Katanning Mechanics’ Institute to be entered on
Monday, 30 June 1997
The historic Katanning Mechanics’ Institute, which has played an important part in the development of the town, is to have its heritage values recognised by the State Government.
Heritage Minister Graham Kierath said the turn of the century building was one of the first to be erected in the Katanning district and had provided a range of services, making it an important landmark.
The building was to be listed on the Heritage Council of Western Australia’s interim register of heritage places to recognise its aesthetic and historic values.
“The Mechanics’ Institute movement originated in England and developed as a means of providing instruction for tradesmen,” Mr. Kierath said.
“The majority of these tradesmen, or ‘mechanics’, had no education.
Educating them was seen as free education for their children.
“In most parts of Australia, early library services were provided by churches and Sunday schools and through organisations such as mechanics’ institutes and literary organisations.
“Mechanics’ Institutes developed in Western Australia in a sporadic way with the Katanning branch being established in 1894 by a pioneer of the area, Frederick Piesse.
“The institute’s aim was the ‘cultivation of literature, science, and art, the intellectual improvement and the recreation of its members’.
“Mr. Piesse originally built an agricultural hall on the Austral Terrace site in 1896 for the sole use and benefit of the agricultural community.”
The single-storey brick building was a simple, rectangular hall with a pitched corrugated iron roof.
In 1899 the Agricultural Hall Committee and the Mechanics’ Institute amalgamated and the institute was given a 200-pound grant to improve the hall to become known as the Mechanics’ Institute and Public Hall.
Mr. Kierath said that over the years the hall had undergone many changes and it was almost amalgamated into a complex of buildings including the adjacent town hall.
“The building has provided a wide range of services over the years including a library, reading room and facilities for billiards, chess, cards and table tennis,” he said.
“The billiard room still houses three tables, two of which are original.
“Many locals will remember it fondly as a venue for balls and dances, cinema and theatrical and other performances.
“It’s changing face shows the growth of the town of Katanning.”
Mr. Kierath said the institute was in fair condition but had a high degree of authenticity, as it was still used as the shire library.
The Town Hall has high historical and social significance. It has been the centre of many important institutions in Katanning, such as the Mechanics’ Institute, the Roads Board and the Agricultural Committee, as well as providing an important social venue for the local community.
Although it has undergone many modifications and changes, the original hall building is still the main feature and has significant architectural value.
The foundation stone for the Katanning Town Hall was laid on 22nd August 1896 by the Hon F H Piesse, MLA.The building was made possible through the donation of 10,000 bricks by F & C Piesse, government subsidy and voluntary labour to cart the bricks, sand and lime.
The opening ceremony was reported in the Australian Advertiser:
A photograph of the tout ensemble was then taken by the representatives of Messrs. Nixon and Mirrilees, Fremantle, and then the casket containing town records ….a copy of the West Australian of August 21st, and of the Australian Advertiser of August 22nd, together with all the silver coins of the realm, was sealed and securely cemented at the back of the foundation stone, which was a block of granite suitably inscribed, [AA, 27/8/1896]
The agricultural hall cost £3000 to build, the contractor being Mr. George Thomas, and the contractor for the woodwork was Mr. Andrew Stewart.
It was officially opened in 1897.
In 1899 it became known as the Mechanics’ Institute and Public Hall after it was decided at a public meeting to amalgamate the Mechanics’ Institute and the Agricultural Hall committee.
Improvements were carried out to the hall at this time, giving the Mechanics’ Institute members permanent quarters.
By 1903 some ill feeling had developed between the institute members and the agriculturalists over the suggestion to change the name to the simpler “Mechanics’ Institute (inc.)”.
The Roads Board also leased a room in the hall for their office.
In 1907 a new Mechanic’s Hall was erected next to the old one, which was by now in a state of disrepair and included “four shops, a main entrance, a spacious cloakroom, a ticket office, a large stage and dressing rooms”. [Bignell, p 238]
Elaborate wrought iron gates (made by B Makutz) were also added, “scenic stage backdrops designed by P Goatcher and a panelled ceiling, the work of a Mr. Tindale – all well-known Perth contractors – while the intricate electric light system was personally supervised by F T R Piesse”. [Bignell, p.38]
The architect for this work was J Herbert Eales and the contractor was Alex Thomson.
The existing hall was also renovated at the same time, using brick partitioning and incorporated a reading room and library as well as a billiards room and caretaker’s quarters.
Not long after this work, the Roads Board offices were also refurbished.
Extensive additions and alterations were completed in 1928, which included the addition of the second storey.
The architects were Eales & Cohen of Perth, the contractor was Alex Thomson and the contract price was £6495.
With the completion of these additions and alterations, the building was now more commonly referred to as the Town Hall.
Inside the hall was housed the Road Board offices and meeting room, and a large modern hall with a gallery.
A library was added in 1944. The building is rendered in a mannered classical mode.
In 1979 additions and alterations were carried out in a Post-war Functionalist style.
The architects were Henderson and Thompson, and the supervisor was V C Philpott.
The library was added during 1944.