The Ararat Town Hall stands on the traditional land of the Djab Wurrung (literally meaning ‘soft language’) people. The Djab Wurrung people once comprised of some 40 clans, or around 4,000 individuals, and their rich cultural legacy is still celebrated through the Lake Bolac Eel Festival, marking the annual eel migration.
In 1857, gold was found in Ararat by a group of 700 Chinese miners, predominantly from Taishan, resulting in a population boom of approximately 20,000 people within a few weeks. Supporting town infrastructure was quickly built including central market sheds in 1863. By 1866, the sheds were converted into a temporary Town Hall.
After 25 years of meetings in the ‘temporary’ hall, the Council of the day agreed to borrow £5000 raised through 50 £50 debentures to build a new Town Hall. Plans were drawn by Ballarat architectural form, Molloy and Smith, and builder James Irwin was engaged. The foundation stone was laid on November 30, 1898. This long-awaited milestone was marked in Ararat with a procession of school children, the local fire brigade, rangers and the local band along Barkly Street to the Market Square.
The much-anticipated completion of the Town Hall was celebrated about less than a year later, on October 18, 1899, with a concert during the afternoon and a Grand Ball in the evening.
Although majestic and grand, the Town Hall was built without the clocks that grace the existing building. In June 1932 a donation to the people of Ararat from the McDonald family of Mount Ararat saw the installation of the current clocks.
Significant civic events, such as the anniversary and declaration of the City by Sir Dallas Brooks in 1950 and the delivery of Sir Henry Bolte’s pre-election policies speeches 1967-70 demonstrate the significant civic function of the Hall.
The Town Hall has been a venue for major performers for many generations. In 1979 the building was renovated and formally reopened as a performing arts centre and regional public art gallery. In 2018, the Town Hall was again redeveloped, with updated technical systems in the main auditorium, two lifts, a new green room and improved lobby including bar and cloaking facilities. The Hall’s 1952 Steinway, originally purchased through community fundraising, was likewise restored and returned to the Town Hall for its reopening in August 2018.
The Town Hall’s program has supported seasons by local ensembles for many decades including the Ararat Music Theatre Society, the Ararat Eisteddfod and the Ararat Theatre Company through the One Act Play Festival – local events such as The Golden Gateway Festival and the Jail House Rock Festival have likewise presented at the Hall.
With thanks to Ararat and District Historic Society.