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"...Where so little has
happened, and so much"
back through the years in a quiet old church^^
"A SENSE of con- tinuity and deep down roots" - the Church of St. John the Baptist, the Anglican parish church at Ashfield.
By KAY KEAVNEY
"T I NB URNER,
-L* JOHN." Thc index
entry, penned in finest copperplate by a hand
that has been dust this
century or more, tells you exactly where to look.
You open the big Registry of Births, Deaths, and Mar- riages, kept up to date since 1840 by the Church of St. John the Baptist, Ashfield, N.S.W., and there on the indicated page you find it.
This entry, in another hand, impatient and dashing,
writes finis to the life of a citizen of Ashfield, this same John Linburner. Date of death September 2, of burial September 3, 1847. Age, one hundred and four years.
You do quick mental arithmetic - 1847 less 104 leaves 1743.
There, in the big old book held in your hands, is a visible link with a man who
was born in 1743!
Only yesterday to a Roman or Athenian, but no
matter. You're an Austra- lian, and 1743 is treasure
You ask the Rector, the Rev. F. Shaw, and his young assistants about John Lin- burner. It's said, they say, that he came here with the First Fleet.
Your interest quickens. You try hard to decipher the scrawl against the old man's
name which will establish his
A little lower down in the
old Registry there's a "Land- holder." Over the page, there's a "Tailor" and a "Publican." Farther over there's a "Waterman" and a "M o u n t e d Policeman."
But you can't decipher the scrawl which should sum up the life of John Linburner.
You are left to wonder about the old man of 104, who sleeps in the old church- yard beyond the vestry door, who may or may not have seen Governor Phillip in the flesh, and been part of the
birth of a nation.
They show you his head- stone in the quiet churchyard. A car, 1965 model, turns and revs up in the street nearby.
The small slab of sand- stone Sacred to the Memory of John Linburner is in poor condition. You reflect, aloud, that time has been as harsh to it as life may have been to the living man.
The Rector and the three young men who love this church and serve at its altar put you right.
Time was kind. It was vandals, 1965-model, who de- faced this grave and others up to a century and a quarter old, who smashed windows and stole the poorbox and the microphone at the pulpit and anything else that was portable and had value.
September 9, 1840, is the technical birth-date of St. John's, when the Lord Bishop of Australia laid the foundation stone; and on September 9, 1965, the old church began celebrating its 125th anniversary.
But Anglican services had
been held since 1833 in the
"great house" which would give the outlying district its name-the home of widowed Mrs. Elizabeth Underwood, of "Ashfield Park."
Today, motorists wait fuming at the traffic lights where Croydon and Parra- matta Roads intersect, in the heart of what was once this gracious lady's garden.
The estate of the Under- woods, merchants and ship- owners of the colony,
AT RIGHT: Examining early volumes of the church's registry, dating from 1840, are ( from left ) Brother Richard Howe, catechist; Mr. Bruce Scott, head server; Mr. Lyle Johnson,
server and church- warden; and the Rev. F. Shaw.
DEFACED by vandola, the headstone for 104-year-old John Lin- burner, who died in 1847, is the smaller one in right foreground.
covered 500 acres. But the
town came creeping out, then as now, and the big old places, then as now, began to be cut up and sold to the developers.
When Mrs. Underwood advertised the subdivision of "Ashfield Park" she in- formed "the future villagers of Ashfield and the inhabi- tants on the Parramatta and
Liverpool Roads" that an acre had been set aside, as her gift, for the building of
The new parish, centred on Ashfield, sprawled out to Balmain, Strathfield, Enfield, Burwood, Concord, Annan- dale, Canterbury, and ulti- mately Five Dock (written in the old Registry as 5 Dock) and points west
It was enough to make the stoutest clerical heart quail.
It was formed in 1840, the year when Victoria and Albert married, the year when the transportation of convicts to N.S.W. ceased.
The parish was huge but the population sparse, and
contributions toward the new
brick church disappointingly
Two years later, at last the walls were nearly finished. That ubiquitous
colonial architect and con- sultant, Edmund Blacket, being consulted, took one look at the walls and ordered them pulled down.
The third rector, the Rev. Frederick Wilkinson, was in command when the church was finally opened in March,
Thu was a very good thing, because Mr. Wilkin- son (he whose dashing, im- patient hand wrote finis to the life of John Linburner)
was both a man of stamina and a talented woodcarver.
You can still see his handiwork in the beautiful cedar-carving at the eastern end of the church.
"I remember," states an old letter, "carting the cedar to 'The Meads' at Enfield, where the Old Par
son, as we called him, lived. He had a large workshop fitted up with all the appli- ances for carving, at which he was an adept."
In this same house the remarkable cleric established the best collegiate school in the colony.
For a mere £100 he
bought more land round the church from Mrs. Under-
wood, making possible a graveyard.
On May 1, 1845, the first
interment was recorded: an infant, Mrs. Underwood's own grandson.
Two new churches in the
far-flung parish owe Mr. Wilkinson their genesis: St. Mary's, Balmain, and St. Thomas', Enfield.
In 1855, the woodcarver, builder, teacher, and shepherd of souls went "'horne" to England and
never returned. But his
heart, they say, was here, and after he left here he was restless.
If not his heart, his monu- ment is here, in thc mother
church of much of the Western Suburbs.
Under his successors, church after church sprang up as the population grew and the parish contracted.
One of the rectors rejoiced in the name of Cave Brown-Cave. His tenure was brief, and so is his biography in a parish publication, which includes these words:
"Early in his short ministry, a day was set apart for 'general humiliation under the present drought.' On his last Sunday as rector, a special collection was made
for the 'Floods and Relief Fund.' "
A potted biography of
both the Rev. Mr. Cave Brown-Cave and this
strange extremist Wide
With the years a tower was added to the church, a gallery removed, a fine new memorial window installed, low-key highpoints in a quiet, uneventful history.
But the Registry brings history to an unquenchable
You sit in a quiet pew and people the old church
with bustled dames and
young dandies and bluff watermen and bright-eyed children, whose names and vicissitudes are on record and who thus have identity.
You wonder if old Lin- burner came here often and
where he sat, and you sense an old anguish. But joy is here, too, faith and doubt, tolerance and intolerance, all of it here.
Dull chapters in dull books take on meaning in the 125-year-old church where so little happened and
In the peopled quiet you find what you came in search of-a sense of continuity, of deep-down roots.