TEMPERANCE HALL
A HISTORY OF PERFORMANCE

South Melbourne’s Temperance Hall stands on the traditional lands of the Boon Wurrung people.

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Temperance Hall is of historical and social value as a place utilised by the local community for over 150 years for social and cultural events, meetings, and religious worship. The Hall was built in 1863 by the Emerald Hill Total Abstinence Society – one of the influential temperance movements that shaped social life in nineteenth-century Melbourne.  The complex is of aesthetic significance as an excellent example of a public building designed in a Classical-Revival style. The interior of Temperance Hall is of aesthetic value for its intact spaces, including the halls on the ground and first floors, and grand timber staircase.

Since the 1980s, Temperance Hall has become associated with the performing arts, beginning with the legendary Anthill Theatre who inhabited the building during the ‘new wave’ of Australian theatre in the 80s and early 90s. Since then, Temperance Hall has been utilised by a range of local independent artists working across dance, theatre and contemporary performance.

Since establishing Temperance Hall in 2016, Phillip Adams BalletLab has worked in close partnership with the building’s custodians, Working Heritage, to restore and re-invigorate this South Melbourne landmark to a thriving and welcoming home for multidisciplinary art.

Temperance Hall is 3km from Melbourne CDB and easily accessed by public transport. Our spaces can be booked for rehearsals, creative developments, photography and video shoots, special events and more.  Head to our Venue Hire page for more information or to submit an enquiry.

"High ceilings, wide floorboards and lofty windows give this paean to sobriety a giddy sense of grandeur." - Open House Melbourne.

Top left image courtesy: Jeff Busby. Top right image courtesy: Morgan Hickinbottom.

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HISTORY OF TEMPERANCE HALL

The Emerald Hill total abstinence society built their first hall on Napier Street in 1863, and the current building was completed in 1888. From the beginning it was a key site for the performing arts, hosting meetings, lectures, dances, concerts and theatrical performances. 

That first hall was in great demand, and in 1874 a brick replacement was built to accommodate all the activity. By 1880, the hall was able to accommodate up to 400 people; and in 1888, the double-storey lodge and lecture hall was finished.

Alcohol-free entertainment was a vital part of promoting the movement, as was healthy physical activity. The South Melbourne Football Club (now Sydney Swans) believes that it was formed at a meeting held in the Temperance Hall in 1874.

While abstinence sounds quaint today, in 1854 the Emerald Hill Total Abstinence Society was part of worldwide movement that aimed to stamp out domestic violence. It was a proto-feminist agenda that saw (mostly male) alcohol consumption as the cause of social harm, with women and children as the victims.

The movement provided a vital political outlet for women, and by the late 19th century, temperance organisations were promoting causes such as women's higher education, physical education for girls, free kindergartens, equal pay for equal work, protective laws for women and children in the workplace, reform of laws on marriage and divorce, and shelters for abused mothers.

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ANT HILL THEATRE 1981-1992

In 1978, a professional French actor and director, Jean-Pierre Mignon, arrived in Melbourne but could not find work in mainstream theatre. He took the opportunity to direct several works at La Mama theatre, the first of which included Bruce Keller, and led to Keller and Mignon taking a lease on the Temperance Hall, and converting it into Anthill Theatre in 1981 (their company was called Australian Nouveau Theatre, or ANT).

ANT and its small theatre-space took off fast, producing a mix of European classics and new Australian works, all in a determinedly non-naturalistic style. Many of its productions toured, in Australia and internationally, and many transferred to larger venues, and its reputation grew quickly.

Despite its success, however, the tiny, 100-seat capacity of the theatre meant that the company was heavily reliant on government subsidy. In 1992, to help solve that problem, the company transferred to the Gasworks Theatre in Albert Park, and following some use as a rehearsal venue, Temperance Hall gradually became a vacant, derelict space.

Image above courtesy: Jeff Busby, Anthill’s 1991 production of ‘Endgame’. 

2016 - present

In 2016, Temperance Hall fell under the management of Working Heritage, a state government organisation responsible for conservation and management of historic buildings. Its role is to revitalise these places to ensure they have a purpose now and in the future. In close cooperation with Phillip Adams BalletLab, Working Heritage carried out repair and improvement works throughout 2016 to enable the company to move in and begin utilising the building.