Welcome, but not to church.

Dromana Uniting church with the hall on the left linked by a porch. The white-painted house beyond formerly belonged to the family who gave the land for the 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.

The hall and church seen across the car park.

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.

The lower roof of the hall emphasises the primacy of the church in the architectural composition. Notwithstanding the lettering on the porch, the church has not been used for services since 2014.




Less than half a church, rescued from ruin.

An early photograph of the abandoned Holy Trinity, Greendale, standing forlornly in a paddock.
Picture: Churches Australia Holy Trinity Greendale/(010920)

This church is not at risk, nor was it ever a completed church, but I include it as a curio of rural architecture. For 86 years it was one of the few genuine ruins accessible from Melbourne.

Holy Trinity, or the “half church”, as it is locally known – though it is less than half of what was planned – was built for the Church of England between 1875 and 1877. Building stopped abruptly once the apse and a lateral structure on the south, intended as an organ chamber and vestry, were ready for use. The completed church would have been handsome and substantial. Perhaps in those days Greendale, which also had a pub, a primary school and a now utterly vanished Roman Catholic church, showed signs of greater growth than eventually came to pass. (The cemetery opposite the church is an indication: it’s only ten per cent full.)

The former Holy Trinity, Greendale once restoration had begun.
Picture: Churches Australia Holy Trinity Greendale/(010920)

Greendale is literally a green dale, a pretty valley with clumps of native and European trees giving cool shade in summer. The pub is still there but apart from the “half church” not much else from those early days. The population is growing again, as evidenced by showy new houses, each replete with decks and picture windows, that now encrust the hills above the township. The Victorian government, too, which cannot abide unspoiled countryside, is planning to do its bit to wreck the prospect, with a proposed series of towers and powerlines striding across the landscape. Local opposition is strong and wants the power lines underground but one fears that Spring Street philistinism will turn out to be stronger, as, combined with climate credulity, it has already with its construction of endless “wind farms” all over the hills and valleys to the south of Greendale.

The apse from the east. The once empty windows have been glazed. The buttress on the right is new and was built as part of the restoration.

This fragment of a church was designed by Frederick Wyatt, architect of the imposing Anglican church at Bacchus Marsh, 22 kilometres away (also Holy Trinity and built concurrently) and the country mansion Greystones, south of that town. At Greendale he had planned a Gothic building to accommodate a congregation of more than 200, an ambitious undertaking even by the standards of those more devout days. About a third of the £582 it cost to build the apse and organ chamber was raised by a three-day bazaar in nearby Myrniong (which has a diminutive and pretty Anglican church) and the rest locally; but then the funds ran out.

Wyatt was a promising architect who died at the age of 35 the year after the Greendale church was consecrated by the Bishop of Ballarat on 23 August 1877. The local magistrate, Mr Charles Shuter of La Cote homestead (now demolished) took over as honorary architect but in the event Holy Trinity progressed no further westwards than the graceful chancel arch, where a “temporary” timber wall was put up, and is still there. What would have been the capitals of the chancel pilasters project on either side of the arch.

The fragment of Holy Trinity in profile. The completed church would have been at least twice as long. The new buttress can be seen at the right.

The five-sided apse, with lancet windows in three sides, is distinguished by its rough elegance, an impression reinforced by the slight concavity of the iron roof. The walls are of local golden-brown freestone blocks and were built by stonemason David Pierpoint of Ballan. 

During the half-century that the church was in use, up to fifty people were able to crowd in and there were seldom fewer than eighteen attenders. But Greendale declined, the congregations thinned, and services ceased in 1924. Furnishings were removed and the building fell into disrepair. In 1964 the Anglican Church sold the land and the unfinished church became a hayshed. For many years it was a ghostly ruin with crumbling walls and rusty roof – just the place to get a creepy thrill if you explored it at night by torchlight.

The property was sold again in 2010 and bought by new owners who began the task of restoring it. By this time the stonework was much deteriorated. Storms caused further damage and the owners were able to obtain a grant of $66,000 from the federal (Labor) government to help with the project. Decayed and missing stone blocks in the walls have been replaced, the exterior walls have been repointed and a buttress added at the north-west corner. A blocked door into the vestry has been reopened and the chancel windows filled with clear glass. The restoration was completed in 2013 and the building is available for use again – not of course as a church but as a “community space”.

The steep iron roofs of the former Holy Trinity, Greendale, rising above the farmyard.




Melbourne’s first “Vatican II” church, now much altered.

St Francis Xavier’s, Prahran, now converted into the John Pierce Centre for the deaf. The For Lease sign refers not to the church but to the former parish school in a side street.

