125 faithful years in Crows Nest


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History of Crows Nest Uniting Church, Sydney, Australia

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Crows Nest Uniting Church celebrates a 125 year old story from its beginnings as “North St Leonards” Presbyterian Church


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a 125-year history of Presbyterian, then Uniting, Church, worship, witness and service in Crows Nest, Sydney research by Lorna Bassett editing by Lin Gourlay and Peter Butt layout by Bruce Roy


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125 faithful years in Crows Nest Published 2013 by Crows Nest Uniting Church http://crowsnestuniting.org.au Crows Nest, Sydney, N.S.W., Australia ISBN 978-0-646-90328-8


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A WORD FROM OUR MINISTER In these pages you’ll find Crows Nest and the Shirley Road Church described as a ‘sit-down place’; a place to find higher perspective; a place that grew out of personal generosity and community commitment; a place that provided nurture and encouragement, not only to individuals and families, but to whole new communities. The story you’ll read is an inspiration to a present generation, who have received so much from those who have gone before, and who hope that those yet to come find the same welcome, hospitality and encouragement we have been blessed by. Community isn’t ‘a given’. It has to be worked out and worked for and worked through – and it can be a fragile gift. The people and leaders of this community have had to make sacrifices and exercise forgiveness as they grew, not just a building, but a vision and a tradition of thoughtful worship, faithful witness and loving service. Now they have entrusted us with this ‘Spirited community’, and we need to add new pages to this history. Those who have worked on this record, and especially Lorna, have preserved and re-told another ‘parable of the kingdom’ in which we glimpse something of God’s character and purpose – and God’s hope for a world reconciled, renewed and at peace. Chris Udy 125 faithful years in Crows Nest iii


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ACKNOWLEDGEMENTS This publication has been compiled from many sources, the author sometimes known and sometimes not. But it has been made especially possible thanks to the records collected by the late Margaret Sangster and presented to the Church by her family. The records used include: • • • • • • • • Repossession of Our Spirit – Traditional Owners of Northern Sydney – by Dennis Foley The Presbyterian - July 1897 Sydney Morning Herald – 1904 and 1905 The Messenger – March and June 1904 and April 1914 The N.S.W. Presbyterian – September 1938 Mosman Daily – September 1983 Journey – August 1978, March 1988, December 1988 History of Crows Nest Presbyterian Church 1938-1963 – compiled by W. C. Watkins. Information from this booklet has been used to enhance this publication. Heritage Assessment (July 2000) by Brian McDonald & Associates Stanton Library North Sydney Heritage Centre collection for allowing photographs of Crows Nest Cottage and the early church buildings to be included in this publication. Thanks also to our 125th Anniversary History Committee: Peter Butt, Lorna Bassett and Bruce Roy • • • • iv 125 faithful years in Crows Nest


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CONTENTS A Word from Our Minister Acknowledgements The History Of Crows Nest Presbyterian/Uniting Church (1888 – 2013) iii iv 1 The history of the area 1 The Early days of the Crows Nest Church 2 The Shirley Road buildings 5 The “mother of churches” 9 Ministry 17 People 22 Mission 25 Fellowship Church Union 1977 The Depression, and World War II 100th Anniversary - 1988 Congregational Report For 1988 Pipe Organ A Concluding Note 28 29 31 33 36 40 41 Gifts 41 Plaques 42 Timeline 45 Index 47 125 faithful years in Crows Nest v


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vi 125 faithful years in Crows Nest


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THE HISTORY OF CROWS NEST PRESBYTERIAN/UNITING CHURCH (1888 – 2013) The history of the area Before European settlement, the area of Crows Nest (as it is now known) played an important part in the life of the indigenous people. The extended area was known as Gai-mariagal and the peoples of the Crows Nest region were known as the Gammeray (or Cammeraigal) Clan. According to Dennis Foley in his book, Repossession of our Spirit – The Traditional Owners of Northern Sydney, “This was a ‘sit down place’, a large ring area that many Eora trails radiated from”. One of the trails that meandered northwards to Hornsby is now the Pacific Highway. Other trails radiated out from Crows Nest to various sites around the Harbour. Again, quoting from Dennis Foley’s book, “[Crows Nest] ... was like a community ring where male and female, old and young should meet, plan the coming season, or prepare for battle or to pass on knowledge. “Another important aspect of Crows Nest was its name. We are crow people and this is one of our clan’s skin groups. The existence of crows or ravens in this area is synonymous of our existence.” As a sit down place, it was of great importance to the Gammeray people for their education and spirituality, as well as for handing down laws and customs. Following European settlement of Sydney, this traditional sit down place seemed a fitting site on which to establish a place of worship. Today, the church takes seriously the traditional importance of the site to indigenous peoples. 125 faithful years in Crows Nest 1


