An inner-city church rebuilt on a new site.

St Andrew’s Gaelic church and, to its right, the manse in Rathdowne Street, Carlton, in a photograph of the early 1880s. A cupola of the Exhibition Building is in the foreground. The church, cruciform with a pinnacled tower, was dismantled in 1938. The manse with its elegant balconies survives as do the terraces to the right. In the middle left distance behind the flagpole is the former Catholic Apostolic (now Rumanian Orthodox) church in Queensberry Street before its 1887 remodelling. The tower with mansard roof and flag beyond is the old Carlton Brewery. The tower of the former North Melbourne Town Hall can be recognised in the distance to the right above the transept of St Andrew’s, with the spire of the Union Memorial Church in Curzon Street faintly discernible left of the Town Hall.  
State Library of Victoria (10032021)

Is this beautiful bluestone church at risk or not? It is hard to say. A notice on its former website says its congregation was “disbanded” on 10 April 2016 and that the church would become the “permanent spiritual home” of an Indonesian congregation who’d migrated in from the eastern suburb of Mulgrave. They are still there, with one service each Sunday. But how permanent is “permanent’? Ethnic congregations are by nature eclectic – how many Indonesians live in prosperous Anglo Gardiner? – and have a habit of dissolving or moving elsewhere, as this one already has. But as long as they are in possession St Andrew’s can probably be regarded as safe.

St Andrew’s, Gardiner on its commanding corner site. The resemblance to the original St Andrew’s Gaelic church is slight. The present building is largely the work of architects Scarborough, Robertson and Love in 1939.

The Uniting Church has several Indonesian congregations in Victoria (another is at St Stephen’s, North Caulfield) and they appear to be enthusiastically attended. St Andrew’s has around 250 members, which includes a few elderly survivors of its previous (English-speaking) congregation. There is a Sunday morning service in English but it is held in the hall, since the main Indonesian service is at the same time.

How that earlier congregation declined in number would make a case study to illustrate the overall collapse of Protestant churchgoing in the last thirty or forty years. I have written about it in the introduction to this website and elsewhere* and need not go into it again here. Suffice to say that St Andrew’s was once full every Sunday. Gardiner, which is part of high-priced East Malvern, was typically fertile ground for the kind of upright, undemonstratively pious, family-oriented Christianity that used to flourish throughout well-to-do middle-class Australia. One wonders, when observing the standards of public life today, whether the kind of people who practised it still exist.

North side of the nave of St Andrew’s, Gardiner.
The lower tower windows light the porch inside.
StAndrew’s is surrounded by well-tended grounds. .

An interesting point about St Andrew’s is that it has seen decline before. It used to be in Rathdowne Street, Carlton, on the corner of Queensberry Street, where it was built in 1855 as St Andrew’s Gaelic church, Free Church of Scotland by denomination. Carlton in those days was rather grand, but as Melbourne grew, industry and institutions moved in and many residents moved out. By the time of the Depression the church was redundant, and with another Presbyterian church two blocks away (the Erskine Church, now demolished) it was decided to close it. Dismantling it, moving it stone by stone and redesigning it to become Gardiner’s Presbyterian church in 1939 was a stroke of inspiration (a stroke that struck twice, since the Presbyterian – now like St Andrew’s, Uniting –church at Box Hill is a similar 1930s transplant). In Gardiner, an ideal site was found, on the upper side of a hill in the Gardiner’s Creek valley, overlooking the crossing of two main roads. With the clock on its square tower, a less common feature in Australia than in England, it could almost be an English village church on the edge of a green.

The chapel with its six square-headed windows, the organ chamber and the projecting vestries.
The foundation stone with dates of the earlier and later churches.

The architect of the Gaelic church is not recorded, but it hardly matters because St Andrew’s as it stands bears little relation to that church beyond the inherited building materials and some furnishings inside. It was redesigned by architects Scarborough, Robertson and Love, who are perhaps best known in Victoria for the Littlejohn Memorial Chapel at Scotch College. The Gaelic church had been cruciform, but they reconstructed it as the new St Andrew’s without the transepts. The redesigned tower was placed in its original position at the front but the nave behind it was extended to five bays with a short chancel for the elders’ stalls and communion table. A two-bay chapel with clerestory, an organ chamber and projecting vestries are on the north. The tower, originally thinnish with corner pinnacles, acquired a solid buttressed prominence; it was made broader than the original and square-topped without the pinnacles and is capped by a weathervane. There are double louvred bell openings on the upper stage, the clock with a face on three sides, and entrance porch with steps at the lowest level.

West wall of the vestry. Note how the rough-cut bluestone catches the sunlight.
The main door at the foot of the tower.
Side view of the tower with its “solid buttressed prominence”.

Windows and other openings are in plain Early English style with hood moulds. The roof is of slate. With its rough-cut bluestone catching the sunlight in the manner of wavelets on the sea, St Andrew’s is an exceptionally satisfying building. It stands in well-kept and unfenced shrubby grounds and looks like what it unfortunately no longer is, the very centre of its community.

*Articles in Quadrant Magazine
The Decline of the Suburban Church
The Continued Decline of the Suburban Church

Panoramic view of St Andrew’s, Gardiner. It could be English village church on the edge of its green if only the road surface were grass.


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