Here we have a classic illustration of the principle that drives the wheel of fashion, at least in the realm of architecture. Forty or so years after its zenith of popularity, a building that was admired and lauded by all is dismissed and derided as unattractive and out of date, and therefore at risk of “modernisation” or worse.

St Francis Xavier’s in Prahran is one of Melbourne’s best post-war churches and ought to have been protected and preserved in its entirety. But it was built in 1964, and by the end of the twentieth century its virtuosity appeared jaded to postmodern tastes. Its parish had fallen away from it and the church building was evidently regarded as dispensable.

The interior of St Francis Xavier’s, Prahran, as it was in 1964. Note the massive stone altar on four blocks. The whereabouts of the sculpture on the right, by Leopoldine Mimovich, is not known.
(Picture: Smith and Tracey, Architects.)

Why the church was built at all is something of a mystery. Prahran is one of those inner-city suburbs that in a generation were transformed from working class to yuppiedom. It is an axiom of this website that “gentrification” drains a district of its churchgoers, and that this was happening in Prahran must have been at least distantly glimpsable when St Francis Xavier’s was planned.

Sure enough, by the 1990s the parish could run to only a part-time priest and by 2003 it had ceased to exist independently and been divided between two neighbouring parishes. The church, which had been shared for some time between the parish and the Catholic deaf association, was taken over entirely by the association, renamed the John Pierce Centre after a former chaplain to the deaf, and “refurbished” in a manner that was wholly destructive of its integrity.

The open roof of St Francis Xavier’s before insertion of a false ceiling, with the two rows of clerestory windows still visible.
Picture: Peter Willie. https://www.slv.vic.gov.au/pictoria/gid/slv-pic-aab56146/1/a23246 (04082020)

St Francis Xavier’s was designed by the firm of Smith & Tracey, which continues to maintain a long tradition of work for the Archdiocese of Melbourne. It was the first church in Melbourne – perhaps in Australia – to conform to the liturgical recommendation of the Second Vatican Council that the altar of a church should be closer to the congregation, who should be seated around it rather than in rows of pews looking towards a distant altar at the far end, as in a traditional “linear” church plan.

St Francis Xavier’s is therefore a rotunda, octagonal in plan. Its European Modernist style reflects the architectural preferences of the Liturgical Movement, which since the 1930s had been seeking to promote the changes in design and ritual which ultimately influenced the Vatican council’s liturgical prescriptions.

The interior of St Francis Xavier’s, Prahran, as it is now, reduced in area and with partitions and new furniture. The upper of the two clerestories is hidden above the false ceiling.  

The church is built of brown brick, exposed on the lower walls inside and out. A side chapel, baptistery and sacristies cluster around the octagon. The main entrance is in a long projecting porch. Over the doors, to indicate the building’s new use, a sign has now been added which would not look out of place on a white-goods warehouse.

The upper walls of the rotunda are rendered and painted white. Two horizontal clerestory stages run around the eight sides, the lower broader than the upper. They are the church’s best feature and eliminate the need for any applied ornament. The rotunda is capped by a shallow tented tiled roof concealed behind the parapet, with a prominent cross.

Stained glass in the lower clerestory at St Francis Xavier’s, Prahran. 

The clerestories are filled with intensely coloured glass in abstract designs. This, and various paler stained glass in chapel and other lower windows, is probably, though no record survives, the work of John Ferguson (1923-2010) and his contemporary Nick Papas, two artists whose designs were generally used by Smith & Tracey for their church commissions.

The “refurbishment” of St Francis Xavier’s included the blocking of an entrance externally and the installation of air conditioning units on the former baptistery roof which make the baptistery look as if it were about to take off vertically. Inside, several partitions have been inserted, reducing the nave space. But the most regrettable alteration is the insertion of a false ceiling at a level between the two clerestories. It hides the upper clerestory and the beautiful open roof with its exposed beams inside an artificial roof cavity. This is a great loss and it is hard to imagine what advantage was supposed to be gained from it.

Stained glass designs in St Francis Xavier’s. The glass in the church is thought to be the work of the Ferguson and Papas partnership.

Smith & Tracey designed most of the furniture and fittings for the church, now largely dispersed. Their massive stone altar has been replaced by a trite wooden table. The mensa of the stone altar sits outside as part of a “garden of memory”.

Though compromised, the design of this graceful building was completely successful for its purpose. How unfortunate that the same cannot be said for the English-language liturgy it was built to house, which can now be seen as jejune and linguistically drab.

The mensa of the original altar turned on its side as part of a memorial garden. The brick building with its handsome loggia is the former parish school.

Unless otherwise credited, all photography is by Fiona Basile (www.fionabasile.com).



A mine of history shut down and sold.

The former All Saints’ church on its rise overlooking Blackwood.

Another plain and simple country church transformed into a house. This one had quite a history behind it.

