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.



Left to the rats and bats.

Satisfying to look at in its solidity and proportions: the bluestone bulk of St Joseph’s, Blampied.


St Joseph’s, Blampied, well illustrates the kind of church nineteenth-century rural faith was capable of building and twenty-first-century indifference doesn’t want to know about. It is a substantial bluestone building, very satisfying to look at in its solidity and proportions, and stands as a landmark on its hill beside the Midland Highway between Newlyn and Eganstown. 

St Joseph’s was built between 1869 and 1874 to the design of an amateur, E. Shepardson, who was a schoolteacher at Eganstown (though Lewis puts an “allegedly” against this attribution). Whoever the designer was, he had a very good model to guide him in the Roman Catholic church at Daylesford, thirteen kilometres away, begun a few years earlier and designed by one of the masters of Gothic Revival in Australia, William Wardell (1823-1899) whose principal works include St Patrick’s Cathedral, Melbourne, St. John’s, Toorak and St Mary’s Basilica, Sydney.  The influence of the English architect Charles Hansom (1817-1888), who though he never came to Australia devised the design of St Patrick’s Cathedral, Ballarat, may also be detected, particularly in the windows. 

High on its hill in the serene central Victorian landscape:
St Joseph’s, Blampied, looking west from the Midland Highway.

St Joseph’s consists of a nave of five bays, a large chancel and lateral sacristies with a double gable, not often seen on country churches. There is no porch, probably for economy; quite a few country RC churches are like this, where you walk in straight through the door into the nave – but where did the congregation put their umbrellas and mackintoshes as they arrived for Mass in this district of heavy rains? 

The chancel of St Joseph’s has a three-light east window high up with sandstone tracery in English Decorated style; the same style is seen in the nave windows which are of two lights with trefoil above. Several windows contain good stained glass.

The fine east-facing chancel window in English Decorated style.

Blampied is more a locality than a township. It is named after Swiss-born Louis Blampied, who built the Swiss Mountain Hotel on the highway, still functioning today. The local settlers, many of whom were Catholics from Switzerland and Ireland, exhibited a high degree of piety in commissioning and paying for a church of the quality and size of St Joseph’s. 

The church still had about thirty regular parishioners (“with twice that number at Christmas,” according to the Ballarat Courier) when the dead hand of redundancy fell upon it in March 2018. As at Clunes and St Thérèse’s, Ballarat the reason given for the closure was the unavailability of a priest. As the Courier reported, when parishioners were told five years ago that the church was marked for closure, they “tried hard to find another priest to lead their congregation. They said it was an impossible effort as there are simply not enough young priests to replace the older priests who are moving on.” You hear this story over and over again. Large tracts of western Victoria, from the coast to the Mallee, where once there might have been a half a dozen separate parishes, have been bundled together under one priest, with the consequent closure of churches in remoter communities.

The sacristies of St Joseph’s with double gables are unusual for a country church.

At least no attempts have yet been made to sell St Joseph’s and the church is still, officially, available for weddings and funerals. It is also used for a concert or two during the annual Organs of the Ballarat Goldfields festival each January, though as a festival official told me, “we have to give it a good clean first because of the rats and bats.”


The final paragraph above no longer applies. St Joseph’s has been put up for sale against the wishes of the parishioners who were hoping to keep it open. You can see the ad at complete with a more than usually fatuous piece of estate agent’s “church sale” humour: “Blessed at Blampied” reads the heading. How long did they take to think that up?

The manner in which St Joseph’s is being – let us not mince words – flogged off is cavalier and insulting to the dignity of a fine building. With two acres of land the asking price for the church is $780,000, all earmarked no doubt for the abuse “survivors” whose demands are reducing the Roman Catholic Diocese of Ballarat to penury. At that price you might as well give the church away. Along with the church go altar (and apparently altar cloth!), stations of the cross, stained-glass windows, the lot. Is the Diocese of Ballarat not aware that these are consecrated items, not chattels? Probably not. They unloaded St Thomas Aquinas’s, Clunes, with a rare first-class relic of St Thomas somewhere among the contents and now of course lost.

