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Old Mill Theatre


City of South Perth

Place Number

There no heritage location found in the Google fusion table.


Lot 429 Mends St South Perth

Location Details

Other Name(s)

Mechanics' Institute, Mends St Mall
Miss Burnet's School, Neeamara

Local Government

South Perth



Construction Date

Constructed from 1899

Demolition Year


Statutory Heritage Listings

Type Status Date Documents More information
Heritage List Adopted 14 Nov 2000
State Register Registered 13 Aug 2004 Register Entry
Assessment Documentation
Heritage Council

Heritage Council Decisions and Deliberations

Type Status Date Documents
(no listings)

Other Heritage Listings and Surveys

Type Status Date Grading/Management More information
Category Description
(no listings)

Statement of Significance

The following statement is drawn from the Heritage Council of Western Australia Register entry for the inclusion of Old Mill Theatre in the State Register of Heritage Places in 2004
Old Mill Theatre, a Federation Free Classical style painted brick and iron building, has cultural heritage significance for the following reasons:
• the place and its landscaped grounds form part of a distinct and significant streetscape along Mends Street, and can be read as an integral component of the South Perth Historic Village Precinct;
• the place is a modest but pleasing example of the Federation Free Classical style, designed by the architect Henry James Prockter;
• the place, built in 1899, is representative of the development of Mechanics’ Institutes in Western Australia from the mid-nineteenth century, and is a rare as it was designed to accommodate the secondary function of Road Board Office;
• the place is highly valued by the local community for its use as an amateur theatre from c.1946 to the present (2004);
• the place is valued by the local community for its historic, educational and cultural associations, and contributes to the community’s sense of place through its prominent location in the administrative, commercial, entertainment and cultural centre of South Perth from 1899 to 2004; and,
• the place is associated with people significant in the history of South Perth (and Western Australia) including May Gibbs, internationally renowned illustrator and author; Henry Prockter, architect; Thelma Jean ‘Jill” Hargrave, educationalist; and Constance Ord, theatre director.

Physical Description

The Mechanic’s Institute Hall fmr (Old Mill Theatre) is a detached single storey brick and iron Federation Free Classical style building incorporating classical ornamentation and distinctive parapeted gables to three elevations. The place consists of a large hall with parapeted gables to the north-east and south-west elevations. Two gabled wings extend from the hall in an easterly direction, connected by a timber framed and weatherboard link building (the south eastern wing and link building were constructed in the early 1970s) and two further gabled wings to the west elevation.

Distinct round headed arched windows with coloured glass multi-pane highlight windows and plain glass multi-pane casements are positioned in each of the gables on the north west elevation, which is the principle elevation. The recessed door opening in the north west elevation continues the round headed arch window. The windows to the north east elevation are timber framed casements with multi-paned highlights and painted rendered lintels. Similar windows can also be found in the 1970s addition. The windows to the south west elevation (original hall) have been filled with brick and now read as blind openings.

The main entry is on the north-east elevation via two doors: one leading into a foyer and one directly into the hall. The doors contain the same multi-pane coloured glass seen in the window openings.

A small verandah connects the two wings on the main north-west elevation, the canopy of which is the continuation of the main roof, supported on timbered wall brackets. Both wings have timber four panelled doors opening onto the verandah with a further door to the rear of the verandah leads directly into a small lobby. The sprinkler valve enclosure fills much of the verandah area.

The roof has been re-clad with colorbond.

The building is set behind lawns with mature trees and planted garden beds. A bitumen roadway and parking extend along the south western side of the building and the rear elevation interfaces with Windsor Park.


