The following summary is a brief outline of events that have affected the town of Cooran and the Cooran Hall.
1867 – James Nash discovered gold in Gympie, and prospectors flooded the area looking to make their fortune from the gold. Supplies to the goldfields came from Brisbane by sea through the port of Maryborough and then overland by horse and dray and bullock team and wagon to Gympie Creek.
1870 – Walter Hay found a short cut from Tewantin to Gympie. The shortcut allowed for the supplies to be unloaded at Tewantin and then proceed by road through Ringtail and Cooran following the Six Mile Creek and on to Gympie. This road passed the lagoons in Railway Road beside the Six Mile Creek.
1874/5 – William Casey selected land, which was approximately half way between Gympie and Tewantin. In 1877 he received a licence to serve alcohol and his premises became known as Casey’s Halfway House and Stables. This became the changing station for horses and the resting place for weary travellers.
1876/7 – William Martin selected two portions of land around Mount Cran. (An 1879 map of the region refers to the mountain as Mt Cran). William Martin came to Gympie in 1867 and made enough money from the gold to allow him to purchase and stock his property at Cooran. He also, at different times, held the licence of two Gympie hotels.
1880 – Alexander Ferguson selected 80 acres and later added another selection of 600 acres to his holding.
1881 – William Martin purchased the Half Way House from William Casey.
1889 – The railway was built from Gympie to the new station of Cooran. The name Cooran is derived from an aboriginal word meaning “tall” or “high up” and also a name given by the Gubbi Gubbi tribe to the Moreton Bay Ash tree.
1889 – William Martin built a new hotel, later called the Railway Hotel, on a site near the new Cooran Railway Station. This site is where the park is located in King Street.
1901 – William Martin retired and his son-in-law John (Jack) McIlwraith took over as licensee of the Railway Hotel.
1905 – Cooran was the centre from which settlement of the nearby districts emerged. Groups of men from the Northern Rivers district of New South Wales arrived hoping to obtain land in the rich Kin Kin, Pinbarren and Skyrings Creek areas. These groups would stay in Cooran at the Railway Hotel while inspecting the surrounding country and waiting for the Ballot of the land allocation. Accommodation at the hotel was often difficult to obtain.
1906 – William Martin subdivided ten acres of his land into quarter acre allotments, which he offered for lease for three years free of rent. Houses were erected on some of these allotments and businesses such as a general store, butcher shop, auctioneers and commission agents, and the Commercial Bank of Australia opened for business. Cooran was booming. William Martin also donated two acres of his land to the Education Department for a new school to be constructed.
1906 – William Martin commissioned Mr. Charles Penrose and his carpenters to build an Assembly Hall. The building was to be 60ft by 25 ft with a stage 12ft by 25ft., seating for 200 persons, and two ante-rooms in the front part of the building, “these to be of great assistance to the genial Jack McIlwraith, when the present sleeping accommodation at the hotel is overtaxed.”
The official opening of Mr. Martin’s Public Hall was held on Friday 17 August 1906.
1910 – Historically, the Federal Hall’s greatest claim to fame was in 1910, when the Hall was used as a Returning Office for the newly formed Noosa Shire Council elections and the postal ballots were counted in the Hall on Friday 29th April 1910. Nine councillors were elected and the first meeting of the new council was held in the Federal Hall at Cooran on 11th May 1910.
1916 – William Martin died in the Railway Hotel. His daughter Alice McIlwraith inherited the land on which the Hotel and the Federal Hall stand.
1919 – The influenza epidemic forced all public hall venues to be closed and Jack McIlwraith decided to replace the old floor with timbers especially selected to suit dancing.
1920 – A Cooran School of Arts committee was formed in 1920.
1921 – The Cooran Sports Club amalgamated with the School of Arts Committee, but were still unable to raise sufficient funds to erect the building.
1924 – The Cooran Branch of the Returned Soldiers League unanimously endorsed a request by the School of Arts committee to form a new committee to complete the building of a Memorial School of Arts.