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The early residential development of the Crows Nest–Wollstonecraft region had a profound bearing on the history of the Parish. Residential and commercial development continues today to shape the fortunes of the Parish. In 1822, Edward Wollstonecraft, a Sydney merchant, built himself a residence knows as “Crows Nest Cottage”. The home was constructed on the highest point of his large estate. Perhaps unaware of the traditional significance of the site to the “crow people”, Europeans called the area “Crows Nest”, alluding to the lookout platforms on the sailing ships which plied the harbour at that time. 2013 is the 230th anniversary of the birth of Edward Wollstonecraft. Edward Wollstonecraft died in 1832. His estate passed to his sister, Elizabeth, who was the wife of his business partner, Dr Alexander Berry. Dr Berry administered the estate on behalf of his wife, and they lived in Crows Nest Cottage (1835-1840). Dr Berry later built a larger home on land now partly occupied by North Sydney Demonstration School. Very sadly, his wife died in 1845, so he moved to the new residence on his own. (But according to the Australian Dictionary of Biography, Berry became a recluse in Crows Nest House and died there on 17 September 1873.) Both Berry and Wollstonecraft died childless, and so on Dr Berry’s death, the estate passed into the hands of his brother, David Berry. The Early days of the Crows Nest Church The institution we call the Uniting Church is a combination of the Presbyterian, Methodist and Congregational denominations, which came into union in 1977. The current Parish Church in Shirley Road was initially Presbyterian. The first Presbyterian Church in the Crows Nest area can trace its origins in a meeting of a Church Planning Committee, held on the veranda of Crows Nest Cottage. The Committee approached David Berry (125 years ago) for a suitable site for a Presbyterian Church and Manse. To provide temporary accommodation for the growing congregation, David Berry allowed the use of land in Willoughby Road (between Burlington and Ernest Street). Here, the first Crows Nest Cottage 2 125 faithful years in Crows Nest


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church (a humble weatherboard structure) was built. This Church was opened on 2 December 1888. David Berry presented the land to the Church before he died on 23 September 1889. The Parish was known as North St Leonard’s until 1912, when the name Crow’s Nest Presbyterian Church was adopted. A Sunday School began on 6 May 1888. According to The Messenger (11 March 1904), “In good weather Sunday School attendance exceeds 200.” On 27 August 1899, an infants class began using a vacant shop near the old church in Willoughby Road. The initial enrolment was 31 children. The old church building in Willoughby Road continued to be used as a Sunday School Hall until destroyed by fire in 1912. The first monthly Church paper, The Recorder, was published in 1888 with members of the Ladies Committee distributing the paper to families in the area. Willoughby Road church The Berry brothers also feature in the development of the town and district of Berry on the NSW south coast. For a biography of Alexander see the Australian Dictionary of Biography - http:// adb.anu.edu.au/biography/berryalexander-1773 For his brother David see the Australian Dictionary of Biography - http://adb.anu.edu.au/biography/berrydavid-2983 Alexander Berry had once been involved in acrimonious litigation with the firebrand Sydney Presbyterian, Rev. John Dunmore Lang. Lang was strongly critical of Berry’s treatment of workers on his Shoalhaven estate, describing Berry as “[one] of those antediluvian oppressors for whose enormous wickedness God was pleased to shorten the duration of human life”. Alexander obtained substantial damages (for libel) from the newspapers who printed Lang’s words. By a strange twist of fate, it was Alexander’s brother, David, who gave some of the Wollstonecraft/Berry lands to help found the Crows Nest Presbyterian Church. 125 faithful years in Crows Nest 3


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Nearby, in 1897, work commenced on building the Royal North Shore Hospital. This development led to an increase in both local residents and daily workers coming to the area. Then tragedy struck for the Presbyterian community in Crows Nest. The church building was destroyed in a storm. The Presbyterian of 9 July 1897 reported: “North St Leonards: It will be remembered the Church belonging to this congregation was wrecked by a cyclone which swept through the district a few weeks ago. “The building was so damaged that it will be impossible to repair without very great cost. An appeal was made to Dr Hay of Crows Nest for funds to erect a new church. Dr Hay intimated that, on condition that a suitable permanent building is erected, he is prepared to grant a first-class site in a prominent position. It is to be hoped the congregation A later storm shows damage near the Shirley Road church Original plan for Shirley Road included a tower Shirley Road church in 1905 4 125 faithful years in Crows Nest


