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Malta - Australia Hall


Krithia

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I was out in Malta last year and visited all the CWGC cemeteries there that contained Gallipoli related burials. There were several military hospitals on Malta, and by their sites were the cemeteries. Whilst visiting the Pembroke Military Cemetery we drove into the old naval base there, and I was surprised to see a survivor of the period. Does anyone know the name of this building and details of its purpose?

More photos to follow, but note the "Advance Australia" coat of arms above the door and also the plaque as unveiled by the "Australian Branch of the British Red Cross" in 1915.

The building is sadly just a shell, but I hope it survives.

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Hello Krithia !

The building in your photos is AUSTRALIA HALL which, as mentioned in the inscription, was built in November 1915 with funds amounting to Two Thousand Pounds provided by the Australian Branch of the British Red Cross Society.

This building was specially constructed for the purpose of serving as a recreation centre for the sick and wounded troops who had been evacuated to Malta. It was not intended, nor did it serve, as a hospital.

One interesting observation concerning the coat-of-arms is that, for some unknown reason, the arms granted to Australia in 1908 was used instead of the one granted in 1912.

AUSTRALIA HALL was inaugurated on Saturday 22 January 1916 by the Governor, Field Marshal Lord Methuen, and for many years afterwards served as a theatre/cinema for the British servicemen garrisoned on Malta. It was managed by the Young Men's Christian Association and the British Red Cross Society.

In 1979, after the British forces had departed, the Malta Labour Party gained control of the buiding and part of the surrounding area in exchange for property expropriated by the Labour government for the development of Malta Shipbuilding in what some people thought was a very controversial deal.

According to newspaper reports from the 1990s, the Malta Labour Party never paid the annual rent of Lm20,000 and upon being returned to goverrnment in 1997 annulled the provision in the orginal agreement and renounced settlement of dues.

During the 1990s, after having been left derelict once it was no longer required as a political club, negotiations were entered into for its sale and conversion into a supermarket. Since September 1996 AUSTRALIA HALL had been schedualed as a Grade I listed building but was downgraded to Grade II in April 1997.

On the night of 1-2 December 1998, the building was engulfed by flames in what some people consider to have been an arson attack. Despite the blaze, in which the corrigated roof and stage area were destroyed, the masonry was found to be practically intact and did not warrant any change to the buildings' scheduling.

Unfortunately, no steps have been taken to restore AUSTRALIA HALL as yet and I understand that there are legal proceedings from the 1990s still in progress.

Hope this helps,

Regards

Wayne

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Wow, thanks Wayne. Hopefully it will be 'preserved', as it would make a great general purpose hall for organised functions etc. It will probably be asking too much to turn it into a WW1 Musuem !

Are there any other similar buildings from WW1 on the island?

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I am afraid its use will depend on what action is eventually taken by the powers that be. On my part, I would love to see AUSTRALIA HALL restored to its original state and transformed into a social club - which, in view of its past, would also house a permanent display highlighting Australian connections with the island. However, I doubt this will ever happen.

AUSTRALIA HALL was the only purpose-built recreation hall constructed on Malta during the First World War. All the others were set up in existing buildings or under canvas. Indeed, most of the hospitals at that time were converted military barracks, schools, etc - or comprised of tents. A few of the former still exist.

Regards

Wayne

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Wayne and Krithia,

Thanks very much for the photos and information you've posted. I found it extremely interesting, as always, to actually see some of the places that crop up so often in research. Brings them to life.

Let's hope that at the very least the facade of Australia Hall is preserved.

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Bryn,

As AUSTRALIA HALL is a scheduled Grade II heritage building, it is legally forbidden to demolish any part of the exterior. According to official reports issued by the Malta Envionment & Planning Authority, any future development MUST include the restoration of the whole building and be restricted to internal features.

However, having said this, unless such restoration is undertaken AUSTRALIA HALL will continue to gradually deteriorate and eventually collapse. It does not help that the building has been in the state depicted in the photos since December 1998.

Regards

Wayne

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Splendid building, and a shame to see it in such condition. Thankfully, the Maltese climate is evidently less destructive than that of the UK. Given Australia's great pride in its role in the Mediterranean theatre, it seems surprising that Australia has apparently not become involved in the restoration of this building — perhaps the legal proceedings Wayne mentions are an obstacle.

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Krithia,

Thanks for raising this topic of "Australia Hall" & to Wayne, for giving us a factual account of the history and present circumstances of the building.

It was, and still is a magnificent building, it must be saved and preserved at all cost. It is an important icon to the Anzac legend, a reminder of the enormous role Malta played to the Gallipoli campaign and a piece of Australia's history there on Malta.