With the sale of St Joseph’s the Diocese of Ballarat will have divested itself of two churches this year alone. From now on this landmark on a hill will testify not to the the faith that built it but to its absence. You might as well put a notice on the front: “We’ve shut up shop here. If you want religion go and find it somewhere else.”

Actually, they could have given St Joseph’s away. There had been suggestions that a monastic community from Europe might establish a branch in the Diocese of Ballarat, and St Joseph’s with its land would have been an ideal site. What with COVID that idea has so far come to nothing. Besides, the dying embers of the “spirit of Vatican II” still flicker in Ballarat and traditionalists are not welcomed. Yet Ballarat and the Western District need the kind of mission and encouragement a religious community can offer if Christian faith and practice are ever to be revived in what is, frankly, a dying diocese. In not retaining St Joseph’s for a purpose more suited to its purpose and history the Ballarat Catholic authorities have shown themselves to be utterly pusillanimous and philistine and, since the church will now be ruined with various accretions inside and out, complicit in vandalism as well. 

At least whoever buys it will banish the rats and bats.

Footnote. Many of the early Irish and Swiss settlers of Blampied are buried in St Francis Xavier’s cemetery up the road from St Joseph’s in the Daylesford direction. The small weatherboard chapel, built 1865-1867, is surrounded by graves and is well looked after.

St Jospeh’s, Blampied, has been closed for services since March 2018.




Township’s sole surviving church of four is now threatened with closure.

St John’s, Port Albert, before recent renovations. Note the pretty fretwork on the bargeboards. (Picture: Ray Brown, (20200424)

Little country churches like St John’s, Port Albert, are the bane of the ecclesiastical bureaucrat. They have tiny congregations, require regular maintenance, and are too small and poor to maintain their own incumbent. The priest or minister from the bigger town some distance away, whose parish generally includes two or three other small churches as well, must build into his schedule a fortnightly or monthly visit. It’s a long drive there and back, and all to minister to a congregation of six. Why, thinks, the bureaucrat, can’t they get in their cars and drive to the main church?

And in many, many cases now they do, if they don’t give up going to church altogether when their little church is closed by order of the distant authorities. St John’s, Port Albert, is an exception to this trend. The Anglican diocese of Gippsland wants to close it. The congregation wants to keep it, and have so far succeeded. As long as this dispute remains unresolved, St John’s is a church at risk. 

Port Albert is a straggling township that was once a port of some substance but is now peopled mainly by a few fishermen and weekenders. It used to have four churches. St John’s is the only one left.

Three-light stained-glass chancel window at St John’s is by the celebrated Melbourne firm Ferguson & Urie.
(Picture: Ray Brown, (20200424)

It was built in 1884 after fire destroyed an earlier church. Parishioners managed to save the simple timber furnishings, which remain in St John’s today. The style of the building is basic Australian rural church: a hall of timber construction with a porch and chancel, ironwork bell tower and pointed windows in emulation of Gothic. There is some pretty local craftsmanship in the form of decorative bargeboards on the roof and porch gables. The three-light window at the east end, installed in 1885 and restored in 1999, is a fine example of the work of celebrated Melbourne stained-glass designers and manufacturers Ferguson & Urie, who were in business between 1853 and 1899. The central light shows the women at the Empty Tomb on Easter morning. This is believed to be the only window by Ferguson & Urie in a timber building. 

Like most nineteenth-century coastal churches St John’s contains shipwreck memorabilia, in this case of the paddle-steamer Clonmel which went aground not far away in 1841, happily without serious casualties.

St John’s was on the point of being deconsecrated when some enterprising parishioners decided to save it. They formed the Friends of St John’s in 2014 and say they now have a growing congregation. They have been without a vicar for eighteen months and have been helped out for services by clerical volunteers. The Friends have raised money through a variety of social and other activities and from the sales of a history of the church by local historian Melva James. This has allowed them to renovate the church, repaint it outside, build a new picket fence and replant the gardens. St John’s is now in good condition for its continued use, if the diocese of Gippsland relents on its wish to close it.

