Showing posts with label Hamilton historic buildings. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Hamilton historic buildings. Show all posts

Saturday, 5 December 2015

A discovery place - Hamilton Public School

My first impression was of some kind of a discovery garden - but it is a public primary school. Buildings are plain and functional and there is plenty of paving, but what catches my eye are the creative touches everywhere. A huge funky chair balances high above the entrance gate in Samdon Street, and colourful hand painted signposts are immediately helpful to the visitor.

Many of the bright signs around the school were created by a student, Memphis

When David Jack took up the post of Principal of Hamilton Public School in 2006, he decided something had to be done about the state of the grounds. After consultation with parents, staff and students a six year school improvement plan was developed.

‘I wanted people to feel that this is a positive and creative place, the moment they enter the school,’ he says.

Hamilton Public School is blessed with large surrounds and David immediately saw their potential. His philosophy is that a school is living history – not just because of its past development, but because everything that has happened, or been made, or built in a school is someone’s contribution.

David believes that naming and honouring these things help students understand that history is being created every day – including today – and we are all part of it.

In the lead up to the Hamilton Public School’s 150th Anniversary in 2009, a history walk was created, beginning at the Samdon Street entrance. One by one, on either side of the path, nestled among the plants, fourteen simple plaques reveal milestones in the life of the school. They begin in 1858, with the opening of the Pit Town School.

(Click on each image to enlarge and read the text)

A small group of students who were finding school challenging were enlisted to do the research. Their names are on the plaques too - Zach, Nathaniel, Ariel.

Each school milestone has been set against a point of interest within Australia’s larger story. Included are events such as the re-naming of ‘Ayres Rock’ in 1873 after the South Australian Premier Henry Ayres, when it had been known as Uluru for thousands of years -

the first military aircraft to be flown in Australia –


the building of wartime trenches in Gregson Park -

and the Newcastle Knights' first Premiership win in 1997.

Noted too are the founding of the airline that would become Qantas, Don Bradman’s first test century, the Newcastle earthquake, the election of Anna Bligh as Queensland’s first elected female Premier – and many more fascinating events linked to school milestones.

Elsewhere in the school, the experiences of past students have been honoured, as seen on this plaque by Gladys Reardon-Estell. She was a student from 1927-1932.

The work of the General Assistant in taking care of the school site is acknowledged –

parents and school staff - 

and the school cleaners.

Programs no longer offered like ‘Parents as Teachers’, and ‘Community Languages’ are remembered. During the 1970s and 1980s, Hamilton’s multicultural heritage was reflected by the attendance of students from 26 different nationalities.

Evidence of recycling can be found throughout the school. David Jack seems as if he is just as comfortable behind a desk as hooking a trailer onto his car and heading out to collect some fence palings destined for the tip - if he doesn’t get to them first.

‘We had a saying,’ he tells me, ‘do we have something here that we can use, before we go to Bunnings?’

David Jack checks out the Bike Shed, 2015 
He was Principal, Hamilton Public School 2006-2013

The students helped, often sourcing materials for the school, like these rocks in the vegetable garden.

Heritage can take many forms. Buildings are important; so too are the ways in which we claim our cultural identity.

As so many students, their families and staff have been involved in co-creating their school, David told me, very little vandalism has occurred. Co-creators have become co-owners.

The legacy David Jack has left Hamilton Public School is in plain sight, all around.

It’s there in the way he has encouraged the recording of the school’s living history.

It’s there in the way he has led by example - inspiring, engaging, and valuing everyone who is part of the school community.

That legacy is now part of the cultural heritage of Hamilton Public School.

 Hamilton Public School, Denison Street entrance, late 1800s
This building was damaged by fire and later demolished 
Photograph by Ralph Snowball, courtesy of Newcastle Region Library


My thanks to David Jack for opening the door for me to the history of Hamilton Public School, and to Rev. Andrew Dodd for the introduction. Thank you also to Craig Smith (@wrenasmir) for photographing the history walk plaques at the entrance.

Thursday, 3 September 2015

Hamilton Baptist Church

It seems only natural that the early Hamilton Baptist Church would conduct its Christmas Day service on a summer evening in the much-loved Gregson Park. After all, the Church is directly opposite, at 108 Lindsay Street, where it has been since 1929. Historical church records refer to this as ‘our tradition.’