1925 – Mrs. Alice McIlwraith agreed to sell the Federal Hall, to the RSL committee for ₤500. An architect was approached to draw up plans for the hall front and necessary alterations to the building, which when completed would be “the most elaborate memorial on the North Coast Line to the memory of our fallen heroes”.
1925 – Thomas Smith, Edward Herbert Bengtsson, Florence John O’Rourke, George Marshall Sainsbury and Alexander McAffer Ferguson (the grandson of Alexander Ferguson who first settled here in 1880) were appointed as trustees for the hall.
1925 – Members of the RSL formed the Cooran Picture Company. Silent Pictures (movies) were shown in the hall every Saturday night.
1926 – Mr. Vick, a builder of Gympie, was given the contract for enlarging and renovating the Hall for the price of ₤700.
1930 – The Cooran branch of the CWA agreed to join with the School of Arts committee to improve the hall instead of erecting a rest room in Cooran. The funds raised by the CWA for this purpose were donated to the Hall Committee and the CWA then used the hall’s upstairs room.
1947 – The hall received a new floor. Straker & Sons donated half the timber for the new floor and George Horsey, Max Geary and Alf Renshaw along with other hall committee members performed the work.
1949 – Timber was purchased from Straker & Sons sawmill to construct a ceiling in the hall.
1951 – The Hall’s original trustees, transferred trusteeship to Arthur Straker, George Horsey, Stephen Furner, Thomas Geary and Alfred Renshaw.
1956 – The Cooran Girl Guides’ Local Association presented eleven debutantes to officials and local dignitaries at the Debutante Ball. Balls and Dances were held nearly every Friday night during the 1950s and 1960s.
1958 – The very long awaited supper room extension on the northern side of the hall was constructed.
1965 – Strakers Sawmill closed and many of the workers were forced to leave the town to find work.
1965 – Mr. Lister was forced to close down the showing of pictures in the hall due to lack of support.
1967 – Town water supply connected to hall.
1967 – ‘Back to Cooran’ committee was formed following the success of the Cooran State School’s ‘Back to Cooran’ Day. The ‘Back to Cooran’ reunion became an annual event and is held in the hall on the last Sunday in March each year.
1970 – A further decline in the population of the Cooran district, when Dairying was no longer a viable industry for a large number of farmers and farmland in the Cooran area was being bought up by ‘Queen Street farmers’.
1985 – By the 1980s Arthur Straker and Steve Furner were the only remaining trustees, so the hall committee obtained their permission to approach the Noosa Shire Council with a view to the council taking over the trusteeship.
Trusteeship of the Hall was transferred to the Council of the Shire of Noosa in 1985 with the same terms of trusteeship as our first appointed trustees – to hold the land “upon trust for the purposes of a School of Arts and Public Hall”.
1992 – A donation by the Cooran Fruitgrowers Association of $9000 enabled the hall committee to construct an extension to the rear of the building, which included a change room and extra toilets.
1994 – Incorporation of the Cooran Memorial School of Arts Inc.
1996 – The extension, refurbishment of the kitchen, extensions to the stage, installation of sound and lighting systems, restumping of the hall, roof repairs and painting of the hall both inside and out were all achieved thanks to the work of local volunteers and grant allocations from the Noosa Shire Council and the State Government.
2006 – Cooran Hall is used by a wide selection of the community. The Cooran Acoustics group, craft groups, exercise and yoga groups all meet regularly in the hall and rehearsals and performances for the Cooran State School’s theatre productions are an annual event. The hall is hired as a venue for birthday parties, public meetings, adult theatre productions and rehearsals, and the shops can still be rented for commercial purposes.
Special Thanks to the Cooran Hall Committee, Vivien Staggard, Roy Harbour, Aline Gillespie, Elaine Brown, Judy Smoothy, committee members and speakers at Cooran Heritage Recalled Weekends, the Cooroora Historical Society Inc., the Cooloola Shire Library and the Gympie Historical Society Inc. for assistance with researching this information.
© Edith Hansen, August 2006