No. 595 - Maydena - St Boniface - 'Bushfires and Bells'

Maydena is a small town in the Tyenna River Valley approximately 85 kilometres west of Hobart. Development of the area began in 1917 when the neighbouring settlement at Fitzgerald became a railhead for the Derwent Valley Line. After 1940 Maydena was developed to house workers employed by the Australian Newsprint Mills’ forestry operations. The upper reaches of the Derwent Valley Line were used for transporting timber and osmiridium ore and workers engaged in building the Strathgordon Dam. Fitzgerald which borders Maydena is the older of the two settlements. After the 1940’s it was supplanted by Maydena as the main centre.

Maydena had a single church, St Boniface Anglican church. In 1953 the church was moved from nearby Fitzgerald where it had stood since 1935. The Fitzgerald church was a replacement for an earlier building which was destroyed by bushfires which ravaged the upper Derwent and Tyenna valley in 1934. This article will review the establishment of the first church built at Fitzgerald in 1923 as well as the second church that replaced it in 1935 that was later removed to Maydena.

In November 1921 the Hobart Mercury reported on the building of a new Anglican church at Fitzgerald:

“The Bishop of Tasmania paid his first visit to Fitzgerald on Wednesday and was very deeply impressed with the great development that has taken place there during the past few years. The laying of a foundation block for a new Anglican Church was the pleasing duty that induced the Bishop to undertake the journey from Hobart. The Bishop arrived at 12-40 pm, and after being entertained at lunch by Mr and Mrs Lovelock proceeded to the site of the proposed church where he made the acquaintance of Mrs Pitfield the donor of the land. At the conclusion of an impressive service Dr Hay, standing in the pouring rain, delivered an inspiring address on the value of a church to a district as a witness to God…..At the conclusion of this ceremony Mrs Hunt presented her twin girls to tho Bishop and they were baptised in the presence of a large congregation under the hospitable roof of Mr Luttrell. This was followed In a short address by our resident catechist who thanked by name all who had tendered assistance in making possible this red letter day in the history of Fitzgerald…”.

The church was dedicated to St Boniface and consecrated in February 1923. An interesting feature of the church was a tenor bell taken from the “convict church” at Port Arthur.

In the hot and dry summer of 1933 and 1934 bushfires swept through southern Tasmania. In January 1934 the Mercury reported on the extent of the fires in the greater New Norfolk region:

“Bush fires which raged with great fury during Christmas and early in the new year and which died down following rain at the beginning of last week, struck up in all parts of the Derwent Valley during the oppressive heat of yesterday. The position in the bush beyond Fitzgerald became grave last night, as two fires swept down the valley in a face of roughly 3½ miles. Risby Bros. mill and an acre of stacked timber was in a precarious position, and it was stated that only a miracle could save It from destruction. It is practically certain that some of the mill tramline and log hauler have been lost, and in Fitzgerald township a house and furniture owned by Mr. and Mrs. J. Spaulding was destroyed. At Tyenna, about a mile and a half from Fitzgerald, [a] portion of the township, including the post office, hall and store, was In danger for several hours, and although no damage resulted there were times when even the heroic fighters almost lost hope. There was a serious fire at Mt. Lloyd and Uxbridge, near New Norfolk, but so far no damage has been done to properties in these areas. Pieces of blackened burning embers fell in the New Norfolk township last night and the dense smoke almost completely blotted out the surrounding hills”.

Then came a report from Launceston’s Examiner describing the loss of St Boniface at Fitzgerald:

“Further serious bush fire outbreaks occurred at Fitzgerald during the weekend, and as the result the Church of England, a timber mill, and several thousand feet of timber were destroyed. The furniture in the church was saved. It was believed that the bush fires which have been raging at Fitzgerald for some considerable time had been extinguished, but yesterday afternoon a freshening breeze caused a further outbreak among dry trees and the fire quickly gained a grip of the surrounding bush. Fire fighters were quickly marshalled, but sparks from the trees ignited the shingle roof of the weatherboard Church of England and the building was gutted. Residents were able to remove all the furniture from the building, but It is estimated that the damage will aggregate £1000. The local police station, about 70 yards from the church also was threatened for some time, but the fire was ultimately controlled”.

An open-air service was held following the fire where it was announced that the church would be rebuilt. The new building which was designed by George Roberts was re-dedicated by Bishop Hay in June 1935. The old bell was rehung but it was found to have lost some of its tone as a result of the heat of the fire and from its fall to the ground.

The church remained at Fitzgerald until 1953 when it was moved to Maydena which had become the larger of the two settlements.

In the 1990’s St Boniface was once again in the news but for a very different reason. It was discovered that the church’s bell was one of the chime of eight bells that had hung in the tower of the ‘convict church’ at Port Arthur. The bells had been cast on site at Port Arthur in 1847 and are the oldest chime in Australia. Following the closure of the Port Arthur Penal Settlement in 1877, the bells were stored in the New Norfolk Asylum. In 1897, seven of the bells were handed over to the New Norfolk Municipal Council who hung them in St Matthew’s Church tower. The eighth bell disappeared. The bells proved to be too heavy for the church tower which had to be dismantled. The bells were removed and redistributed to churches and a school and over time their whereabouts were ‘forgotten’. After the discovery of a bell at Maydena, it was removed and returned to Port Arthur in 1994. It is now on display at the historic site, joining six others of the original chime with one bell still unaccounted for.

St Boniface has closed in recent years and when I visited Maydena recently the church appeared to be unused. 








A display of 7 of the original chime of 8 bells at the Convict Church Port Arthur.


Sources:

The Mercury, Friday 4 November 1921, page 8
The Mercury, Thursday 1 February 1923, page 8
The Mercury, Wednesday 18 April 1923, page 9
Examiner, Monday 8 January 1934, page 7
The Mercury, Tuesday 16 January 1934, page 7
The Mercury, Monday 17 June 1935, page 2
The Mercury, Saturday 22 June 1935, page 8

Henslowe, Dorothea I & Hurburgh, Isa 1978, Our heritage of Anglican churches in Tasmania, Mercury-Walch, Moonah, Tas

The Maydena Community Association Inc. Facebook group - information about the church, including undated newspaper clippings and photographs.

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