A slice of local history has been lost as the Tallarook Mechanics Institute burned down on Saturday night with only the facade remaining.
Ten local Country Fire Authority units arrived at the scene — including members from Clonbinane, Hilldene, Avenel, Kilmore, Broadford and Seymour — but it was impossible to save the building.
Detective Senior Constable Ian Porter said it appeared the fire was started by an electrical fault, with the incident now under investigation by the CFA and a detective from Benalla.
Inspections are also under way to determine whether the historic building will need to be demolished and whether any heritage aspects of the building, which is owned by Mitchell Shire Council and operated by a volunteer Committee of Management, can be salvaged.
Tallarook Farmers’ Market organiser Cynthia Lim said while it was devastating to lose the hall, she was overwhelmed by the support she received from both the community and council, with the monthly market going ahead at a new location the following day.
‘‘I think we’re all still in total shock — most of us only got a couple hours’ sleep on Saturday night and then everyone was back out at market on Sunday morning,’’ she said.
‘‘But I think it was actually a good thing to have the market on so soon because it was great to be able to get together and talk about it as a community.
‘‘We’re totally amazed at council — (Mitchell Shire mayor) Rhonda Sanderson was there on Saturday night talking to everyone, and they just got mobilised and helped out.
‘‘Having their clear heads amongst it all was commendable — I wasn’t expecting that level of assistance.’’
Mrs Lim said she hoped the hall could be rebuilt in time for the Tallarook Farmers’ Market’s 10-year anniversary next year.
Valerie Watts, who lives opposite the hall and is assistant treasurer of the Committee of Management, said it was a shame to lose what had been a focal point of the community since its opening in 1891.
‘‘Early last century they used to have a dance there every Saturday night and people would come from all over the district on horses — there’s been everything there,’’ she said.
And Mrs Watts said thinking about the lengthy process of upgrade works to the hall, which most recently included new floors and solar panels, only added to the pain.
‘‘The restorations started about 20 years ago and that really began the whole thing. It’s taken all that time to grow again,’’ she said.
Cr Sanderson said the incident was heartbreaking for the community.
‘‘The hall’s historic value cannot be replaced, but the memories and community spirit remain strong for this significant local community gathering place,’’ Cr Sanderson said.
‘‘Council would like to thank the fire brigades who worked so hard to try to save the building.
‘‘I’d also like to thank the other services, businesses and individuals who assisted on the night and the Committee of Management, Farmers’ Market organisers, stallholders and patrons for their support of the alternative market location on Sunday.’’
Council will work with the committee and the community to support alternative arrangements for activities at the hall in the short to medium term and as replacement options are developed.