The Bullumwaal Hall Stage Curtain
A Piece Of East Gippsland History
During the goldrush of the 1800’s, East Gippsland was among the many areas with a growing population of miners and their families from wide and far, all hoping to make their fortune on the local goldfields. Bullumwaal, sometimes spelt Bulumwaal, is located along Boggy Creek, twenty-nine kilometres north of Bairnsdale.
Following the discovery of gold in Boggy Creek in 1857, about 1,000 people came to live in Bulumwaal but the rush was shortlived. In 1868 there was a rush to Upper Boggy Creek where promising reefs were found. In 1870 this growing township was renamed Bullumwaal. ‘Bullumwaal’ is an Aboriginal word thought to mean two spears, representing two nearby mountains, Mt Lookout and Mt Taylor. However, by the early 1880s the Boggy Creek goldfields again were almost deserted.
Bullumwaal’s heyday was during the late 1880s and 1890s. The economic depression caused many unemployed to migrate to old goldfields. Many old mines were reopened and there were four quartz batteries in operation. Some mines were very productive, the best known being the Sons of Freedom and the Beehive. From 150 residents in 1890, the population swelled to 700 by 1896. The township was gazetted in 1898. Spread over several kilometres it then possessed a post office, telephone service, hotel, school, church, Mechanics’ Institute hall, coffee palace, drapers, jeweller, grocer, other stores and a newspaper. Social activities were popular, with a cricket club, rifle club, brass band and dramatic company, and several lodges had established branches.
The local Mechanics Hall was the heart of most goldfield communities of the day, as a meeting place for political, commercial and social events throughout the year. Painted backdrops and ‘grand drapes’ (front stage curtains) were the primary artistic feature depicting the life of villages and towns across rural Australia and in the new world. These backdrops were works of art, huge canvases often depicting rural/garden scenes or town/cityscapes. One of the most famous in Australia is the Boulder (Western Australia) town hall curtain by Philip Goatcher, painted in 1908 and depicting the bay of Naples, one of the few remaining examples of his works in the world.
The Bullumwaal curtain belongs to another category, the advertising curtain. These curtains combine advertisements with a central scene, usually a landscape. A few examples are shown on the ‘Curtains without borders’ US website, an association which has conserved a number of early 20th century curtains in New England, with the support of National Trust. The only other example known in Victoria of an advertising curtain was in Toora, Gippsland; this curtain, painted by John Gunn, showed only advertisements and is no longer in existence. It is known however from a black and white photo kept at the Monash University’s Centre for Gippsland Studies.
The Bullumwaal curtain is unique in Victoria to combine a central landscape and advertisements; furthermore, these advertisements contain illustrations, which is not usually the case, and are very informative about the social life at the time. The 120 year old, Bullumwaal Hall Stage Curtain, is one of the only examples in Victoria conserved in its original location. Painted on hessian, it is composed of a central landscape of the local area, adorned with an early colonial coat of arms and surrounded by illustrated advertisements for local businesses. These businesses include the local butcher, baker, general store, shore repairs and blacksmiths which were all businesses within the township. It even features the Main Hotel, Bairnsdale – which is still in business today.
The curtain is only unrolled every 2 years for the Miners and Prospectors Gold Exhibition as it is in a fragile state. Head along to the Bullumwaal Gold and Gem Expo on 8th March 2020 to view the stage curtain for yourself.
A Local Treasure Needs Your Help
Preserving this historically significant piece is important, as it is our link to the colonial history of the area and the cultural life of the town.
If you would like to help preserve this important piece for the next 120 years get in touch with us and we can put you in contact with the Bullumwaal Hall Committee of Management.