FIRST ECUMENICAL WORK CAMP
AUGUST – SEPTEMBER, 1955
The first ecumenical work camp organised in Australia – there had already been others around the world, involving young people – was held in 1955.
In January that year, Rev. John Alexander, then vice-master of Ormond College, Melbourne, heard that there were insufficient funds for the forecourt of the John Flynn Memorial Church then under construction in Alice Springs, and that Rev. Fred McKay was considering doing the job himself, with local volunteers. So, planning for the Work Camp commenced – it was a project that relatively unskilled people could do, a cause that touched people of all denominations in the Inland, and involved travel to an iconic region of our country.
So, in August, 29 of us [representing 3 denominations and 4 states] set off from Melbourne in 7 cars, taking 6 1/2 days for the journey. Back then, there was no bitumen past Port Augusta, just a dirt track through 1,380 km of the outback. There were no 4WD’s – just 4 early Holdens, an Austin and 2 Fords – one a 1936 model! We have vivid memories of a rain-affected track; various motor problems, fixed with ingenuity by our “bush” mechanics; camping out under the stars and a wonderful display of wildflowers, courtesy of the rain. We also enjoyed the hospitality of the people of the outback, particularly on the return journey when they saw that the task had been taken seriously and been completed by these young campers.
On our arrival in Alice Springs, we immediately set to work – my first job was to send 50 telegrams on behalf of the group to their families and friends, telling them of our safe arrival. [no mobile phones in those days] The stone – 40 tons in all – was quarried from nearby hills, the parabola-shaped area to be paved [ 200-250 sq. metres] was dug out, sand spread, and levelled; the sandstone was shaped, laid. levelled and cemented into place. The work took 8 days – workers started early, and even continued into the night under lights to ensure that the job was completed.
Our one day of sight-seeing was the last Sunday, when, after a service of worship at John Flynn’s grave, we headed out to enjoy Standley Chasm and Simpson Gap.
Altogether, a simply wonderful and inspirational experience.
The group has had 2 reunions – 1985 and 2005 – where the rapport and connection were immediate. We had shared a great adventure, worked hard to achieve our goal, and worshipped and studied together. This all created a strong bond through this experience of acting out our faith.
Alison Barr, August 2012