Wilderness Presbyterian Church
Strathdownie, Victoria, Australia

Historical Sketch 1862-1962

Wilderness Church Strathdownie 1962 Services began at Strathdownie in the eighteen-fifties. A timetable of preaching appointments for the very large district of Portand Bay, drawn up by the minister, Rev. T. E. RICHARDSON, in 1850-51 shows that services were held at Strathdownie East at 11 a.m. on January 19th and May 4th, 1851, and at Heathfield on the same day at 4 p.m.

Services were then held at the home of Mr. W. McEACHERN, the old Strathdownie East homestead. We are told that in 1855, the Rev A. PRINGLE, Presbyterian minister from Geelong, while staying in Portland, was asked to visit East Strathdownie. He came overland on horseback, and "at a service in the parlor of the old East Strathdownie homestead, baptized many children from infants to eight years". Neighbours from surrounding stations had gathered for this service, some coming twelve miles by bullock dray. The people of Strathdownie asked Rev. Pringle to accept a call there. Later he wrote home to Scotland telling of a vacancy for a minister at East Strathdownie, saying that the salary would be 450 per annum, beside promises of beef, mutton, butter, eggs, etc. He said the district was predominantly Scottish, and that a minister who spoke Gaelic, whom they would understand, would get preference over one who spoke only English. He said the district was twenty-five miles in length and contained three embryo towns (one of which was possibly Casterton). A Church and a Manse were to be built. and from that centre the minister would visit other places once a month.

No minister was forthcoming, however, and the ambitious plans of the pioneers did not come to fruition. Instead of becoming the large controlling centre foreseen by the Rev. PRINGLE, Strathdownie has been continually passed round from one neighbouring charge to another throughout the century. in 1861, a Church was built at The Wilderness, near Kaladbro Station, and Mr. M. mcINNES, of Runnymede, who did have the Gaelic, used to preach there on his missionary journeys. At first Wilderness was under the jurisdiction of Mt. Gambier - then of Penola. One preacher from Penola discontinued services there, but was instructed to resume them forthwith.

Then Strathdownie and Dartmoor were made part of Mt. Gambier again, and Rev. CALDWELL preached occasionally in the district. The Church was always crowded on these occasions.

In 1875, a second Church was built nearer to where the present Church stands, and from 1882 till his death in 1898, Mr. WERNE was missionary in the Strathdownie-Dartmoor district, which was now servered from Mt. Gambier and made part of the Merino Charge. Monthly services were also held at West Strathdownie, first in the school house and then in the Church built in 1883, and these continued for many years until there were really no people left to attend, as many families had moved away.

Early members of the Church committee were Messrs. EGERTON, J. McCORKINDALE, L. McKINNON, H. WATSON and D. McDONALD. In 1891 there were active youth groups in Strathdownie, and the press of the day remarked on "this obvious desire to further the good cause of Christianity, which speaks well for this out of the way portion of the community".

After Mt WERNE's death, Strathdownie became part of the Casterton Charge. This had been advocated by Rev. R. THOMSON and supported by the Presbytery, but strong opposition from the Casterton Board of Management had to be overcome. It meant that a missionary assistant had to be appointed, and finances were already strained. However, the missionary preached not only at Strathdownie, but all the out-stations and made possible services at Bahgallah and Runnymede. Those who worked as missionaries during these years were Messrs. HARRIS, HAMILTON, ROWE, BRODIE, FOYSTER, DARBY, JONES, CHAPMAN, ELLIOTT, HEADON and NICHOLLS.

Then, in 1908, the third Wilderness Church was built on its present site, which was donated by Mr. James MOLES. It was crowded to the utmost at the dedication service, at which Rev. CALDWELL, of Mt. Gambier, was preacher, and Mrs H. WATSON officiated at the organ. Mr. J. F. McNICOL, who lived in the district as a child, remembers this occasion and recalls his keen disappointment at being left home by his parents because they knew that seating accomodation would be overtaxed.

Two years later a window was unveiled by Mr. G. ELLIOTT to commemorate the life and work of Mr. H. WATSON - whose work for the Church had been an example to all.

In 1914, Strathdownie was again attached to Dartmoor, and it was hoped to form a Charge of this district; but this hope was not fulfilled, and the district renmained a mission station. Rev. C. MATEAR, Rev. BROWNLIE, Rev. L. WEBSTER, and Messrs. STARES, ROBERTSON, HARRIS, HARVEY, MATHESON, IRVINE, PERMAN, ALLEN, McGREGAR, Rev. McLELLAND, Rev. WILSON, Rev. COX, Rev. D. J. MUNRO, Rev. MILLS and Rev. CONSTABLE have all preached in the Wilderness Church.

In 1955, during the ministry of Rev. John JAMIESON, Strathdownie rejoined Casterton Charge, and is part of Scots church today, when Rev. THOMSON conducts services in the Wilderness Church on second and fifth Sundays and quarterley communion services.

Over the years members of the McEACHERN, McCORKINDALE, McDONALD, McFARLAND, EGERTON, ROSS, WATSON and HARVEY families have been prominent in Church activities in every corner of the Charge. Organists have been Mesdames H. WATSON, K. McEACHERN, E. MUNRO, R. HILL, A. HOOPER and Miss C. CAIN, the present organist.

First secretary was Mr. A. McCORKINDALE, who was succeeded by Mr. W. MOLES, and then four members of the McEACHERN family. The present secretary, Mr. K. M. McEACHERN, was appointed in 1960.

Wilderness Church celebrated its centenary with a special service on the afternoon of Sunday, 8th April 1962. The Rev. MILLS returned from Melbourne to preach to a crowd of 350 people, more than 200 of whom had to remain outside the building. Former worshippers came from as far afield as Sydney, and many visitors were present from both Mount Gambier and Casterton.

To mark the occasion, a new fence and gateway were donated by Mr. and Mrs Morvern McEACHERN, and a noticeboard Mr. and Mrs. H. HARVEY. These were received and dedicated by Rev. I. M. THOMSON. Later at an afternoon tea in the hall, presentations were made by the congregation to Mr. Murray McEACHERN and Miss. C. CAIN, in appreciation of their long service as secretary and organist.

[This article has been extracted from a 1962 History of the Casterton Presbyterian Church, by Kathleen Munro]

Strathdownie Main Page