Fast forward to December, 2014. Hundreds of people are surging into the same park with their rugs and picnic baskets to celebrate Christmas in what is becoming a modern day tradition - Carols in Gregson Park.

When Andrew Dodd became Pastor of Hamilton Baptist Church in 2003, he immediately saw the potential of the park. The event he created would engage the whole community, growing and evolving over a dozen years. Still hosted by Hamilton Baptist Church, with local sponsorship, it is a vibrant, colourful celebration with appeal to people of all ages and backgrounds.

Protective branches of an ancient fig frames the area being prepared for Carols in Gregson Park, 20 December 2014
Photograph by Andrew Roberts (LivingStone Images)

The Church’s beginnings are shrouded in something of a mystery, with shades of dissent.

We have to go to the Church of Christ, Merewether, to find the pioneers who planted the seeds of Hamilton Baptist Church.

At first it seemed to be a story of growth and development. Hamilton had a population of more than 10,000 in the early 1920s, and some Merewether members from Hamilton thought it was time that suburb had its own church. The first Church of Christ service for Hamilton members was held in the home of Mr R T Creek[1] at 1 Pokolbin Road, Broadmeadow, on 16 September, 1923.

Before long, this enthusiastic group had purchased land in Gordon Avenue, and with the dedication of volunteers, a new building took shape. It was opened on 22 December, 1924. The building has not survived: Klosters envelops the site today, north east of the intersection of Tudor Street and Gordon Avenue.

Just two years later, in 1926, the Hamilton Church of Christ was divided. The Minister Reverend A G Martin and the majority of the congregation left their denomination and sought Baptist affiliation. This was granted by the Baptist Union of NSW. At first they held services in the Masonic Hall, Beaumont Street, and later, the Mechanics’ Institute, in Tudor Street.

The reason for the division of the original Hamilton Church of Christ congregation is glossed over in the reports and official history of Hamilton Baptist Church[2] but it is believed to be doctrinal. Both Church of Christ and Baptists practice adult baptism by total immersion, and it is thought that a difference of opinion arose over its meaning.

Whatever the reason, it must have been a decision reached reluctantly and only after much discussion and soul searching. It would not have been easy for those separating to leave behind their new building, after all the fund raising and hard work that had gone into that first Hamilton church. Yet one change often generates others, and this may have been what happened.

Then, perhaps because they’d built a church once, this group must have felt they could do it again. Land was purchased at 108 Lindsay Street, opposite Gregson Park, and in 1929, work commenced on the building.

Volunteers made up the workforce building the Baptist Church, 108 Lindsay Street, Hamilton, 1929
‘Having a bit of a spell’ is written on the back
Photograph from the collection of Hamilton Baptist Church

Hard working and determined, Hamilton Baptists achieved their goal.

Hamilton Baptist Church, c1930s
Membership began around 50 at its inception, and grew to a consistent 100
Photograph from the collection of Hamilton Baptist Church

Like any individual or organization wanting real estate, the Hamilton Baptist Church obtained a mortgage. A ‘Blessing Box’ was considered a successful initiative – members participating gave a halfpenny a day towards reducing the building debt, making a pleasing dent in it.[3]

A church is a community whose members are connected through shared values and beliefs. As I read through the historical records, year by year from 1934, what emerged was a picture of a community continually reinforcing those bonds of belief through a multiplicity of activities and sub-groups.

Sunday School was a core activity – in 1939, there were 98 children attending classes, with 15 teachers – and exams!

Sunday School anniversary picnic – the boys wear ties c1930
Photograph from the collection of Hamilton Baptist Church

Over the years, there was an ever-changing procession of groups – the Christian Endeavour youth leadership group, men’s groups, Bible study groups, Boys and Girls Brigades, a Ladies Guild, a choir, a cricket club - but the aim did not. It was to meet the spiritual and social needs of all the members, creating a cohesive community.

And so there were picnics, hikes, BBQs, social gatherings, fellowship teas, sports days, Christmas parties, film evenings, and talent quests. Before the era of television, these social activities were entertainment. A self-contained world within ‘the world’ was created, so members could conduct and experience much of their social lives within the church.

