PRESERVING SOUTHPORT'S LEGACY: UNVEILING THE ONLINE BOOKLET OF 'A HISTORY OF THE SOUTHPORT UNITING PARISH'


The removal of the cross at the Southport Uniting Church 27 August 2023.
Cnr. Short & Scarborough Streets, Southport.
Image provided by Robyn Short on monumentaustralia.org.au.

"The farther backward you can look, the farther forward you are likely to see." - Winston Churchill

Let's travel back in time to explore the fascinating history of Southport as we uncover the stories embedded in its historic fabric. This blog post is your guide to understanding the journey of the Southport Uniting Church, from its diverse beginnings to the challenges it faces today. We'll unravel how different churches came together, delve into the transition to the Uniting Church, and shed light on the pressing need to preserve Southport's unique history.  Kindly be aware that the anticipated reading time for this page is around 25-30 minutes.

Southport, a Gold Coast town rich in history, has officially recorded its past by archiving a copy online of the booklet "A history of the Congregational Methodist and Presbyterian churches in Southport and environs : leading up to the inauguration of the Southport Uniting Parish / R. W. Holt, published 1978" [1] in digital format. This article not only honours the town's historical significance but also unveils the path that culminated in the formation of the Southport Uniting Parish. The booklet is also accessible via Trove for borrowing at the City of Gold Coast Libraries [2].

I would like to extend my appreciation to Mr. R.W. Holt, the editor of the 1978 booklet, Ms. Fran Murr, a dedicated member of the Southport Congregation for over 50 years, whose family served as the chairman of the original 1975 mission committee. Additionally, I express my gratitude to Ms. Robyn Short, the daughter of Bill Short, whose family played a crucial role in the church's construction. The Short family also contributed the Bill Short Memorial Stained Glass Window and has been actively involved in the church since 1933. Their invaluable contributions to the church, my research and the development of this piece, through active participation in document production and discussions, are truly appreciated. 

Delving into the Pages of History:
The newly available online booklet opens the doors to Southport's past, chronicling the stories of the Congregational, Methodist, and Presbyterian Churches from 1877 - 1974. The detailed narrative unfolds the historical tapestry of these churches and their evolution, providing readers with a comprehensive understanding of the religious, social, and cultural fabric that shaped Southport.

Southport's Collaborative Spirit:
At the heart of this historical account is the tale of collaboration. The Southport Uniting Parish [3] is the result of the cooperative efforts of the Congregational, Methodist, and Presbyterian Churches. The booklet explores how these denominations, each with its unique history, came together to create a unified approach to Christian ministry in response to the changing dynamics of the Southport community.

Transition to Uniting Church:
The booklet outlines the constitutional transition of the Southport Co-operative Parish to the Uniting Church in 1977. It narrates the steps taken to set up the requirements for the constitution and the celebrations leading up to the official formation of the Uniting Church in Australia. This historical moment is celebrated as a culmination of efforts towards unity among the three denominations.

The Uniting Church in Australia Act 1977:
The Act [4] enables the Uniting Church in Australia's formation. It empowers three churches to merge and outlines property transfer rules. The Act further outlined provisions for the transfer of assets, designating the formation of the Uniting Church Trust. Entrusted with the management of properties held by the merging churches, this trust was mandated to oversee these assets for the collective benefit of the newly formed Uniting Church.

Preserving Southport's Heritage:
The release of this historical booklet online is not just an act of documentation; it is a crucial step in preserving Southport's heritage. By making this valuable resource accessible online, the town ensures that current and future generations can explore and appreciate the foundations from which Southport has grown.

Tony Moore reported in August 2015 that the neglect of architecture and heritage in the Gold Coast [5] underscores the urgent need to reassess and value the town's historical and cultural treasures. The commonly held belief that the Gold Coast abruptly emerged in the 1950s oversimplifies its intricate and more profound history. Architect Greg Ewart, leading the inaugural Open House scheme on the Gold Coast, sought to challenge these misconceptions by featuring 21 thoughtfully selected venues, buildings, and mansions that encompass the entirety of the town's built environment. The initiative, that began on October 17, 2015, Open House program [6], served as a pivotal moment to debunk stereotypes and showcase the town's architectural and cultural wealth. By illuminating structures ranging from venerable landmarks like The Southport School and Southport Uniting Church (listed as #17) to contemporary wonders like Bond University's Abedian School of Architecture, the effort hoped to reshape public perception and instill a renewed sense of pride in the Gold Coast's heritage. Preserving this architectural narrative becomes paramount, not only to dispel unfounded judgments but also to nurture a genuine connection between the community and its multifaceted historical fabric.

