NEWS CENTRE

Rockhampton celebrates centenary of Middle Hall

Integral to the life and ministry of the Sisters of Mercy in Central Queensland is The Range site, with its well-known landmark, Middle Hall (pictured). Recently, the sisters celebrated the centenary of the opening of this fine structure which began as an education facility.

Soon after the first Sisters of Mercy arrived in Rockhampton from Brisbane on August 4, 1873, they opened a ‘Convent High School’ with boarding facilities at Kent Street. Enrolments steadily increased and because of over-crowding, pupils from this original secondary school were moved to Stoneleigh (later known as the Range Convent) in 1895. Once again, enrolments grew and it became necessary to extend the facilities on the Range site. Although not completely finished, Middle Hall was officially opened by Bishop James Duhig on Sunday afternoon, December 8. 1907.

Bishop Duhig had always taken an active interest in the Sisters of Mercy and the Range Convent. The 1907 Range Convent High School Annual and the local Morning Bulletin of December 9, 1907 published a synopsis of the speech given by Bishop Duhig at the opening ceremony. This speech highlighted the purpose of the building: to the Bishop’s mind “no work was more noble, of more value to the state, to the church, and for all time and for eternity, than proper training for the young. That was the work to which these ladies, the Sisters of Mercy, devoted their lives. He did not think that there were many better schools in the state than the one in which they were now assembled.”

The Bishop’s speech also praised the distinctive features of the building and the excellent manner in which the contractor, Mr Slater, had planned the building and supervised the work of its construction. People who knew a good deal about buildings had told the Bishop that the new convent was perhaps, the finest wooden building in Central Queensland: the workmanship was faultless.

As well as classrooms, Middle Hall featured ten separate music rooms for “practising music without the least distraction”, a library for “directed reading of proper books and magazines”, a kitchen “where children would be taught domestic duties” and a stage which served as a classroom for junior pupils on school days but was used for entertainment and displays on other occasions.

Bishop Duhig praised the building for being “well-ventilated, clean and hygienic, for its huge verandahs overlooking the town and for the view from the tower which took in the whole panorama at every point of the compass. The building was complemented by grounds which contained a carriage drive and a large tennis court hewn out of the side of the hill. Overall, the once rugged hillside had undergone complete transformation.”

To this day, the original building is still in use and is a testimony to the truth of all that was acclaimed about Middle Hall on the day that it was opened 100 years ago. It has been the centre for educative, religious, cultural and multi-purpose activities and the building holds significant memories for so many people, particularly the Sisters of Mercy and the hundreds of past pupils of the Range Convent High School.

From: Sister Joanne Molloy RSM (Rockhampton)