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its zenith of popularity, a building that was admired and lauded by all is dismissed and derided as unattractive and out of date, and therefore at risk of “modernisation” or worse.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. (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 (



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.

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

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.



An impressive church gazing with forlorn dignity over a town that has no use for it.

Autumn colours soften the starkness of the neglected grounds of St Andrew’s, Daylesford. The obtrusiveness of power lines in the Australian streetscape is often underestimated.
In countries with a higher sense of public aesthetics they are underground.

The coronavirus has not so much concentrated my mind as concentrated my sphere of activity on an area close to home. This will account for what might seem an over-representation of Ballarat and district among these posts. That there is a disproportionate number of churches at risk in this region is a fortunate or unfortunate coincidence, depending on the way you look at it.

St Andrew’s, Daylesford, is a tragic case of a notable building closed and abandoned. It stands high over the town on a steep hill and is visible from far and wide. Its Presbyterian congregation moved out in 2002 to smaller premises because the church had become “too hard to maintain”. It was sold that year, with estimates that it would bring over a million dollars, and a local agent intoning, as they all do when a church comes up for sale, that it “had the potential to be turned into a home, function area or theatre”. In the event it became none of these. Whoever bought it has made no changes to the building, and seems scarcely to have carried out basic maintenance. The grounds around are overgrown with tangled shrubs and weeds. A stark notice on an entrance pier warns PRIVATE PROPERTY. DO NOT GO BEYOND GATE (there is no gate; it must have fallen off).  The former manse next door, an imposing two-storey edifice from which the minister of St Andrew’s must have had the best view of Daylesford of anyone, is much better looked after and is open to one and all (for a price) as a bed-and-breakfast.

Visitors not welcome. Do not venture through this gateway. The steep steps lead up through untidy grounds to a path that ends at the open entrance of the porch
Porch gable and south-western pavilion on the facade of St Andrew’s. The pyramid roof at the left has ben adapted to form a base for the tower. Note the trailing wire where the power has been cut off.

St Andrew’s was designed by Ballarat architects Clegg & Miller. George William Clegg (1870-1958) had been articled to Tappin, Gilbert and Dennehy (for Tappin see St Thomas Aquinas’s, Clunes) who had offices in Melbourne, Sydney and Ballarat. Gilbert at one point ran their Ballarat office. Between about 1907 and 1918 Clegg taught architecture and building construction at the Ballarat School of Mines.

The foundation stone of St Andrew’s was laid in 1903 by Mrs Jessie Leggatt of a prominent Daylesford family (there is a Leggatt Street in the town). Mrs Leggatt gave the money to build the church and her marble memorial plaque remains affixed inside the empty porch, on view to passers-by. St Andrew’s was opened the following year.

St Andrew’s, Daylesford, on its steep site above the street.

The church is built of rosy red brick with stone dressings and slate roof. The style is a modified English Decorated, a bit Collegiate in its effect. The design of the façade is ingenious. The west front of the nave with its tall central and lower lateral windows, all of two lights, rises above a narthex which has been set forward and is entered through a gabled arch opening into an open porch running the width of the nave. At the south end is a pavilion with castellated parapet and pyramid roof. This is echoed at the north end by the base of the tower, for which the planes of the pyramid have been turned into broaches. Out of these rises the octagonal form of the tower, which has louvred bell openings with horizontal hood moulds in the upper stage and a crenellated parapet. The details are lovely; there are even gargoyles beneath the parapet, which is capped by a short copper spirelet. The whole is French Gothic rather than the English of the rest of the church.

The weatherboard hall behind St Andrew’s is in a ruinous state. It would once have echoed to the voices of Sunday School children singing rousing metrical psalms in the Scottish tradition..

The church interior is a plain hall with an arched organ chamber instead of a chancel. The organ remains in the empty building and is of some interest. It was built by E. Cornwall Cook in 1904 and renovated two years later, because of mechanical defects, by George Fincham & Son. It is one of only two organs by Cook known to survive; the other is at St Andrew’s Uniting (originally Presbyterian) church, Echuca (see the Organ Historical Trust of Australia gazetteer

Daylesford with its spas was a popular weekend designation until the 1920s but declined somewhat after. It was re-invigorated in the 1980s and now sees itself as a “gourmet resort”. An influx of retired folk has set the town growing again but God is not high on Daylesford’s list of priorities and four other churches near St Andrew’s – Anglican, Roman Catholic, a “community church” and a fine former Methodist, now Uniting, building with a landmark spire – give the impression of just hanging on, while St Andrew’s itself languishes unused, a melancholy comment on the spirit of the age. In a town that cared about architecture it would be in the visitors’ guide.

