Dressing Up at the Radiant Hall

1. Garments being prepared for the exhibition Meet You at The Radiant Hall.jpgAs you may have heard, last year the Ashburton Museum presented an exhibit called ‘Meet You at The Radiant Hall’. It was a fun project to bring to life.

When we first started thinking about the exhibition we realised that the museum had few tangible items to demonstrate how important ‘The Radiant’ was for locals. We wondered how we would tell the story?

We are lucky to have on hand the excellent collection of photographs by the late photographer, Gordon Binstead, who extensively documented this district from the 1950s. His photographs are likely the most important documentary evidence telling of everyday lives in mid-century Ashburton.


The stories

Personal stories have also been a great inspiration. We found that many people of a ‘certain era’ recalled the events, conventions, meetings, dances, balls – and even boxing matches – that took place at the hall. Many could offer an anecdote, a connection or story, telling of their experiences.

We’ve heard of many marriages that have their origins in a first meeting across the dance floor – surely The Radiant was responsible for more match-making than any other venue in Ashburton?

We’ve also heard of the music, fun, laughter – and a lot about the seating arrangements for dances.

With girls seated along the wall to the left, couples to the right and the boys ranged somewhere down the back (or a variation on that formula), it’s remarkable that any relationships were started! Apparently the mad dash across the hall at the first beat of a dance tune was enough to secure a dance partner – and maybe even progress to the couple’s area in the future.



Objects and images

But while stories are readily available, it took a while longer to also put together a collection of objects suitable for exhibition.

Early on we put out a ‘call to arms’ through our networks, to find out if anyone still had memorabilia, programmes, photos or recollections about the hall. We were very impressed with the response. All sorts of items were brought to our attention. From that point, we knew of such items as drum kits and dresses, shoes and more.

Perhaps one of the most interesting things was seeing some of the clothing that people wore. Even at one event it can be a diverse mix. In its own way the many styles of dress tell of the variety of events and different groups that came together at The Radiant – for many years, we’ve been told, ‘the only place to be seen in Ashburton’.

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By Tanya Robinson


Captions [with photo credits for 1-3]

  1. Garments being prepared for the exhibition ‘Meet You at The Radiant Hall’. Photo: Anita Badger.
  2. An unexpected sporrin made from a badger’s head and skin. Kilts were popular when the Ashburton County Scottish Society used the Hall. Photo: Anita Badger.
  3. A varied collection of dresses waiting in the Ashburton Museums’ collection store ready for exhibition. Photo: Anita Badger.
  4. A beautifully dressed group with Gilbert Donaldson at right and his wife Evelyn beside him at the Radiant in 1962.
  5. A sharply dressed couple throwing some moves on the dance floor, 1964.
  6. A classic little black velvet dress. This young woman dances at the same event as others in floral frocks.
  7. Three young women enjoying themselves wear floral frocks and cardigans.
  8. A rather macabre scene at a Nurses Ball, with women dressed in scrubs and presumably the surgeon about to carve a ham

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