The following information is largely drawn from the Heritage Council of Western Australia Assessment document prepared in for the inclusion of Place 2389 Old Mill Theatre in the State Register of Heritage Places in 2004.
The growth of South Perth was slow until the 1880s, by which time access to Perth was improved with the introduction of ferry services and construction of bridges across the Swan and Canning Rivers. The discovery of gold in Western Australia from 1885 led to an increase in population, with land facing Perth Water progressively sub-divided between 1886 and 1904. It was during this period that much of the infrastructure of South Perth was developed.
In 1892, the South Perth Roads Board District was formed, and, in 1902, the suburb became a municipality. By the turn-of-the-century there were four jetties at South Perth, the Zoological Gardens had opened (in 1898), and a school and postal facilities were established.
What is now known as Old Mill Theatre was originally built as a Mechanics’ Institute Hall in 1899. The site in Mends Street was well-located for public access, due to easy access to ferry transport to the City from the Mends Street Jetty.
Mechanics’ Institutes originated in Scotland in the early 1800s, to provide instruction for tradesmen, or ‘mechanics’, who may have received little or no formal education. By 1826, a similar institution had been established in London, and, by the 1850s, there were six hundred Institutes throughout England. Institutes were founded on the ideal of ‘improving’ the working classes.
Mechanics’ Institutes, or Working Men’s Associations, were established in Western Australia during the nineteenth century. The Swan River Mechanics’ Institute, which was the first such organization in Western Australia, was founded in 1852.
The South Perth Mechanics’ Institute trustees included local men; Arthur Douglas, Ernest C. Shenton, J.D. Manning, George E. Rogers and Henry James Prockter. In February of 1899, local architect and Institute Trustee Henry Prockter called for tenders to construct the South Perth Mechanics’ Institute Hall, as well as an attached office for the South Perth Road Board. Prockter had arrived in Western Australia from Victoria in 1896, and between then and 1904, carried out eighty-two building projects in Perth, including eleven in South Perth. Buildings that he designed in South Perth included St Mary’s Church (1898) and a Shelter Shed on the Mends Street Jetty (1901).
On 23 May 1899, a meeting of the members of the Institute was held at the Windsor Hotel, to approve borrowing against the land that the Hall was to be built on, and which the Institute owned, in order to finance the building of the premises, which were, in fact, almost completed. A few weeks later, the Trustees advised the Colonial Under-Secretary that £500 had already been raised by mortgaging the property to local businessman and entrepreneur, Joseph Charles, and that the building was already completed, with the builder awaiting payment.
The completed Hall was opened by Sir John Forrest on 7 August 1899. According to an account of the opening night in the West Australian, the building was a 'substantially-built hall, with offices of neat design’. The Hall was used for concerts, as well as providing a library and billiards parlour. Immediately after the official opening of the Hall, a ‘high class concert’ was held, with solo performances contributed by May Gibbs and S.W. Copely, followed by a comic play, ‘To Oblige Benson’.
Negotiations were entered into by the South Perth Municipal Council to buy the hall in 1903, but when discussions failed, the Council commenced construction of their own premises at the corner of Mill Point Road and Mends Street, South Perth immediately to the north of the Mechanics’ Institute Hall (see South Perth Road Board Offices MPt13).
The Mechanics’ Institute Hall was the venue of a number of private schools for the children of middle class South Perth families. Despite this and other sources of income, by 1908 the Institute was in decline. On 25 November 1912, the Annual Meeting of Ratepayers raised the possibility of Council taking over the Mechanics’ Hall. After endorsement by ratepayers at a Special Meeting on 9 April 1913, a month later Council resolved to raise a loan of £1000 to purchase the hall and the Institute's other assets. After acquiring the Hall soon afterwards, the Council renamed the building the Mends Street Hall on 18 December 1913, and continued to rent the Hall for educational use. From 1913 until 1918, Miss A.E. Binsted’s ‘South Perth High School’ operated from the Hall.
It was sometime during 1918, that a group of local parents, who for reasons now unknown were unhappy with Miss Binsted’s management of the South Perth High School, established a rival school in St Mary’s Hall. Miss Agnes Cross, the retired headmistress of Tintern School, in Victoria, was brought to South Perth, to set up the new school. Within a short time, most of the