Seen from the opposite hill, St Andrew’s church looks out over Daylesford. The former manse is to the left of the church. Daylesford’s Catholic and Anglican churches can be glimpsed to the right.




Squeezed out by the high-rises.

St  Paul’s, Box Hill: condemned to demolition after its site sold for $29.5 million.

It is no new thing for a church to be sold for the value of its land. In Melbourne this happened as long ago as 1913 when the historic site on which St James’s Old Cathedral had stood since 1842 was sold and the building moved block by block to West Melbourne. It happened in 1957 when St John’s, Latrobe Street, near Elizabeth Street, was sold and demolished. In the 1980s St John’s Lutheran church in City Road, South Melbourne, was demolished, but replaced, in the Southbank redevelopment. Now a second Lutheran church has had to make way for urban reconstruction, this time in Box Hill.

St Paul’s is in Station Street, right in the heart of the area lit upon by an alliance of skyscraper-dazzled government planners, big-time developers and Chinese money to turn streets of shops in a Melbourne suburb into their version of Shanghai. Gleaming iridescent towers of apartments, all fully Feng Shui-compliant no doubt, and all ludicrously out of proportion to the original buildings among which they sprout, have increased the population density twenty-fold. Even on Sunday mornings, the district around St Paul’s is jammed with traffic, and this is a principal reason for the church being sold. Many of its congregation come from considerable distances (Lutheran churches in Melbourne are scattered) and need their cars to get there, but as the church’s website puts it, a “survey of the congregation in 2015 found that worshippers were already finding it more difficult to travel along Station Street and find a convenient park.” Since then the jams have got worse every time a new masterpiece in the Asian International style rears its obtrusive bulk over Box Hill’s crowded hub.

The nave and chancel of St Paul’s, Box Hill, are under one long roof.

St Paul’s was designed by Melbourne architect P. J. O”Connor, most of whose work was for Roman Catholic churches (St Roch’s, Glen Iris, St Thérèse, Ballarat). It was opened and dedicated on 11 April 1954. The style is postwar cream-brick simplified Neo-Gothic. Nave and chancel are under one long steep tiled roof, with short lateral gabled vestries at the west end, where the chancel is. At the south-east corner are the base and crenellated first stage of a tower with a porch and entrance at ground level. The west front, with a trefoil window, looks incomplete. Were its small doors intended to lead into an extension beneath the window? Most of the other windows have segmental arches. The east end on Station Street has windows in the form of a stylised cross let into the brickwork, with a central glazed roundel and glazed arms. These are not remotely Neo-Gothic. Neither is the more recent flat-roofed two-storey extension of hall and offices to the north, with a vaguely Post-Modern canopy over the windows and garages below.

The unfinished west end of St Paul’s, Box Hill and the more recent extension beyond.  

St Paul’s and its ancillary buildings were sold in 2018 (for $29.5 million!) but remained open by agreement until March this year. The church has been deconsecrated and emptied of its fittings. The buildings will be demolished in the next year or two.

Though not a building of particular distinction, this church ought to be missed when it goes. Churches glimpsed down canyons of tall buildings contribute a civilising note. They invite reflection on less transitory things than the getting and spending of commercial and real estate ventures. What would Wall Street be like without Trinity Church, or the City of London without its churches by Wren? And what pressure to sell must they have been under over the years?

High-rise towers loom over the suburban roofs of Box Hill.
The former St James’s Uniting church in Box Hill South, built in 1964, is the new home of the St Paul’s Lutheran congregation.

The St Paul’s congregation has moved to Box Hill South, to a church that would have been at risk if they hadn’t bought it. This is the former St James’s Uniting church in Riversdale Road, a light-filled airy building that opened as a Presbyterian church in 1964. It was designed by Chancellor & Patrick in the low, angular uncluttered style with lateral clerestory and sloping roofs they also applied to their domestic architecture.

St Paul’s Lutheran church, Box Hill, as it won’t be much longer. A high-rise building will occupy this site.