by Conrad Thake
The former Australia Hall in Pembroke is today a sad carcass of a once dignified public building, with its interior totally gutted out and left in a state of utter dilapidation.
During World War I (1914-1918), Malta had a special role to play as a nursing station within the Mediterranean where several hospitals and convalescent camps were set up to tend to the casualties of the war. Australia Hall was built in 1915 by the Australian Branch of the Red Cross who raised funds to finance a combined recreation centre/theatre building that would serve to entertain wounded soldiers belonging to the Australian and New Zealand Army Corps (ANZAC). In its heyday the hall could accommodate up to two thousand men as stage productions, dances, and other forms of recreation were regularly held there. Later a library and reading room were introduced and around 1921 a projection room was added to the structure so that the hall could also be used as a cinema.
When the British military facilities in St Andrew’s Barracks were closed down in 1978, it was returned to the Maltese government and transferred to the Labour Party in exchange for other property. In December 1998, a fire gutted the hall’s entire roofing system of metal trusses and sheeting. Only the external masonry shell has survived. Today the roofless shell of a building is vulnerable to the natural elements and vandals have left their marks on what remains of the building.
Public consciousness and awareness of the need to safeguard our historic architectural heritage has increased notably in recent times. However, I suspect that our appreciation for buildings and structures dating to the time of the Order of St John is distinctly greater than that of British colonial architecture, this being even more so in the case of military architecture. British military buildings and complexes have explicit political associations loaded with the trappings of colonial rule. In asserting our identity as an independent island-state we seem to have unconsciously rejected the legacy of our former colonial masters. This is the sad predicament of an important part of our architectural heritage.
The former Australia Hall is crying out to be restored and rehabilitated to a use which would serve the needs of the local community. This begs the question as to how long all we will continue to close a Nelson’s eye to this shambolic situation.
Dr. Philip Hadcroft
In 1915 800 Maltese, in the Maltese Labour Battalion stood shoulder to shoulder with the ANZACS at Gallipoli, as we fought together against the Ottoman Empire (that’s the same Ottoman Empire that was ousted from Malta in 1565 during the Great Siege).
Also in 1915 Australia Hall was built by the Australian Branch of the Red Cross who raised funds to finance a recreation centre that would serve to entertain wounded soldiers belonging to the Australian and New Zealand Army Corps (ANZAC).
Since then over 250,000 Maltese and their descendants have made their homes in Australia. They are a very significant part of the Australian culture, and comprise a Maltese community over half the size of the population of Malta itself.
Well next year it’s the 100th anniversary of that great battle of Gallipoli – the centenary of ANZAC Day – and the Australians and New Zealanders, and the Maltese-Australians, and the families of the 400+ ANZACS buried here in Malta are coming to Malta to commemorate that major event.
We will be really keen to see whether the ANZAC traditions in Malta are as well respected as the Maltese community is respected in Australia and New Zealand.
It’s pleasing to read that Dr. Muscat has committed to restoring Australia Hall. I do hope the work begins soon.
Glad to hear that Australia Hall will be finally restored. Refer to link
Australia Hall is one of the few remaining buildings reminding us of our British and Commonwealth heritage. Information received from the Australian High Commission confirms that in 1915 the Australian Red Cross donated 2000 pounds for a hall to be built in the village of Pembroke intended to be used as a rest and recreational facility for the thousands of war convalescents. The facility was also used for shows between the wars and during WW2. In the 1970s after the departure of the British forces, the Malta Labour Party took over the building and used it as their office. The building was subsequently abandoned.
On the 18th April 1997 the building was scheduled as grade 2 in terms of Structure Plan Policy UCO 7.
On the 23rd May 2005 an application was submitted to MEPA by Perit Joe Cassar on behalf of its owner Lawrence Fino for a supermarket.
I believe the restoration of the building will be a good project to complete by 2015 celebrating 100 years from its conception and also celebrating DLH’s 50 years of saving Malta’s built Heritage.
Petra Caruana Dingli
Here’s an update on the recent history of Australia Hall:
We are what we are to-day, thanks to our historical heritage which includes the period in which the British brought to these islands the English language and traditions, supported our economy and taught the maltese people about discipline and hard work. We are proud of our place in the Commonwealth which unfortunately in the last few years has been usurped by the European membership. Let us pay due homage to our Australian Allies by showing respect to their memorial monuments.
I agree. This period is an important part of Malta’s history and its importance will grow over time. The sooner we act to save monuments from the great war the better
Petra Caruana Dingli
The abandoned Isolation Hospital in Mtarfa, built in 1924 only a few years after Australia Hall, is currently up for proposals to be given on long lease to the private sector. Let’s hope that it is ensured that the restoration and conversion are top notch. It is scheduled as a Grade 2 property and some of the building was damaged in a fire some years ago.