The Heritage Church of St Nicholas
A Short History of the Church of St Nicholas, W.A.'s tiniest church
The history of our tiny church begins in the early 1840’s. The tiny building measuring just 3.6 metres wide and 8.2 metres long was originally built as a two-room cottage around 1844. Often referred to as Australia’s “smallest” church, it has been “heritage listed” and given full protection under the Heritage Act.
The First Settlers
The building was erected opposite the Prince of Wales Hotel - now Henton Cottage, so named for John Allnutt’s home village in England. At that time, the road between was known as Paris Street and formed part of a grandiose plan then in place for Australind. (This plan can be viewed on the stone memorial on the shores of Leschenault Estuary.)
The first known resident of the cottage was William Narroway who arrived in 1844 and was employed by John Allnutt.
The walls were made from local Jarrah planks. It is hard to imagine this tiny cottage was partitioned into two rooms, one of which had a fireplace, and that a family lived in it for many years. At first the roof was thatched with rushes from along the estuary, but this was later replaced by corrugated iron.
First Church Use
In the 1850’s it was converted by the Allnutts into an Independent - now known as Congregational - Chapel. Up to then, John Allnutt had held services in his home.
To form the church, the partition and fireplace were removed, a pulpit installed and pews made, also from Jarrah, some of which are still available for use today. Until his death in 1861, John Allnutt led the Congregational worship and conducted Sunday School in the little church. As there does not seem to have been a Church of England Sunday School in Australind at that time, no doubt many parents appreciated the opportunity to send their children to the Congregationalists.
Archdeacon Wollaston - who could be rather pointed in his diary about some residents of Australind - thought highly of Mr Allnutt and called him “a very respectable Independent”. He also remarked he was “quite pleased with Mrs Allnutt.”
The Narroways later built their home north of the Chapel but on the same block, perhaps erected by their son-in-law James Gibbs who had taken over from Allnutt as the leader of the Independents. Mr Gibbs gave simple sermons in the Chapel until the Rev Andrew Buchanan arrived in 1866 from London.
Based in Bunbury, Buchanan served much of the South West, but on Sundays he would walk the 6 miles to Australind, give his sermon, teach Sunday School and then walk back to Bunbury. Between times, Mr Gibbs carried on as before. About this time, the Clifton family from nearby Upton House, although Church of England, would sometime join in these services as no church was available to them.
As the number of Congregationalists dwindled, services ceased in Australind. Those remaining could attend a large Congregational Church built in Bunbury near the old railway station. This has now been demolished.
The little Chapel was then sometimes used as a schoolroom but often it was empty. It was used by Frank Travers at one time for drying possum skins. It is thought the Church of England also used it occasionally.
Purchase by the Church of England
In 1914, the Church of England offered to purchase the site and buildings.
This caused complications as ownership was disputed as to who actually held the title. It seemed that the original Narroways had “squatted” on the land. It is possible that the land, being part of an early grant, could have been disposed of quite legally in those days without a record being maintained.
It was eventually settled and the Lands Title Office records disclosed the following details:
“The land, portion of Wellington Location 48, now of 11 5/10 perches, the subject of Title Volume 621, Folio 96, was sold by the Western Australian Company to James Narroway some time prior to 1860.”
On the issue of a fresh Title, C/T 621/96, the land and building through the support of Bishop Frewer was acquired in 1914 for 30 pounds by the diocesan trustees of Bunbury Incorporated.
The Church was licensed and consecrated on 22nd December 1915 and renamed as St Nicholas Church. St Nicholas was named for the 4th century Bishop of Myra in Asia Minor, the patron saint of Seafarers and children. However, it was the Rev John Frewer who asked his uncle Bishop Frederick Goldsmith, if the name could be used in memory of Frewer’s father’s church in England. Brewer was a Bunbury priest at the time and was instrumental in getting the Chapel for the Church of England.
A full story about the church furnishings can be found in “Gathered Fragments, the biography of Robert Cecil Clifton”.
Wars and Depression
Through the 1920’s and 1930’s, a small congregation kept St Nicholas Church going with Mrs Laura Clifton very involved and always playing the organ and caring for the little building. The population of Australind was very small, but wartime difficulties of transport and extra work for families when the men joined up for WW2 made the congregation even smaller.
So the little church fell into the “doldrums” and advancing age made it more difficult for Miss Clifton to do as much as she had before. The services were held at longer intervals and eventually were held on only special occasions such as Christmas and Easter.
Slowly men returned from the war and a small amount of development began as materials became available for building. New families moved into surrounding farms and a number began asking the Church for more regular services.
The Bishop asked the Rev Warwick Bastian to include St Nicholas Church in his charge and from then it was decided to make the area of Australind part of the Parish of St Elizabeth of Hungary, thereby joining Carey Park, Picton, Eaton and Australind. A priest Rodney Williams was appointed and the new Parish with guidance from the Canon began the task of making all into one church family.
By the end of 1964, a guild of St Nicholas had been formed, with sixteen members. Meetings were held in the Community Room which had been built by “busy bees” a few years before. The following year, the first St Nics fete was held under the trees, now outside the current Shire Offices. Monthly socials were held always to help with fund raising, and a Christmas party was held at the Triplett family home. This was a great community event with most of Australind attending.
At this time the little church building had been neglected and no money spent on maintenance for some time. Some of the Guild’s fund raising had to be spent on white-ant treatments, the installation of new lights, the removal of flooring, new carpet, alter linen and drapes. Other money had to be devoted to Parish expenses and stipend, so much fund raising was needed.
Gradually the little church was spruced up and made more comfortable. For a while the population grew at a small but steady rate, but with the building of La Porte (now S.C.M.) factory, a development explosion began, and doesn’t seem to be stopping! Many people moved into Australind with the building of Worsley Alumina. More recently factories at Kemerton have also made in impact. New suburbs of Kingston and Treendale continue this expansion.
The St Nicholas Church is also on that growth curve. The little church became too small and a recycled Church building, Duce Hall from St Elizabeth’s, was added to the site. This too became too small and in 1993, St Nicholas was “severed” from the Carey Park cluster to become a separate parish.
A rectory was completed in January of 1994. The new church was opened on October 16th 1994 by Bishop Hamish Jamieson, with a large congregation over 150 at the celebration.
The current Church building is the result of two more building programs with huge input from the Church members and local community. To make room, the Duce Hall building was moved sideways for use as an Op Shop before being sold and replaced by a larger purpose built Op Shop. Again the church family was instrumental in raising funds and fitting out all the buildings.
In 2015, as we celebrated the 100th anniversary of the Anglican formation of St Nicholas Church, our little building was again under threat from age, white ants, car implosions and bureaucratic red tape. And yet it still stands, a testament to the faith of early settlers and the ongoing faith of the community of Australind.
Now we look to a further 100 years of growth as the Australind Parish. It is not about the buildings but about the people who are the church, with Jesus Christ as the cornerstone. The need to service our exploding population has resulted in the formation of another cluster, this time with Donnybrook, and a renaming of the parish to become the St Nicholas Minster. With a focus on Blessing Abundantly, Belonging Wholeheartedly, Believing Increasingly, Behaving with Integrity and Becoming Good News, we aim to continue to build a family focussed church, a safe church that cares for all and especially still cares for children and seafarers just as St Nicholas did in the 4th century.
Thank you for sharing this journey by showing interest in the history of “the tiniest church building in Western Australia”. We hope you join us on this journey of faith.
Click the icons above for ABC News coverage of WA's tiniest church by Jesse Aiton and the interview broadcasted on ABC's Drive radio program on July 16th 2018.
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