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Tenterfield School of Arts hosts National Trust (NSW) celebration

With its roots extending more than 150 years back with a slab and shingle building on the same site, the Sir Henry Parkes Memorial School of Arts was the National Trust (NSW)'s first acquisition back in 1957.
With its roots extending more than 150 years back with a slab and shingle building on the same site, the Sir Henry Parkes Memorial School of Arts was the National Trust (NSW)'s first acquisition back in 1957.

This Saturday, May 1 the National Trust (NSW) is marking its 75th anniversary, plus one, after celebrations were curtailed last year due to -- you guessed it -- COVID-19.

Where else to celebrate such a milestone but at the location of so many firsts, the Sir Henry Parkes Memorial School of Arts.

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Friends of the School of Arts are throwing open the doors to the historic complex, complete with airings of some special themed productions courtesy of Peter Harris.

The audiovisual treat will be screened in three sessions: at 10am, noon and 2pm. All sessions are free and there's no need to pre-book.

Each will start with refreshments served in the theatre, followed by the screening.

While celebrating the National Trust's anniversary, the focus in Tenterfield will be on the Federation story and Henry Parkes' contribution to the movement.

In fact at each of the sessions Henry Parkes (or at least a fair facsimile of him) will be delivering his famous 1889 speech which was a stirring call to the nation to become a federation.

Additionally, during the day there will be live music and an opportunity to visit the gallery and museum to see and hear the stories of some of the parts of the collection, using smart phones or hand held tablets (available for loan).

While the Trust's 75th anniversary is be celebrated at events throughout the state, the Sir Henry Parkes Memorial School of Arts holds a special place not only as the site of the birth of federation but also as the Trust's first acquisition, through a special act of Parliament in 1957.

A School of Arts committee was formed back in 1863/64, with a slab and shingle building being constructed on the current site in 1869/70. Originally built as a reading room, a more permanent building (which still remains) was opened on September 7, 1876.

The original School of Arts comprised a hall for meetings, community-initiated and travelling entertainment, and a subscription library. The sandstone and marble arch was added in 1902, as a memorial to the Boer War soldiers.

Increasing use of the complex led to the addition of a large new auditorium in 1903 in which silent movies were screened from 1911, with piano, violin and trumpet accompaniment, subsequently replaced by 'talkies'. Movies continued to be screened until 1942 when the School of Arts was commandeered by the military and the licence withdrawn by the Chief Secretary's Department.

A billiard hall was added in 1913, later known as the AD Donnelly Hall and now part of the Public Library.

Since its refurbishment in 2001 the complex is leased from the National Trust and operated by Tenterfield Shire Council. Today the complex includes the Sir Henry Parkes Gallery, a Federation Museum in the Banquet Hall, a Cinema/Theatre, the Public Library and since 2006, the Courtyard Café.

Architecturally the building comprises many styles, from its Gothic outline to the Edwardian addition of 1913. The Trust states that "the building and location reflect the beginning of a community functioning politically and creatively as a whole, which in turn interprets the contributions and projects of the great Sir Henry Parkes."

Friends of the School of Arts are trusting that the community will continue to function politically and creatively, hoping to see this event well-supported as the complex is such a focal point in the town.

It's a wonderful opportunity for locals, both old and new, to see just what is on offer in the iconic building.