One of the most popular activities in Melbourne during the Depression years was The Lord Mayor Fund’s community singing sessions at the Melbourne Town Hall. It was at a time before television and the internet, when people gathered together in their living rooms to listen to the wireless for home entertainment. The singing session got people out of the living rooms and singing together as a community.
Formally launched in 1929 as the ‘ABC Lord Mayor’s Radio Fund’, in partnership with Australian Broadcasting Company’s Radio 3LO, the community singing sessions not only lifted public morale but also raised funds for the purchase and installation of radio equipment in hospitals.
The singing sessions were often held weekly with all proceeds raised donated to the Radio Fund. Volunteers from ABC and 3LO donated their time to conduct the singing sessions which were often held on Saturday afternoons.
Within the first year, enough funds had been raised for 17 hospitals across Melbourne to have new radio equipment installed. For the first time, hospital patients were able to listen to the ‘wireless’ radio during their stay in hospital.
By the end of the second year, a further 24 hospitals, including regional hospitals, received radio equipment from funds raised at the community singing sessions. Telephone mechanics from the Post Master General's Department and the Postal and Telegraph branches volunteered their time to install the wiring required for the sound systems and equipment such as speakers and headphone sets. A special thank you is extended to the Telephone Branch of the Postmaster General's Department 'who have so generously given their services on Saturday afternoons for this work.' The Lord Mayor’s Fund Annual Report 1934.
Hospitals across Victoria are now enjoying the benefits of the radio equipment for their patients. Patient wellbeing and gratitude for the program is reported by healthcare staff to the Radio Fund.
In 1931 the Australian Broadcasting Company became the Australian Broadcasting Commission. The newly formed ABC recognised how important and beneficial the Radio Fund’s community singing sessions had become to the people of Melbourne and decided to continue their support. Now in its third year, hospital staff reported on how beneficial it was for patient wellbeing to have access to the radio to listen to music and other programming during their stay in hospital.
The Lord Mayor’s Fund Executive Committee also presented 3LO’s station manager Mr T. W. Bearup with a Certificate of Honour for his contribution to the Radio Fund. It was recognised that without Mr Bearup’s commitment and support of the Radio Fund’s community singing sessions it wouldn’t have been as successful as it was without him.
The ABC Lord Mayor’s Radio Fund continues to grow in popularity with funds raised through donations, collections and the sale of song books. Now in its fourth year, a further 40 donations of equipment and installations have been made possible through the Radio Fund's community singing sessions.
The Lord Mayor’s Radio Fund came to close in 1936. After seven years, almost £7,000 had been raised and more than 200 hospitals and welfare charities had received radio equipment installed for their patients benefit.
The community singing sessions had not only supported patients in care, but had lifted Melbourne’s community spirit during the tough economic years of the Great Depression.