Historic find deep below Sturt Street

PUSHING aside an old musty bookcase, deep below Sturt Street, John Hosking discovered a rare gem, more than 120 years old, and forgotten for decades.

Near intact, pasted to the wall, was a theatre bill promoting Helen Vivian starring in Mary Braddon’s gothic thriller Lady Audley’s Secret for a Thursday night at the Ballaarat  Mechanics’ Institute in 1885.

More bills, torn by history and circumstance, are stuck near a political news cutting on the institute’s basement wall. A political protest, pencilled above, and galleon sketching on the concrete wall, raise more questions than answers about the past.

But the real gem for institute marketing director Mr Hosking, a miner by trade, was the bill for Lady Audley’s Secret.

Ballaarat Mechanics’ Institute will stage its first event in the newly restored grand hall in March with the Canberra-based Seven Harp Ensemble.

Mr Hosking said it was the institute board’s first foray as impresarios since the early 1900s – that’s why it was so eerily fitting that he found the old bill.

“What a way to announce our comeback as the entertainment centre of Ballarat again,” Mr Hosking said.

Rich green walls and polished jarrah floors have brought the grand hall back near its original condition, including the stage from which American author Mark Twain addressed a Ballarat audience.

Mr Hosking envisages reproducing the old bill with the new to announce the comeback.

The find was made by reorganising archives in the institute’s basement, which once housed shopfronts along an old Sturt Street that lay buried under mining rubble as the street level was raised and flattened.

Walking the old, musty marketways deep underground you can still peer in through old window frames, and it is through one window you can catch a glimpse of the bill.

“I think the shopfront owner just used to stick up posters of things they liked,” Mr Hosking said.

“And I’m quite glad they did.”