Brief History of the Presbyterian Church in the Wyndham Area
The first European settlement of the Werribee area occurred in 1835 when members of the Port Phillip Association took up pastoral runs for their sheep, which were transported by boat from Van Diemen’s Land (now Tasmania). Shepherds lived in huts on the plains, however the remainder of the workers were located around the landholders’ residences. No doubt those settlers of Scots heritage met for worship in their homes and would have been encouraged by the arrival of Melbourne’s first Presbyterian minister early in 1838.
Because the Werribee River needed to be forded by travellers between Melbourne and Geelong, accommodation and subsequent settlement took place in the vicinity of these river crossings. In 1850 the first lot of Wyndham (Werribee) land was sold in Melbourne. Werribee’s first municipal administration, the Wyndham District Road Board was established in 1862.
Worship for the local citizens of all denominations was held in a wooden building built in 1859, and which still exists as a hall, at the St. Thomas Anglican Church site, corner of Synnot and Greaves Streets. The Presbyterian Church in the area formally commenced in January 1866 with the ordination of Rev. Andrew Hanna, and has been continuing to meet in various locations over the ensuing 150 years. However, as early as July 1863, the Presbytery of Melbourne appointed newly licensed Alexander M. Smith to preach fortnightly following a request from the “Presbyterians resident at Wyndham”.
The parish or charge has included Presbyterian congregations located at You Yangs (sometimes known as Duck Ponds, now Lara) and Little River, as well as at Truganina, where a building was purchased in 1907 from the Baptist church. As closer settlement in the Wyndham area developed, so too did the establishment of congregations, with services held firstly in a machinery shed at the Metropolitan Farm in the late 1890’s before moving to the school and later the interdenominational Union Church. The Werribee South Irrigation District was developed around the time of the First World War, with Sunday school and services subsequently being conducted at the local State school. With the establishment of the R.A.A.F. bases at Laverton and Point Cook, the ministers from Werribee have variously performed chaplaincy duties for the service personnel.
From 1884-1975, the Werribee congregation met in the bluestone church building known as St. Thomas’ Presbyterian Church, erected in 1884 on land donated by Thomas Chirnside, Esq. of Werribee Park, who also solely funded the project. The adjoining bluestone manse was constructed at a similar time (1884). The church building, on the corner of Duncan’s Road and Synnot Street, is classified by the National Trust of Australia (Victoria) and is now owned by the Uniting Church in Australia, commonly known as Crossroads Uniting Church.
From 1975, during the formation of the Uniting Church from the Methodist, Congregationalist and Presbyterian Churches, a remnant Presbyterian congregation began meeting in various locations, including a period from 1989-1995 at Manorvale Primary School. Sunday school was conducted in the 1980’s at “The Cottage”, Synnot St. ext., in Werribee.
Land on Blackforest Road, Wyndham Vale was donated by members of the congregation in the late 1980’s with the current building being erected during 1995, and opened officially on 20th April 1996, after much fund raising and generosity by members of the congregation and friends. Continual works and improvements have created a modern, comfortable venue for worship with versatility in the design for Sunday School, Play Group and Youth activities. The rural outlook to the You Yangs is a reminder to the congregation and leaders of the pastoral heritage as Wyndham Presbyterian Church seeks to meet the needs of the residents of a rapidly growing urban centre, the Lord be our help.
September 1, 2016