Melbourne was but thirty years old when All Saints’ was consecrated on 29 October 1865 by Victoria’s first Anglican bishop, Charles Perry (1807-1891). It is one of the few churches he consecrated that survive. The bishop’s journey to conduct the ceremony must have been something of an endurance test. The two roads into Blackwood were rutted cart tracks in 1865 and even today require cautious driving as they wind up and down through the hills and gullies of the western stretches of the Great Dividing Range.

The former All Saints’ church from the south. The iron roof has been replaced. Some windows are boarded up with works going on inside to convert the building into a house. A shrub blocks one of the porch doors.

About ninety kilometres from Melbourne though it seems much more, Blackwood today is a hamlet of scattered houses in and around the deep valley of the Lerderderg River. Dense forest surrounds it and many of the houses are submerged among the trees (how the township has not succumbed to bushfire must be considered a miracle). Blackwood sprang up during the gold rush, and at one point had a population estimated at 30,000 as well as the usual proliferation of banks, pubs and so on. One pub remains.

All Saints’, Blackwood as it was in 1949. The pretty bellcote on the roof has since been removed.
The façades of the church and porch are enlivened by the graceful corner pilasters,
Picture: Colin Caldwell. http://handle.slv.vic.gov.au/10381/72906/(21072020)

According to a detailed account on a local history website, Anglican services were held not only in Blackwood but in schools and other premises on the surrounding diggings at Simmons Reef, Golden Point – where there was a Chinese congregation – and later at Barry’s Reef. Barry’s Reef eventually acquired its own church, now long gone along with the rest of the township, its three hotels and 1000-volume Mechanics’ Institute library. The church at Simmons Reef has likewise vanished.

Repainting of the former All Saints’ church is under way.
The side walls have long been propped up to counter the outward thrust of the roof. 

These were all part of the extensive parish of the new All Saints’, which from 1866 had its own rector. He was helped out from time to time by clergy and lay readers from Bacchus Marsh. One of the readers, George Andrew Scott, a candidate for the Anglican priesthood, was scarcely a model of ecclesiastical virtue. He augmented his stipend by bushranging under the name of Captain Moonlight, in which capacity in 1869 he held up the bank at Egerton, another mining township. He was jailed, released and eventually hanged for killing a policeman in New South Wales.

The Gothic glazing bars of the windows are the building’s only ‘ecclesiastical’ detail.
The blue glass was added when the church was used in the film The Man from Snowy River.

Scandal reared its head again in 1877 when Mrs Harriet Turnbull, wife of Blackwood’s then rector, had an affair with a local bank clerk while her husband was away on his distant peregrinations around the parish. She and her lover eloped and the rector obtained one of the very rare divorces of those days. In 1908 another lay reader, Harold Robinson, was shot and killed at Blackwood while walking on his verandah reading a doctrinal work entitled On Faith and the Creed. The assailant was a “mentally disturbed” neighbour (perhaps of different theological views). The bullet went through the book, which years later turned up, still holed, at a church bazaar. It was bought and presented to All Saints’ where until the church closed it could be seen on request. It is now with the Blackwood Historical Society (see comment).

The site selected for All Saints’ was one of the higher points in Blackwood. The new church, built of timber with an iron roof, was described when opened as “exceedingly neat and well-constructed”. It is rectangular in plan with a short chancel at the east and porch at the west with side entrances. The façades of church and porch are relieved by corner pilasters with curved brackets in place of capitals. Originally there was a square bellcote on the front gable but this has gone. So workmanlike is the design that All Saints’ could be a village hall apart from its pointed windows with their pretty Gothic glazing bars. The blue window glass is not original. It was put in place in 1993 when All Saints’ was used as a set in the television series The Man from Snowy River, in the course of which it was “burnt down”. The church celebrated its century and a half in 2015 and is registered by the National Trust. Well-constructed though the building may have been, its sides are now buttressed with timber props.

No longer a hill of prayer.

The later history of All Saints’ is a familiar one. As Blackwood declined in population it lost its parochial independence and was attached first to the parish of Trentham then to Bacchus Marsh. Weekly services became fortnightly until regular services ceased with perhaps a service at Christmas and Easter and the occasional wedding and funeral. By 2016 there were only two practising parishioners. The Anglican diocese decided the church was “surplus to requirements” and put it on sale in 2018.

Blackwood had two other churches, similar in style and construction to All Saints’. The Uniting church is closed and – naturally – in process of being turned into a house. The Roman Catholic church, St Malachy’s, has Masses “by arrangement” according to a notice on the door and on Sundays at 4pm according to a notice by the gate and the parish website. It might be well to phone (03 5422 1261) before turning up.

Chancel and nave of the former All Saints’, Blackwood.

