Early History of Christ Church
In the late 1800s, the Anglican community of Palmerston (as Darwin was officially known until 1913) referred to itself as Christ Church, even though services were held in the town hall and the court house in the absence of a church building.
In 1899, concerned residents of Palmerston held a meeting to support the motion that a resident priest should be sought for the Anglican community. They guaranteed one-hundred-and-fifty pounds for his stipend.
Nothing eventuated until August 1900, when the largest diocese in the world came into being. The Diocese of Carpentaria included North Queensland, the Torres Strait Islands and the Northern Territory. Bishop Gilbert White was consecrated as its first bishop and, in February 1901, he made his first visit to Palmerston and the Territory.
He celebrated the first communion service recorded in Palmerston for 13 years. After services, a committee was set up to purchase a block of land for a church and to provide a rector’s stipend.
Bishop White instituted the Revd HP Gocher as the first Rector of the Parish of Palmerston on 22 December 1901 and at a subsequent general meeting it was decided to build a small church to accommodate about 100 people.
Construction of the church, except for the vestry which was added later, was completed three months after the laying of the foundation stone by Mr Justice Dashwood on 12 July 1902.
Mr Jolly presented the bell while the communion vessels were presented by Mr Dickinson.
Bishop White consecrated the little shale stone church on 2 November 1902 and later celebrated the Eucharist, attended by 81 people-an appreciable proportion of the small population.
An English benefactor, Miss Ridley, then offered a block of land for a rectory which was not actually built until 1917. However, in 1908, a marble and oak font, still in use today, was purchased in England and installed.
In 1913, Adelaide River, 110 km from the newly renamed town of Darwin, became the southern boundary of the parish which encompassed all land west of the railway line stretching south from Darwin. Previously the parish had extended to Pine Creek, about 220 km south of Darwin.
The records of visiting clergy during this period include “Deafy” the Revd William M. Wilkinson-who travelled through the diocese ministering to people in the outback. He could be thought of as the forerunner of the Bush Brotherhood ministry which later played a prominent part in the development of the new, and smaller, Northern Territory Diocese.
Missionary work also got under way after Bishop White invited the Victorian branch of the Church Missionary Society to send people to the Territory in 1907.
In 1908, the first missionaries went to Roper River and gradually the venture was extended to involve the CMS as a whole in supporting missions on Groote Eylandt in the Gulf of Carpentaria and at Oenpelli and Numbulwar, as well as the original Roper Mission, in Arnhem Land.
The need to supply Oenpelli by road, rather than by sea as with the other stations, led to the establishment of a CMS centre in Darwin.
Today, the role of the CMS has changed significantly, following the decision to relinquish the administration of the mission settlements in the late 1960s. However CMS people still act as advisors to the Aboriginal communities, while Aboriginal priests serve all Arnhem Land Anglican parishes.
From 1914, the building of Vestey’s meatworks brought more workers to Darwin, with a consequent increase in parish numbers and income. The effect was short-lived, however, as the completion of the meatworks and the enlistment of men to fight in World War I soon reduced the population considerably.
Two parishioners who died in battle were commemorated by brass plaques placed in the church in 1918. Both plaques-recovered from the rubble of the building after Cyclone Tracy-are now mounted in the porch.
Meanwhile, Bishop Newton had succeeded Gilbert White as Bishop of Carpentaria in 1915.
Before leaving to become Bishop of New Guinea, Bishop Newton recommended that a bishop with bush experience should be chosen to replace him in the Northern Territory.
Thus Stephen Harris Davies-head of the Brotherhood of St Paul in Charleville-was consecrated Bishop of Carpentaria in 1922.
In 1926, a Mrs Waters made a welcome offer to build a tennis court in the church grounds in memory of her husband. She later donated the lectern-dedicated in 1936-as a further memorial. In the same year, a Byzantine-style crucifix, candlesticks and the chalice and paten were also dedicated, in memory of Bishop Gilbert White.
The candlesticks were not recovered after Cyclone Tracy, but the Byzantine cross now is in safe keeping in the Cathedral sacristy. The lectern was recovered, shortened, and is once again in use.
