Listen closely and you might hear it.
A distant rumbling from a place deep beneath your feet.
It’s not the sound of the North East Link tunnel excavating machinery running up against a horned gentleman in his subterranean realm, dressed all in red leotards. Those machines aren’t due to start rolling ’til next year, though by crikey when that time comes, they’d better watch out for that gent’s pitchfork.
No, the sound comes from quite another source. Like a grinding and gnashing of teeth it is the sound of a man turning over quietly in his Heidelberg grave.
Thomas Wragge of Yallambie was buried at the Warringal Cemetery at Heidelberg in 1910. As outlined in these pages previously, Wragge was a man “of solid Yeoman stock,” (Calder) who had made a mark in the Australian colonies by following a variety of rural pursuits in Victoria and New South Wales in the second half of the 19th century. He was also a man of some pretty fixed ideas. Although the Wragge farming dynasty would eventually come to rely heavily on motor vehicular transport to administer their distant Riverina properties, in his life time Thomas was known to oppose such machines and various other mechanical devices, dismissing them as modern extravagancies. Horse flesh had been good enough for him and he saw no need for a change.
By way of illustrating this point, when Thomas’ youngest son, Harry expressed a desire to own a motorcar, Thomas threatened to disinherit him. This perhaps was no idle threat coming as it did from a man who had done just that to a daughter who had opposed him in her choice of partner, but unknown to Thomas, Harry went out and made the purchase anyway, secretly buying an early model Hurtu and keeping it hidden in town and out of his father’s way.
“Many a quiet run he had round and about after doing all possible to find out where his father might be going, so he could go elsewhere. Cars were not registered and carried no identification numbers. During one of these runs, his one-lunger (sic) was snorting south in Nicholson Street a bit north of the Exhibition Building where the road is fairly level. A policeman on a push bike decided he was speeding and called on him to stop. Harry began to panic, visualising his name in the newspapers and his inheritance gone, so he decided to make a run for it. The bobby came pedalling after, and Harry gradually drew away on the level road. Reaching the slight rise to the Exhibition Building, the car slowed up and soon the bobby was right behind breathing heavily and gasping threats. It seemed that capture was imminent, but with a flash of genius, Harry slapped on whatever brakes he had; the bicycle crashed into the rear and the policeman took a fearful toss with a buckled front wheel. Harry and car escaped unhurt, and Harry had saved himself from the loss of perhaps £50,000.”
(Extract from Classing the Wool and Counting the Bales, Winty Calder, Jimaringle Press, 1996).
In essence a conservative, Thomas was a God fearing man whom Winty Calder found difficult to categorize, “It is not easy for later generations to summarize the character and career of Thomas Wragge,” (ibid, p200) although Thomas’ namesake eldest son, Tom Wragge did his best, putting it rather more plainly:
“He certainly ruled his family with his cheque book. His reputation was that if he had a dozen watches, he still would not give the time of day away,” (ibid, p200).
As neither the cheque books nor receipts for donations have survived, it is not possible to know now whether this was an altogether fair assessment of the old boy, but what is known is that Thomas could be generous when the mood or the inclination struck him.
For many years a staunch member of the Church of England, Thomas is known to have made several substantial donations to that institution during his life time including the purchase of land near the Heidelberg Rail Station for the building of a Church Hall and with his wife, a presentation of a magnificent carved and polished Blackwood altar which remains to this day as a prominent feature in the sanctuary of the Anglican Church of St John’s in Heidelberg.
It follows a pattern then that on his death, a provision in Thomas’ will saw a single acre on the north-west corner of the Yallambie estate, now the south west corner of Yallambie and Greensborough Roads, bequeathed to the Church of England, along with the sum of £500 and a stipulation that a church be erected onto the site.
Planning for the building of the Church of the Holy Spirit on Greensborough Rd commenced in 1912, two years after Thomas’ death. Negotiations between the Parish of St John’s, Heidelberg and the Parish of All Saints’, Greensborough saw an alteration of parish boundaries so that the planned church might fall within the Greensborough Parish. The expectation was that with the coming of the railways the new church would serve a growth in population at Macleod and Watsonia. In deference to its location however, the church would be known as the Holy Spirit, Yallambie.
