Grazier Claire Mactaggart has always admired the architecture of historic bush buildings.
Claire Mactaggart bought a 115-year-old Uniting Church building
She trucked it to her cattle estate near Duaringa in central Queensland for restoration
United Church of Queensland Synod in Australia says church is looking for new ways to serve small communities with dwindling congregations
So, after a violent storm tore a 110-year-old church from its stumps in the small town of Duaringa in central Queensland, she was determined to save another historic church from a similar fate.
“It was getting a bit deteriorating, so I approached the church…and asked them what their plans were,” Ms Mactaggart said.
The United Church agreed to sell the historic structure, which was built in 1907 and hadn’t had a church service in years.
The repurposing of old churches into smaller communities is a growing trend, according to the United Church of the Synod of Queensland in Australia.
For Ms. Mactaggart, it’s about preserving the special memories that have been created in the building.
“I’ve had a few people say to me before, ‘I’ve been to three weddings and funerals there’…I love the stories,” she said.
“I’m really aware that there is a long history with this place. We have to take care of it, respect it and allow people to see it.”
After buying the structure, she then trucked it to her farm in Duaringa, 45 kilometers away on a narrow stretch of dirt road.
She spent months working to carefully restore it, retaining as much of the original period features as possible.
“I love that it’s a really honest and fairly simple little building, but it’s got a nice shape and proportions,” Ms Mactaggart said.
“From what we understand, it was largely bush carpenters who worked there.
“It’s an honor for the people who came before us.”
A breathtaking journey
The church, which is held upright by internal metal rods, was transported on a truck through a steep, narrow passage over the Mackenzie River.
“I liken it to a mother-to-be, and it’s due day,” Ms Mactaggart said.
“I really felt a little emotional about it, hoping it would get here in one piece.”
Its builder, Cameron McDouall, said the condition of the structure was “as good as possible” for its age, despite some termite damage.
“It’s all wood, whereas new construction will either have light fibro siding…or brick, when it’s just original wood carpentry work,” McDouall said.
Ms Mactaggart says she bought the building to set up as a stand-alone home on her property so visitors or her children, when they grow up, can stay in a separate house.
She also planned to organize community workshops in the future.
“This building means so much to so many people in Duaringa,” Ms Mactaggart said.
“I just hope they will feel comfortable coming and visiting it and seeing what we’ve done there,”
Find a new purpose
The Reverend Andrew Gunton, Moderator of the United Church of Queensland Synod in Australia, said many of their old buildings in small towns were staying in the church and finding new purposes.
“United Church buildings across Queensland are part of regional history – places of family and community that go back generations,” he said.
Mr Gunton said they were trying innovative ways to serve the community and keep the church buildings widely used.
He gave the example of Childers Uniting Church in the Bundaberg area, whose congregation is dwindling.
Mr. Gunton said he realized that one of the biggest challenges in this community was meeting the needs of young people.
“They called Youth With A Mission [YWAM]), which is a global movement that focuses its efforts on young people,” he said.
“Months later, YWAM’s work is helping the community and bringing new life to Childers Uniting Church.”
Preserving country churches
According to census data from the Australian Bureau of Statistics, a growing number of Australians identify as having “no religion”.
In 2021, 39.9% of Australians identified as having no religious affiliation, but more than 50 years ago, in 1971, only 6.7% ticked ‘no religion’.
Ms Mactaggart said she was interested in the renovation project to preserve a piece of Australia’s history.
“It’s such a shame to lose these old buildings in town. There’s a little church like this in most regional towns that is used or not,” she said.
“I like to see preserved things and to be able to see what the character is, what the history of a town is.”