New life for restored church

In 2012, the Uniting Church WA sold land, including a church building in Donnybrook, to the Shire of Donnybrook Balingup. The land is situated behind the Shire’s administration building so was purchased in case of future development.

The old church building was unoccupied for a few years. In 2016, the Shire’s administration space expanded and the decision was made to revitalise the historic building and turn it into Council Chambers.

Leigh Guthridge, Manager Development and Environmental Services at the Shire of Donnybrook Balingup, said about $200 000 went into the building. The building was assessed by a structural engineer and a local heritage architect was engaged to make sure it kept its historical significance.

“The architect also did some research on the significance of the building,” Leigh said. “He’s claimed from his research that this building is one of the most significant buildings in the town site and could even perhaps be the first building built in the town site.”

Originally a Methodist Church, the former Donnybrook Uniting Church was built in 1924, from Donnybrook Stone. In 1970, the Donnybrook Circuit became part of the Bunbury Circuit, and then in  1977 became part of the Uniting Church WA at union. Some major work undertaken on the building included the building of new front and back porches, fixing a lot of cracking in the structure, redesigning the storm water drainage and installing new lighting.

Leigh said there was quite a list of subtle things the heritage architect also designed to keep the historic feel of the building, including highlighting the stone quoins, installing traditional looking  gutters and a series of arches. The pulpit has been kept as a podium for people to speak from during meetings, and the communion rails from the church have been repurposed to form an  aesthetic entrance to the building, keeping the original feel of the church.

Carolyn Cavallaro has been a member of the congregation her whole life before the church closed. Members now meet in each other’s home for worship once a month, led by Rev Greg Ross, Minister at Bunbury St Augustine Uniting Church. Carolyn and other members of the church took part in a tour of the newly restored building, and she felt the Shire has done a great job of preserving the feel of the original site.

“I was actually baptised there 70 years ago and I went to church there right until it closed. I think they did a wonderful job,” she said. “It still has our pulpit there and our communion rails at the entrance and it felt like it was still our church, which was great.

“It brought up lovely memories because I could picture my parents there and could feel where we used to sit, it was lovely like that.

“I don’t think anyone was upset that they were using it for something else, just glad they’d preserved it.

“There’s lots of history there. It had a huge Sunday school at that church when we were young; it was a lovely family church. It was a huge part of our life.”

Leigh said the response amongst the people of Donnybrook has been great.

“Overall it was really well received on the opening day; a lot of people came through. They filled out a comment book and every comment was positive,” he said. “It’s a significant building so it was really worth saving.

“It’s a very good example of an old historical building that’s perhaps lost its purpose for whatever reason and been readapted for contemporary use. Being used properly and being managed by Local Government will ensure that it’s going to be looked after,” Leigh said.

The Heritage Architect for this project was Ian Molyneux, working with BRC Building Solutions. Trade work was all sourced locally in Donnybrook.

Heather Dowling

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