What is this activity? Serving afternoon tea outdoors, and looking at those frocks,
it has to be the 1930s
Photograph from the collection of Hamilton Baptist Church

Hamilton Baptist Cricket Club (n.d.)
Standing (L-R) Ron Pavey, Burnie Scott, Stan Geiese, Dick Ratcliffe, Tom Oates, Neill Anderson, Dick Laidler
Seated (L-R) Alan Davies, Neill Dunn, Alec McMurray, Bill Oates, Bruce Davies

The evangelical impulse of the church found expression in open air rallies, crusades, and campaigns. Funds were raised to assist missionaries serving overseas.

The Northern District Gospel Open Air Campaigners c1930s
The unidentified men in this photograph may be visiting campaigners 
alongside local Church members
Photograph from the collection of Hamilton Baptist Church

On Christmas Eve 1955, at the annual service of films and carols in Gregson Park, Mr Arthur Stace was the guest speaker. A reformed alcoholic, Mr Stace was inspired to write the word ‘Eternity’ in his perfect copperplate writing on Sydney footpaths over half a million times between 1932 and 1967. Mr Stace was reported to have given ‘a very fine testimony’ of his conversion to Christianity. [5]

Sign with ‘Eternity’ written in white chalk on cardboard by Arthur Stace
The Eternity symbol has become an Australian icon
Part of the Stan Levitt Collection, courtesy of the National Museum of Australia

In the years following World War II, Australia experienced a severe housing shortage. The Church leadership was concerned about how best to provide accommodation for their Pastor, eventually buying a brick cottage five doors along from the Church in Lindsay Street, Hamilton.

Through the 1950s and 1960s the Church continued to improve its facilities. In 1956, the church front was altered with the addition of a new vestry and porch.

In 1969 a cottage and land at 101A Cleary Street, adjoining the back of the church, was purchased. The cottage was used for Sunday School classes. As the need for separate Sunday School premises waned over the ensuing years, the cottage became a rental property, generating income for the Church.

Hamilton Baptist Church congregation and Pastor D Woodward, early 1970s
Photograph from the collection of Hamilton Baptist Church

The establishment of the Hamilton Baptist Community Pre-School Kindergarten in the Lindsay Street premises during the tenure of Pastor D Woodward in the 1970s provided a valuable service not only for Church families but also for the broader community. Now, the service continues under the auspices of the independent not-for-profit Hamilton Community Pre-School.

By the early 1980s, the church leadership realized something had to be done to regenerate the church and attract more young people. Thus it was that 23 year old Richard Morrison was appointed as Pastor of Hamilton Baptist Church.

‘They knew that change was needed,’ Richard explains, ‘but perhaps they didn’t appreciate how much.’

Richard would face many challenges as he sought to bring about cultural change within the Church without alienating the older members.

One of the concessions Richard asked for when he was being interviewed was that he would he would not wear a tie at every service – or meeting, as he says. After the interviewing committee was reassured that he would definitely wear a tie to funerals, that concession was granted.

Most of the group activities that had flourished in the decades before had fallen away, although there was a very small Sunday school, and a Boys Brigade.

The pulpit from which the Pastor conducted the service and delivered a sermon each Sunday was originally a large, imposing structure. By this time, there were three pulpits in place, each successive one smaller than its predecessor, reflecting a gradual move towards a more informal and egalitarian relationship between pastor and people.

Installation of pews and a high pulpit gave the Hamilton Baptist Church
a formal aspect, 1930s
Photograph provided by Cynthia and Lynne Dalton, from the collection of Hamilton Baptist Church

In 1995, all three pulpits were removed, along with the choir platform, most of the timber pews and the baptistry. Part of the baptistry remains hidden under the floorboards.

Where are the ceremonies of total immersion conducted now, I wonder?

Richard, who is still actively involved in the Church, answers: ‘The beach.’

Merewether Ocean Baths and private pools are also used.

And what is left inside the church?

Mainly, open space. A few pews along the walls. Stacks of chairs. At one end, a kitchenette and a church office. In this setting, no newcomer need feel intimidated, or that they don’t know what to do. Chairs can be configured to suit the event. Drama and music groups hire facilities during the week.

People often say, ‘It’s homely.’

In 2001 the Church decided to sell the manse. This not only consolidated the Church’s financial position, but it also gave its Pastor freedom and independence to choose where to live.