Readers who would care to help the ongoing maintenance of St John’s can contact Peter Coates at

A representation of the women at the Empty Tomb forms the lower panel of the central window at St John’s.
(Picture: Ray Brown, (20200424)



Closed and subdivided after a century of worship.

St Anselm’s, on the corner of Park Road and Langridge Street, Middle Park, was closed in 2001 and converted into flats. The spirelet on the roof is a typical design of the architect Louis Williams. 

St Anselm’s is a neat little church on a tight street-corner site in the bayside suburb of Middle Park. On a stormy day you can hear the rumble of the breakers on the beach several streets to the west – and the scream of motor racing from several streets to the east when the Grand Prix requisitions Albert Park each March. 

Middle Park is a solidly red-brick Edwardian suburb with a few surviving Victorian villas. After the Second World War, at a time of housing shortage and building restrictions, it became a district of landladies and furnished rooms. Its houses have since been elaborately refurbished and Middle Park is now one of Melbourne’s most expensive and smartest places to live. But as already observed in this blog, when the upwardly mobile move in, church congregations decline; which is not a very flattering reflection on the persuasiveness of religious educators in the nominally Christian schools that most of these prosperous residents will have attended and to which they send their children. 

A chancel window. The coloured glass has been inserted since the closure of the church.

This was the trajectory with Middle Park’s Methodist church in Richardson Street, where a diminished congregation saw the sale (and subsequent conversion into maisonettes) of their handsome cruciform brick building after the formation of the Uniting Church. But St Anselm’s managed to retain some loyal attenders, attracted in part by its High Church services, right up until 2001 when the diocese declared it surplus to requirements and amalgamated it with the larger St Silas’s, a towering half-built masterpiece by Louis Williams (1890-1980) a kilometre or so away, to form the “Parish of the Parks”.  

The foundation stone of St Anselm’s was laid on 7 March 1922 by the dashing Harrington Clare Lees, a sporty Englishman who’d been appointed Anglican Archbishop of Melbourne the year before. The architects were Sale and Keach, of whom I can find no information beyond their names on the foundation stone. Their building replaced a timber church on the site.

The foundation stone of St Anselm’s was laid in 1922.
This plaque was placed on St Anselm’s ten years before closure.

St Anselm’s is a simple rectangular hall with an entrance at the south-west corner and a short chancel added later to a design by Louis Williams, judging by the style. He also added the pert little spirelet on the roof, very typical Williams, similar to the one he placed on St Stephen’s, Darebin (now also a house). Williams designed some furniture for St Anselm’s (some of it now at St Silas’s) and must have made alterations to the original church as well, such as adding his characteristic square-headed widows with tracery at the top – though the tracery disappeared from all but the chancel windows during the conversion of St Anselm’s into flats, or should I say, “town houses”. The narrow two-storey vicarage beside the church was retained as a single house. Last year someone paid $3,350,000 for it.

St Anselm’s was closed in 2001 and sold – though one suspects for nothing like that amount. The interior was carved up and partitioned, a spiral staircase was crammed in and skylights cut in the roof leaving nothing ecclesiastical about the building except the cross on the gable and the desperate attempts at wit of the estate agents’ spiel whenever a flat inside St Anselm’s comes on the market – a “heavenly conversion”, “divine living”, even “praying for a seven-figure sale”. Oh yes, the spirelet was suffered to remain, as was the plaque on the front placed there in 1991 to commemorate “100 years of Anglican witness and worship in Middle Park”. Ten years later the witness and worship stopped. 

The west front of St Anselm’s from Park Street. 

This being a website about churches at risk of demolition or alteration, it must be admitted that St Anselm’s has undergone its time at risk and survived as a building, though completely altered inside. But prices being what they are in Middle Park, the church remains vulnerable to “redevelopment” of the site for a block of many more flats than the shell of St Anselm’s can contain. 

A side view of St Anselm’s looking west along Langridge Street.



Unfinished but impressive, and sold because no priest was available.

St Thomas Aquinas’s is a four-bay fragment of what was intended to be a much bigger church for the gold-mining town of Clunes. When the gold ran out there was no money to complete it.

The existing building is the nave of what would have been a very imposing church, designed for a town that was a rich centre of gold mining in central Victoria. More than a thousand people attended the opening on 9 March 1873.