For some of the information in this post I wish to acknowledge historical researches by Margot Hitchcock of the Blackwood & District Historical Society, author of The History and Pioneers of Blackwood, Penny Garnett, and the website Blackwood Publishing, a “Genealogical and early history of Blackwood Victoria”. 




Arts and Crafts touches on a cottage-like church.

The former St Mark’s, Gordon in winter through the leafless silver birches.

This attractive little church, half-hidden behind silver birches, has the lattice-windowed charm of a Hansel and Gretel cottage. It has not been used as a church for seventeen years and is now a hat shop.

St Mark’s was one of the later commissions of the father and son firm of Percy Selwyn Richards and Geoffrey S. Richards, well known in Ballarat and in the Western District of Victoria for their public and private work. Percy, who was born in New Zealand and arrived in Australia in 1887, practised in Ballarat for half a century. He originally specialised in Art Nouveau designs, the Provincial Hotel in Ballarat being a particularly flamboyant example. He taught architecture at the Ballarat School of Mines from 1918 to 1921 and was in partnership with his son from 1933 to 1940, when he retired, and again when Geoffrey was away on war service. He retired for the second time in 1950.

The porch with its decorative brick piers.
Brick piers frame the upper and lower chancel windows on the north..

Geoffrey Richards, practising on his own, was the architect of the chancel added in 1956-1957 to Christ Church, Hamilton, the grandest Anglican church in the Western District and of St John’s, Horsham, built in 1958 and the biggest.  

At Gordon, a straggly township 24 kilometres east of Ballarat, St Mark’s replaced a church destroyed by fire. The foundation stone was laid on 23 November 1936 and the church built by G. Ludbrook & Sons at a cost of £659. It must have been just the right size for a country congregation in the days before country congregations fell away to next to nothing.

The foundation stone, laid on 23 November 1936. The new church replaced one burnt down.

The church is rectangular in plan with a four-bay nave, short square-ended chancel, vestry on the south side and small porch at the north-west. The roof is of flat terracotta shingles. The exterior walls are roughcast plaster above timber cladding to wainscot height. Red brick is used decoratively in the form of piers to emphasise verticality on the porch and at the junction of nave and chancel. It is used structurally on the corner of the vestry and for the vestry fireplace and chimney and for the buttresses on the east wall. The buttresses rise above the roof to terminate in cement-topped pylons. The design is unusual: between the upper part of the buttresses is a tripartite east window high up in the wall with a tile-hung hood and projecting gable with eaves over it – a very Arts and Crafts touch.

The cottage-like west front of St Mark’s, Gordon. The apse with quadripartite window was the baptistery. Note the unusual jerkinhead roof projecting from the gable.
The east end of the church has a three-light window framed by brick buttresses, which terminate in cement-topped pylons. The window has a tile-hung hood and projecting gable with eaves over it.

Of similar inspiration is the west front. Here, a baptistery in the form of a shallow three-sided apse with tiled roof and a quadripartite window in the middle projects from the main wall. Above it are three small windows, two lower and one higher, and a shingled two-planed version of a jerkinhead above them.

The church bell still hangs in the detached wooden belltower in the grounds.  

Brick and cement chimney with a hooped pot above the vestry.

The timber bell frame still stands beside the former church.

The Anglican congregation at Gordon had declined when the church was closed. It stood empty for a year until sold to its present owners. Gordon has suddenly begun to grow again and Anglican services have been re-started and, until the Covid pestilence, were being held in the pub across the road from the former St Mark’s.

Since this website is about churches at risk, I should point out that as a building this church, for now, is no more at risk than any country business in these uncertain times.

For information about the Gordon Hat Shop go to the website gordonhatshop.com.au.

The former St Mark’s from the north-east.




A reminder of Methodism’s onetime vitality.

The former Pleasant Street Uniting church, Ballarat, a fine design in richly coloured brick with freestone dressings.

Another Ballarat church – but there were so many. Pleasant Street is an unpretentious but well-designed building notable for the excellence of its Gothic detailing and the rich colours of the brick used in its construction.

Ballarat’s population has a strong Cornish element, a legacy of the gold rush. This made the city a stronghold of Wesleyan Methodism (Wesleyans and other Methodists amalgamated in Australia in 1902 to form the Methodist Church). The historian Geoffrey Blainey records in his memoirs that when his father went there as a minister in 1941, the Ballarat Methodists had more churches – eleven – than the Anglicans and Roman Catholics put together. That remained the case until forty years ago. But in 1977 Methodist congregations in Ballarat were subsumed into the new Uniting Church, which has since proceeded to sell off many of the former Methodist buildings, partly at first because of “duplication” in combined parishes and more recently as part of  a “consolidation” of Uniting Church assets. The Pleasant Street church is one of the recent sales in Ballarat, along with former Barkly Street Methodist church on Bakery Hill in East Ballarat.

