CHURCH HISTORY

The Bulimba Uniting Church was originally opened as a Primitive Methodist Church in 1866. It was the first church built in the Bulimba district and, with the front extensions completed in 1926, has served as a focus for community worship for 145 years.

European occupation of the Bulimba area dates from the late 1840s when David McConnell built Bulimba House on the 121 acres of Bulimba Point purchased shortly after Moreton Bay was opened to free settlement in 1842.   By the 1850s the McConnells and their employees were joined by other scrub farms owned by the Johnston, Thorpe Riding, Watts, Smith and Challenger families. While the McConnells hosted early educational classes and religious services in their home, the first Primitive Methodist Congregation met "in the shade of a large tree which stood midway between the Bulimba Ferry and the site of the present church" and also temporarily in a tent.

During the 1860s the European population at Bulimba increased with further sales of land. Allotments originally granted to McConnell, Johnston and Thorpe Riding were subdivided and sold from 1865. William Thorpe Riding donated the land on which the Uniting Church now stands as a site for a church. William Thorpe Riding and his wife, who both died in 1877 are buried in the grounds of the church.

The original rear part of the church was opened on Good Friday, 30 March 1866. Good Friday was not regarded by the congregation as a day of worship so the opening ceremony was held as a meeting. Mr W. Payne presided at the meeting which was also attended by Rev Joseph Buckle, who had held the first services in the district assisted by Mr Payne. About 200 people attended the opening including prominent laymen. The Brisbane Courier commented at the time that the new Primitive Methodist Church "is a neat edifice, and a credit to the district and to the denomination who own it."

The church was originally established as a branch of Leichhardt Street circuit which at the time was the only Primitive Methodist Circuit in Brisbane. Later the Bulimba Church with the Brunswick Street Church formed the New Farm circuit until 1913 when the Balmoral circuit, comprising churches at Morningside, Tingalpa and Bulimba was formed.

The residential development of the district evident in the formation of these nearby churches, also placed increased demands on the Bulimba Church. In the 1920s the growth in the population, and especially the number of young people, necessitated the enlargement of the old church. For the sixtieth anniversary in 1926 a large two storeyed building was added at the front of the original church. The Methodist Times reported that the extension "is of attractive design, adding considerably to the design of the church". Its lower storey was used as a kindergarten, while the upper storey provided an enlarged church. The additions cost £1600, the debt being reduced to £140 by 1936 despite the Depression of the 1930s. The extensions were made possible by the acquisition of adjacent land at both sides of the church and were opened by Mrs. Moses Ward, a descendant of Thorpe Riding.

In 1928 a parsonage at Emerald Hill was removed to a position near the church and re-erected at a cost of £1000, including furnishings. The Bulimba Methodist congregation embraced the 1977 union of the Presbyterian and Methodist churches and the building is now a Uniting Church continuing to serve as a focus for the local community.

Some Early Historical Notes on the Bulimba Uniting Church

The following composition is from various sources, including:

  • A church-issued brochure, author unknown, circa 1968, titled, "A Memorial to the Pioneers of the Bulimba District", showing an architect's impression of a proposed new complex on the present site of the Bulimba Uniting Church. (This construction never began.)

  • Material gleaned from a newspaper article (original copy), "Seventy Years of History", Brisbane Telegraph Tuesday Evening May 19, 1936.

Early Days - Modern Ways

In 1857, before Queensland became a State, land was opened for selection at the Brisbane Police Office, in the Parishes of Bulimba, Nundah, Toombul and Tingalpa. Lots ranged from 20 to 100 acres. Aborigines still camped on sites which were about to become the lower end of Brisbane Street and the Riding Road areas of Bulimba.

In what we understand today as a near total ignorance of aboriginal culture and spirituality, our early settlers found time and interest enough to feel a sense of religious responsibility for themselves and their children.

