No. 682 - Pyengana - St Augustine's Catholic Church - ""Rosy cheeks and cosy homes"

Pyengana is rural settlement in north-east Tasmania which has been based on dairy farming for well over a century. A community was established after pioneering settlers George and Margaret Cotton settled at a property called St Columba in 1875. Two churches were were established in the area; an Anglican church, St Michael and All Angel’s (1894) and a Catholic Church, St Augustine’s, which opened in 1923.

Around the turn of the 20th century Pyengana was enjoying significant growth and development as a result of tin mining activity in the district and the establishment of a butter factory in the 1890’s and a cooperative cheese factory in 1902. In 1903 Launceston’s Daily Telegraph reported:

“During the past twelve months, Messrs. P. Haley, J. Jestrimski, O. Nicklason, and W. R. Rattray, have built new houses, and it is doubtful whether any backwoods settlement in Tasmania can boast more rosy cheeks and cosy homes than are to be found at Pyengana….The State school is attended by forty one (41) children, and the schoolmaster (Mr W. D. M'Farlane), who is a strict disciplinarian, but who idolises sport, is a great favourite with parents and children”.


The Haley family, particularly Mrs Peter Haley, led the way in establishing a Catholic church at Pyengana. In 1904, Mrs Haley placed advertisements in the Hobart Mercury for a governess who was required to be “well up in music and singing (Catholic)” Two years latter, the Launceston Examiner reported that Mrs Haley had commenced a fundraising drive to build a Catholic church by organising a “fancy fair” in Terry’s Hall. 

Progress in building a church did not advance until then early 1920’s when an opportunity arose to acquire the Catholic church from the tin mining settlement at Lottah which was in a state of precipitous decline. In October 1922 the Daily Telegraph reported:

“The village is now threatened with complete depletion of all its principal assets. The local hotel,….is shortly to be removed to Herrick….. It is presumed that the council Chambers, now housed in the police buildings, will be compelled to move. Pyengana offers a welcome to such an acquisition, and already rumour states that ere long the local police buildings, plus the Gould’s Country Hotel and Hall, will find a new residence near the Pyengana Cheese factory….”.

The Daily Telegraph’s correspondent neglected to mention that in the previous month, Lottah’s Catholic church had been secured for removal to Pyengana. Its removal was delayed by 6 months when it was “pulled down by Messrs. C. and G. Briggs of St Helen’s” in March 1923. The building was cut in two then transported by bullock team a distance of about 18 kilometres to a site near Pyengana’s butter factory.

The land the for the church was donated by the Haley family. The block was a very generous 38 acres of heavily wooded land which it was envisaged would provide income for the costs of maintaining the church.

There is no surviving record of the church’s opening but is was dedicated to St Augustine in the second half of 1923. The subsequently history of the church as was covered by the regional press is very fragmentary. Its history inevitably mirrored that of most rural churches in the region which was one of declining congregations following the movement people to towns at the time of the Second World War. 

The church was closed and sold in 1995 and subsequently converted into a house. Some of its contents, most notably the church organ and one of the pews were donated to the St Helen’s History Room. 

The story of the Catholic church at Lottah (established in 1885), will be the subject of an upcoming article in ‘Churches of Tasmania’.

St Augustine's Catholic Church - Photograph reproduced with permission of Trevor Haagsma - from "The Haley family collection"

St Augustine's in the process of renovation and restoration in 2010.  Photo courtesy of Trevor Haagsma.


St Augustine's in the process of renovation and restoration in 2010.  Photo courtesy of Trevor Haagsma.

Sources:

Daily Telegraph, Monday 25 May 1903, page 3
Mercury, Monday 22 February 1904, page 2
Examiner, Friday 2 November 1906, page 7 
Daily Telegraph, Wednesday 25 August 1920, page 3
North East Advertiser, Friday 22 September 1922, page 2
Daily Telegraph, Monday 9 October 1922, page 8
North East Advertiser, Friday 30 March 1923, page 2

Southerwood, W. T Planting a faith in Tasmania : the country parishes. [W. T. Southerwood], [Hobart], 1977.

airburn, Margaret E and McKay, John T. (Father) The flickering flame : Catholicism in north-east Tasmania, 1877-2011. Father John McKay], [Tasmania, 2011.

Richardson, Garry Charles, Rattray, Up country : the history of Goshen, Terryvale, Goulds Country, Priory, the Marshes, Pyengana, West Pyengana, bullock drivers and the sawmills of the municipality of Portland, north east Tasmania. Bay of Fires Images and Publishing, [St. Helens, Tasmania], 2017.


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