Façade detail: five blind arches set in freestone.

Pleasant Street was built as a Wesleyan church and opened in 1867. The architect was J. A. Doane, who also designed the church in Barkly Street and all but two of Ballarat’s other Methodist churches. The cost of building, indicative of Methodist prosperity, was £1,700, about £234,000 today. Additions for choir accommodation were made in 1886 to designs by C. D. Figgis (1849-1895), architect of the adjoining but much plainer Sunday School hall and of such Ballarat landmarks as the East Ballarat Fire Station with its very handsome tower and the tower and spire on St Andrew’s Kirk. Figgis, a sometime mayor of Ballarat, was at one point in partnership with H. R. Caselli (see St Thomas Aquinas’s, Clunes).

Side wall of the former Pleasant Street Uniting church, Ballarat: five bays with buttresses and the Sunday School hall beyond.

The former parsonage of the Pleasant Street Uniting church is across the forecourt beside the church.

The completed church in Pleasant Street is slate-roofed and of five bays divided by unusually elaborate buttresses with triple coping. The style is Early English Gothic, with a touch of Tudor in the notches on the front and rear gables. The façade is imposing for a church of its size, with a group of five handsome lancet windows set in a freestone panel. The quintuple theme is repeated in the five blind arches beneath the window. The arches and lower part of the lancets so fill the lower part of the façade that the entrance doors seem a bit cramped beside them. The flanking buttresses presumably terminated in pinnacles, since removed. A triangular oculus below the summit of the gable records the year of construction. 

The Pleasant Street congregation declined over time and the church was sold a year or so ago. As one past attender told the Ballarat Courier when closure was announced in 2018, “Quite a number of our people have now gone into aged care.”

Five fine Early English Gothic lancet windows distinguish the façade. Note the Tudor notches on the gable parapets.

This was a good example of a local church as centre of social life as well as worship. A fourth-generation Pleasant Street member reminisced in the Courier that in her youth “so much … activity was church based. There were church dances and there was a very strong Ballarat churches tennis association which was the main tennis association in this area. It was such a social hub [with] all year round activities.”

The church is now described as privately owned. No external changes are yet apparent but if the usual fate of conversion to someone’s house is in store for it the original interior will be ruined.  

Richly coloured brickwork and buttresses with triple coping on the nave of the former Pleasant Street Uniting church. The corner buttresses presumably terminated in pinnacles, now lost.




Palms give this substantial church the exotic air of an
English expatriates’ church in the Mediterranean.

Holy Trinity, Balaclava: an imposing church built for a large and well-to-do congregation.

“We’re asset-rich but people-poor,” announced an elderly lady I encountered when I looked inside Holy Trinity, Balaclava, and asked what the attendance was like on a Sunday. She might have spoken for many an old-established church all over Melbourne. The older the building the more likely the church will have substantial assets, usually in built-over land that was part of its original grounds (what is called in England the glebe). Rents from land and invested income from land that has been sold can keep large churches going when their congregations are small. This is evidently the case with Holy Trinity, Balaclava.

The main façade of Holy Trinity, Balaclava. The parish hall is beyond the conical-roofed baptistery, in red brick.
The towering west window of Waurn Ponds freestone set into Barrabool Hill stone walls.
A belltower and spire were to be have been built in front of the green door. The bell now hangs from a timber frame. 

This capacious, rather cavernous church is certainly not in imminent danger of closing but its long-term prospects don’t look exactly rosy. It stands on a triangular island site cut off from residential areas on two sides by busy roads and tram lines, and with no houses, only a state school, across the road on the third side. It is a difficult parish for an Anglican church, not least because half the parish is flats, and flat-dwellers, notoriously, tend not to be Anglican churchgoers. The eastern part of the parish is historically Jewish and Eastern European, in other words, ethnically not white Anglo-Saxon Anglican. The large parish hall has been let for years to various tenants, among them a plant nursery and a used-car dealer. Such halls were built for Sunday Schools and other parish activities; letting them out brings in income but usually signifies that parish life is at a low ebb. It might also be inferred that the future of Holy Trinity is not made safer by the presence a few blocks to the north of another Anglican church, the huge All Saints’, East St Kilda, to which its congregation could migrate if it were closed.

On the other hand, the parish of Elwood was added to Holy Trinity when its pretty little church, St Bede’s, was sold some years ago (and suffered the indignity not only of being turned into “town houses” but of being swallowed up into a “development”, thus losing its structural individuality). The closure of St Bede’s means Holy Trinity is probably safe for the foreseeable future because of its strategic value. If it closed too there’d be no Anglican church between St Kilda and Gardenvale.

