The old Victorian Railways Institute (VRI) Hall at the Dimboola Railway Station is going through a revival, after a dedicated group of volunteer members have spent many months cleaning up the hall and personalising the hall for social community engagement.
Once the social hub of Dimboola, the Dimboola VRI history is coming alive again with the opening of their bar and the cleaning up of the space both inside and outside the old hall.
The Victorian Railway Institute was formed in 1909, and started operations at the third Floor, Flinders Street Station, on 31 January, 1910. The Commissioners of the day saw a need for a social organisation, where railway staff could come together and discuss common issues, and relax in a friendly environment.
The VRI was also, for many decades, the primary educator of all rail staff in their duties and tickets, from train crews, station staff and the like, through to the accounting office team, everyone was trained at the VRI on how to do their jobs in the VRI.
The Dimboola Hall was commissioned in 1940 after the institute operated from a small room at the northern end of the railway station. The railway men at the time pulled together and built the hall and it was opened by Mr Don Cameron from Melbourne who represented the railway commissioner.
During 1980 and 1990 the Victorian Railways had many changes taking place with privatisation and VRI’s around the state lost large numbers of membership. In its ‘heyday’ they had over 300,000 members and families. Dimboola VRI went into recess in 1995. Many of the assets went into disrepair. The Dimboola Hall was used by the Dimboola Primary School and has been used for dancing lessons although very little maintenance was carried out on the building in that time.
A group of modern day railway men decided to get behind the VRI hall and re-establish the Dimboola Sub-branch thats has been in recession for over 20 years. There are now 35 active members who regularly attend working bees and contribute to making the place vibrant for members and families.
President of the Dimboola VRI Paul Sanders said, ”the hall was under threat and targeted for demolition.”
“A group of us decided we would set about to save the VRI Hall and we now have 35 members giving up their time to help us save it,” he said.
In the tradition of a country town, someone had something at home that could solve a problem. The iron cladded bar was salvaged from someone’s backyard while many bought in memorabilia from the old days of the railways. Old fridges were found to keep the beer cold and a home theatre and TV had been donated.
At one time, all the VRI halls had a full size billiard table.
“We have found a full size VRI table and that will go into the side room behind the bar. We have to employ a professional to deliver the table, as it has to be disassembled and reassembled and new felt applied,” said Mr Sanders
“The space is for the whole community to use and anyone can hire it from us. This is a unique space that has many uses around town,” he said.
“We’ve already had many groups use the hall for different things,” said Mr Sanders
The hall has evaporative coolers that were installed about 20 years ago.
“The open fireplace is working, we had it going and it works a treat,” Mr Sanders said.
The VRI gardens are now going to be maintained by the Institute and the Dimboola Town Committee recently gave them some funding to rebuild the fence.
The Dimboola VRI have already hosted a couple of social events, since coming out of recess with a Melbourne Cup Day function and a family Christmas day.
The members meet on Friday evenings from about 4.00pm to socialise and enjoy the benefits of their labour and they welcome anyone to come and join them. They run a working bee every second Sunday, to do many of the jobs that are on the long still ‘to do’ list.