St Thomas Aquinas’s was designed by Henry Richards Caselli and W. B. Tappin and built in 1873-1874. The Cornish-born Caselli (1816-1924) is known for many churches and public buildings in central and western Victoria, among them St Alipius’s in Ballarat and Christ Church, Hamilton, with its massive spire. Tappin (died 1905) also worked on St Alipius’s and designed the French Gothic chapel of Loreto Convent, Ballarat. Both architects were masters of Gothic Revival. It has been suggested that for Clunes they based their design on plans by English architect Charles Hansom (1817-1888) for St Patrick’s Cathedral, Ballarat and St Patrick’s, Port Fairy. The façades in particular are similar.  

Solid well-buttressed bluestone construction on the nave and side aisle of St Thomas Aquinas’s church. Builders’ rubbish lying around indicates alterations inside.

When the gold at Clunes ran out, the town – which has a number of handsome public buildings, put up in expectation of its becoming an important regional centre – settled down to a gentle decline embalmed in its own past. It remains a little-changed example of a nineteenth-century small Victorian country town with a main street that is largely as it was a century or more ago. A bit too far from Melbourne (140 kilometres) for the well-to-do looking for weekenders, in the 1960s Clunes began to attract a few sub-bohemian urban arties manqués who established themselves in its run-down cottages, bought for next to nothing, where they could sit around listening to Bob Dylan and drinking rough red. It also acquired a reputation for second-hand bookshops.

In recent years, the building of a country campus for a leading Melbourne school, the reopening of the railway station and the advent of “tree-changers” means Clunes has begun to grow again, which of course is just the moment chosen by the Roman Catholic diocese of Ballarat to close St Thomas Aquinas’s and sell it. The excuse is not enough priests, though you’d think one could drive over from Creswick 18 kilometres away for an hour or so on Sunday, or even from Maryborough, which is all of 33 kilometres away. Country clergy at the time St Thomas Aquinas’s was opened would have thought nothing of riding all day on a horse to say Mass for distant parishioners.  

Once sold in 2018, St Thomas Aquinas’s passed into the usual limbo of churches acquired by private owners. Sometimes they just sit empty while various planning permissions are sought and then get resold at a substantial profit. At one point St Thomas Aquinas’s was to be turned into a commercial art gallery, though it’s not known whether this plan is going ahead. In any event it has been thoroughly gutted inside – not that the furnishings were ever up to much. A French harmonium organ dating from the opening of the church has gone to the Clunes museum. A relic of the Angelic Doctor after whom the church was named has gone heaven knows where.

St Thomas Aquinas’s is built of bluestone, with dressings in what looks like sandstone. In its unfinished state it consists of a nave of four bays with arcaded side aisles and clerestories above and one side porch. The (liturgical) west front, which rises high over the sloping site, has a window of four lights and intricate tracery in the English Decorated style and is further embellished by statuary niches (empty) The church was to have had a tower at its (liturgical) north-west corner – you can see the unfinished angles where the stones would have slotted in – and a proper chancel, but now never will.  

Unfinished stonework where a corner tower was to have abutted the nave of St Thomas Aquinas’s, Clunes. The blocked arch would have opened into the side aisle.

As a building St Thomas Aquinas’s is so obviously a church it should never have been sold for secular usage. Could it not have been mothballed on a care and maintenance basis in case a priest could be found for occasional Masses? The Anglicans still have their large church in Clunes and are restoring the organ. As I have written elsewhere, part of the function of a building’s design is to express its purpose, and to see a church that turns out on closer inspection to be something else is an offence against aesthetics and logic.

A fine four-light window with English Decorated tracery distinguishes the main front of St Thomas Aquinas’s, Clunes. The picket fence is an attractive piece of old-fashioned rural craftsmanship.



Empty for seven years and demolished overnight. 

St Stephen’s, Highett, as it was until the end of March 2020.  An earlier hall that served as a church is on the left.

This church was at risk when I wrote the description that follows. It had been sold in 2013 but was still standing locked and empty. Out of the blue it was demolished in late March, before I could get a photograph. 