Gothic Revival detail on the south wall of the nave. Above the side aisles are circular clerestory windows with quatrefoil lights.

Holy Trinity was designed by the well-known firm of Reed & Barnes, architects of, among much else, Scots’ Church in Collins Street, the Royal Exhibition Building and St Mary’s, Caulfield, east of Balaclava and now also a ghost of its former self because of demographic change. Joseph Reed (1823-1890) travelled in Italy before returning to Melbourne as a pioneer of local versions of the polychromatic brick architecture of Lombardy, as in his design for the Collins Street Independent (now St Michael’s Uniting) church. But he designed Holy Trinity as a straightforward exercise in Gothic Revival.

Baptistery, south transept, vestry and chancel of Holy Trinity, Balaclava.
Freestone dressings of windows and doorway.
Apse, buttress and corbelled parapet.

The foundation stone of this imposing and substantial church, built for what was then a large and prosperous congregation, was laid in 1882 and construction was complete by December the following year. The building materials were Barrabool Hill stone with Waurn Ponds freestone for the dressings. They make a nice change from the ruggedly Australian bluestone, so widely used for nineteenth-century churches in Victoria.

Holy Trinity is cruciform in plan with nave, chancel, transepts, organ chamber and vestries. The nave has arcade aisles above which are circular clerestory windows with quatrefoil lights. There is a wide three-sided apse with a three-light east window with English Decorated tracery in the upper section. This window is set into its own gable which rises above the wall level like a dormer, as at St Martin’s, Hawksburn. On the south-western corner of the façade there is an apsidal baptistery with an elegant conical roof. At the north-west corner there was to have been a soaring tower with a tall intermediate belfry stage and a spire. It is a pity this was never built: apart from completing the church it would have been the tallest spire in southern Melbourne and a striking landmark in a flat section of Brighton Road.  

Apse detail, with east window and its dormer roof.  

Palms around the east end give Holy Trinity a touch of exoticism, as of an English expatriates’ church in a Mediterranean city, an effect reinforced by the warm-coloured stone walls. Inside, a marble reredos frames the lower part of the east window. The original Fincham organ installed in 1883 and rebuilt in 1960 has pipefronts opening onto the north transept and the chancel (see Organ Historical Trust of Australia gazetteer entry on Holy Trinity for further details and some good interior photographs of the church). The chancel itself looks rather empty without the choirstalls, long since removed, but the interior is very well maintained, in part, no doubt, by the lady I encountered. Holy Trinity has some good stained glass, both recent – there are windows by Alan Sumner and Hungarian-born Bela Kozak – and nineteenth-century. Among the older glass is a Crucifixion window in the south transept given by officials of the Victorian Post and Telegraph department in memory of Samuel Walker McGowan, the pioneer of Morse telegraphy in Australia, who died in the George Hotel, St Kilda, in 1887. He was a member of the vestry at Holy Trinity and a distant relative of mine.

Holy Trinity, Balaclava, from the east. The palms give a touch of exoticism, as of an English expatriates’ church in a Mediterranean city.




Closed as unsafe, though its congregation wants to repair it.  

Boarded up and fenced off, Myrniong’s 159-year-old Uniting church from the north-east.

“Position, position, position,” as estate agents used to say and perhaps still do. This tiny church occupies one of the best positions of any church anywhere. That will be its attraction when it’s sold to someone wanting to convert it into a house with “divine panoramic views”, as the agent’s blurb will no doubt say.

The Myrniong Uniting church stands outside the town high on a brow of the Pentland Hills, looking down on a spectacular landscape of valley and plains, with the Werribee Gorge cutting a deep gash in the middle distance and the You Yangs dark and jagged against the thin blue line of far-off Port Phillip. It’s the kind of location chosen by Mediaeval fortress builders to command a strategic pass. The main road from Melbourne to Ballarat used to run right past the front gate, but is now a secondary route and the church gazes out instead over the speeding traffic on the Western Freeway below, climbing and descending, usually too fast, the steep gradient from Bacchus Marsh.

Well-crafted and satisfyingly substantial, the Myrniong Uniting church from the north-west. The pinnacle on the front gable is matched by pinnacles on either side, but instead of rising from the parapet as you would expect, they are perched on corbels projecting from the top of the wall. The east end has lost its side pinnacles.
Detail of wall, window and buttresses. All windows are surrounded by quoins
(raised stone blocks that stand out from the wall).
Vestry with chimney and the west wall of the Myrniong Uniting church.
“The church is built of rough-cut freestone of a lovely tawny colour.”

The church was built during 1861 and 1862 for the Presbyterians of the district when Melbourne was a mere quarter of a century old. It is a plain building typical of an era when wool and gold had not yet injected the fulness of their wealth into the colony of Victoria. The congregation joined the Uniting Church in the 1970s.

