NEPEAN HIGHWAY, DROMANA
Welcome, but not to church.
When a church ceases to be used for the primary purpose for which it was built you start to wonder how long it will continue to exist as a building. I don’t mean that it will be instantly torn down, or sold on the sly (to forestall parishioners’ protests) to become a Heavenly Pizzas franchise. But if it is no longer needed for church services, any use to which it is put will almost invariably be one that could be just as conveniently fulfilled by an entirely secular building. And if the church has a hall beside it, designed for all those other things that take place in a parish apart from liturgical worship, what use is the church itself when closed for services? What is the point of keeping it?
This risks being the case at the Dromana Uniting church. The complex of buildings still carries that label, in large letters on the front, but the church has not been used for services since 2014. It is now known, at least verbally, as the Dromana Uniting Welcome Centre. In normal times, i.e. before the China virus pandemic, the buildings welcomed children to a playgroup during the week and “seniors” to free lunches. But not to church. Church services are held at Rosebud, five kilometres away, at what is now called the Southern Peninsula Uniting church. The other principal denominations have active churches in Dromana, but the Uniting Church has pulled out.
The Dromana Uniting church was built as a Methodist place of worship on land given by the Rudduck family, local store owners and keen Methodists. Their imposing house, now in other hands, is a landmark next door. The existing church is the successor to a small timber church on the site, now demolished.
The foundation stone of the new church and hall was laid on 29 May 1965, about the time that the Peninsula crescent from Mornington around to Rye was beginning to acquire a large permanent population of retired folk to augment its summer holiday influx. The Dromana Methodist congregation was subsumed, along with the rest of the Methodist Church of Australasia, into the Uniting Church in 1977.
The group of buildings is a good example of the ecclesiastical modernism in vogue in the latter part of the twentieth century. The design is simple and rational. Church and hall are linked by a blank-walled porch which gives access to both. The low pitched roof of the hall yields primacy to the church with its higher, steeper pitch. The main façade, that of the church, is pierced by a single window finishing in the gable and emphasising the verticality of the design. The hall has clerestory windows which, together with the shallow roof, emphasise its horizontality and subordination to the church as the principal element in the group.
On either side of its central window the church façade is slightly canted inwards, away from the window. Wide hoodlike frontal eaves project progressively further as they rise higher towards the gable. These partly screen the window when the sun is the east and create a pleasant matutinal chiaroscuro as the shadow moves up the wall.
Church, porch and hall are faced with pinkish tapestry brick.
I have been unable to find the name of the architect. A curiosity is that the church has a certain resemblance to the Anglican church of All Saints’ at Rosebud, particularly in the projecting gable and eaves. That church was built about two years earlier than that at Dromana and was designed by Wystan Widdows (see St Stephen’s, Highett) and David Caldwell. Could they have designed the Dromana Uniting church as well? If not, could it be the work of Chancellor & Patrick, who were prominent on the Mornington Peninsula for their domestic designs?
Set on its large and prominent block on the Nepean Highway, looking across to the sea, the Dromana Uniting church and hall, together with the imposing house next door, add interest to a dreary stretch of streetscape, the fag end of the Dromana shopping strip. One must hope that the function of “welcome centre” remains sufficiently appreciated for the owners to resist the temptation to cash in on the value of the site. It would be a pity to see church and hall pulled down to make way for yet more shops or holiday flats.
PHOTOGRAPHY BY JOHN MILLER