The location of St Stephen’s was typical of more than a few Anglican churches built in the expanding suburbs in the 1950s and 1960s. Not for them the big corner sites in the main streets with room for a school and perhaps a convent. They all seemed to go, along with the hilltop sites of popular sectarian legend, to the RCs. And when the Anglicans did obtain such a site, they seldom made the most of it. Witness St James’s, Glen Iris, which should have had a towering 1920s Louis Williams edifice with a spire visible from all over the eastern suburbs, and received instead – thanks to that nemesis of many a grand plan, a depression and war – a 1950s box (not without architectural merit); or St Matthew’s, Ashburton, which never progressed beyond a dual-purpose hall, just clinging on as a church today with the help of a South Indian congregation.

St Stephen’s occupied four house blocks among the brick and timber dwellings of a narrow residential street, away from shops, schools and what is now called the train station. Were the Anglican diocesan planners caught on the hop when sites for churches were being acquired in new suburbs? Were the Anglican laity not as munificent as RCs in donating land, or in what they put into the plate? Whatever the reason, there are several suburbs where the local Anglican church is or was out of the way somewhere among the tiled roofs of an anonymous-looking street. St Thomas’s, Ferntree Gully, St Silas’s, North Balwyn, and the Epiphany, Oakleigh are a case in point.  

Perforated needle spire with foundation stone of St Stephen’s below the windows.

As was St Stephen’s, where the foundation stone was laid on 18 November 1967. The church was designed by Wystan Widdows (1912-1982), an English-born architect second only to Louis Williams in his prolific output of more than thirty post-war Anglican churches. It was his last church before he returned to England. St Stephen’s showed Widdows in moderately “advanced” mode; his earlier churches were conventional in plan with nave leading to a sanctuary at the far end and a choir in a chancel between, whereas St Stephen’s was on a basically hexagonal plan influenced by the ideals of the European Liturgical Movement, in which altars were to be brought forward, closer to a congregation gathered around. St Stephen’s was not quite that advanced, and the altar, cleared out before demolition with the rest of the furnishings (some of which have gone to the Anglican church at Beechworth in north-eastern Victoria) was not placed to be seen in the round, as strict Liturgical Movement practice would require.

The church was built of cream brick, notched at the outside corners – not an attractive detail; it made the walls look unfinished as though there should have been something joined on. The roof was pitched low with broad eaves. The nave and a front wing of chapel and foyer had repeating bays of narrow rectangular windows glazed in a simple geometric pattern. There were two wide entrances on the main (street) frontage, one sheltered by a port-cochère with wedge-shaped roof and each with a tripartite set of timber-framed glazed doors. A thin perforated tapered spire, said to be in the manner of Frank Lloyd Wright, denoted the building’s ecclesiastical function.

How proud the local Anglican churchgoers, more numerous then than now, must have been on the day their new church, reassuringly moderate in its tentative embrace of avant-garde ecclesiastical fashion, was opened. How sad the decline as they became older and fewer, to the point where the Anglican authorities decided their church was no longer “viable” – after less than half a century, which used to be nothing in the lifetime of a church.    

This well-designed building deserved a better site. Two adjacent timber halls, one going back to the first Anglican services in Highett in 1931 and the other an ex-army structure that with a bell tower and other additions served as a temporary church, have been cleared away with the church. 

Redevelopment gets underway. St Stephen’s is blotted from the streetscape. (Picture: Clea Stapleton)



The church of the Little Flower, St Thérèse’s on Lake Wendouree, has been sold and is used for non-religious purposes.

Built in 1938, the church of St Thérèse of the Little Flower in Ballarat was designed by Melbourne architect
P. J. O’Connor in the Italian Romanesque style at which he excelled. (TEMPORARY IMAGE)

Here’s another Ballarat church – really, the number is remarkable, such was the church-building prolificity of nineteenth-century piety. Zeal for the Lord’s House plus vast sums from gold-mining filled this provincial city with churches, too many of which are now surplus to the spiritual requirements of our age.  