Progress was delayed by the outbreak of War but a building committee was finally appointed for the Holy Spirit in September, 1924 with a Miss Allen, Miss Elliott, Mrs Rogers, Mrs Watson and a Mr and Mrs Petterson selected, along with a Mr Sparling to serve as Secretary. It was envisaged that the Holy Spirit would be attended initially by the Vicar of Greensborough, at that time The Reverend Frederick Reynolds.
Plans were sought from an architect, Mr Louis Williams a well known ecclesiastical architect based in Queen Street, Melbourne who specialized in buildings inspired by the Arts and Crafts style. Williams was noted for designing churches of a specified capacity within a specified budget and the Holy Spirit would have been one of his earlier designs.
Williams brief was to design a building capable of seating 400 worshippers. By this time Thomas Wragge’s bequest of £500 had, with interest grown to £1000 so a contract was let to Mealy Pty Ltd of Rosanna for £1050. Construction commenced on 18th August, 1926 and the building was dedicated to the Holy Spirit by the Archbishop of Melbourne, The Most Reverend Harrington Lees, appropriately enough on St Thomas’ Day, 1st December, 1926.
The Church Sanctuary and a Chapel to seat 50 people were built first with a large vestry added for Sunday School classes and Parish meetings. The original plans for the building had been conceived along the lines of a mini Romanesque basilica built in the Anglo Saxon style, but with the population of the surrounding district not properly developed, construction soon stalled. By the 1940s the church was nowhere near complete and the original architect, Louis Williams was called in and asked to provide new plans to complete the church, but on a reduced scale. Williams recommended that the height of the existing sanctuary and chancel be reduced and the bricks and timber be reused to finish a much smaller building although in the end, even this plan proved to be impossible.
By 1941 the temporary western wall of the building had begun to deteriorate and possums and birds had taken over the roofing beams inside. The Reverend Alfred Bamford, Th. L, Vicar of the Parochial District of Diamond Creek and Greensborough, conducted fortnightly services of Holy Communion at Yallambie throughout the War years and he would later recall that before each service he would need to brush down the Communion Table and keep the Communion vessels covered throughout the whole service because of falling dust and feathers from flapping birds moving their roosts overhead. A Mrs Joules was remembered as bringing her dog to church services and sitting him down on one of the pews with a piece of newspaper under him but it wasn’t clear if the newspaper was intended to protect the pew from the dog’s bottom, or the dog’s bottom from the pigeon poo covered church seat.
With the boarded up ends of the church clearly a home for possibly more pigeons than parishioners, services at the Holy Spirit were suspended from 1945 until 1950. In 1951 The Reverend Leopold Ball, MA, the Vicar of Diamond Creek and Greensborough was the minister responsible for the Holy Spirit when an attempt was made to reinvigorate it as a place of Christian worship. Services were scheduled for Sunday afternoons at the church but these were never well attended. In 1955, Bill Chamberlain who was a parochial and Diocesan Lay Reader and who assisted the Rev Ball at several churches in the Parish, arranged with the Vicar to start an afternoon Sunday School at Yallambie. Bill had a new, 1955 Ford tray truck onto the back of which he built a cabin which he stocked with Sunday School literature and a travelling pipe organ. This vehicle, known locally as “The Jesus Car” and “Little Toot”, the later name due to the sound it made upon its approach, became a familiar sight in the area as it drove about Watsonia on Sunday afternoons picking up children to take them to the Sunday School. During this “Baby Boom” era Sunday School attendances throughout the Parish grew exponentially. Some of the events associated with the Sunday Schools of the area were an annual dance night and an annual picnic at the Tourrourong Reservoir located on the head waters of the Plenty River.
After Bill’s death his wife, Norma continued the work of the Sunday School with the help of some dedicated teachers. A young Keith Luxford, whose father played an old pump organ at the Holy Spirit, was one and the accompanying photograph sourced from his sister, Jean is a representation of the building as it appeared at this time. In this picture a little lean to weather board shack at the front can be seen. This was added to the unfinished west side of the building and is a sign perhaps of an intention to repurpose the building within its existing design limitations but also is an indication of post war building austerities. The lack of steps up to the door are however not further evidence of these building austerities but of the desperately poor situation of the homeless people temporarily housed at the nearby Watsonia Military Camp, (now Simpson Barracks) after the War. The Army Camp was used as Post War emergency accommodation in this era and the Church steps disappeared and needed to be replaced on what seemed like a semi regular basis, taken it was believed by nearby residents to be used as firewood.
