Most recent controversies over places of worship in Australia have involved Muslim prayer halls, cultural centres and mosques. A long running and bitter dispute over the establishment of a mosque in the Victorian regional city of Bendigo has just been in the headlines again.
Some local residents have conducted a virulent campaign to stop the building of the mosque which got local council approval in 2014. The latest round in their appeal to the Victorian Civil and Administrative Tribunal to have approval for the mosque overturned was conducted in Bendigo over the last few days.
Some distance south-west of Bendigo at Crossley, a small coastal community between Port Fairy and Warrnambool, in the recent past there was another hot controversy over a place of worship. But there the focus of community rancour wasn’t a mosque but a small Catholic Church.
The feisty woman featured in this interview on Eureka Street TV was at the heart of that dispute over St Brigid’s Church at Crossley.
34 year old social activist and author, Regina Lane, led the charge against the parish priest and bishop who wanted to close and sell off this building that had been the centre of her family’s spiritual and community life for generations.
In this interview she talks about the motivation for her social activism, her efforts to save St Brigid’s Church, the acclaimed book she wrote about that struggle (this was reviewed by Andrew Hamilton for Eureka Street), and her job now as a book publisher.
Lane’s ancestors were immigrants from Ireland who came to Australia in the 1840s and 50s fleeing poverty and the potato famine in their native country, and bringing with them a rebellious spirit and devout Irish Catholicism.
They settled in this south-western region of Victoria along with other Irish migrants and established a community of tenant farmers, mainly growing potatoes as they had back in Ireland.
First at Crossley they built a Catholic school that doubled as a church. Later they raised money to erect a proper church and St Brigid’s, named after the patron saint of Ireland, was opened in 1914.
Lane is very much a product of this background, growing up in a devout Catholic family, the youngest of ten children. Mass every Sunday at St Brigid’s, the rosary said at home, a life revolving around the Church were hallmarks of her upbringing.
After completing school she gained a Bachelor of Arts in communications and media studies at University of Melbourne, and a Master of Social Science in international development from RMIT University.
She has worked for a number of Catholic and secular social justice agencies both here and overseas, including YMCA Victoria, Catholic Commission for Justice, Peace and Development in Melbourne, Catholic Agency For Overseas Development (CAFOD) in the UK, Get Up! Australia, Australian Council of Learned Academies and the Australian Conservation Foundation.
This interview is in two parts - Part 1 (10 mins) above, and Part 2 (11 mins) below:
Peter Kirkwood is a freelance writer and video consultant with a master's degree from the Sydney College of Divinity.
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13 May 2015
An inspiring and wonderful talk with Regina Lane. Congratulations to Regina for her social activism. I recently visited Uluru and found the experience to be a very moving and spiritual one. Along with Kuta Tjura, Uluru is a very sacred site for the Anangu people. And by extension it's our place too. Thankfully, both sites lie within a National Park, protected and cherished. Soon, it's to be hoped that climbing Uluru will no longer be permitted and the natural elements will encourage wildlife back to the site.
14 May 2015
I don't know the geography; but is it possible for the docese to grant her ownership, and up-keep, of the church, while maintaining ownership of surrounding grounds?
15 May 2015
Recently I re-visited Christ Church, Illawarra (where the artist Tom Roberts lies buried in the churchyard), situated in the lovely open countryside near Tasmania's Longford . One Sunday morning, I am told, the Archdeacon arrived to tell the congregation the church was being closed for ever the very next day ! The people did not take this lying down and found that the church land and the adjoining glebe land, given by the family owning the large farming property, had been given on the condition that it never be sold - the family still much involved with the church. Today that church remains open still, well-cared for, with services on two Sundays a month, and the glebe land is leased back to the original donors - providing valuable income. The same basic story is true of what happened at the neighbouring church at Nile. In all kinds of ways, the people of the Church, with their diverse wonderful gifts of the Spirit) (in my case the C.of E. but equally true of any other Church) need to be listened to by those who exercise power, and their gifts and understandings appreciated far more.