ST THÉRÈSE’S, BALLARAT

(ROMAN CATHOLIC)
WENDOUREE PARADE, BALLARAT

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.

ST STEPHEN’S, CAULFIELD NORTH

(FORMERLY PRESBYTERIAN, NOW UNITING)
BALACLAVA ROAD, CAULFIELD NORTH

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.

ST ANDREW’S KIRK, BALLARAT

(FORMERLY PRESBYTERIAN, NOW UNITING)
STURT STREET, BALLARAT

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, https://www.victorianplaces.com.au/ballarat-city accessed on 25/03/2020)

SECOND CHURCH OF CHRIST, SCIENTIST, CAMBERWELL

(CHRISTIAN SCIENCE)
COOKSON STREET, CAMBERWELL

The Christian Science church in Camberwell is one of Melbourne’s best examples of 1930s Modernism. But its once flourishing denomination is declining.

The Christian Science church in Camberwell: a fine example of 1930s Modernism.

In its country of origin, the United States, once a seemingly inexhaustible fount of new variations on the Christian theme, Christian Science was founded in 1879 as Mrs Mary Baker Eddy of Boston’s interpretation of the New Testament. Her book, Science and Health with Key to the Scriptures  had sold over nine million copies by 2001 and Christian Science was widely followed as a “rational” faith and attracted many high-profile adherents.

In 1906 Christian Science built a vast domed mother church – the First Church of Christ, Scientist – in Boston, and throughout the twentieth century as membership grew around the world, imposing churches were built in many cities. Melbourne was no exception, with at least five, the central (or First) church, a Classical edifice in St Kilda Road somewhat reminiscent of the Pantheon in Rome, opened in 1922 to the design of architect Harold Dumsday of the firm Bates, Peebles and Smart.

One of the three porticoes in the facade that emphasise the building’s verticality.
Note the superb detail of the wrought-iron inserts.

Christian Science has declined steeply in membership from its heyday from the 1930s to the 1950s and has already disposed of one of its grander Melbourne churches (its Third), a soaring dark brick exercise in modernised Italian Romanesque with campanile, in Elsternwick designed by architects Cockerell and Louis R. Williams (in a rare non-Anglican commission). Its long-term future seems doubtful; it is currently used by Buddhists.

It is the denomination’s Second Church in Melbourne, in Cookson Street, Camberwell, that could now be at risk from a further decline in Christian Science membership. This is a building of great originality in what might be termed the Moderne-Classical style, opened in 1937 to a design by the Bates, Smart and McCutcheon partnership, as the architects of the St Kilda Road church were by then called, a firm still functioning today. Their design won a Royal Institute of Victorian Architects award in 1938 and was influential in the development of European- and American-influenced Modernist architecture in Australia and a pioneer of Modernism in the field of church-building.

Second Church of Christ, Scientist, Melbournel: detail of the brickwork and banding.

The church is built in the cream brick favoured at the time, distinctly pointed. It consists of four overlapping cuboids of banded brick that form a tall entrance front and a taller central worship space rising behind it, all with patterned brick cornices. Single-storey Sunday School, reading room and offices flank the main block. The monumental façade is pierced by three portals that emphasise the building’s verticality; inset above each is an elongated octagonal lozenge filled with a non-figurative geometric design. The beautiful wrought-iron doors are of intricate Moderne design. Inside, the auditorium has a louvred ceiling and a vertically chain-patterned screen behind the rostrum where a reredos would stand in a conventional church. This is a building of exemplary quality of conception and detail.

An earlier photograph of the Christian Science church in Camberwell. The single-storey block on the left is one of two that flank the main building.

ST MARTIN’S, HAWKSBURN

(ANGLICAN)
CROMWELL ROAD, HAWKSBURN

A fine nineteenth-century church on a hill in inner Melbourne. But how secure is its future?

St Martin’s, Hawsksburn, from the north-west. Note the extensive use of banding and polychromatic brickwork.

St Martin’s is a lofty barnlike church with some nice decorative details. The walls are in polychrome brick, partly diaper-patterned. The wide apse has a three-light traceried window at the east, set into its own gable raised above the wall level like a dormer. Three little lanterns on the roof ridge for ventilation give a jaunty touch. 

St Martin’s was built between 1883 and 1887 to designs by Edmund G. Ovey (c. 1847-1916) who designed a number of buildings in the surrounding district, including his own house in Cromwell Road and the vicarage at St Martin’s. The five-bay nave is wide and without side aisles but with side porches, the chancel has lean-to vestries, there is a short right transept. The low square tower with three bell openings on each side and crenellated parapet was added in 1922. The architects were the partnership of A. &. K. Henderson, Rodney Alsop and Marcus Martin, all big names in their profession.

St Martin’s. Hawksburn: detail of brickwork and stone foundation of the north wall.

The land beneath the church falls away steeply to the west; seen from down the street looking uphill St Martin’s looks like a Victorian church in London.  The west front has three lancet windows. There is a crypt under the west end of the nave, used for various events. The western bay of the nave has been divided off internally to accommodate two levels of meeting rooms. You can see desks and chairs and other paraphernalia through the glazed partitions.

St Martin’s contains some fine stained glass, a well restored and elaborately stencilled Fincham organ of 1887 and all of its original timber fittings, including an oak altar carved by the renowned Robert Prenzel (1866-1941). The open screen across the narthex is a later insertion. The spacious chancel looks all the wider without the choir stalls that were once on either side (few Anglican chancels in Melbourne have choir stalls any more, partly through a dearth of choristers, partly because, as at St Martin’s, the space has been conscripted to accommodate forward-standing altars in the post-Vatican II RC tradition). St Martin’s is in the Anglo-Catholic tradition of Anglicanism with various High Church indicators inside such as that sine qua non, six candles on the altar, though the raked floor of the nave gives it an Evangelical look, like St Jude’s, Carlton, or the former nave at St Matthew’s, Prahran.

St Martin’s is open all day, now a rarity among Melbourne Anglican and RC churches that were once invariably open. Daily accessibility is one of several signs that determined efforts are being made to attract more people into St Martin’s and to anchor it in the local community.  

St Martin’s. Hawksburn. The tower was added in 1923. The telecommunications mast is a discordant contemporary addition, one with which many Melbourne church towers are blighted.

Hawksburn has always been mixed in character: the streets downhill from St Martin’s towards Chapel Street were once working-class, those higher up comfortably upper middle-class with many fine houses. Their original owners were probably churchgoers in the main but current residents don’t seem to have the time or inclination for that and the congregation of St Martin’s is small. This puts the church at risk as not being financially “viable”. Location is not in its favour either. St Martin’s sits roughly half-way between the two high-profile Anglican parishes of St John’s, Toorak, and Christ Church, South Yarra. If it were to be closed it would be a definite architectural loss but its parishioners would still not have far to travel to church.

An earlier photograph of St Martin’s Hawksburn showing the apse.