In 2003, Andrew Dodd succeeded Richard Morrison as Pastor. Andrew had come to know the Church while undertaking his pastoral training there in 1984-1986. He’d seen the Church as it was early in Richard’s 20-year ministry, and the significant changes that had been achieved as it transitioned into a contemporary church.

‘I benefited from the work that Richard did,’ says Andrew.

In 2006, the Church was refurbished. The general upgrade to the building included a new kitchenette and church office.

Hamilton Baptist Church congregation gathered for a group photograph after the refurbishment, 2006
Photograph by Glyn Thomas, from the collection of Hamilton Baptist Church

Not long after the refurbishment was completed, in early June 2007, the Hunter region was battered by torrential rain and strong winds and declared a disaster area. Flooding was widespread and the MV Pasha Bulker famously ran aground on the reef at Nobby’s Beach.[6] As Pastor Andrew Dodd wrote:

‘In true baptist fashion Hamilton Baptist Church was “immersed in water” in last week’s deluge. Nearly 40cms of water left its trail of destruction through the church.’ [7]

Not only was the smart new refurbishment badly damaged, but the church was unfit for use in the short term. The Church had to look for another venue for the congregation – half of whom were under the age of eleven. In a spirit of cooperation typical of what was happening in the broader community at this time, the recently vacated Salvation Army church in Cleary Street [8] was offered.

That congregation had merged with two others, and all three were for a time meeting on neutral ground at the Seventh Day Adventist Church (SDA) in Steel Street. Andrew led his congregation ‘on a journey,’ symbolic, he said, of ‘finding hope in the midst of hardship and ruin.’ The group first viewed the damage in their own building, then crossed the street to the SDA building to briefly join ‘the Salvos’ and collect the keys to Cleary Street, and finally, walked to their new temporary home.

A Church building is only one part of its life. When I ask Andrew how Hamilton Baptist Church has changed in recent times, he speaks enthusiastically of the Church being ‘engaged in the local and wider community.’ There are chaplains in two local public schools; a drop in centre – Café Estate – in a local social housing area; the StreetCare Food Van for the homeless; fundraising for community development projects in Nepal, and of course – Carols in Gregson Park.

These days, flexible seating enables the congregation to gather in a semi-circle, the Pastor in their midst. Instead of a pulpit, a lectern stands discreetly to the side.

A contemporary arrangement – Hamilton Baptist Church, 2014
Photograph by Andrew Roberts (LivingStone Images)

And if you bump into Andrew Dodd in Beaumont Street, or when you roll up to Newy parkrun where he volunteers on a Saturday morning and is known affectionately as ‘Doddy’ or ‘The Doddfather,’ you’d hardly guess he was a minister of religion. He’s just part of the community with which his church is engaged.

Andrew Dodd celebrating his 50th parkrun on 26 October, 2013
The 25 Minute Pacing Group includes ‘The Doddfather’ Andrew Dodd, ‘The Godfather of the Region of Runners’ (‘Gentleman Jim Beisty’), and ‘The Grandfather of Running in Newcastle’ (Alan McCloskey)
Taken by Newy parkrun volunteer photographer Jo Kent Biggs


Thank you to Pastor Andrew Dodd for providing access to historical documents and photographs, and to Richard Morrison for sharing his recollections as a former pastor.

Arthur Creek (1910-2005) left a written and oral account of the history of
Hamilton Baptist Church
He was one of many volunteers who helped build the Church at 108 Lindsay Street, Hamilton
Photograph from the collection of Hamilton Baptist Church

[1] Mr R T Creek’s son Arthur Creek was a long standing member of Hamilton Baptist Church and left brief written and oral accounts of its history. The written account has been used as one of the resources for this story.
[2] Souvenir Golden Jubilee Anniversary Celebrations 1926-1976 Hamilton Baptist Church Lindsay Street. Brochure held by Pastor Andrew Dodd, Hamilton Baptist Church.
[3] Secretary’s Annual Report, Hamilton Baptist Church 1934
[4] Secretary’s Annual Report, Hamilton Baptist Church 1950
[5] Secretary’s Annual Report, Hamilton Baptist Church 1956
[7] Andrew Dodd, Press release for the Hamilton Baptist Church, 14 June 2007.
[8] The Salvation Army Church in Cleary Street has since been demolished to make way for the Salvation Army Regional Headquarters.