by Ted O’Kane, Goulburn
As featured in The Country Web 2017 Annual.
If it were not for its eye catching lolly pink exterior and matching burgundy roof, the Cathcart War Memorial Hall might go unnoticed by travellers to the historic grazing and timber town, nestled high on the NSW south-coast escarpment.
That failure would be a lost opportunity to experience one of the enduring but increasingly challenged notions of Australian bush life–the strength and power of shared community.
In contrast to many similar bush community halls, left stranded and forlornly awaiting patronage by rapidly changing rural demographics and a diminishing sense of common purpose, the Cathcart Hall stands as a monument to the pride and resilience of a community determined to not let the chill winds of change destroy one of the last legacies of its pioneering forebears.
For current generations, the hall is the town’s heart and focal point for a vibrant social calendar that includes weddings, wakes, birthday parties, balls, variety shows and much more. It also regularly hosts major district events, attracting visitors from across the county, providing the local community with the necessary funds to continually maintain and develop its most precious asset.
Efforts by the Cathcart community to maintain and develop the local Hall have honed the cooking skills of locals and spawned legendary tales of amazing catering feats. Feeding hordes of hungry adventurers has also funded an impressive and ongoing list of Hall improvements, which in turn attracts more travellers.
Cathcart Memorial Community Hall secretary, Jenni Moreing, recounts the greatest challenge when the village was on the route of the RTA Big Bike Ride around 15 years ago.
‘We were told to expect up to 500 riders for lunch but the weather turned cold and we ended up feeding over 1200 people. We had to raid every freezer and pantry in the town but no-one went hungry,’ she said.
The locals are well practised. One of the feature annual fundraisers with a 30 year plus history is the Cathcart Variety show which attracts talent from across the country, once featuring an opera singer. Dinner and supper is provided for 250–300 people with everyone from kids to seniors doing their bit.
Hosting a horse trail riding event was another major fundraiser, catering over two days for around 160 riders and up to 300 for the Saturday night festivities. Insurance and liability constraints have put an end to that event but the committee is planning to run an annual Team Sorting equine event in a paddock at the back of the Hall to maintain an income stream and attract visitors to the area.
In the past five years, locally generated funds have built a free standing toilet and shower block adjacent to the Hall to provide facilities for passing travellers and campers who can use the hall and surrounds. Recently, a Snowy Monaro Council grant upgraded the hall kitchen to commercial standard and further improvements to the external covered areas— used for weddings and parties—are planned.
‘It would be a very lonely, dark old town without the hall. I would hate to see Cathcart without it,’ committee president, Ryan (‘Fred’) Simpson, reflected.
‘The hall is the main focus of the community. If we didn’t have the hall, people would go their own way and travel to surrounding towns. We would have no reason to get together,’ committee secretary for the past 20 years, Jenni Moreing, added.
Once served by three hotels, a school, post office, a police station, two blacksmith shops and numerous small retail businesses, Cathcart now hangs on to just one general store. For everything else, it relies entirely on the hall and the plethora of activities generated by its determined and resilient citizens.
The strongly held association to a rich history by scores of local families is recorded in a
spectacular rock wall outside the hall. Atop the metre high wall are around 40 plaques telling the story of a particular pioneering family. John Moreing proudly points to the story of his own forebears as he explains how the wall was funded by each family buying a space and providing the plaque.
With a roughly estimated population of 60–70, including numerous farmers on smaller blocks surrounding the village, the committee happily reports a tally of 25 to 30 workers at regular working bees. ‘Pretty much everyone in the town gets involved,’ Fred said. ‘Even the little kids (including his own) help out by setting tables and taking a turn at washing up. They are learning about their community responsibilities from early on.’
‘The history used to be just inside the hall but unless it was open, no-one could see it so we decided to make it a permanent record and available for all to see,’ he explained proudly.