Other than as a make shift source of kindling, the Church of the Holy Spirit found a variety of other uses throughout the 1950s as one of the few publically scaled buildings in the district. From 1953 it was used as the first meeting room of the Watsonia sub branch of the Returned Services League and on Friday nights that institution used it as a screening house for black and white movies of World War II, a subject still raw in peoples’ minds. On Saturday nights, dances and other social events were sometimes arranged and on week days Macleod State School used the building as an overflow classroom for the School’s Grades 3 and 4 in an attempt to cope with a Baby Boom surge in student numbers. On at least one occasion the Church was used as a venue for a fund raising fete in aid of a planned local kindergarten.
In spite of this activity, with housing development in the district concentrated around Macleod and Watsonia, by the end of the 1950s it had become apparent that the Church of the Holy Spirit, Yallambie was situated in the wrong location. The Reverend Richmond McCall, Th. L, Vicar of Diamond Creek and Greensborough arranged to vary the Deed of Trust and in 1959 the property was sold to the Neptune Oil Company. The proceeds of the sale allowed the Diocese to purchase a church site closer to the population centre of Watsonia near the rail station and construction of a new church, the Holy Spirit, Watsonia commenced.
This photograph shows a young Janine Schultz and her friend Janette on the lawn of the home Janine’s father built on the north corner of Yallambie and Greensborough Roads. The picture was taken in 1961, the year the Holy Spirit was torn down and the broken and empty windows of the building are just visible beyond their shoulders.
In 1948 Janine’s father, Fred Schultz had brought his wife and three children (later four) to live in a simple two room house he began building opposite the church. Fred became the Sunday School Superintendent at the Holy Spirit, (this task later superseded by John Andrews) and Fred’s intention had been to extend and develop his nearby home as the inclination took him and as post War materials and building resources became available. It wasn’t long however before the Melbourne and Metropolitan Board of Works announced plans to widen Greensborough Rd into a six lane highway and this rather took the wind out of the sails of his building ambitions. In 2019 the house Fred created still stands on the corner of Yallambie and Greensborough Roads, although given the threat posed by the conceived widening of Greensborough Rd, it was never completed on the planned scale.
70 years after this road threat was first posed and 60 years after the loss of the Church of the Holy Spirit, the building of the North East Link at last will see the final chapter played out. Chapter 19 of the North East Link’s Environmental Effects Statement features a whole section dedicated to identifying heritage sites impacted by the planned route. Many places are named including Aldermaston inside the Simpson Barracks, Banyule Homestead at Heidelberg, Heide, Clarendon Eyre and even the gate posts of the old Fairlea Women’s Prison. They all rate a mention. However the site of Yallambie’s first and only church, the foundations of which are still partly visible on open ground back from the Yallambie Rd corner, does not. Wragge probably believed that his bequest would lead to a church building that would still be standing at Yallambie in a hundred years but today most people have forgotten now that it ever even existed.
A Neptune Service Station occupied part of the site of the Church in the early 1960s before this was later replaced by the Shell Station that can be found there today. It is an irony that, given Thomas Wragge’s opposition to such machinery, it was a petrol station for motor vehicular transport that replaced his ambitiously conceived church and that it is a road for motor vehicle transport that will now replace the station.
What Thomas would have made of this story is anybody’s guess but my vote is for a bit of turning over in the grave.
“The Origins of the Church of the Holy Spirit in Yallambie and Watsonia, 1926 – 1990”, Peter Omond and Max Haustorfer, 1990
“Green and Growing, 150 years – Historical Snapshots of All Saints’ Anglican Church, Greensbough”, All Saints, 2005
Conversations and correspondence with Glenis Henderson, (née Schultz), Janine Wood, (née Schultz), Noel Withers, (GHS), Beth Jones, Jean Luxford.