REMINISCENCES OF A SON OF THE MANSE AT LONGREACH QLD. 1947—1951
My Father, John Mallyon, completed his studies at St. Andrew’s Theological College (‘The Hall’ as it was affectionately called) in 1947.
He commenced studies in 1939, but World War II intervened. He completed his studies on his return from the Middle East where he served as a YMCA Welfare Officer. Some other students for the ministry also served as YMCA Welfare Officers including Rev Alan McLachlan.
Dad felt he was called to serve in the Australian Inland Mission (AIM). I can remember having lunch with John Flynn and Dad in the old Assembly Hall Cafeteria where they discussed the possibility of him becoming one of John Flynn’s Patrol Padres. The problem was that at the time the AIM could not supply a Manse and with my future education in mind a calling to the AIM was not to be. In later years my Dad did serve on the AIM board).
“Our Lord works in mysterious ways His wonders to perform” and it must have been His wish that John Mallyon was to be called to a ministry in the Outback, albeit Outback Queensland.
Enter one Robert Steel Byrnes who at the time was General Secretary of the Presbyterian Church in Queensland. Bob Byrnes had also been a YMCA Welfare Officer during the war and was a great friend of my Father.
St. Andrew’s Longreach had just become vacant. An introduction was arranged by R. S. Byrnes between Dad and the selection committee at Longreach which resulted in John Mallyon accepting a call from the Longreach Congregation. So it was that John, Thelma and Ron (then aged 10) left the Merrylands Manse where John had been student minister, and departed by steam train for Longreach. In the latter part of 1947 John Mallyon was ordained as a minister of the Presbyterian Church of Australia and inducted into the Longreach Parish by the Presbytery of Rockhampton.
I have so many vivid memories of Longreach in those far away days.
The Longreach of the late 40’s was a far cry from the Longreach of today. In those days the economy was based pretty well on the rural industry and associated services. These days, as well as the rural industry, tourism and tertiary educational facilities play an important part in the life of the town. During our time in Longreach there were 14 hotels to quench the thirst of the shearers, today only 2 or 3 hotels, 4 motels and 2 caravan parks. I well remember the goats. Cow’s milk was in short supply and when it was available, very expensive. So many householders kept a couple of goats. The goats used to leave their homes early in the morning, meet on the street corners and then assemble on the town common. In the late afternoon it was the reverse procedure, with the goats parting company on the street corners and returning to their respective homes. Then there was the method of waste water disposal. Waste water from kitchen and bathroom flowed into a holding tank in the back yard. Once a week a tanker would call to pump the water out and spray it on the streets— to keep the dust down. It must have been too hot for any germs to survive. Electricity was direct current and supplied by one of two generators at the Power Mouse. At about 1am one morning the second generator was accidentally brought into operation, the resulting surge in current creating mayhem with light bulbs exploding all over town.
The Longreach Parish covered an area of 54,000 square miles, extending to Winton in the North, Jundah in the South and Bafcaldine in the East. The parish’s western border joined the western patrol of the AIM. To illustrate the size, if a map of the parish is superimposed on a map of England, it covers almost the southern half of England! After completing his Sunday Services Dad would go out on patrol visiting the homesteads, taking services, baptizing babies and conducting weddings, much the same as an AIM Padre, except that he had the usual parish responsibilities as well.
The Longreach Manse of the late 40’s was in Cassowary Street. It was your typical “Queenslander” on stilts. The outside walls were corrugated iron to, with a verandah on two sides. In summer I slept on the verandah to escape the heat. It was even equipped with a “Coolgardie” water cooler but this was later replaced with a kerosene fridge.