Siege Gunner, the reason why Australia has done nothing to care for, or assist with the reconstruction, of Australia Hall, is basically due to the fact that 99.9% of Australians would know nothing of its existence, let alone it having being built on Malta through Australian donations in the first place.

The only way this can be brought to the attention of the Australian public, is by we Australians who know of it, and its plight, to do all we can to make the story known to Australia, and for that matter, New Zealand and the U.K. Until there is enough public appreciation and concern expressed over here, our politicians will do nothing to preserve the building or its history.

The greatest difficulty is to get the message across, to get our media interested, and hence the attention and action of the politicians and bureaucrats.

Wayne, you are to be highly commended for your magnificent efforts to protect and preserve this historic building, we cannot expect you to carry on this battle over there on Malta all on your own, especially we Australians, who after all have a high vested interest in making sure the hall is saved and restored.

I take this lack of action by my Government very personally, if it were not for the splendid people of Malta who worked tirelessly to tend for our wounded men shipped there from Gallipoli, my Grandfather included, I would not be here today to comment on the future of Australia Hall.

I give you my solemn pledge to do all I can to assist from this end, and hopefully my fellow countrymen and women will do likewise.

Jeff

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Jeff, you are right. I doubt anyone in Australian officialdom would know about Australia Halls existence and current plight. Maybe a first step is to write to the Australian High Commissioner in Malta who I think is Jurek Juszczyk and make him aware. The ties between the two countries and the Gallipoli campaign should make him read it, and with the modest trade between Australia/Malta set at A$18 million, there should be a few dollars left to restore the building ... and pigs might fly. Alternatively the press could be a powerful tool, the more who know the better.

Any ideas or suggestions?

Steve

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Steve & Jeff,

The Australian High Commissioner to Malta, Mr Jurek Juszczyk, is only just settling down into his new appointment and still has a number of matters that require prior attention. I understand that the High Commission actually have a file on AUSTRALIA HALL among their records. I am expecting him to contact me this week to confirm if he would like me to continue the tradition of mounting a small display (on a voluntary basis and at my own expense) to serve as a backdrop for the official Anzac Day reception.

When the opportunity presents itself, I will mention AUSTRALIA HALL to him - but expect that all he will be able to do is refer the matter to Canberra. If any action is to be taken to preserve this building, it is going to have to be on a government-level basis. This is even more important in view of the involvement of a political party and the court case. The idea of getting the press interested is a very good idea and should arouse enough awareness abroad to get the ball started.

Regards

Wayne

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Thanks for that, very very interesting. Isnt it funny how old buildings that people want to knock down or develop ? suddenly have MYSTERIOUS fires ? The same happened with the Old Netley Hospital in the 1960s , fortunately the council still wouldnt let the area be developed and it is now a very nice country leisure park.

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Due to the interest being shown :

The Daily Malta Chronicle – January 28, 1916

His Excellency the Governor and Commander-in-Chief, Field Marshal Lord Methuen, GCB, KCVO, CMG, presided in person on Saturday evening at the opening of the Australian Hall, Pembroke Camp, adjacent to St Andrew’s Hospital, which unique and interesting ceremony was attended with great success, the proceedings being marked by impressiveness, enthusiasm and general enjoyment.

The function was largely attended, those present including the leading representatives of the naval and military forces and civil government as well as residents in the island. The total company amounted to about 1,600 and was made up of as many Australians as were able to attend supplemented by the staffs of doctors and nurses from the neighbouring hospitals and convalescent camps. By 6 o’clock, the appointed time of commencement, the vast hall was filled, later arrivals being obliged to line the walls or accept the alternative of retracing their steps.

Shortly after that hour, the strains of God save the King, announced the arrival of His Excellency the Governor, accompanied by Lady Methuen, and attended by His Excellency’s staff. His Excellency was received by Lt Colonel Radcliffe on behalf of the Organising Committee and was conducted to his seat.

The curtain rose, and immediately His Excellency ascended the stage, receiving an ovation.

In expressing the pleasure afforded him in being present that evening, he said that the Hall had been built with part of the money “which has been most liberally given to us by Australia.” Referring to the purpose and the usefulness of the Hall, he emphasised with vigour and clearness of voice, that the hall would mark, for many years to come, the gallant deeds that our Colonial troops had performed for the Empire on the Gallipoli peninsula.

He did not for a moment, continued His Excellency, mean to say that we all possess in the Mother Country the splendid physique which we have seen exhibited amongst us by the Australians and New Zealanders, but he added, “I am sure on your part you will agree with me that in the heart of the mother stock is just as true and hardy as ever.”

