Travelling over undulating hills, past cattle and lush pasture north-west of Colac, Red Rock Arts Gallery and Theatre is the first building to greet the traveller in Cororooke. With a population of 383 this pretty township seems an unlikely place for a theatre, and yet this small dairy centre boasts an art gallery too.
Andrew Beale, the philanthropic force behind the town’s newest facility, is a striking figure and nothing like I expected. Wearing a hat (that I learn he’s rarely without), the local dairy farmer’s big-hearted eyes look out over a rampant beard.
Friend and fellow project designer Kelvin Harmen of Power Stage, says Andrew, who lives ‘just down the road’, is a guy who refuses to take ‘no’ for an answer.
‘Andrew bought the church and rang me,’ recalls Harmen. ‘Initially I came down here to tell him to forget it, until I realised how serious he was. He knew he’d have to spend a lot of money and I thought, count me in. It’s a really fabulous project and good fun.’
|Kelvin Harmen and Andrew Beale|
After purchasing the disused Uniting Church in July 2011, Beale’s vision, persistence and work ethic saw the facility ready for opening just five months later. Touring the significant extension, renovation and fit-out, it is salient to recognise how much was achieved in such a small time frame.
A generous extension links the old church, circa 1903, with the old hall. The church has been transformed into a ravishing art gallery, and the hall into the Carolyn Theatre with tiered seating, state of the art technology, projection facilities, disabled access, and an 80-seat capacity.
‘Andrew doesn’t take “no” for an answer, from the council, from anybody,’ laughs Harmen. ‘He just kept going. He decided to get a bobcat in and start digging holes, and the council would say, You cant do that, and he’d say, Well its my block I can dig a hole. And then he’d say, Its my hole I’m gonna fill it with concrete. Most of us wait for planning approval, but Andrew had it half-built before council came around and said yes its ok.’
One suspects Beale’s drive was at least in part due to the personal circumstances surrounding the project. After the tragic death of 18 month-old daughter Carolyn in a car accident in 2007, the Beale family had determined the theatre would be dedicated to her memory.
‘We were travelling back from a school concert over in Angelsea, and got cleaned up by a car coming through an intersection,’ says Beale. ‘We sort of sat on our bums for a while trying to recover. There were 5 of us in the car and all of us were admitted to hospital with multiple fractures.’ Continue reading
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