Million dollar RSL upgrade

TREASURE TROVE: The Soldiers Memorial Hall is already home to a treasure trove of equipment and relics brought back by local ANZACS who fought in WWI – the upgrade could see it house travelling exhibitions. Picture: NONI HYETT
TREASURE TROVE: The Soldiers Memorial Hall is already home to a treasure trove of equipment and relics brought back by local ANZACS who fought in WWI – the upgrade could see it house travelling exhibitions. Picture: NONI HYETT

BENDIGO’s Soldiers Memorial Hall is a already a Bendigo icon – but it could be set for an multi-million dollar upgrade which would see it host travelling exhibitions from the Australian War Memorial in Canberra. 

The plans were unveiled this morning by Bendigo Mayor Rod Fyffe, who said he excited to have a proposal which “would bring such benefit” to returned soldiers and the community put to City of Greater Bendigo councillors this week.

“When council meets on Wednesday, it will consider providing $800,000 over two years towards the restoration component of the project,” he said. 

The total project is expected to cost $4.1M and the works will be staged over a number of years. 

“The RSL and council will also apply for grants from other levels of government and the RSL will seek community contributions through fundraising activities,” he said.

Cr Fyffe said the objective is to have the project “shovel ready” for when funding becomes available.

A report to be tabled at Wednesday’s council meeting states the Soldiers Memorial Hall needs to be upgraded to meet modern day accessibility requirements and visitor expectations.

A proposed new gallery would be built at the rear of the existing Hall following the removal of the 1934 fibro stage and toilet additions.

The gallery would include state-of-the-art climate control features to accommodate touring exhibitions from the War Memorial in Canberra. The exhibition space would be located at ground floor level, with the storage and preparation areas within the upper level roof space.

Conservation works to the original building would include total roof replacement, new skylights, external render repairs and the application of a new wash coat to the whole building to replicate the original stone coloured finish.

Other works would include upgrading exhibition spaces within the existing building, including restumping and new flooring in the Billiard Room, reinstatement of missing sections of the original ceiling and other plaster repairs and painting. The caretaker’s flat would also be removed.

Artist's impression of the upgraded RSL building, including the construction of a new wing to house travelling exhibitions from the Australian War Memorial in Canberra.

Artist's impression of the upgraded RSL building, including the construction of a new wing to house travelling exhibitions from the Australian War Memorial in Canberra.

The Office of the Victorian Government Architect, which released a statement saying it was “highly supportive” of the proposed design.

“The developing design and suggest that (architects) Lovell Chen have put forward an elegant and highly considered design proposition that respects both the heritage building and park context and contributes positively to the city of Bendigo,” it reads.

Heritage Victoria has reviewed the design and is also supportive of it.​The Heritage Victoria Planning permit application has been lodged, and the Planning Permit application is ready to be submitted.  

Hall Redevelopment Working Group chair Paul Penno said it was fitting that the City of Greater Bendigo and the Bendigo District RSL are combining in this major project in the year of the Centenary of ANZAC.

“Our diggers of World War 1, their families and the general community who raised the funds to construct this magnificent memorial would be well pleased to see the efforts being made by the City and the Bendigo District RSL to upgrade and expand upon this very special building,” he said.

“The completion of this project will ensure that the sacrifices made by so many who served in all wars – those who died, those who survived and suffered and those who are serving still – will always be remembered.

“We look forward to other levels of Government displaying the same levels of enthusiasm and commitment to this important project as the Councillors of the City of Greater Bendigo.”