A Short History of St Nicholas Church, Australind
Research and words by Maidee Smith
The history of our tiny Church begins in the 1840’s. No definite date has been found when that small 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 the grandiose plan then in place for Australind.
The first known resident of the cottage was William Narroway, who arrived in 1844 and was employed by John Allnutt. In the 1850’s it was converted by Allnutt into an Independent (now known as Congregational) chapel. Up to then Allnutt had held services in his home. It seems hard to imagine it was partitioned into 2 rooms, one of which had the fireplace and a family lived in it! The partition and fireplace were removed, a pulpit installed and pews made, some of which are in use today. At first the roof was thatched, with rushes from along the estuary, but later was replaced by corrugated iron.
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 to the north of the Chapel, but on the same block. In November 1914, when the Chapel was about to be transferred to the Church of England, it was claimed “the Chapel itself had been erected by Narroway’s son-in-law, the late James Gibbs”. This was incorrect and may have been the second home built on the block for the Narroways
James Gibb had taken over from Allnutt as the leader of the Independents, and gave simple sermons in the Chapel until the Rev Andrew Buchanan arrived in 1866 from London. He served “the South West”, but on some Sundays he would walk the six miles to Australind, give the service, teach the Sunday School and walk back to Bunbury.
Between times, Mr Gibbs carried on as before. About this time the Clifton family, although Church of England, would sometimes join in these services as no Church was available to them.
As the number of Congregationalists dwindled, services ceased in Australind. A large Congregationalist Church was built in Bunbury, near the old railway station but it has been demolished. The old Chapel was sometimes used as a school room, 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 used it occasionally before offering to purchase it in 1914. The complications over who had the title to it would take too long to tell, but it would seem that the original Narroways had “squatted” on the land.
However, it was eventually sorted out . The Church was dedicated by Bishop Frederick Goldsmith, Reverend Frewer's Uncle, and Bishop of Bunbury, and was named St. Nicholas on the 22nd of September of 1915. This name was chosen by Reverend Frewer after a Church he knew so well in Skirbeck near Boston in Lincolnshire, England in which he had served under his Father who was the Rector there. Also St. Nicholas is known as the Church of the 4th. Century Bishop of Myra in Asia Minor, the patron saint of seafarers and of children.
Woodwork and Carving
Robert Cecil Clifton, always known as Cecil, was the grandson of Marshall Waller Clifton. He was a talented woodworker and renowned organ builder. However the tiny organ in the Church was not of his making but came out on the ship with the Clifton's. His legacy is in the fine examples of woodwork and carving now in the Church. The delicately carved stand for the font, made of jarrah is a fine piece and made about 1920 while the lamp stand he made for himself and it was given to the Church by his family in 1971. There is also a small stool from the family Lome which came from the music room in their house in Adelaide Terrace in Perth.
A New Parish
Through the 1920's and 1930's, a small congregation kept the Church going, with Miss 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 the families when the men joined up for World War II made the congregation even smaller.
So the Church of St. Nicholas 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.
Slowly, the men returned from the war, and a small amount of development began as materials became available for building. Other families moved into surrounding farms, and a number began asking for the Church services to be more regular. The Bishop asked the Rev. Warwick Bastion to include St. Nicholas 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 to make us all in to one Church family.
By the end of 1964, a Guild of St. Nicholas had been formed, their first meeting being on 4th September, with Mrs. George Smith in the Chair. There were sixteen members in that first year, and their meetings were held in the Community Room, which had been built by "busy bees" only a few years before. The first fete they worked for was held at St. Boniface in November, of 1964, but the following year stalls were set up under the trees (now outside the Shire Office), and the first Church fete of the Australind part of the St. Elizabeth's Parish was held.
Monthly socials were held, always to help with fundraising, and a Christmas party was held at the home of the (Bill and Joan) Triplett family. This was a great success, and all of Australind attended.
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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