Challenges in Heritage Conservation:
Even more alarming after reading Moore's story is the fact that, following a thorough search of the Queensland Heritage Register in November 2023, we failed to identify any churches specifically listed on the Gold Coast. Likewise, there are only two entries apparent on the Gold Coast City Council Local Heritage Register being St Augustine’s Church, Coolangatta & St Margaret's Chapel, Bundall. I wonder whether the decision not to include churches in the heritage register is influenced by the property trusts linked to church denominations. Their aim could be to avoid potential complications in the event their assets need to be sold or become obsolete, as exemplified by the recent sale of the Ashgrove Methodist church below.

The Southport Urban Heritage and Character Strategy Review October 2010 report [7] highlights obstacles in safeguarding Southports heritage, pointing out problems in past regulations and dependence on external lists for conservation efforts. Page 77 of the report specifically mentions the Southport Uniting Church. Considering Southport's designation as a Principle Activity Centre and its link to the Gold Coast Rapid Transit, the report acknowledges the possibility of conflicts arising in the realm of heritage conservation.

Sale of Uniting Church Assets in Queensland:
In the ever-evolving landscape of heritage preservation, a recent judicial decision regarding the Ashgrove Methodist Church AKA Ashgrove Uniting Church [8] has stirred contemplation on the delicate balance between architectural uniqueness and the criteria for heritage significance. The judgment, handed down on October 17, 2023, after a hearing held on June 22, 2022, has broader implications, particularly concerning buildings with distinctive A-frame designs. The court's choice not to list the Ashgrove church on the Queensland Heritage Register has sparked concerns, echoing implications for structures that share similarities, notably the Southport Uniting Church. The Historic church now faces demolition for a childcare centre [9]. 

The intricacies of the judgment shed light on critical factors influencing heritage considerations, such as visual attributes, landmark quality, symbolic meaning, intactness, and contribution to the streetscape. This decision prompts a reevaluation of how future heritage listings may be shaped, particularly for structures reminiscent of those mentioned in the judgment, including the Southport Uniting Church.

The Southport Methodist Church (former) is referenced in the court judgment as one of the 18 churches, which states, "The Ashgrove Church was one of the A-Frame Methodist churches from the period, which included Holland Park Methodist (1962), Southport Methodist (1964), Lindum Methodist (1963), and Beachmere Methodist (1969). Other A-Frame churches of different denominations during the same era include Mt Isa Presbyterian (1960), St Peters Catholic Church, Halifax (1960), Indooroopilly Presbyterian (1960), St Andrews Presbyterian Memorial Church, Innisfail (1961), Immanuel Lutheran Maroochydore (1962), Stuartholme Catholic Girls School Chapel, Toowong (1961), Lindum Methodist (1963), Holy Cross Catholic Church (1964), Our Lady of Mt Carmel Catholic, Coorparoo (1962), St Alban’s Church of England, Yarrabah (1961), St Johns Lutheran Toowoomba (1964), St Peter’s Lutheran, Petrie (1965), Trinity Lutheran, Chinchilla (1969), and Deagon Seventh Day Adventist (1969)".

The Urgency of Safeguarding the Southport Uniting Church:
As the Uniting Church in Australia undergoes changes, with the selling off and redeveloping church assets, the significance of preserving heritage-rich structures like the Southport Uniting Church becomes pronounced. The court's emphasis on the importance of visibility, cultural representation, and aesthetic evaluation underscores the need to champion the safeguarding of historical and architecturally significant buildings. The Southport Uniting Church, with its unique A-frame war memorial design, stands at the intersection of history and the present, prompting a reflection on the importance of its protection to maintain the cultural tapestry of the region. This judgment serves as a call to action, urging the community to recognize and advocate for the preservation of structures that contribute to the identity and heritage of our communities.

The Southport Uniting Memorial Church:
The Southport Uniting Memorial Church stands as a solemn tribute to those who served in World War One and World War Two. Formerly known as the Southport Methodist Church and rechristened the Southport Uniting Memorial Church in 1977, this sacred space holds the memories of the fallen, commemorated through a poignant stained glass window that pays homage to all who served.