When we arrived in Longreach, the Committee of Management was in the process of changing the parish’s motor vehicle. A new Chevrolet Utility was on order from Longreach Motors but was not due to be delivered until the new year of 1948. To provide the Minister with a means of transport, Miss Fanny Smith, the longest serving teacher at Longreach State School, Sunday School Superintendent and the person whose job it was to keep the Minister on the straight and narrow, had lent her “A” model Ford. We had never had a motor vehicle in our family and I was so excited! Santa had delivered a new bike for Christmas 1947, so each morning before school I would ride down to the railway yards to see if the Chev Ute had arrived. . Finally there it was sitting on the back of a railway wagon so I raced back home with the good news. The terms of call allowed the Minister to have the use of the parish car for his annual holidays. It was the practice to leave after the Christmas Day Semce keeping a watchful eye on the monsoon clouds gathering. You could not move on those black soil roads once the rain began. We usually headed for our home state which included a visit to our good friends Rev Phil and Joan Lucock at the Wingham Manse.
The Manse was used as a staging post for AIM Padres heading west to their respective patrols. One of my most treasured memories is the fellowship spent with these wonderful Ministers of the Church fondly known as “Flynn’s Mob”. In particular I remember the Rev Ken Beckett and his wife Beth of the Kimberley Patrol. They had a six month old baby, Colin, who had a most unusual crib. It was a five sided rectangular metal box, lined with canite. The rear window of the AIM truck had been removed and the open side of the box welded to the truck cabin, so making it accessible only from the interior of the vehicle. With the addition of a foam rubber mattress, this was where baby Colin travelled. Beth Beckett has written a book “Lipstick, Swag and Sweatrag”, memories of a Patrol Padre’s Wife AIM 1947—1955. From the late 40’s to the mid 50’s Beth Beckett’s “manse” was an AIM truck.
A more frequent visitor to our home was Rev William Roy Glasgow (Bill) Denning of the AIM’s Western Queensland Patrol. I remember him taking me out a few miles from Longreach, throwing his radio aerial up in a tree, rigging up his radio transmitter and chatting to the sisters at the Birdsville Hospital. This was a great thrill for an 11 year old boy in 1948. In 1949 I was told my Mother was to present me with a little brother or sister. As an only child I was ecstatic. Sadly my little brother was stillborn and my Mother very ill in Longreach Base Hospital. Bill Denning arrived just at this time of crisis. He was heading south on furlough but chose to stay on at the Manse until my Mother was discharged from hospital. He became chief cook and bottle washer for us, giving up three weeks of his holidays. He helped me over my devastation on losing the brother I never had and I know he was a great support to my Dad —a truly great Christian. In 1950 Bill Denning accepted a call to St. Andrew’s Rockhampton but passed away on 22nd February 1956 as a result of cancer. He was aged only 42.
I have already mentioned Miss Fanny Smith. As well as being Sunday School Superintendent, Miss Smith conducted the Presbyterian Sunday School of the Air on radio 4LG each Sunday morning. This was a great outreach initiative of St. Andrew’s and had an enrolment of approximately 400 children. Each year we assembled at Fanny Smith’s home to wrap a Christmas present for each of the 400 children who received their parcel in time for Christmas Day.
I must make mention of what can only be described as “unusual” funerals during my Dad’s Ministry at Longreach. The one and only hearse in town was a “T” Model Ford. Longreach Base Hospital was the main centre of medical care and quite often, if someone from the surrounding district passed away in the hospital, the deceased would be taken back to their home town or sometimes to their own property for burial. The town’s hearse was not well enough to survive the rough roads, so the local carrier used to be contracted to carry the coffin to these outlying areas on the back of his truck. I enjoyed accompanying my Dad on some of these trips but on one occasion when the local carrier was not available, it was proposed that the coffin would travel in the back of the Parish’s Chev Ute. Suddenly I decided I should stay home and look after Mum!