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will be able to take advantage of this generous offer, and that a valuable addition to the property of the Presbyterian Church of New South Wales will be the ultimate result.” The “Dr Hay” referred to in this article was John Hay (later Sir John). He was the cousin of David Berry, and had inherited the Berry Estate. Sir John and his wife, Lady Hay, in fact did give the Church the land on Crows Nest Hill. Fittingly, that land included Crows Nest Cottage where the first planning meeting had been held. The Shirley Road buildings In those early days, there were no heritage restrictions directed towards preserving buildings of historic significance. The “Cottage” needed considerable repairs, so in 1905 it was demolished to make way for the present Church and Manse. Shirley Road was named after the Shirley Family who were first to build here after subdivision of Sir John Hay’s estate began in 1912. Mrs Shirley was a niece of the Hays. We have some historical records of the church building. The Sydney Morning Herald (15 November 1904) reported: “The plans of a handsome building have been prepared by Messrs Joseland & Vernon, Architects. The new church will be 80’ x 35’ constructed of red brick with stone Sunday School Hall plans 125 faithful years in Crows Nest Sunday School Hall across the road from the church 5


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dressings. It will give seating accommodation for 350 people exclusive of the choir – altogether the building will be worthy of the district”. Contracts were let the following May and the Sydney Morning Herald (May 1905) again reported as follows: “The cost of the Church will be about £1,750. The Manse will adjoin the Church and will cost another £850.” The original plans for the Church included a steeple on the western corner of the building. This was never constructed. The foundation stone for the new Church was laid by Sir Harry Rawson, the Governor of New South Wales, on 27 May 1905. On the same day, Lady Hay laid the foundation stone for the Manse. A Heritage Assessment 2000, by Brian McDonald & Associates, describes the structure as “an excellent example of the Gothic style of the Federation Period. The building is constructed in a red face brick of consistent colour with sandstone string courses, painted arch voussoirs, caps to buttresses and stone window mullions and traceries. Mr Watkins in his History 1839 – 1963 commented on the turnover in membership, particularly from the 1950’s. He said of this “There were many goings and comings and our centre was like a staging camp where people passed through”. In this regard little has changed in the decades since 1963. Mr Watkins history also notes that in 1939 a special retiring collection of one penny per week was established. This became known as the “Grounds Fund”. The fund was used to maintain the grounds around the Church, Hall and Manse, and also facilitated the purchase of plants and shrubs. The fund continued for around 20 years. In September 1953 a start was made on constructing a new vestry. The old one was a tiny weatherboard building which gave the appearance of being very much a temporary structure. A considerable amount of the construction of the new vestry was volunteered by the men from the church, including the Minister. The additions were dedicated and opened in 1955. However, when the old Church Hall Shirley Road was demolished and replaced with the current hall these vestries were replaced. 125 faithful years in Crows Nest 6


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“The south gable features panels of polychrome brickwork with red brick and liver brick in chequer board pattern. “The windows, arranged in pairs, are lead light in small square panes. The roof is clad in purple slate with decorative terracotta ridge cappings characteristic of the Federation period.” Mrs Fleur de Carle came as a small baby with her mother, Mrs Erica Wyllie, to Shirley Road in 1945. She has kindly supplied some recollections of her time at Crows Nest up until 1962. A kindergarten was located in the downstairs section of the Church Hall, whilst the older children attending Sunday School occupied the upper level. These children attended the service and during the collection crossed Shirley Road to the school hall. The children were organized into groups depending on age for their lessons. Mrs de Carle recalls there being lots of children attending both the Kindergarten and Sunday School. The Central Presbyterian Church conducted Sunday School examinations, with many of the children from Crows Nest obtaining excellent results. A highlight of the year was the Sunday School picnic held once a year, ‘everyone come, many only on this day!’ Special trams were booked and they waited for us at Crows Nest Junction to take us to Atholl Park. A huge weather shed that was used for lunch, which was a great spread including cakes from McKay’s Cakes in Hume Street (for many years Eunice McKay was a very active member of the church). Games and races were organized, but there was still time to explore the old gun emplacements around the shore. The Sunday School members also participated in athletic carnivals organized by the Welfare and Youth Department of the church. Fleur recalls Crows Nest “cleaning up” at a carnival held at Newington. The Harvest Festival Service was held in the month of March. It was always spectacular, as the church The new buildings were completed and ready for occupation in September 1905. The original Church in Willoughby Road continued in use as the Parish Hall, until destroyed by fire in 1912. Sir John Hay later bequeathed the Church the sum of £500, at that time a substantial amount. As his estate consisted chiefly of property, the Church accepted, in lieu of cash, land on the corner of Shirley Road and Sinclair Street, immediately opposite the new Church. In 1914, a hall was constructed on this site. It was built in harmony with the existing church building. Its use was not restricted to purely church purposes. For example, the lower hall was fitted as a World War II air-raid shelter; and the upper level was used as a pollingbooth. The Shirley Road Pre-School used part of these premises for many years. The hall was regularly used for youth and other social activities. It served the educational and social needs of the congregation until 1968. By 1968 traffic on Shirley Road had build up to such an extent that crossing the road 125 faithful years in Crows Nest 7



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