The church, originally dedicated in December 1926, has witnessed decades of history unfold within its walls. Designed by Douglas & Barnes and constructed by W. G. Short Building & Contracting (QLD), the Southport Uniting Memorial Church is not just a structure; it is a living monument, a testament to the sacrifices made by brave individuals during times of conflict.

Located at the intersection of Short and Scarborough Streets in Southport, Queensland, the church's GPS coordinates (Lat: -27.970241, Long: 153.415149) mark a point of historical significance. Its role as a memorial structure is underscored by the dedication ceremony held on July 18th, 1964. The front inscription on a commemorative plaque [10] located in the columbarium, set by the Rev. J. Tulip. L. Th., President of the Queensland Conference, eloquently states:

"Southport Methodist War Memorial Church

In memory of the fallen and all who served in World Wars I & II

This stone was set by the Rev. J. Tulip. L. Th. President of the Queensland Conference on July 18th, 1964.

Rev. T. C. Toft. L. Th."

As time marches forward, the Southport Uniting Memorial Church remains a beacon of remembrance, inviting visitors to reflect on the profound impact of war and the courage displayed by those who answered the call of duty. Through its architecture, the church tells a story of honor, sacrifice, and the enduring spirit of a community united in both faith and commemoration.

A time capsule is embedded in the columbarium wall to mark the 25th anniversary of the Uniting Church in Australia. This capsule contains memorabilia relevant to the Southport Church and is scheduled to be opened in 2027, coinciding with the UCA's 50th anniversary.

Image provided by Robyn Short

The Significance of the Bill Short Memorial Stained Glass Window:
The Stained Glass Window [11], meticulously crafted by Glenn Mack Studio in Daylesford, stands as a radiant tribute in the sanctuary of the Southport Uniting Church, dedicated to the Glory of God. The design, skillfully conceptualized to embody the theme of PEACE, features background panes of colored glass painted and fired with a subtle patina of permanent glass enamel to mitigate sunlight glare. The central 'Creation' medallion, adorned against the cross, portrays a scene of harmony and peace unfolding through the divine influence of the Holy Spirit, symbolizing the genesis of the heavens, earth, sea, plants, and animals. This poignant imagery also serves as a homage to the armed forces, with pelicans, dolphins, a subtropical forest, and the Dove symbolizing various branches of service. The circle bears the uplifting words of Jesus, "MY PEACE I GIVE UNTO YOU," atop, while the lower part carries the noble inscription, "TO HONOUR ALL WHO SERVED," commemorating the selfless dedication of those who have safeguarded peace. The inclusion of indigenous plants further ties the artwork to the distinctive landscape of Southport and its hinterland, creating a powerful symbol of remembrance and gratitude within the church's sacred space.

Call to Explore:
Friends this is an invitation for you to explore this captivating history. Whether a resident, a history enthusiast, or someone with a connection to Southport, the digital availability of this booklet opens avenues for learning, understanding, and cherishing the unique history of Southport and its Uniting Parish. In unveiling this online booklet, Southport takes a stride in preserving its history and ensuring that the legacy of its historical buildings and churches continues to thrive in the digital age.

The Genesis of Unity:
In the mid-20th century, visionary leaders such as Reverend J.W. Evans, Reverend C.K. Kay, and Reverend R.J. Skippen, along with committed laypersons including Mr. Russ Murr, embarked on a journey to unite the Congregational, Methodist, and Presbyterian Churches in Southport. Their shared vision led to the formal establishment of the Southport Co-operative Parish in July 1974, setting the stage for a unique blend of denominations.

Paradise Point: A Collaborative Endeavor:
The inception of the Southport Uniting Parish marked more than just spiritual unity; it gave rise to a tangible symbol of collaboration — the Worship and Christian Education Centre in Paradise Point. This architectural marvel, planned by dedicated architect and church member Mr. A. Cawthorn, was brought to life by builder Mr. H. Wockner at a cost of $57,263. The funds for this ambitious project were made possible through generous donations from each denominational authority, with the Congregational, Methodist, and Presbyterian Churches sharing equally in the financial commitment.

The dedication ceremony on a rainy afternoon on October 31, 1976, attended by over 200 people, marked not only the official opening of the centre but also a celebration of unity that transcended physical boundaries.