This one, though, is a later addition, an afterthought from the 1930s. Though more like a chapel than a church in size, St Thérèse of the Little Flower is one of the best churches in Ballarat. It was designed by the prolific Melbourne architect P. J. O’Connor in the Italian Romanesque style at which he excelled and which was much in demand for RC churches up to the 1960s (St Columba’s, North Ballarat; St Roch’s, Glen Iris). Its square tower, chamfered at the corner with buttresses, has just a soupçon of Hollywood Art Deco in the filigreed bell openings, just as its gable has a Spanish Mission touch (O’Connor was good at these stylistic juxtapositions). The round floral window in the main façade is worthy of note, as are the tympana in bas-relief over the main door and west windows.  

A blind arch surrounding triple square-headed windows with a decorative bas-relief in the tympanum exemplifies the Romanesque detailing of the original design.  

St Thérèse’s was built in April 1938 on a narrow site amid fashionable houses overlooking Lake Wendouree. The plan is a simple basilica without transepts. The construction is brick, cement-rendered. Unsightly and unsympathetic additions, including an unnecessary and spindly flêche in the then “contemporary” idiom, were made in 1965 and the interior was mishandled in the kind of post-Vatican II “wreckovation” inflicted on thousands of Catholic churches everywhere, and nowhere more so than in Ballarat – removal of pulpits, altars, altar rails etc. 

Part of the dreary extensions of 1965. The meagre flêche which unnecessarily competes with the tower was also added.

St Thérèse’s was closed in 2002, not because of a shortage of attenders but a shortage of priests. Indeed, St Thérèse’s was a thriving parish for its first forty or so years. A correspondent who lived around the corner recalls it in the 1960s and 1970s as having “well-attended weddings every Saturday, as the priest did not insist on the full RC rigmarole for couples, especially if one of the couple was non-RC.”

Those days are gone. The Ballarat Catholic diocese, battered by child sex-abuse scandals, is at a low ebb. Weddings and congregations are down and there are few if any vocations. St Thérèse’s has been sold to the nearby Loreto Convent school, which apparently uses it for music practice and for storing sports equipment. A rowing scull is stacked incongruously on the strip of land alongside. There is an air of neglect and dispiritedness about the whole place which well represents the current morale of once-flourishing Ballarat Catholicism. 

Update at 20 June 2020. A proposed use that would bring St Thérèse’s to life again is for it to become the church of the Ballarat Latin Mass community. This growing congregation is in search of a home and would put St Thérèse’s in good order again if the school were to make the church available.

The west end of the church was divided off and given its own entrance in 1965. Road signs are among the miscellaneous clutter in the grounds around the church.

Footnote. Christianity seems to be in steeper decline in Wendouree than anywhere else in Ballarat. The ugly concrete Wendouree Uniting Church “precinct”, begun in 1964, closed last year. The chapel part of it dates back only to 1999. Twenty years from opening to closure must be something of a record. The building will be no loss if it goes, except to the extent that the demolition or secularisation of any church building is a loss in our de-Christianising society.



A church design of great originality in Caulfield, once Presbyterian, now Uniting and home to an Indonesian congregation. For how long?

The Caulfield Indonesian Uniting Church is a striking design by the noted Arts and Crafts architect Robert Haddon.
It was built as St Stephen’s Presbyterian church. (Picture: Wikipedia: Ausarch eleanoreboniface.)

Christian churches in Caulfield are in a parlous state, since the district, once solidly Anglo in character, became predominantly Jewish after the second world war. The Caulfield Indonesian Uniting church was built in 1926 as St Stephen’s Presbyterian church. The architects were the firm of Haddon & Henderson. It is one of three Melbourne churches that Robert Haddon (1866–1929), a specialist in Arts and Crafts work, designed for the Presbyterians; the others are at Malvern, extravagantly monumental and apparently not at risk, and at Oakleigh, now the Archangel Michael and St Anthony’s Coptic Orthodox church. The Presbyterians made an inspired choice in commissioning Haddon; an architect of great originality who knew how to incorporate the Arts and Craftsism that was contemporary to his time into a traditionally planned building that “looked like a church”. Haddon put many of his ideas into his own house, “Anselm”, not far away from St Stephen’s in North Caulfield and well worth a discreet peer over the front gate. 