His Excellency was extremely happy in his allusions to the missions of mercy which are so prominently before the public at the present time. “We have” he said, in his spirited style of expression, “to give a tribute of thanks to the Red Cross and Order of St John (cheers) for the work which they have done for the armies all over the Empire, wherever the field of battle may have been, and especially for the care of our sick in Malta (cheers). I must also give a tribute of thanks to the excellent organisation, combined with zeal and ability, shown by the committee of the Red Cross and Order of St John here in Malta, the Young Men’s Christian Association and kindred philanthropic bodies, the members of which unceasingly and unsparingly exert their utmost efforts in giving effect to their mission so splendidly carried out in the fullness of its usefulness (cheers).”

“It is many centuries ago,” he said, “since, in Jerusalem, the black mantle and the white cross and the white mantle and the red cross, of the Knight Templars and Order of St John, joined together with the two intentions of always carrying out their actions in a chivalrous manner in regard to those with whom they came in contact. I am sure that you will agree with me, heartily, that these principles have nowhere worked with more beneficial or better results than in this island of Malta!”

“Now comrades”, he said in declaring the Hall open, “I want to test the solidity of this roof and I can do so in no better manner than by asking you to join with me in giving three cheers for HM the King!” The deafening response which followed having to some extent abated, His Excellency called for “One cheer more for HM Queen Mary!”

His Excellency thereupon resumed his seat and while the applause was still ringing, the British Red Cross Concert Party took up position on the stage, and sang God Save the King in which the whole assemblage joined in with manifest heartiness. Mr Sydney Warwick, accompanist, having played a selection of national airs and Allied anthems, the party sang Land of Hope and Glory. The programme was thereupon proceeded with in a variety of songs and sketches reviewed in previous reports, with liberal additions from the repertoire of the Party, presented by Miss Gladys Norcott, Miss Minnie Deacon, Miss Beatrice Jeffreys, Mr Frank Hook, Mr Charles Conyers and Mr Sydney Warwick.

The several items were greatly appreciated as signified by loud applause and persistent demands for repetition, God Save the King terminating the auspicious event of the opening of the Australia Hall in Malta.

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The present Lord Methuen is one of the 92 hereditary peers elected to remain active members of the House of Lords. Perhaps he would be sympathetic to lending his name to a campaign to restore Australia Hall. His grandfather invited the audience at the opening ceremony to 'raise the roof' — perhaps the grandson would support efforts to 'raise the roof' again?

Mick

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Mick,

Might be a good idea in view of the family connection.

I found it interesting, some years ago when starting to research AUSTRALIA HALL, that the Australian Red Cross have no records whatsoever relating to their donation and the construction of the building on Malta.

Regards

Wayne

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This thread is very interesting and I totally concur that Australia Hall should be restored.

The problem is that this will need to be at 'government level' as Wayne suggests but the Australian Gov't seems to turn a blind eye to the destruction of historical WW1 landmarks.

Does anyone remember the thread about 'Red Chateau' in France? When I wrote to the minister about it's impending destruction, I received a waffling reply, full of words and patriotic phrases but very little content about the issue at hand. Red Chateau was bulldozed in the early hours of the morning not to long after!

And then there's the blatant vandalism at Gallipoli initially condoned by our ignorant Gov't. Only when they realized the extent of the damage did they jump in and try to shift the blame (not repair the problem).

Yes Australia Hall should be saved and restored but do I believe the Australian Gov't will lift a finger to help - not one bit.

A very cynical Tim L.

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It is election time here soon, so this may go for or against a campaign to retore the hall. I do know that the opposition leader is very aware of what makes Anzac day so special, as he walked the Kokoda Trail with a member of the other party, and both said it changed their thinking.

So he or JH might be good ones to make aware of this problem.

The other that may help is the RSL. Surely they could set aside some of the pokie money for this purpose.

Can we put together a letter that each of us could print off and sign, then post to the appropriate people. The more letters they get the better, specially if they come from other countries as well.

I am sure, when they are made aware of it, that a lot of people from OZ and NZ, that are members of the LH and GWF forums would help in this matter. There are also authors and historians such as Burness and Stanley, and Les Carylon, maybe a letter to them may help to raise awareness. They have inside tracks to the media through their publishers.

Jeff, as for media involement what about our mate, Cobber?

Cheers

Kim

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PS. There is always the possibility that some of the bigger companies may donate iron and timber, they are usually looking for new ways to put their name up in front of the public.

Kim

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