Blue Nursing Service: Caring Hands, Shared Compassion:
Embedded in the Southport Uniting Parish's commitment to community welfare is the Blue Nursing Service. In 1956, the humble Home Visiting Service took root, growing to include the "Greenhaven" Hospital for the aged sick. Mr. W.H. Green, inspired by the work of his son-in-law Reverend Arthur Preston, played a pivotal role in the service's establishment. Over the years, donations from private and public sources, as well as substantial support from service clubs like the Lions Club of Surfers Paradise, contributed to the success and expansion of this compassionate outreach program.

The Blue Nursing Service became BlueCare in 1999 [12] to reflect the organization's expanded range of services, which now includes residential aged care, community care, retirement living, and disability support. The name BlueCare was chosen to convey the organization's commitment to providing high-quality care to people in need.

Continued Growth, Development & Challenges:
The Southport Uniting Church persists by adjusting to the changing demands of the local community. Its mission, founded in a mutual dedication to Christian ministry, inclusiveness, and pastoral support, has empowered the church to meet a broad spectrum of needs and foster a sense of solidarity among the different denominations in Southport. 

Citations:

[1]  https://drive.google.com/file/d/1c1UAWGKfYP0r7AX7Z-OywqRcVix4syox/view?usp=sharing

[2] https://trove.nla.gov.au/work/234598452

[3] https://www.southportunitingchurch.org.au/

[4] https://www.legislation.qld.gov.au/view/pdf/inforce/current/act-1977-ucaa

[5] https://www.brisbanetimes.com.au/national/queensland/gold-coast-has-unfair-reputation-of-ignoring-architecture-and-heritage-architect-20150819-gj2z3f.html

[6] ibid

[7] https://www.goldcoast.qld.gov.au/files/sharedassets/public/v/2/pdfs/urban-design/southport-urban-heritage-character-strategy-review.pdf

[8] https://www.queenslandjudgments.com.au/caselaw/qpec/2023/40

[9] https://www.couriermail.com.au/questnews/southwest/historic-church-to-be-razed-for-suburbs-19th-childcare-centre/news-story/d6715f6871a648221d131f7d413d3675#:

[10] https://monumentaustralia.org.au/themes/conflict/multiple/display/110442-southport-methodist-war-memorial-church

[11] https://www.southportunitingchurch.org.au/stained-glass-window/

[12] https://www.bluecare.org.au/about-us/our-history

[13] https://www.southportunitingchurch.org.au/blue-cross/

[14] https://www.goldcoast.qld.gov.au/files/sharedassets/public/v/5/pdfs/forms-amp-applications/proposing-place-for-entry-local-heritage-register.pdf

[15] https://www.gofundme.com/f/southport-uniting-church-cross-restoration?utm_campaign=p_lico+share-sheet&utm_medium=copy_link&utm_source=customer

[16] https://vimeo.com/884187584

[17] https://uniting.church/qld-synod-37-renewal/
[18] https://www.southmoreton.org.au/?page_id=1592

[19] http://sarang4gc.creatorlink.net/

[20] https://drive.google.com/file/d/1BGWwUhpu2uRQ6AXg6VBYVFYEG6GZ1AI6/view?usp=sharing

[23] https://ucaqld.com.au/contact-us/complaints/

[24] https://uniting.church/respondingtocensus2021/#:~:text=The%20Uniting%20Church%20experienced%20a,identify%20with%20the%20Uniting%20Church.

[25] https://www.southportunitingchurch.org.au/visions-and-core-values/

[26] https://www.pcq.org.au/pcq-capital-fund.php

Additional links related to my research & Southport Uniting Church:
[27] Newspaper Clippings: https://trove.nla.gov.au/newspaper/article/133767998
[28] History of Clergy: https://www.churchhistories.net.au/church-catalog/southport-qld-uniting
[29] Permission to speak, please: https://journeyonline.com.au/local-church-news/permission-to-speak-please/

Disclaimer:
The booklet mentioned in this article was published in 1978 and is not subject to copyright. It is being shared for educational and research purposes and is being made available online for the purpose of preserving historical information and promoting research. I believe this use falls under the fair dealing doctrine of Australian law.  The viewpoints presented are exclusively my own and do not reflect the perspectives or opinions of those referenced. If you have any questions or concerns, please contact me at shane@universalchurch.org.au. 

Blog entry authored by Shane St. Reynolds, from a fourth-generation family of the Gold Coast, Christian, and Southport-born author.