A grazier from Muttaburra passed away in the Longreach hospital. A Service was held in St. Andrew’s, after which the cortege travelled the 120kms to Muttaburra where burial was to take place. Dad was expecting to go straight to the Muttaburra Cemetery, instead the truck carrying the coffin stopped in front of the RSL hall which was decorated for a dance that night. When questioned as to what was going on the driver replied “Bill has to be given a farewell by his local mates Padre” , so it came to pass that a second service was held in the not so suitably decorated Muttaburra RSL Hall. While the hall was being readied Dad and the undertaker went out to the cemetery to see how the grave was progressing. In fact the grave digger was still working on it. When my Dad put forward the idea that another half hour might finish the job the reply was “Fair go Padre, this is hard yakka, another one and a half hours!” There was a law in Queensland (don’t ask me why) that a burial could not take place after sunset. It was arranged that the service would commence and when the grave was ready the undertaker would come to the door and give a signal. Ruth Lennon in her “Memories from Scots Kirk Hamilton” (Hearts and Hands and Voices Vol 1) recalls John Mallyon’s long sermons. Well this must have been the longest eulogy on record. Eventually the signal came and our grazier from Muttaburra was lowered into his grave as the sun sank slowly in the west.
I remember on another occasion a member of the congregation passed away and his funeral was to be held in Brisbane. His widow chartered a TAA DC3 to transport the mourners from Longreach to Brisbane and my Father joined the flight as the family’s Minister. A problem arose in as much as the coffin would not fit through the door of the luggage compartment, so it was decided to place it in the passenger cabin just behind the cockpit door. The coffin was then camouflaged by scattering blankets over the top of it. To all intents and purposes it was just a pile of blankets. Only one or two people on that flight knew what was under the blankets.
In 1987 my wife Barbara and I took my Father back to Longreach exactly 40 years after his induction into the Parish (my Mother had passed away in 1984). Two names came to mind, Graham Searles and Sir James Walker (knighted in 1972 for services to the rural industry) who were Elders of the Church during Dad’s ministry. When I was arranging the trip I phoned the Longreach Motel to make the booking and at the same time enquired about these two men. By the time we arrived a luncheon had been arranged at the home of Graham and Kath Searles and a dinner the same night at the home of Sir James and Lady Walker. During this visit Dad met folk, now in their forties, whom he had baptized 40 years before.
Barbara and I were so pleased to have been able to take Dad on this nostalgic return to Longreach which he enjoyed so much. I have mentioned previously that it must have been our Lord’s wish that John Mallyon should serve Him in Outback Queensland. So it was also in Queensland that the Lord decided on the 6th July 1990 to call my Dad home. He passed away at O’Reilly’s Guest House in the Lamington National Park while holidaying there with Barbara and myself
Early in 2000 I learnt that Sir James Walker had written his autobiography “My Rewarding Life”. I wrote to him to enquire where I would be able to obtain a copy and he kindly sent me one.
He wrote the following inscription in the book.
“To Ron. I trust this book will bring back happy memories of great times in your life at Longreach. My memory is especially of your dear Dad, a great and dear friend. Great things happened to our Church when your Dad was Minister— Sir James 6.2.2000”
In June 2003 Barbara and I again returned to Longreach. We spent a week travelling the roads where I journeyed with my Mum and Dad all those years ago. We timed the visit to be there on a Sunday so we could worship in the old St. Andrew’s, now Longreach Uniting Church. I was surprised at the number of people who remembered John Mallyon after 55 years. One couple told me he officiated at their wedding in 1948 and baptized their first child. So many memories came flooding back during that week.
My sojourn in Longreach spanned only a few short years of my life. I suppose, as this period covered some of my formative years, it gave me a great understanding of John Flynn’s vision and how practical Christianity really worked in the outback. John Flynn became my hero.
Photograph: Taken at a Queensland Assembly (ca. 1948/49)
L to R Back:
Rev John Mallyon, St. Andrews Longreach QLD (1947 – 1951)
Rev Fred McKay, Minister Toowong QLD (1947 – 1951)
L to R Front:
Rev John Flynn, AIM Superintendent (1912 – 1951)
Rev William Glasgow Denning, Patrol Padre Western QLD Patrol (1947 – 1950)