, major philanthropic trusts, local service clubs and businesses.

Save Civic Hallis currently continuing discussions with the City of Ballarat regarding their proposed community engagement process. This is seen as a timely process to heal the rift between Council and community and to further discuss some of the ideas put forth at the forum.

Civic Hall ~ Reopen, Revitalize!

This free forum will look at a range of options for restoration and adaptive reuse of the Civic Hall and its site,  to create an exciting community hub for Ballarat. Also featured will be great examples from Ballarat and Melbourne. 

CH Public Meeting BMI

Jeremy Gadens: Director of The Substation, Newport.
Phil Roberts: Secretary, Ballarat Mechanics Institute
Ammon Beyerle: Co-Director of Here Studio, Co-Founder of Hub Melbourne and Ballarat Coworking.

2pm Sunday 25 May at Ballarat Mechanics Institute
117 Sturt Street, Minerva Space. (First floor – lift & wheelchair access)
Meet the speakers over afternoon tea and view Civic Hall memorabilia afterwards.
RSVP appreciated for catering: 0419 324042 or

See more information on Civic Hall and other local news on Weekend Notes. Ballarat has several writers providing content for this online magazine.

Council allows SCH tradesmen to inspect Civic Hall

Save Civic Hall last year asked if a team of tradespeople and experts could inspect particularly the Lower Hall with a view to them providing their services free of charge to return it to community use.

This happened on 27 March. While we are still waiting for all their reports the general consensus was that the Civic Hall remains structurally sound and able to be repaired and returned to community use.


Above left: Entrance to Lower Hall. Right: Main Hall

Those inspecting the Lower Hall and the main hall were shocked at the lack of maintenance and security. Many of us visited the main hall when Council allowed limited viewing in 2012 but more recent graffiti is obvious in these photographs. It shows that people are continuing to gain access to the building.

While this remains a potential asset to the community, one would expect our Council to ensure that it is safe and secure.

Keep your Objections coming!

Council has agreed that objections may still be lodged up till they finally make their decision. Save Civic Hall has to date gathered over 2,125 written objections, and presumably many other people have delivered them or submitted online.

Council now seems to be considering postponing its application for demolition while it considers the offer of Premier Napthine to relocate Vic Roads to the Civic Hall site.  This is dependant on whether the Liberal Government is re-elected. So there would be another delay while the building deteriorates further.

However, the Mayor is actually using the term “adaptive re-use” instead of demolition now!

It may be worth looking at the ABC TV report on this.
Check out their current 7-storey high, ugly office block in Kew. Can this really be accommodated beside the Civic Hall?  What would that do to the skyline of Ballarat’s CBD?

Of course, it’s great to see opportunities for Ballarat, though it will not bring 400 new jobs to Ballarat as the Premier declared. The plan is to relocate the existing staff from Melbourne. Personally, I hope they consider other, more suitable sites, and leave the Civic Hall for a community hub, not overshadowed by what would be the biggest building in Ballarat.

In the meantime, Save Civic Hall encourages you to continue to send in your objections, reminding Council that it is our community space, so that whatever is decided, demolition is not part of it. And that the site is retained primarily for community use.

Concerning Civic Hall: a poem by Bexley John Martin (c)

In Ballarat there lays a place
To entertain us all;
Where artists can fill up the space
That’s known as Civic Hall.
But Council wants to claim its land,
And pull it down they say;
Which I would dare to understand
Would be a sad old day …

With little thought they’ve gone ahead
With plans all of their own;
To use the place that I have said
We all have seen and known.
So it is up to each of us
To stand up good and tall;
That we may kick up such a fuss
Concerning Civic Hall …

With this in mind I ask of you
A simple thing indeed;
To show the Council it is true
That such a hall we need.
Where folk have come to strut their stuff
In shows that have been grand;
And now we find it all so tough
That they should want its land …

We need a place, our own to call,
Where songs  are loud and true;
Where echoes bounce off every wall
In front of me and you.
We need a place, so grand indeed,
With space to fill so well –
And one such place that we all need
Should have so much to tell …

So let us dare to make a stand
To save this hall we know;
To do the things with it that’s planned
Since first it came on show.
For it’s stood grand in its good place
Since ’56, and all;
And to this day we need this space
That’s known as Civic Hall.