The Pentland Hills church is built of rough-cut freestone of a lovely tawny colour, as though the stone blocks were honeycomb. The architect was William Douglas (or Douglass) of whom little is known except that he designed a substantial Congregationalist church, now also secularised, in his home town of Kyneton. The plan is a simple rectangle of four bays and at the eastern end a vestry. The main façade, sides and vestry are buttressed, with angled buttresses at the corners. The slate roofs are gabled. The vestry gable is capped with a chimney, a vestry or sacristy fireplace being an almost universal feature in nineteenth-century churches where clergy would arrive after a long ride on horseback, feeling the winter cold and perhaps wet through as well.

The Myrniong Uniting church and its view down from the Pentland Hills. 

This is a well-crafted, satisfyingly solid-looking and well-proportioned church, Gothic in style, if by that one means it has pointed windows. The west-facing façade is plain, with a central door and flanking lancet windows and a roundel above. There are some rather odd details. The pinnacle on the front gable (there is no cross) is matched by pinnacles on either side, but instead of rising from the parapet as you would expect, they are perched on corbels projecting from the top of the wall. The east end has lost its side pinnacles. The lancet windows on façades and sides are edged with quoins, that is, raised stone blocks that stand out from the wall. These are in ashlar, smooth blocks of dressed stone cut to fit closely together. Lewis suggests that it was originally intended to stucco the rough-cut walls externally, covering their outer surface to be level with the quoins.

This church is now closed and locked with windows boarded up and security mesh all around it. So is the newish hall at the back, which was used for a mix of congregational and community events, as rural church premises should be. The Uniting Church authorities put the property up for sale in 2019 after the local council declared the church unsafe. Restoration was said by a Uniting Church spokesman to be “beyond the financial capacity of the small congregation”. The small congregation disputes this, a representative saying that they had been “in the process of sourcing funding” to carry out the repair works before the Uniting Church’s decision to sell. There are two sides to every story of course, but this is not the first time the Uniting Church has been accused of disposing of a small country church over the heads of its congregation.

“We felt very in the dark about it,” the Moorabool News quoted congregation member Emma Muir as saying. “and we felt sad that we couldn’t celebrate the 160 years of the church.” She said the closure was “like losing a friend.”

The panorama from the church grounds. The Western Freeway is in the middle distance, with the Werribee Gorge just beyond and the You Yangs and Port Phillip on the horizon.




Idly dreaming beside the pines.

Solitary among the pines, St James’s, Morrisons.

This church is remote and hard to find among the stands of green-black pines and the straggly gums that screen it from the road, until you round a bend and there it is. It looks abandoned, idly dreaming in pinaceous solitude without even a cart track across the grass to the door. Only a diminutive notice with service times, affixed to a front buttress – one of those much altered notices with previous times heavily blocked out – betrays this to be a still living church. A newish house over the fence and a shed or two represent the physical presence of Morrisons, the locality in which St James’s church stands.

Morrisons is on a tableland south of Ballan, 99 kilometres west of Melbourne, though probably few people outside the district have heard of it. St James’s comes as a surprise: a substantial church for such a lonely place – solid brick too, in a district where many churches are built of timber or bluestone. It’s the sort of church you’d see on a Melbourne suburban corner. But Morrisons was bigger when St James’s was built. The 1903 Australian Handbook lists the locality as having two churches, two schools, two pubs, four stores, a creamery and as being a centre of alluvial gold-seeking on the Moorabool River. All that is past. At the last census Morrisons had a population of 128, of whom few these days are attenders at St James’s. “About five or six,” a local told me when I asked how many usually turn up for the two monthly services. I asked if he thought the church at risk of closure. “I can’t see much of a future for it,” he said. St James’s in fact is living off the capital of the past, with an endowment to keep the building in repair.

Left The tower seen from the chancel end.
Above The foundation stone, laid in 1924.

Right Buttress and parapet detail at the corner of nave and façade.

This is not the first Anglican church at Morrisons. An earlier weatherboard structure was dismantled and moved to Lethbridge near Geelong in 1924 (it has since disappeared). On 3 July that year the foundation stone of the new church was laid by Frances Hill Molesworth, wife of John Matheson Molesworth of Ballark, a sheep property not far away, still lived in by the Molesworths who have been there over a hundred years. The consecration took place on Trinity Sunday 1927.

Tower, nave and chancel of St James’s, Morrisons. The body of the church is under one roof without a change of level for the chancel, which would be more usual.  

The newer church is of red brick with cement dressings and a tiled roof (which may not be original. Slate would have been more usual). I have been unable to find any record of architect or builder. The Ballark homestead looks as though it had modernising work carried out in the 1920s so there may be a connection with the building of the church around that time.

