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History

09 Apr 2019

History Image

Under the mound

The Habitat-Filter Park in Sturt St, with its six multi-coloured shards, is a distinctive and prominent design that today anchors the run-off from the freeway.

But before it was created, the large plot of land played a central role in the military and recreational life of Southbank.

It started life in the colonial period as a timber orderly room called the South Melbourne Remount Depot and Drill Hall, eventually spreading out over five acres and serving as the recruiting centre for the Great War, as many young Australians (including John Wren) flocked to join up.

Many of those who returned were demobilised at the same centre.

Over the years, the large site was a busy bustling place, close to the barracks in St Kilda Rd, used for a variety of military and training purposes, including the Military Wireless Society, a centre for signals, veterinary services, stables for the Light Horse Brigade, parades, rifle clubs, military sports, lectures on weaponry and social events.

It also became the centre for a “new citizens force” in the 1920s, the forerunner of the Citizens Military Force, and sometimes served as a temporary home for the unemployed in the early 1920s.

As war clouds gathered over Europe in the 1930s, a number of new drill halls were constructed across Melbourne, including one facing Sturt St and another in nearby Albert Park.

The red brick hall, in distinctive Art Deco style, served as a centre for activities such as dances, lectures, and training.

The stylish building stood out from the rest of the facility, with other buildings around it (largely wood and corrugated iron sheds) regarded as eyesores, constantly being patched and painted.

With advent of WWII, it was again used as a recruiting centre and for many other military uses, including accommodation for troops on leave.

Like other parts of South Melbourne, the continued use of the hall and its surrounds was contentious, as the council resented the occupation by the military of valuable public land.

Many locals have fond memories of it in the 1950s, as they attended classes on Friday nights run by Legacy for children of deceased military personnel and enjoyed sports such as volleyball, basketball and trampolining. (Legacy girls had a similar centre in the city).

In the 1950s, those undergoing national service recall being stationed there.

The drill hall was a victim of the massive changes arising from freeway construction but long-term Southbank residents have fond memories of many fun times at the site.

 

Robin Grow - President

Australian Art Deco & Modernism Society

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