From the Archives: A house of God in the heart of the bush   

St John's Cann River
St John's Cann River

After a break of 11 years, BCA is once again supporting ministry in the Parish of Croajingolong. In this article from the March 1929 edition of The Real Australian we hear about the building of its first church, a building that still stands today.

Croajingolong has always been noted for its magnificent trees, tall and graceful. It has now another claim to distinction – a beautiful little church, the first Anglican house of worship ever erected there.

For many years the work of the Church has been carried on in that area under conditions of much difficulty. Big though it was, Croajingolong had no townships; until later years it could not boast of decent roads; the little knots of settlement were far apart and hidden sometimes in out-of-the-way mountain gullies. Church services were held sometimes in tiny schoolrooms, with uncomfortable desks serving as pews, and with maps and diagrams of venomous snakes making up the wall-decorations. Or sometimes recourse would be made to a road-camp mess-hut, or to the homelier surroundings of a settler's kitchen. Even a bar-parlour of a hotel was requisitioned. For all these, the workers were grateful, and truly the Word of the Lord had free course, and in them all He was glorified.

But now there is a church practically complete in building and furnishing, the Church of St John the Evangelist, Cann River. It has a fine setting, for it has been built just where the great roads, the Princes Highway and the Kings Highway, conjoin. Travellers passing between the states of New South Wales and Victoria by either of those roads cannot fail to see this new witness for God. Someday, and in the near future, a township of no mean importance must spring up, and will spring up where these highways meet. What a great thing to know that the Church will be there first to give her welcome to all who shall find a home there!

At present the Church stands against the background of a real Australian forest – a forest such as is only to be seen, perhaps, in East Gippsland. The tall timber raises up with clean straight trunks of 150 feet at least, and with light feathery foliage. Where the undergrowth has been removed, the grass shows wonderfully fresh and green. Through the trees may be seen a selector's first home, partly built of bark and split palings and corrugated iron. A most picturesque setting indeed, and God has enabled the Church to be placed there for the worship of His Holy Name, and to serve as a House of Hope for all who come within its walls.

The Church is indeed a model reflecting great credit upon the architects, Messrs Esplin and Mould, of Pitt Street, Sydney, who drew up plans, etc., without any charge, and upon the builders, Messrs Mann Bros, of Mont Albert, Victoria. Our illustration shows the building just before its completion. Its lines are lofty and graceful; the walls are of rusticated weatherboard, lined inside partly by dark wainscoting and by white panelling. A fine rose window appears in the East end. The massive Communion rails and pews are in well-seasoned and beautifully grained Australian hardwoods. Communion table, reading desk, lectern, font, hymn-board are all in oak. Truly it is a House of Prayer, helpful for worship, with no tawdry decorations unworthy of the Christian religion.

Wednesday, February 29th, was the day of its dedication by Bishop Cranswick. Never had there been such a day in East Gippsland, and the clergy present, with the Bishop, made quite an imposing gathering. The Victorian Committee of the BCA had sent as their representative the Rev E Panelli. The Rector of Orbost, Rev. J. Bruce Montgomery, acted as Bishop's Chaplain. Two former workers in the area were present – Revs. A. J. Maher and W. I. Fleming. The present Missioner, Rev. C.
John Nash, and the Rev. S. J. Kirkby, Organising Missioner of the BCA, with two students from Sydney – Messrs Keith Langford-Smith and E. Brabrook – also took part in the service.

The Bishop was received at the door by Miss Reece, the BCA worker, who read the appeal for dedication. The crowded congregation joined with keen and earnest interest in the singing, and was splendidly helped by Sister Agnes Head, BCA Nurse, who presided at the organ.

The Bishop's sermon was based on Haggai 9: "The glory of this latter house shall be greater than of the former, saith the Lord of Hosts."

At the close of the service the folk were invited to the schoolhouse nearby, and during the serving of refreshments by a kindly and generous committee of ladies, opportunity was taken to give an official welcome to the Bishop. With a Confirmation service held in the evening, a day of memorable and sacred associations was closed.

This brief sketch of the dedication ceremony must not be closed without reference to Miss Reece, whose name will ever be linked with the Church, not only because of her work, but also because the church stands as a memorial to her mother and sister, who have passed into God's glory and Presence. Surely all will thank God for the labour and gift of love of which the church in Croajingolong will always be a token.

Every edition of The Real Australian from 1920 to now can be found online. Visit www.bushchurchaid.com.au/archive