LIFE AMONGST THE YOUNG PEOPLE OF ST GEORGE’S PRESBYTERIAN CHURCH, EAST ST KILDA IN THE LATE 1950’S AND 1960’s
For most of the Presbyterian young people in the East St Kilda area the Church filled a gap in their lives. The church was very old. It opened on 1 October 1877 and was probably best known for its Minister, Rev. Gillison, a war chaplain during World War 1, who was killed at Gallipoli.
Some of the PFA came from established families in the suburb whilst others, like myself, ended up there because they had come from country districts and lived in boarding houses nearby. In my case, the boarding house was run by a very kind-hearted lady called ‘Flo’. I cannot recall her surname. The house was located at 86 Albert Street, Windsor. The house where we lived has now been demolished. There were about eight boys there of varying denominations or who had no religion at all. As I had been a Presbyterian all my young life and as I had led a very strong P. F. A. in Rochester, I immediately sought out the nearest Presbyterian Church, which happened to be St George's in Chapel Street, East St Kilda. The church had a very long and distinguished history which was written about many years ago. Regrettably in 1977 the Church became part of the Uniting Church.
I was made very welcome at St George’s, particularly by a remarkable minister, Rev. James Villiers Mills, who originally came from Northern Ireland. He not only worked hard for the spiritual benefit of the Church but also carrying out many physical tasks to keep the church running as well as saving them money. I can recall him climbing on the very steep roof to repair damaged tiles as well as working on the old foot warmers which were run through a piped heating system. He also believed in the visitation of as many of his ‘flock’ as possible and was always prepared to listen to their problems. Mrs Mills was also a very caring person. She was kept busy with many children as well as coping with the many demands from strangers for food, clothing and other needs. The church was located in a very busy part of Chapel Street which added to the numbers seeking help.
Not long after I arrived, I can recall that the much loved Sunday School Superintendent, Mr Langdon, retired. He had reached a great age and had decided that enough was enough!. I can also recall his wife who lived in her cottage for many years and stubbornly refused to move to a nursing home. She must have lived until close to 100 years of age.
As the church had no one else, I was volunteered to lead the Sunday School, a position I held for a number of years. At that time, I was very interested in mission work amongst the aborigines and can recall teaching the children hymns in some of their languages.
Included amongst the teachers I can remember June Lidstone, a very good teacher and friend. She was the sort of person who is like gold to any group leader. June was always there to teach and I cannot recall her missing a Sunday unless on holidays. June also was a member of the PFA for a period of time. Her mother was famous amongst the church people for the quality of her roast meals! There must have been a Church concert at some stage of my time there. The Sunday School event was supposed to be the scholars jumping through a flaming hoop. I lit the hoop in preparation and flames went everywhere. Mr Mills very hastily put the flames out and that was the end of that event.
Also within a short time, I met Don Burke who turned out to be a very good friend. Don was a very gregarious bloke who I met through the PFA and later I visited the Burke household where his mother was always making me feel at home and giving me advice on my various affairs with the opposite sex. I see from my old records that from 1959 Don was a member of the Committee of Management as was his father. Don was very fond of another member of the PFA, Faye Matthews but he had a real problem in seeing her because he was not old enough to hold a car license. I drove them around to many parts of the city. I was always rewarded by Mrs Matthews who always greeted me with a large piece of chocolate cake when returning from a night activity. Later Don and Faye were married and had several children. They now live in Wonthaggi in Gippsland.
Another strong supporter of the PFA was Robbie Laird. Robbie loved to organise and held various offices in the PFA. She trained to be a nursing sister and also taught in the Sunday School. She met and later married John Welham who was a groomsman at my wedding to Angela. He had a really dry sense of humour but sadly died a few years ago.
Gwen Dods was a loyal member of our youth group. She was also President, at least in 1959 and perhaps in other years. I remember visiting the Dods home on many occasions. Mr Dods, being a Scot, was a soccer fanatic, whilst I played Aussie Rules football for Prahran. When I arrived for tea after a football loss, I would throw my gladstone bag on the floor in disgust. He would think it a huge joke, with the words ‘You’ve been beaten again!’. Mrs Dods was very good to me for a number of years.
Undoubtedly the highlight of my time with St Georges PFA was the visit of Billy Graham - what a remarkable man who, with his team, lead many young and older people to God. I think all the PFA attended and were inspired by his words. I can remember a packed Melbourne Cricket Ground - a sight I’ll never forget.
Another highlight was the visit to my ‘old’ PFA in Rochester. They had a very strong PFA and we visited them for a social weekend which was enjoyed by all. I can recall that just before I left Rochester, the Session had only just given permission for dancing on Church premises. Before that it was a strict ‘no, no’ under any circumstances!. We also had dances in the St George’s Hall but they did not have any live music except that on rare occasions I played dreadful music on my trumpet.
Others I can recall being involved with the PFA included Alan and Ruth Topp and Margaret Austen. I hope that that they and others will add their stories to this note. We were a very happy group of young people whom, without the Church, would have had no spiritual or social outlet for their needs. It was a most memorable and enjoyable part of my life.
Angela and I were married at St George’s on 4th March, 1967. We also had our son, Stuart, baptised at the church. Angela was always a loving and sacrificing wife who died from cancer after a long illness.