The Newry/Upper Maffra community celebrated the centenary of the Upper Maffra Mechanics Institute building on April 3rd 1982.  This article was originally written to record that event by the late Max Rowley for the Maffra Historical Society Bulletin # 32; it is reproduced here slightly amended.

Upper Maffra Mechanics Institute Centenary

      Built in 1882, the Library and Hall were added to in 1913, when the present main hall was erected, allowing the former hall to be used as a supper room.
     The question asked by many people is how the building came to be known as the Upper Maffra Mechanics Institute.
     Between 1842 and 1860 the district was part of the Boisdale Station. During that time the stockyards known as "Mafra", as shown by the 1860 survey were on a site about two kilometres south of the present Newry township. From the yards, or 'fold' as they were commonly called, a fence appears to have run north-east to a point near where the Three Chain Road crosses the Newry/ Boisdale Road at the recreation reserve. The land north-west of the fence line evidently was called Upper Mafra and the land of the south-eastern side Lower Mafra.
     During a survey by C.P.Rafferty, a contract surveyor, in 1861, a triangular piece of land was set aside as a township reserve. The same survey set aside 640 acres for a Native Police Reserve where the township of Maffra now stands.
     The Rev. Hagenauer, a Moravian missionary, established a mission station called 'Ramahyuck' on the lower Avon River; the Native Police Reserve was no longer required. Surveyor George Hastings then surveyed the area in twenty-seven sections in 1863. This was to become Maffra, the second 'f' being probably added to Mafra at that time. The triangular piece of land was sub-divided into blocks in 1867 and named 'Newry'.
     Mr James Weatherly, speaking at the Jubilee of the Mechanics Institute opening in 1933, said Surveyor W.Dawson chose the name 'Newry’ as he was born near Newry in Ireland. A bystander remarked that it was a paradox that a settlement of Scotsmen should be named after an Irish town!
     It does seem that in those early days of land settlement, Upper Maffra was the title given to all the land outside the subdivision, hence the names Upper Maffra Mechanics Institute and Upper Maffra Butter Factory.

     Some of the early residents must have been very strong in their objection to the name 'Newry'. From the minutes of the Mechanics Institute, September 1888, the secretary was asked again to inform the Chief Secretary of the Victorian Government that there was no such place as the Newry Mechanics Institute, the name being Upper Maffra.
     The total cost of the first stage was £394/14/3, as assessed for the Government Grant, which included the voluntary material, cartage and value of donated land. Further land was purchased in 1903 for an extension of the building, which took place in 1913. The present committee would be grateful if readers have any information about the opening of the main hall, probably in 1914.
    
During the one hundred years the hall and library have been in use, they have provided the community with many different types of activity. The program of entertainment in 1898, for example, makes interesting reading. All entertainments were to be on the Thursdays nearest the full moon, no doubt to help the public attending to have some light instead of complete darkness for the journey home afterwards. The program for the year conducted by the committee included two concerts, two socials, two lectures and a bazaar. In 1890 permission was granted for the Catholic divine service once a month.
     Around the 1920s must have been a busy time for the committees. The main hall became a picture theatre (the projection room was removed from above the entrance as late as 1975). From our minutes it appears that pictures were not always profitable as the promoters changed often. At one time the projection equipment was offered to the Institute Committee for purchase or lease. In 1926 electricity vas connected to the hall; the purchase of a wireless set was considered, but no action was taken.
     Probably because of lifestyle changes, it was moved that the library be closed on the 5th September 1931 after forty-nine years serving the community. The importance of the library service is possibly hard to realise today, but being before the main era of wireless and the major development of the motor car, people were very dependent on a library for information.
     Cost incurred at the Jubilee dance in 1933 read very differently to what we spend on a present day function. The orchestra from Traralgon cost £5/5/0 with car hire £3/3/0. Mr Taverner of Maffra catered supper at 1/6 per head if guaranteed 150 people. Admission charges for the evening were 4/- gents, 2/- ladies; an entertainment tax was charged by the government on admission and this came to £3/15/3.
     With the passing of the first 100 years and the important part the Mechanics Institute has been in the life of the Newry/Upper Maffra community being recorded, it is hoped future generations will continue to support the hall as committee members in the same way as residents have done in the past.


Max provided us with several documents relevant to the Mechanics Institute. Here’s part of one:

Extracts from the Licence issued by the Chief Secretary of Victoria to the secretary of the Mechanics Institute 27th May 1919:

(the building was licenced) .. as a place wherein may be acted, represented, performed, and exhibited for hire, gain, or reward, any Interlude, Tragedy, Opera, Comedy, Stage-play, Farce, Burletta, Melodrama, Pantomime, or any Stage Dancing, Tumbling, or Horsemanship, or any other entertainment of the Stage whatsoever to which admissions shall or may be procured by payment of money....

(the building may be used each day of the week except Sunday)

Provided that such place shall be closed on Saturday night at the hour of half-past Eleven:

Provided further that no acrobatic or gymnastic or sensational feat or exercise either wholly or partly to be performed or to take place at any height above ten feet measured from the lowest point of the main floor, or in case the same shall be appointed to be performed or to take place wholly on the stage at any height above ten feet from the lowest point on the floor of such stage, shall be allowed to take place in such place unless and until adequate measures have been taken to prevent injury to any performer or performers, or any other person or persons, or to any of the spectators, by providing, fixing, and maintaining during the whole time any such feat or exercise is being performed or taking place a sufficient rope netting or other similar appliance in such a position and at such a height between the performer or performers or other person or persons and the spectators, or between the main floor or stage floor, as the case may be, so that in the event of any accident or failure occurring every such performer or other person would, if he, she or they, or any of them, at any time fell while going to perform or exercise, or while performing or exercising, or when coming from performing or exercising, fall or alight therein without injury to him, her, or themselves, or to any other person or persons whatsoever, spectators or otherwise:

 


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