Selling off Tasmania’s spiritual legacy

Caption: Many of Tasmania’s rural Anglican churches are under threat of being sold off.

Some time ago, I worked on a book recording the local history and architecture of selected small towns in rural Tasmania. One thing which became immediately apparent was how important churches were to these communities. Not a district was settled, but that within a few years locals donated land and took up subscriptions to build a house of worship for their community. Many were buried in the grounds that they had bequethed.

Their legacy still dots the rural Tasmanian landscape, from the lonely chapel at Deddington, to the imposing bluestone spire of St. Mary?s at Hagley.

But now that legacy is under threat. Quote:

Tasmania’s Anglican Church has been warned of a potential legal battle after a rural community lost its fight to save its church from being sold off.

Eight of the churches in the Southern Midlands were earlier this year proposed for sale to help fund the National Redress Scheme for survivors of child sexual abuse. End of quote.

This is a slightly misleading statement: the truth is that only 25% of the proceeds from selling off churches will go towards funding the Redress Scheme. The bulk of the money will be used to pay off general church debt. Quote:

A revised list of properties to be sold released on Sunday still includes seven of the eight; only St Matthias’ at Woodsdale has been spared a future for-sale sign.

Tony Bisdee, the region’s former mayor who is now a councillor, has vowed to pursue legal action after the decision to proceed with selling the historic St Mary’s Church at Kempton.

“We would have the highest percentage of Anglican churches for sale in Tasmania,” he said. End of quote.

The affair raises the question of why parishioners should be paying to redress the wrongdoings of the clergy. Quote:

?This church was granted for Anglican worship, not to be sold to the highest bidder.

“I think the original grant has some legal aspects to it that I believe could perhaps restrict the sale of this church. I’m sure the community here at Kempton will not take this lying down.”

He said he hoped Tasmania’s amended Burial and Cremations Act would help protect the gravesite of Tasmania’s first Victoria Cross recipient, John Hutton Bisdee, who was laid to rest at Jericho’s St James Church, which will also be closed and sold. End of quote.

Caption: Tasmania’s churches are home to such works of art as Nellie Payne’s exquisite wood carvings.

Other prominent Tasmanians are buried at rural churches across Tasmania: artist John Glover and his family are interred at the Deddington chapel; prominent early politician Sir Richard Dry is actually buried under the altar of St. Mary?s.

Tasmania?s Anglican churches, such as St. Andrews in Westbury, also boast such features as the beautiful wood carvings of renowned sculptress Nellie Payne, whose work also graces All Hallows by the Tower, in London. Quote:

Of the 107 properties originally listed for sale, 34 are now exempt, many of which Bishop Condie said raised the funds required to fulfil their individual redress obligations, which in some cases was worth tens of thousands of dollars.

The plan to sell off properties prompted a community backlash with parishioners at Windermere, near Launceston, raising $45,000 to stop their church being sold.

Among the saved properties were St John the Baptist Church in Ouse, St Mary’s Church, Rectory and Cemetery in Hagley and St Michaels and All Angels Church in Pyengana. End of quote.