Miss Binsted’s students had gone across to Miss Cross’s establishment. Miss Binsted moved out of the Institute Hall, which was now taken over by Miss Cross.
South Perth High School was renamed Raith Girls’ Grammar School, although boys also attended the school. Miss Cross’ sister, Pearl, who was in charge of boarders at Cowandilla School, West Perth (later St Mary’s School), joined Raith as Head of a new boarding school. The Boarding House was first established in the home of the Gibbs family, in Harvest Terrace, who were, at the time, in England. Later, the boarders lived in Professor Walter Murdoch’s house in Mill Point Road.
From 1923 until 1928, Raith Girls’ Grammar School was funded by the Church of England, and underwent a change of name to Raith Church of England Girls’ Grammar School. The school, now with eighty pupils, four teachers, and three boarders, was managed by Miss Marjorie Broadhurst.
Between 1929 and 1933, the again renamed Raith Girls’ Grammar School was run by Miss Hetherington. The older girls had left by this time, for Perth College, St Mary’s and St Hilda’s, leaving only the younger children (which still included boys) to be taught.
Between 1934 and 1935, Raith School was directed by Miss Jill Hargrave. From 1935, Raith Grammar School became known as St Ann’s Kindergarten and Junior School and operated under Miss Hargrave’s direction. The school was registered as a kindergarten and a sub primary, and an extra teacher was employed. However, as Miss Hargrave felt constrained by the lack of opportunity for expansion at the Mends Street Hall she sought land to establish a larger school. By 1940, the school had moved to new premises in Angelo Street and the Mends Street Hall continued to be used for community purposes.
From 1946, the Mends Street Hall was the venue for concerts and plays organised by local groups. In May 1948, the South Perth Dramatic Club was formed and they held there first performance in October 1948. The first committee included Constance Ord (1918-2010) who held roles at the club from 1948 to 1999 and was a driving force in the development of the club, the venue and theatre in Western Australia.
In the early 1960s, other venues became available in South Perth so that the South Perth Dramatic Club was able to request in 1963 they take on the lease of the building for a nominal fee to transform it into a 'Little Theatre'. Soon afterwards, the South Perth Dramatic Club was renamed the ‘Old Mill Theatre’, which also became the name of the old Mends Street Hall, where the group rehearsed and performed. The hall was still available for use by other community groups.
Improvements paid for by the Theatre company include fixed seating in raised rows, heating, installation of ceiling fans, and carpeting of the audience space. The foyer and Club Lounge were lined with solid wood panelling, fully carpeted, and lit with chandeliers.
In 1973, the South Perth City Council built an addition to Old Mill Theatre, which provided much needed dressing room and storage facilities. Further renovation was needed after a fire in 1984 caused extensive damage to parts of the Theatre.
In 1989, the City of South Perth honoured Constance Ord with a medal for her contribution to the South Perth community, and especially her work with the Old Mill Theatre from the late 1940s to the 1980s.
In 2002, the Theatre building underwent further substantial restoration work, including work to its exterior to remove the painted finish from the outer walls and bring it back, as closely as possible, to its former appearance with a red brick façade.


Moderate / High




Name Type Year From Year To
Henry James Prockter Architect - -

State Heritage Office library entries

Library Id Title Medium Year Of Publication
5145 Old Mill theatre : Consvtn Plan & Theatre Refurb : formally The Mechanics Institute Hall at Mend Street behind 111 Mill Pt Rd South Perth, part of The South Perth Historic Village Precinct : conservation plan. Heritage Study {Cons'n Plan} 2000

Place Type

Individual Building or Group


Epoch General Specific
Other Use GOVERNMENTAL Town, Shire or District Hall
Original Use EDUCATIONAL Tertiary Institution
Present Use SOCIAL\RECREATIONAL Theatre or Cinema

Architectural Styles

Federation Free Classical

Construction Materials

Type General Specific
Roof METAL Zincalume
Wall BRICK Painted Brick

Historic Themes

General Specific
SOCIAL & CIVIC ACTIVITIES Cultural activities
SOCIAL & CIVIC ACTIVITIES Sport, recreation & entertainment

Creation Date

01 May 1989

Publish place record online (inHerit):


Last Update

27 Nov 2020


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