No. 629 - Yolla - St Joseph's Catholic Church - 'Lucky 13'

Yolla is small rural town on the Murchison Highway approximately 20 kilometres south of Wynyard. When first settled in the late 19th century it was named Camp Creek but this was changed to Yolla in 1906. The name is derived from an Aboriginal word for muttonbird.

The North West coast hinterland has lost many of its churches over the last few decades therefore Yolla is unusual in that it retains three of the four churches built at the town; all of which remain active. One of these is St Joseph’s Catholic church built in 1927.

Before the church was built Catholic Mass was held in Yolla’s Memorial Hall. Fundraising by Catholics across the district to build a church began in the early 1920’s. This enabled the purchase of two blocks of land on the main road at a cost of £85. By 1927 sufficient funds had been raised for building work to begin and a foundation stone for the church was ceremonially laid on Sunday 14 May 1927. The ceremony was led by Archbishop Dr. Barry and the parish priest, Father Fanning. The Burnie Advocate reported:

“The service was preceded by Mass in the Yolla Hall. The assemblage was one of the largest ever witnessed at Yolla, there being visitors present from the whole of the surrounding districts. Besides members of the Roman Catholic faith, a large number of members of other denominations witnessed the ceremony”.

The church was competed with 6 months and Archbishop Barry returned to Yolla for the opening ceremony. The Advocate reported:

“One of the most important functions in the history of Yolla, that of the blessing and opening of the recently constructed St. Joseph's Catholic Church, took place yesterday morning,…The day was an ideal one for the occasion, …At 11 a.m. there were fully 50 vehicles parked in front and in the vicinity of the church, many of the surrounding towns and districts of the North-West Coast being represented. Prior to the service commencing extra seating accommodation was provided from the Memorial Hall, but even this proved inadequate, and many were seated in the sacristy; others in the porch in front; while almost 100 were compelled to stand outside. There were quite 250 persons seated in the main portion of the church”.

“At 11.15 a.m. His Grace, preceded by Father Fanning, and five altar- boys, Masters Jack Holliday, Frank and Max Matthews, Gordon Carroll and Bert Jackson, emerged from the sacristy. The blessing and opening ceremony was then performed by His Grace, assisted by Father Fanning, after which Father Fanning celebrated Mass….”.

“Following the Mass, Father Fanning addressed the congregation, and said the first expression that morning should be one of thanks to God. He had not anticipated seeing so many present…. He had been asked by a number who were evidently superstitious why he had chosen the 13th as the opening day, but it had turned out to be their lucky day…He paid a tribute to the fine work performed by the contractors, Messrs. H. Jones and Sons, of Wynyard, stating that everything in the building but the altar had been constructed by them”.

“There was a debt on the building, but he hoped after the service that this would be considerably lessened. The contract price had been £945/18/, but there had been several extras, including the addition of lead-lights and stained glass in the windows, instead of plain glass, which had cost an additional £57/11/. The altar, which had been specially constructed in Melbourne, of Tasmanian blackwood, had also cost £50: and the requisites for the altar £20. A picket fence in front of the building had been an extra which cost £21….”.

The church was designed by Father Fanning and its Romanesque style echoes the magnificent St Brigid’s Catholic Church in Wynyard that was built in 1912. St Joseph’s was constructed of bricks from the same kiln at Wynyard that were used for building St Brigid’s. The heritage listed church is one of the finest rural churches in the North West and its opening on the 13th day of the month has proved to be auspicious as the building has survived unaltered and will soon celebrate its centenary.

*All photographs used in this article are my own.

Yolla's location in North West Tasmania -


Advocate, Monday 16 May 1927, page 4
Advocate, Saturday 12 November 1927, page 4
Advocate, Monday 14 November 1927, page 4


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