Saturday, May 4, 2013

A Very Special Floor

Crows Ash, Flindersia australis
My childhood was spent on a farm near Bowenville on the Darling Downs.
Each week, for months before the annual fancy dress ball, all the children at the Bowenville State School were lined up and marched over the road to the hall, for our dancing lesson. Like many such country halls, it was the heart of the community.
It was built somewhere around 1929, as a memorial to the rather too many young men of the district who had lost their lives on the other side of the world, in the "War to End all Wars". Ever since then the hall had been the venue for dances, CWA meetings, and entertainments such as touring pantomime troupes. I learned important life skills (like how important it was not to bite my fingernails, if I wanted to be mistaken for a lady) at the weekly Brownies' meetings in that hall.

Even as children, we were aware that the dance floor within that somewhat ordinary exterior was special. Woe betide the careless child who carried a bottle of what was my favourite tipple at the time – bright red, fizzy, Cherry Cheer – onto that floor. Much worse betode the child who actually spilled some!

A pastime much indulged in by the local small boys was to run and slide along on the floor. It was great fun because the floor was always beautifully polished with “Pops”, the granulated wax which was scattered  before each dance and distributed by the dancers’ feet. A Pops-polished floor is a very slippery thing, and a well- executed slide could take you the full length of the hall.
They were never able to do it as much as they wanted. The adults disapproved of the activity because sliding small boys travelled with considerable velocity, and could create unappreciated havoc among the dancers.
We Brownies, of course, were too ladylike to do any such thing.
Except, surreptitiously, when we thought the grown-ups weren't looking.

So I was delighted to discover, when I attended an event* there this morning, that the hall still hums with life at the regular Saturday night dances, and a hall committee cares for the precious floor just as well as ever. A list of rules is posted by the door, and it includes the instruction not to spill anything on it. Should you sin, you must clean it up with a dry mop, (NEVER a wet one) and inform a member of the hall committee as soon as possible. The committee, meanwhile, sands the floor annually, and polishes it regularly with Pops and a polishing machine. Spreading Pops during dances is frowned upon, apparently, in this safety-conscious era, but the regular polishing regime is still adding to the 84 years' worth of granules which has accumulated in the little gaps between the boards.
No rubbishy modern plastic varnish, for these well-loved floorboards!
The floor is made of Crows Ash timber, as are all the dance floors in all the ordinary-looking halls in all the tiny towns on the Darling Downs. This hard, strong and durable native timber is naturally oily and so well suited for dancing (and sliding) that it could have been specially created for the purpose.

For more about the Crows Ash tree, one of Australia’s loveliest native plants, enter the term Flindersia australis into the search box at the top left of the screen.

* The event was the launch of “In Stockmen’s footsteps”, the latest book by Jane Grieve, one of Bowenville’s favourite daughters. It tells the story of her life, from a childhood on a Bowenville farm to her involvement in the creation of Longreach’s Stockman’s Hall of Fame. It’s an enjoyable read, and available from any good bookstore near you.


J Gray said...

Great article Patricia and lovely to see that the old hall that once was a buzz with activity is still in regular use today. Your story reminded me of of the dances my parents went to and the very same childhood memories at the Pilton Hall on the Darling Downs.. my only memory that comes with that that is more prominent than the slippery timber floors, is the large amount of green tree frogs that always lived in the sole ladies toilet outside the hall!! Great article.

Patricia Gardner said...

I am clearly before your time! We had the frogs at home, and I used to dread finding one had leaped into my panties. In my time, the Bowenville Hall had nothing so flash as a flush toilet, and was of no interest to any reasonable frog!
It's good to hear from you that similar memories span the generations at Pilton, too. One of the attendees at the Bowenville event confirmed my suspicion that the floor was of Crows Ash, and was able to list string of other halls with crows ash floors. It didn't include Pilton, but I think we can be sure that's what your floor of fond memory is made of, too.
I shudder to think what such a floor would cost, nowadays - if the timber could be bought at all.
Cheers, Trish