The Church with a Chimney

Dianne Dempsey | Bendigo Weekly | 28-Nov-2014


The value of local history, and implied that of the local historian, is often underestimated. 

A knowledge of our ancestors and they work they did is intrinsically important to us. This local history impacts upon us in terms of public and private buildings, public and private services and more broadly our cultural inheritance. It shows us why we speak the way we do, why we eat what we do, why we do particular work, why we laugh and why we cry.

The local historian does not travel but stays in the one place where the only travel that is done is in time, where through the use of archival material they trace the beginnings of who we are.

A great example of the value of local history is the recently published work of Aylene Kirkwood. Her book is focused around the building of one of Bendigo’s most beautiful churches, St Augustine’s in Myers Flat.

The church was built 150 years ago by the pioneers. As Aylene Kirkwood says, the first fever of the alluvial gold rush had abated, and in that decade the diggers married and built shacks and houses.

Doctors were needed as were teachers and priests. Many of the diggers were now farming or working for wages.

“Mainly from Co Tipperary and Co Clare, they (the pioneers) staunchly kept up the traditions of old Ireland... a decision to build a church meant digging deep into pockets and “passing round the hat”.

The Gothic style church was designed by architect William Vahland and his partner Robert Getzschmann. It was made of hand made bricks of local clay. The opening mass was held on November 6, 1864. The church was built with a fireplace and chimney and was used during the week as a school for the local children until 1908.

Aylene’s book not only contains transcripts and chronologies  but many wonderful photographs which reflects Myers Flat and St Augustine’s  from the days of the gold rush to as it stands today. 

The ancestors of the pioneers were invited to attend the launch of Aylene’s book which was held last Sunday to co-incide with the 150th anniversary of St Augustine’s. 

In effect it was a reunion of many families whose ancestors either attended the school or the church. They came from Queensland, NSW, Geelong, Ballarat and Melbourne. 

Names kept recurring: the Fitzpatricks, Kellys, Dempseys, Caseys, Ryans, Crawfords, Gallaghers, McMahons, Rees, Rileys and O’Briens. 

Faces had that same, pale, freckled Celtic look. They were open and honest faces, pleased to recognise each other and the source of their education and religion.   

Aylene’s sources for the history of the church include church records, newspapers and local authors including Noelene Wild, Ray Wallace, Keith Stephen, Kevin Vallence and Bev Hanson.

The book is $20 and available on 5446 9528. 


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