World War II
With war looming, plans for a new church were deferred as it was rumoured that the naval authorities intended to requisition the land in front of the existing building. In April 1939, Bishop Davies was able to confirm that a requisition order had been received and another site was purchased for the construction of a new church and rectory. Six months later, however, the requisition order was revoked.
After war broke out with Japan in December 1941, women and children were evacuated from Darwin and, during the following year, Christ Church became a garrison church serving the big influx of servicemen.
Because invasion seemed imminent, all church records and valuables were trucked to Alice Springs for safety. Slit trenches were dug in the church grounds.
In the severe air raid of 19 February 1942, the church was hit by a bomb that landed at the back of the vestry, blasting out the windows and riddling the roof and walls with shrapnel.
Neither did the church escape the looting that followed the devastation of the town. Pews were upended, the kneelers were split open and the brass missal-stand was used as a lever to break open the vestry cupboards. The Navy, which later used the rectory as a sick bay, repaired the damage to both buildings with help from the other services.
While there are no church records covering the period between April 1942 and September 1944, it is known that services were conducted in the garrison church by the various chaplains who were in Darwin.
In 1944, the Royal Navy added the porch to the church and the army built the entrance gate ‘as a tribute to the Church and the memory of those members of all Services who died while on active service in the Territory during the Second World War’.
The Post-War Years
Following victory in Europe in May 1945, Padre Guy of the RAAF began taking regular services at Christ Church and he was appointed rector by Bishop Davies in June 1946.
The next year, he was replaced by Fr AS Smith and regular services began in the suburbs of Parap and Nightcliff.
In 1950, John Hudson-formerly Principal of the Brotherhood of the Good Shepherd, based in Dubbo, New South Wales-was consecrated as the fourth Bishop of Carpentaria.
In Darwin, Fr Albert Haley-rector from 1952 to 1955-was succeeded by Fr Jones who stayed until 1958.
The Revd Barry Butler first came to the area in 1953 as a missionary at Ngukurr and Numbulwar and worked there until 1964. After a period spent in the south, he returned to Darwin in 1963 and, in addition to his mission work with Aborigines, he became a Canon of the Diocese of Carpentaria.
Now a Canon of the Diocese of the Northern Territory, his major concern is still for the Aboriginal people. Although ‘retired’ he still teaches at Nungalinya College and is active in many other areas.
On Ascension Day 1957, Brother Leslie, Principal of the Brotherhood of the Good Shepherd, accompanied by Brother Francis, left Dubbo to drive to the Territory. After establishing the ministry of the Brotherhood in the NT, Brother Leslie returned to Dubbo, leaving Brother Francis at Tennant Creek where he remained as the Revd Francis Neubecker until 1962.
Another member of the order, Brother Hamish (Hamish Jamieson), spent a brief period in Darwin before going to Katherine. After leaving the Brotherhood to marry, he returned to Darwin in 1962 and, the following year, he became a Canon of the Diocese of Carpentaria.
His work as a chaplain to the navy in Darwin led him to become a full-time naval chaplain when he left in January 1967. He later became Bishop of Carpentaria (1974-84) and subsequently Bishop of Bunbury.
In 1965, the stone wall fronting Smith Street was reconstructed by the RSSAILA. A new commemorative brass plaque and the original one were mounted on the side wall of the gateway.
Tony Mathews, son of the then Bishop of Carpentaria, was a curate in Darwin from 1963 until, in 1966, he became Chaplain Aerial Mission and Rector of Normanton in the Queensland part of the diocese. He was made an Honorary Canon in 1970, Archdeacon in 1977 and, in 1984, he followed in his father’s footsteps as Bishop of Carpentaria.
John Seering Mathews, who had become Bishop in October 1960, played a very active part in moves to establish a separate Diocese of the Northern Territory.
Stationed on Thursday Island and well aware of the difficulties of travel to, and communication with, the Territory, he greatly wished to convince the Australian Church of the impracticability of the huge Carpentaria Diocese.
Eventually, the Australian Church saw fit to promise financial support-which was continued for 10 years for the establishment of the new diocese; and its constitution was drafted by the Territory’s resident judge, Justice Richard Blackburn, who was an active member of the Christ Church congregation.
