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www.mnnews.today/aurora-magazine Catholic Diocese of Maitland-Newcastle
St Michael's continued to ser ve its
congregations well through another ten
decades of lifetimes.
Then came 1991. It was up for sale.
Cessnock parish could not continue to
The villager s and sur rounding valley
residents gathered. They bought it.
Catholics and other s pitched in with money,
fund-r aising activities, their labour, their
deter mination -- and bought St Michael's for
the community of the Wollombi Valley.
No longer technically a Catholic Church,
it is a Catholic Chapel belonging to the
people of Wollombi. Catholic in its
history and its over all char acter it is also
ecumenical, and broader, in its reaching
out and gathering in. Inter-denominational
Stations of the Cross are conducted on
Good Friday. Catholic, other religious and
civil weddings are celebrated within its
"What's the heart of the St Michael's story?"
I ask Gael Winnick. "Community! " she says
without hesitating. "Sectarianism didn't get
to this valley," continues Gael, as she tells
me the St Michael's tale and shows me its
beautiful interior. This church represents a
community at its best, one with an edifying
history of overcoming adversity and pulling
together, heedless of differences in r eligious
affiliation that have blighted some other
Gael is preser ving the story. With local
photogr apher and film-maker, Ken Martin,
she is producing a film about the recent
history of St Michael's, its sale and buy-back
by the community, and the ama zing effor ts
of the locals to restore and preser ve it as
the treasure in the hear t of their village.
The community of St Michael's will
celebrate 175 year s with Mass on 26
September. Locals of all hues will fill their
church and congregate outside. Their
meeting-place will honour a community
with its long history of being and working
The 'meeting place of the waters' -- and of
the ancients , the convicts, the settlers, the
generations, the locals, the visitor s -- will
flow on as a place of real community.
The Sky Father is surely pleased with his
creative work, watched over by his
CELEBRATING A UNIQUE
Wollombi is a beautiful place. Its ver y name
It is situated in a narrow valley where the
Wollombi Brook and the Congewai Creek
come together. Nearby, the Narone and
Yango Creeks enter the flow.
Wollombi means 'meeting place of the
waters' or simply 'meeting place' in the
ancient Aboriginal naming. It was also
wher e they, for millennia, gathered
For the Darkinjung people, as well as the
Awabakal and Wanaruah nations, the
locality was a ceremonial meeting place
wher e east coa st peoples gathered on
pilgrimage to nearby Mount Yengo. The
top of this spiritually significant mountain
was flattened by the dreamtime Sky Father,
Baiame, when he leapt back to the spirit
world after creating all the mountains,
lakes, rivers and caves in the area.
It was also the meeting place of convicts .
Work gangs from Castle Hill converged at
Wollombi with gangs from Newcastle (via
Maitland and Cessnock) as Major Thoma s
Mitchell's Great Nor th Road was pushed
through to open up the colony.
Free settler s made it their meeting place,
too, when they took up residence in the
valley from 1829. As congregations they
gathered at St Michael the Archangel
Catholic Church from 1843 and at the
Anglican St John's Church from 1849.
Too many waters met her e in 1893. St
Michael's, near er the creeks than St John's,
was engulfed by the mighty flood. But, it's
an ill flood that brings no benefit. The
good locals, Catholic and other, pitched
in. It seems, from the shor t time involved,
that the church was dismantled and then
re-assembled on a higher and more apt
site at the hear t of the village, where it
Gael Winnick and Ken Martin at St Michael's Church,Wollombi. Photo by Sage Swinton, The Advertiser, Cessnock.
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