Two things were ‘engaging the public’ in Ballarat during Easter festivities in 1870. One was the performances of Mr Heller at the Mechanics’ Institute and the other was the Easter Trees at the Alfred Hall. An unknown letter writer to The Ballarat Star newspaper who signed the name ‘Curious’ thought that although both things were wonderful it would be ‘still more wonderful’ if Mr Heller visited the Alfred Hall and drew the ticket for the piano or some other valuable gift in the raffle.
With Easter almost upon us it is timely to look at celebrations during this period in Ballarat during 1870. The ‘Easter Trees’ of St James of Little Bendigo and St Mark’s of Brown Hill which were decorated by the ladies of the parishes were ‘opened to the public view’ at the Alfred Hall.
The Alfred Hall was built in six weeks in 1867 and straddled the Yarrowee Creek, with half the Hall in Ballarat East and half in the West as the creek formed the boundary between the two municipalities. Constructed of wood, it was not supposed to have been a permanent construction. However it lasted almost 100 years, only being demolished in 1956.
Just before Easter 1870 the Alfred Hall was decorated with the branches of trees spread out all over its length. It appears they were laden with ‘fruit’, some ‘rich and beautiful’ and some ‘less attractive’ or of ‘intrinsic value’. The ‘riper fruit’ such as harmoniums, music boxes, or sewing machines were on the higher branches while on the lower branches there were ‘manifold charms in needlework, live birds, bags of flour, flutes, concertinas and other things of use or ornament’.
With up to 8000 stalls the ‘Easter Trees’ were a huge affair. The ladies managed a wheel of chance by which the prizes were distributed. Each 1000 stalls were managed by specific ladies. Martha and Margaret Clendinning, and Mrs Cummings for example, managed stalls 1001 to 2000.
On the platform there was another attraction. This was possibly a Wheel of Fortune. It was Mr Strickland’s ‘pleasant duty to give out of his gorgeous abundance to all those whom the mysteries of the revolving boxes endowed with power to demand contributions at his hands’.
The brass band of the Victorian Volunteer Rifles played in the gallery and the music ‘very agreeably heightened the attractions of the fair’.
The fair of the Easter Trees went on for three or four days and like many other similar events the ladies involved raised much money for the causes in which they were associated.