Prior to the construction of any church, people regularly met for worship under a prominent tree situated between the current Bulimba Uniting Church site and the Oxford Street ferry. (see picture) The Brisbane Telegraph, perhaps with some licence, describes those early services as "hearty and helpful", while being subject to the influences of the weather. The Methodist church brochure, circa 1968, describes these early meetings as, "Sunday School under the trees".

 

 

 

 

 

 

Picture - Octogenarian, Mrs Alma Lynch at the location in Birkalla Street, off Oxford Street, where early settlers met for worship during the 1800's under a prominent tree, no longer in existence. This location was indicated to Mrs Lynch as a little girl by her mother, Florence Ruth Blyth (nee Thomas). Mrs Blyth was born in Queen Street, (now Wambool Street), Bulimba.

The early settlers were farmers, grain and small crops mostly to begin with. They were not part of any of the Episcopal churches at that time. [How this group grew into dominance with Methodism is still unclear.] Interestingly, those ecumenical circumstances still hold with the Bulimba Uniting Church today.

Now with lifestyle, and the means of earning a living dramatically changed, this Bulimba church still sets a strong focus on teaching the young with an ecumenical freedom. While the church is clearly a Uniting Church in its practices and characteristics, denominational backgrounds, if any, don't matter much today for those who gather for worship at this church.

Bulimba's First Developer

Local initiative to build a church soon followed from these early gatherings, and the likely desire to shelter from the weather. Prominent amongst those for this scheme was William Thorpe Riding.

"Thorpe" Riding had purchased and sub-divided tracts of land in this district. Bulimba's first developer. He donated a block of land on which to build this church. Steeply sloping, this land was probably unsuitable for the agricultural purposes of the day. Now in a world of altered values and applications, ironically this land is prime real estate.

Riding and his wife Sarah, arrived in Australia in 1849 under the immigrants scheme of Rev Dr John Dunmore Lang. They were followed by other members of the Riding family through the 1860's. During that time, construction of the church began with the first sod being turned jointly by Edward Crouch and his wife Elizabeth.

Unsurprisingly perhaps, that the Crouch's were laid to rest later within the soil they had first turned; he on 20th April 1880, and she on 17th February 1916. However, with further church extensions, their headstones were removed to Bulimba Cemetery where they remain.

Riding and his wife, both died in 1877. They too, were buried in the church grounds; there being no local cemetery at the time. Today, the Ridings' joint, obeliscal gravesite, thoughtfully situated on the hill slope above the church, overlooks the roadway bearing their name, now with its busy roundabout.

A New Church

Good Friday 1866, the Bulimba Primitive Methodist Church was opened by Rev Joseph Buckle. It was hardly a day of great worship. In those times, Good Friday was not celebrated by the churches, like it is today.

The function was a "tea meeting" advertised in that day's edition of The Brisbane Courier. The purchase of a ticket entitled each bearer to all transport and meal costs. Translink precepts operated even then.

 

Facsimile - Courtesy of the John Oxley Memorial Library, Brisbane.

A second article also appeared in The Brisbane Courier that Friday. It was a reported notice, emphasizing the vehicular transport available, departing from the Primitive Methodist Church, of inner central Brisbane. The collective nature and wording of these articles suggest some prominence of the event within the Brisbane.

Facsimile - Courtesy of the John Oxley Memorial Library, Brisbane.

The Saturday's edition of the newspaper, the day after the event, states Mr William Payne presided over the public meeting, following the opening. Speakers included the Rev Buckle and a number of lay persons.

A careful search of John Oxley Library archives indicates no record of those speeches was either recorded or kept. It seems their words drifted out into the open air, absorbed by the towering eucalypts and surrounding bushland, soon cleared in the years to follow.

 

Facsimile - Courtesy of the John Oxley Memorial Library, Brisbane.

The article describes the church structure as a "neat edifice". Its design must have held some kind of local, architectural appeal. The School of Arts structure, built later on the corner of Riding Road adjacent the church, bore such a striking resemblance, that at least one archival photograph of the School of Arts has been mistaken for the church.

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