The façade of the Caulfield Indonesian Uniting Church stands out for its cross motif formed by a
central buttress with tall traceried single-light windows under the arms and flanking buttresses.

St Stephen’s is built of brick with cement dressings. The façade stands out for its cross motif formed by a central buttress with tall traceried single-light windows under the arms and flanking buttresses, all terminating in freestanding table-top pillars. The central column carries a pillar resembling a blind bellcote. There is no principal door in the façade; entrance to the church is through side doors with cottage-style porches. The interior contains some fine joinery.

A table-top pillar on the façade of St Stephen’s Presbyterian church in Caulfield.

St Stephen’s, already much reduced in congregation, became a parish of the Uniting Church in 1977. Since 2016 it has been the Caulfield Indonesian Uniting Church. Though still fully functioning it would be vulnerable to demographic changes such as its congregation moving to other suburbs and an absence of younger people as its congregation ages. It has already introduced English-language services for a “second-generation congregation” not fluent in Indonesian. 

The lettering on the foundation stone harmonises with the Arts and Crafts character of the church.



Its spire makes St Andrew’s Kirk the most prominent church in Ballarat. It is now closed and awaiting – what? Conversion into flats?

St Andrew’s Kirk, Ballarat: a monument to the once dominant Scottish Presbyterianism of Victoria’s Western District.

Most of the churches to be described in this blog will be in Melbourne, but a few will be in other places that can be easily reached by car or public transport.

Ballarat, 116 kilometres from Melbourne, was once a very devout city, judging by the number of its churches, of which the surviving ones are in most cases poorly attended. Two of the most architecturally important and at least four less important churches have been closed and another is, in my judgment, at risk of closure in the near future.  

Seen from the northeast, the transept and apse of St Andrew’s Kirk clearly show the building’s Norman inspiration.

Although it is opposite Ballarat’s large Roman Catholic Cathedral, its tall spire makes St Andrew’s the most prominent church in the city. Only a denomination with the cavalier attitude to its buildings that the Uniting Church displays would decide to close it and to retain as its city-centre church an architecturally inferior building nearby.

St Andrew’s is a symbol of the now vanished Scottish ascendancy of Victoria’s Western District. (Their descendants are still around but as the fate of St Andrew’s shows, they’ve largely given up on their Presbyterian faith.) It was designed (mainly) by Irish immigrant architect Charles D. Cuthbert (1825-1890) who later went to live in Fiji. Lewis described it as “the largest and most complete Norman-style church” in the state. It was built in stages between 1873 and 1890 with a vestry added in 1926. The tower and spire went up between 1882 and 1884 to a design by C. D. Figgis, prominent architect and sometime mayor of Ballarat. Did he realise that, stylistically, the spire was an anachronism on a Norman church, since spires are not a Norman but a later Gothic device? Lewis notes the black bands on the spire pinnacles, “inserted at the time of construction when news was received of the death of the first minister”.  

An earlier photograph of St Andrew’s, Ballarat, from the west.

This important church is very much at risk, not of demolition but of alteration and disfigurement. After being unused for several years it was offered for sale in 2013 and passed in at auction at $2.5 million. Four years later it was sold to a property developer. At one point there was a proposal that the Anglican Diocese of Ballarat might buy St Andrew’s as a replacement for its modest Christ Church Cathedral, which would have guaranteed the kirk’s future as a place of worship and secured most of the very handsome fittings and stained glass, which will now be dispersed – heaven knows where to, probably into “old wares and collectables” emporia. This eminently sensible idea was rejected after negotiations, as the Ballarat Courier put it, “broke down over the asking price.” In other words, the Uniting Church asked more than the Anglicans could afford. There’s Christian ecumenism for you.

The developer has not yet revealed what he intends to do with St Andrew’s, though given that the church is protected by heritage listing a radical conversion into flats or offices ought to be out of the question. We must wait and see. 

A postcard features St Andrew’s Kirk as one of the principal sites of Ballarat. In the foreground is a monument to Eureka Stockade leader Peter Lalor.
(Picture: ‘Ballarat City’, Victorian Places, 2015, accessed on 25/03/2020)