History of Holy Trinity Anglican Parish, Woolloongabba
As motorists journey inbound or outbound along the South East Freeway, by day or by night, Holy Trinity Church stands out as a dramatic sentinel radiating the light of Christ to the surrounding countryside.
The history of Holy Trinity Anglican parish is inextricably tied to the history of Woolloongabba. The parish and the churches that have served it developed out of and along with the Woolloongabba community. It is a shared story dating back to 1869.
Prior to European colonisation, southeast Queensland was one of the most densely populated regions of Australia. Aboriginal campsites in present-day South Brisbane and Woolloongabba were the largest south of the river, at the junction of several tracks and river-crossings and near abundant natural resources. A significant camp site and pullen-pullen was located in present-day Woolloongabba (often translated as 'whirling waters'), near the chain of lilypad-covered waterholes that flowed from what is now the Gabba Stadium along Stanley Street to Clarence Corner. A Bora ring was sited at the top of the nearby hill along what is now Hawthorne Street.
After European settlement began in 1823, One Mile Swamp, as the Woolloongabba area was known, was a declared water reserve and a thoroughfare for livestock coming up from Logan. In the 1850s lots along Stanley Street first went on sale, and the first hotels and shops started to appear by 1865. In 1869 an Anglican congregation began holding services in the Buffalo Hotel at the corner of Hawthorne Street and Ipswich Road. In the same year Reverend R Creyke donated the land at the top of the Hawthorne Street hill for the construction of a memorial church dedicated to his son who had died earlier in the year.
The 1880s boom period drove activity in the Woolloongabba area, bringing railways up from the south through to the South Brisbane wharves, and a substantial commercial precinct connected to the Victoria Bridge by trams along Stanley Street to Logan and Ipswich Roads was established by 1900. Residential development also expanded, such that when a confirmed case of the plague was discovered in Hawthorne Street, the house was quarantined and the street barricaded with police escort, although newspapers assured that the area was "closely settled, but [...] clean, so that it is hardly likely that the surroundings were responsible for the outbreak of the disease."
An influential early settler of Woolloongabba was Thomas Weedon, a founding Divisional Board member and leader of numerous philanthropic initiatives. The extended Weedon family lived on three sizeable properties in Hawthorne Street, built in the 1860s: Bryn Mawr, The Eyrie, and The Wilderness (now 73 Hawthorne Street). Church Avenue ran up the hill between the last two and at one point the South Brisbane City Council recommended renaming it to Weedon Street. It is now known as Trinity Lane. Upon her death in 1922, Thomas’s wife, Phyllis, gifted The Wilderness to the parish. In 1937 the Diocesan Property and Finance Board subdivided the property and constructed three small cottages (now 24 and 26 Merton Road, and 75 Hawthorne Street), contributing to the ever-denser settlement of the local area.
Thomas Weedon served as lay reader of Holy Trinity Church in the years before it had a resident minister, and Phyllis Weedon was known as the "Mother of the Parish" for her decades of dedication to Sunday School and other needs of the local congregation. The chapel in the present church is dedicated to Mr and Mrs Weedon.
During its formative years, the parish was served by two timber church structures. The first, built to a simple design by Richard Gailey, succumbed to a windstorm after only four years. The second, dedicated in 1875, was a rudimentary building—said to have the appearance more of a wool store than a church—but was gradually improved as the parish grew and funds became available. During the term of the Reverend D. Ruddock, the first rector of Holy Trinity, who served from 1888-99, the rectory and parish hall were added alongside the church. The hall, completed in 1889, was first used as a school and in the 1920s was extended. The rectory, constructed in 1890-91, was damaged by fire and demolished around 1950. An adjacent house was purchased and served as the rectory until the late 1990s.
In the early twentieth century the parish hit its stride, and a building fund was created in 1910 with a view to constructing a new church building, though progress was slowed by war and economic conditions. Then disaster intervened when on 11 December 1929 the old timber church was destroyed by fire. For almost a year, services were conducted in the hall.
The current church, designed in Italian Romanesque style by architect Eric Ford, was constructed the following year and dedicated by the Bishop Coadjutor, F. de Witt Batty on October 4 1930. The striking building, taking full advantage of its conspicuous hilltop site, is a lasting tribute to the persistence and dedication of its congregation, mostly wage earners, at a time of economic depression.
Holy Trinity Church houses many memorials to parish members. The columbarium, completed in 1938, was the first of its kind in Queensland. Honour boards in the rear of the church name 225 men and women who served in the two world wars, most of whom hailed from the local neighbourhood. The freestanding bell tower, dedicated to those who died in WWII, was originally erected within a memorial garden on the church grounds. A cross from the Church in Japan honours Holy Trinity parishioner John Duffill, one of the New Guinea Martyrs of 1942.
In the inter- and post-war years, Holy Trinity’s church hall and grounds served as a nucleus of activity in the area, hosting social events from high teas and fetes to local branches of Scouts and Girl Guides. At the same time, many long-standing Holy Trinity families relocated into the newly-built suburbs, mirroring the downward trend in the local Woolloongabba population.
Woolloongabba, once a bustling hub of commercial activity, began to decline from the 1950s as the South Brisbane wharves and railways closed and suburban shopping centres proliferated. The final blow came in the 1970s with the construction of the South East Freeway, which forced the removal of hundreds of local residents and dozens of businesses, and physically fragmented the suburb. Positioned just west of the freeway cutting, Holy Trinity Church was now more or less severed from a large portion of the parish. It would take decades for the Gabba neighbourhood to begin to recover from the trauma.
For more than a century, Holy Trinity Church stood atop the hill nestled amongst trees and gardens — a small oasis in a densely developed neighbourhood. But this was not to last. The dispersed congregation and declining local membership put financial pressure on the parish, which had a hall, rectory and heritage church building all in need of significant maintenance.
Proposals for turning the parish's land into a public park or aged care facility were mooted, but in the end residential development was deemed to be the only financially viable option. Hall and rectory were demolished to make room for Trinity Place and the Trinity Hill Apartments and Townhouses, finished just in time to ring in the new millennium. Further medium- and high-density residential development would change the face of the wider area in the coming decades.
On the afternoon of 27 November 2014, a supercell storm hit Brisbane with torrential rain, large hail and damaging high winds. Woolloongabba was one of the worst-affected suburbs, suffering extensive hail damage to vehicles and houses, with some properties losing their roofs entirely. As a result of the storm, Holy Trinity Church required nearly $1 million in repairs, including full restoration of the organ and new Cordova roof tiles from Spain. All upper-level leadlight windows on the southern side were replaced, but miraculously only one stained-glass window required repairs.
A totally restored and refurbished church building was re-dedicated at a special service of celebration in November 2015. Since then the Gabba has been enjoying an on-going process of urban renewal and Holy Trinity remains a light on the hill, continuing to grow with Woolloongabba community.