March 5th, 2022Lyonville Hall – the township’s heartbeat
WHEN Lyonville’s Anne Bremner was approached to be featured in a story given her devotion to the local area, her commitment to the preservation of the original mill town and its history, she agreed on the proviso the little country hall was part of the story.
The former Mechanics Institute and Free Library built in the 1880s is in Anne’s words, the township’s “heartbeat” and for 50 years Anne has been a committee member of the little hall, ensuring its history, conservation and importance to the town and the wider shire remains relevant.
It would be hard not to combine the two as Anne has been on the Lyonville Hall committee since 1972, first joining at 22 as one of the town’s pioneering families, the Bremners. And in original committee minutes Anne’s name appears alongside her mother-in-law when the first woodchop event was being planned.
The famous Lyonville woodchop held earlier in February this year was one of the biggest in its history and for Anne and fellow committee members that’s not only a fantastic achievement but money raised on the day through food and raffle sales all goes back into the little hall’s upkeep.
The hall was constructed in the then timber milling town, settled by Charles Cowie in 1868 with land and timber donated to build the hall by Horatio Weatherhead. The town is named after sawmill proprietor James Lyon.
A new sign, the newest addition to the hall, is a reminder of the age and importance of the building that has stood the test of time including a fire which destroyed the books and part of the stage. It’s gone through a number of upgrades thanks to fundraising efforts, government grants and in-kind support. And a dedicated committee with the same drive and passion as Anne.
The tightly knit locals made up of descendants from pioneers and newcomers are pretty protective of the hall and changes. While Anne says it’s important the history and future development of small townships are protected, she said groups set up by local government should leave hall committees alone.
While Anne grew up on a small property near Dandenong and was always a self-confessed tomboy who dreamed of marrying a farmer, her world was already connected to Lyonville as her great-grandparents were pioneering Swiss Italian settlers, the Debernadis. But it was a blind date set up by her brother who insisted she meet George Bremner that was the start of her new life in the shire.
“My brother David often worked on my great-grandparents’ farm and he met George. David told George about me and we met at the Royal Melbourne Show in front of the bull statue at the station. I was 15 and George was 21 and we met up for a while but I was concerned about the age difference. I was a silly teenager and suggested we part ways. Poor George nearly had a coronary.”
But George’s persistence paid off and the couple married four years later and lived with George’s parents in Lyonville. The couple worked on George’s family farm and eventually took over the property, later becoming one of Victoria’s first sole organic farm producers.
The couple, who have three children, twin sons Adam and Alex, and daughter Catherine, said their one stipulation should the kids choose a life on the farm was to get a profession behind them so they always had something to fall back on.
Son Adam, a 6th generation farmer, now runs Wombat Forest Organics. He trained as a refrigeration and air conditioning mechanic before heading back to the farm. Catherine lives with her family in Berwick and is described by Anne as the one who keeps the family all connected while also being the bookkeeper for the farm. Alex, the “academic” of the family lives in Edinburgh and is an architectural history professor.
Anne was always hands-on at the farm but started winding back around 10 years ago – the same time she discovered bowls. She is a regular face at the Daylesford Bowling Club, on the board and selection committee and a favourite at the Friday night raffle.
Anne can always be found at the Lyonville Hall helping to organise the three main fundraising events – the annual woodchop, the Harvest Festival and the annual bake-off (local Melissa Jenkins is aiming for her third best in show for her muffins) and for Anne and the committee the next upgrades for the hall include a roof over the outdoor pizza oven and a fresh coat of paint – in original colours.
Café de Lyonville
Every Sunday morning from 10am to 1pm the little hall comes alive with fresh coffee and baked goods, thanks to members of the hall committee and volunteers. It’s been running for about two years with all proceeds going to the upkeep of the hall. It’s where you’ll be treated to freshly-baked favourites worthy of first prize in the annual Lyonville Hall bakeoff with the prices and the atmosphere reflective of years gone by.
Words: Narelle Groenhout | Image: Contributed