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Wednesday, March 30, 2016

Old Army Drill Hall, Princes Hwy, Dandenong, mid 2000s.

Dandenong Drill Hall, a timber-framed, corrugated iron clad building with iron roof and trusses built 1915-1916, was one of about forty timber and iron drill halls built in Victoria from 1912-1916. The building was comprised of a major hall space with a number of smaller rooms leading from the main hall including a kitchen, offices, storage room and mess rooms. The floors were of concrete in the hall with timber floors in the surrounding rooms. There were three small sheds at the rear of the hall and a large vehicle shed adjacent to the hall.

From as early as 1877 Dandenong had a volunteer corps, the Light Horse Troop and by 1888 The Victorian Rangers had a local unit at Dandenong of which eleven men served in Sth Africa in 1899. By 1913 the need for Dandenong to have a Drill Hall had become quite apparent as there were approx. 170 members of the different corps in training in the area. In July 1913 a Sergeant Manners MacFarlane advised in a memo the then Minister for Defense W.H. Irvine that suitable land could be excised from the Government reserve known as Dandenong Park. This purchase was gazetted on September 11th 1915, with the building being constructed and put to much needed use.

In 1938 substantial additions were made to the building including an Officers' Mess, Sergeants' Mess, Lecture room and a Cloak Room, followed by a private residence, a gun park and garages. All were much needed additions as Dandenong had recently become the headquarters of the new 52nd Battalion (the Gippsland Regiment) and required extra facilities, in particular mess facilities, for officers and other ranks, woo traveled long distances for functions, conferences, lectures and other activities. The hall was also used as a recruitment centre during WW1 and WW2.

In 1947 the hall was allocated to 5th Infantry Battalion as a depot for for the training of the Support Company, then in 1949 some minor alterations involving partitioning, new fireplaces and a Recreation room at the rear took place. In 1951 land adjacent to the Training Depot was acquired to garage 15 vehicles, then in 1957 the hall became the home of the 15th Field Regiment, Royal Australian Artillery, a 200 strong citizen military force unit.

The Drill Hall for the entirety of it's existence was an integral part of Dandenong and surrounds both for military and socially. From its earliest days it was used as the venue for monthly community dances and other activities, for many years it even had the Dandenong Baths next to it. In 1945 the Dandenong Community Youth Centre moved there after having previously called the Pavilion at the Showgrounds (next to the Market) home. Between 1948-1954 the Scottish Regiment was proud to also call the Drill Hall home.

In the early years the regular drills could be used by many for keeping track of the time. With the loss of the regular gun shots, people lost interest, increasingly people relied on their own time pieces, leaving the Drill Hall to fade into memory along with its local architectural significance as an example of the many timber and iron drill halls built between 1912-1916.

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