Yet there must have been an architect because for a remote country church the design is not simple and correct detailing has not been spared. For example all the windows have hood moulds, a decorative device but one with the original practical purpose of deflecting rainwater. Construction would have cost quite a bit too. Apparently the Molesworth family paid for most of it, as large landowners in a more devout age sometimes did.

St James’s was designed, according to an account at Ballark, to look like “an English parish church”. It doesn’t really, in part because of the very Australian red brick and tiles, but you can see what they were driving at. The building style could be defined as Australian vernacular Gothic, very common among churches of the first half of the twentieth century. In plan the church consists of a rectangular nave of three bays with buttresses and a single-bay chancel, both under one roof. A vestry is attached at the (geographical) north-west (the church is not oriented).  A gabled baptistery alcove with single pointed window projects from the middle of the nave façade with a trefoil in the upper nave wall above it. At the south-east corner is the church’s most prominent feature, a low square tower with louvred bell openings and a coffered parapet with quatrefoils in the coffers. There is a weathervane on top and the entrance porch below.

Chancel, vestry and nave of St James’s, Morrisons. Note the uneven gable, where the roof slopes lower on the west side to intersect with the gabled roof of the vestry. The weathervane on the tower can be glimpsed above the roof ridge.

The end wall of the chancel is blank but there are two lateral windows and windows in each bay of the nave, several with good stained glass. The chancel roof has an uneven gable, where the roof slopes further down on one side over the internal chancel wall to cover an organ chamber and intersect with the gabled roof of the vestry.

Morrisons, now spelt without the possessive, is short for Morrison’s run or land. Minor country roads in Victoria are often known by a past owner’s name but seldom geographical localities. Hugh Morrison bought the sheep run then called Moreep in 1856. He later retired to Geelong but there was still a Thomas Morrison farming at Morrisons in the early twentieth century.  On 18 May 1915 he was away in hospital in Ballarat with “miner’s complaint” – tuberculosis; he had presumably been at some point a prospector – when his wife and young son were shot and bludgeoned to death by Mrs Morrison’s brother, who then set the farmhouse on fire and killed himself. The remains of their bodies were discovered in the ruins.

Light and shade with windows and buttress on the nave wall. The hood moulds above the windows are to protect the window aperture from rainwater.

As the sun dips low behind the pines and the west wind shears across the tableland, this is a haunted-seeming place and St James’s, enfolded in shadow, could be a ghost church. It isn’t, yet, but if rural churchgoing declines further, who knows?

St James’s enfolded in shadow as the sun sinks behind the pines.




Its graceful spire is one of only three in Ballarat.

The spire and façade of Scots Church, Ballarat, make a fine composition. 

This charming and unpretentious brick church on Soldiers Hill was built for the Presbyterians of North Ballarat in 1890 to a Gothic-inspired design by local architects Figgis & Molloy. Its spire, slender and graceful and visible from all over north Ballarat, is its most attractive feature. It is one of only three spires in the city: the others are on St Andrew’s Kirk and the former Congregationalist church in Mair Street, now the Pentecostal Ballarat Christian Fellowship.

Presbyterians outside Scotland often called one of their churches in big towns the Scots Church, usually with a possessive, instead of giving it one of the few saints’ names their robust protestantism permitted (St Andrew, St Giles, St George and a few others). This indicated the continuing attachment of Scottish migrants to their homeland and the traditions of the Church of Scotland in which they had grown up.

The foundation stone of Scots Church was laid on 5 July 1890 by Sir James MacBain, Scottish-born businessman and president of the Victorian Legislative Council.

The Scots Church spire rises from an octagonal drum on a square buttressed tower of two stages on the north-eastern corner of the building. It makes a handsome composition with the elaborate principal façade, of which the central feature is a large window with a brick central mullion and stone tracery in English Decorated Gothic. There are twin porches at the base of the façade and a chequered gable at the top in which is inserted a vescica piscis, a favourite motif of Gothic Revivalists that translates as, and supposedly resembles, a fish bladder.

The church is on a rectangular plan without transepts. The nave is of six bays, buttressed externally. The building remains incomplete and there is a concrete wall, intended to be temporary, across the end of the nave where a chancel or organ chamber was to be added. A single-storey vestry is beyond this.

The foundation stone of Scots Church, Ballarat, was laid on 5 July 1890.

While still open and functioning, the Scots Church has but a small and largely elderly congregation and one wonders how it can survive for many more years without new members. It is melancholy to think that, apart from the Presbyterian component in the numerically declining Uniting Church, only three Presbyterian congregations survive in Ballarat to represent the Scottish religious tradition that was once so influential in the city and throughout the Western District. 

Scots Church seen from the vestry end. The concrete wall above the vestry roof closes off the nave where an extension was intended.