In 1968, at St John’s Cathedral in Brisbane, Kenneth Bruce Mason was consecrated as the first Bishop of the Northern Territory. As Brother Aidan of the Brotherhood of the Good Shepherd, he had been priest-in-charge in Darwin from December 1958 until he became Rector of Alice Springs at the end of 1961.
The Revd Gerald Muston was here during the establishment of the new diocese and became Archdeacon of the Northern Territory before being appointed National Secretary of Bush Church Aid in Sydney. He went on to become Bishop Coadjutor of Melbourne in 1971 and Bishop of the North West in 1982.
For a period, Christ Church was without a permanent rector and Donald Edgar, a worker priest, acted in the position for nine months. After the arrival of Fr Brian McGowan in 1970, he went to Gove as a labourer and established the first regular Anglican services there. He later returned to Darwin where he was Honorary Curate at Christ Church Cathedral until his departure in 1973.
Other curates during this period were Robert Holland and Peter Harrison.
In 1974, the Revd Clyde Wood became rector when Canon McGowan moved to Fremantle.
On Christmas Eve, Cyclone Tracy bore down on Darwin.
Devastation and Renewal
About an hour after the midnight service, the church-along with much of the City of Darwin-was rubble. Only the porch was left standing and the church hall was gone. So was the new rectory, built in 1970, and the old rectory, dating from 1917, then the home of the curate, Bruce Byfield, and his wife of a few weeks.
With the church in ruins, regular Sunday and weekday services recommenced in the United (now Uniting) Church building in January 1975. In return, the Anglican Church was able to offer the United Church the use of the damaged but usable St Peter’s at Nightcliff.
During the clearing up work at Christ Church, local historian and long-time church warden, Peter Spillett, recovered the pieces of the rector’s chair for reconstruction. He later prepared the time capsule placed in the narthex of the new cathedral by the then Prime Minister’s wife, Mrs Tammie Fraser, on 29 May 1976.
The small set of communion vessels given by Tas Graham and family in memory of Alice L. Graham had been left on the altar after the midnight Eucharist. Badly dented when they were buried under the rubble, they were repaired and are again in use.
The large ornate chalice given in memory of Bishop White and a ciborium presented in memory of Ivy Maynard were recovered unharmed from the vestry cupboard. A second large matching chalice and ciborium given in memory of Eric Nuttal were also found undamaged.
As Darwin recovered from the trauma of Cyclone Tracy. planning for a new cathedral complex was undertaken by a committee headed by Bishop Mason.
It was decided to incorporate the porch-the only surviving part of the old church-into the cathedral, and stone was salvaged from the ruins to form the back wall of the striking new octagonal building. The design included parish and diocesan offices, a social centre (the Harbour Room) and a rectory-all in landscaped surroundings of carefully selected shrubs and trees.
While services continued in the United Church building, the site for the new Christ Church was cleared, and construction-which took a year-began. In August 1976, the foundation stone was laid by the Primate, Archbishop Frank Woods.
On Sunday 13 March 1977 in the presence of the Archbishop of Canterbury Christ Church Cathedral was consecrated. It was a day of triumph and contrasts, combining solemnity and festivity, ritual and informality. It was an end and a beginning.
A few weeks later, Queen Elizabeth II and the Duke of Edinburgh visited the new cathedral. The Queen’s signature is among those recorded in a special visitors’ book commemorating the consecration and the royal visit.
Since the Cyclone
Clyde Wood remained dean until 18 Oct 1983 when he was consecrated as the second Bishop of the Northern Territory.
The Very Revd Murray Johnson became locum dean in September 1983 and was appointed dean in his own right in November 1983. He served until June 1992 when he was succeeded by the Very Revd Michael Chiplin. Dean Michael served until 1997 when he was succeeded by the Very Revd Dennis Vanderwolf (1998-2000). The Rev’d Keith Elvish was locum rector in 2000 and 2001, followed by Canon Barry Butler, also locum 2002-2003. The Very Revd Michael Nixon was dean from 2003 until 2007. Our current dean is the Very Revd Jeremy Greaves.