Austi Anglicans: From tiny weatherboard chapel, to spacious RSL club building

Austinmer All Saints Church of England Moore Street Austinmer C1910 Wollongong City LIbrary
All Saints, Church of England, Moore Street Austinmer. Picture: Wollongong City Library

To mark the centenary of Austinmer All Saints Anglican Church in March 2004, Judith Carrick put together the following short history for ‘Looking Back’. Before the church moved into the spacious former Austinmer RSL Club building in Moore Street, the congregation worshipped from a small weatherboard chapel, built in 1904, and which survives to this day as a family home. 

WITH the prosperity of a colliery in 1886 a village grew between the railway station and Lawrence Hargrave Drive known as Austinmer.

Early settlers in the region travelled to Wollongong to attend Sunday worship, either at St Francis Xaviers Roman Catholic Church or St Michael’s Church of England until the Church of England Parish of Bulli was formed in 1881.

The Bulli Parish extended from Corrimal north to Helensburgh and west to Sherbrooke with the Rev H Walker Taylor the first rector.

As early as 1881 some “cottage” services were led by diocesan lay reader, Joseph Cook in the home of Mr. H T Hicks. Cook made the grueling coach journey from Sydney and conducted services in people’s homes from Woonona to Clifton. Often when the minister arrived at a cottage, someone would send round and gather worshipers.

With the arrival of an energetic English couple, George Wallace and his wife, to Austinmer in about 1902 improvements to church services followed. As numbers attending the services grew, uncomfortably gathering in lounge rooms, Rev N Jenkyn’s solution was to put up a tent.  Mrs Wallace was aghast and began to lobby strongly for funds to build a church hall at Austinmer.

Colliery manager JC Jones and John S Kirton gave land and within five months a small, timber building with an iron roof was built by Mr Sweeney of Corrimal.  The Church Hall was opened and dedicated by Rev D’Arcy-Irvine in 1904.  The unlined building was cold in winter and hot in summer, and no doubt a little uncomfortable – chairs would be borrowed from neighbouring houses for the Sunday services.

Further growth to Austinmer village resulted with the arrival of the Government railway in 1887 and again in 1906 with the subdivision of Kennedy’s Estate.

With the failure of the colliery in 1895 enterprising people began to develop the area into a health resort.  Boarding houses began to appear. The guest house, By the Sea, on the corner of the Main Road and Moore Street, appears in early photographs but The Outlook, built in 1917 in Oceana Parade was reputedly the first.  By 1940 there were 14 guest houses operating in Austinmer.

Looking west up Moore Street Austinmer early last century showing the Church of England building on the left.
Looking west up Moore Street Austinmer early last century showing the Church of England building on the left. Picture: Supplied

Extensions were added to the Austinmer church in both 1908 and 1916 when the porch and bell tower were moved from the west to the east of the building.

The Surf Life Saving Club was built in 1909 at a time when surfing was not fully acceptable. However, the Church missionary association took full advantage of the healthy sport and first held summer school at Austinmer in 1912 and continued to do so into the 1930s.

World War One and the little village of Austinmer, with a population of around 300, sent around 35 men, including the rector Mr. Dent to battle. Four men were killed in action and at least one was a prisoner of war. Thankfully most returned. The total number of men killed from the parish was 21, with a similar number losing their lives in World War II.

The far northern suburbs separated from the Bulli Parish in 1913 and the Parish of All Saints Austinmer was formed. It extended from Austinmer to Clifton, with Thirroul added in 1920.

During the 1940s the Austinmer Colliery was reopened and operated until 1963. Tourism, which supported the guest houses, changed direction and Austinmer became a residential suburb.

In the 1950s there were five churches in the parish, now there are two.  The changes that caused the closures were the social circumstances that also closed the corner shop and the village post office.  The supermarket came, the post code 2515 covered all the villages, people preferred larger venues and so the church followed suit.

Austinmer All Saints Church of England Moore Street Austinmer C1990 Wollongong City LIbrary
Austinmer All Saints Anglican Church in the 1980s. Picture: Anne Ali Collection, Wollongong City Library
All Saints Church Austinmer 1994
Austinmer All Saints Church 1994. Picture: Angela Lynkushka, National Library of Australia

With the electrification of the railway in 1980s more young families came into the district and the congregation outgrew the former building. The former Austinmer RSL Club was purchased and refurbished as a church in 1994.

The club was offered to the church as the RSL members wanted to see the building continuing to serve the community as it had in the past. This has been achieved as it is not only a meeting place for Sunday worship but also for various youth groups, a day care group, along with mother’s groups and others.

Old Anglican Church Austinmer Google
The former Anglican church at Austinmer has today been transformed into a home. Picture: Google Streetview
New Austinmer Anglican Church Google
The “new” Austinmer Anglican church, further along Moore Street, was the former Austinmer RSL Club. Picture: Google Streetview

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