Words and images from home and away
Yesterday I was shown round the Welsh Church in La Trobe Street Melbourne by Bill Jones, who is writing an anniversary history for publication in 2013. Odd that it’s a Welshman from Cardiff University who is showing me behind the scenes in my own city, but Bill is an expert in the Welsh diaspora and is currently working on a history of the Welsh Overseas 1600 to the present. The Welsh speaking congregation has dwindled to just a handful, though the church now attracts adherents from beyond the Welsh community and has planning approval to develop the site. A walkway from St David’s Hall will connect with a new tower building adjacent. The Hall has over time been a popular venue for meetings of the Cambrian Society of Victoria and other social events, but now has a neglected feel. Tattered stage backdrops hang abandoned behind the proscenium; an old organ from the church is shrouded with dust; ornate ceiling roses peep out from underneath a false ceiling; honour boards record the names of those who fought for the British empire in world wars, under the unofficial Welsh motto “Y ddraic coch a ddyry cychwyn” — the red dragon will show the way.
The current building in La Trobe Street Melbourne was constructed in 1871, replacing an 1850s structure. St David’s Hall (1893) is located behind the church. Both structures are on the Victorian Heritage Register. The Welsh in Melbourne established themselves as an identifiable community in the gold rush period, and the first recorded Welsh language church service was held in 1852. In a letter to the Argus in July 1855 on the subject of ‘Preaching in the Welsh language‘, A.P. Jones estimated that there were 5000 Welsh colonists on the goldfields.
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