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Australia's Christian Heritage

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This Free Space Page expands on the work of the Australia Project.

Australia has a rich and vibrant Christian heritage indeed
—a heritage that has been painstakingly established by many
Godly men and women, and passed on to our present Australian generations


Australia's Christian Heritage

Many of Australia’s founding fathers (and mothers)—officials, settlers, explorers, clergy and missionaries, pioneers, entrepreneurs and philanthropists, soldiers, and convicts—were indeed men and women of God whose contributions have directed the course upon which the nation has sailed. They wore their faith on their sleeves or, put another way, took up their cross daily for all to see. When one speaks of our nation’s Christian heritage they are really addressing that total cultural heritage which has affected even those citizens who do not personally know Christ Jesus as their Lord. Deliberately omitted from the following section are two groups of Godly men and women who otherwise deserve to be included. The first group are those yet walking their pilgrimage. To discuss their ministry and life as decisively contributing to Australia’s Christian heritage may puff them up and/or cause them to stumble, either of which this author is not prepared to risk. The second are those who left as an inheritance to future generations solely what they planted internally in their local churches or Christian organisations.

For the purpose of identifying those Christian heritage builders in their eras, we consider the following time divisions:


Just because Aboriginal culture, as indeed with any culture, has failed to erect altars for offering sacrifices or build places of worship does not mean that there has been no religion or attention to a Divine Being. That various Aboriginal lore involved worship of the Great Spirit, and His Son, indicates that migration happened from the Indian sub-continent well after the Apostle Thomas took the Gospel to that region. One such legend says that the Son, Biggaroo—who was always fighting with the evil carpet snake—told the people: "To me you shall come, for the Great Father Spirit gave me the power to heal you, body, mind, and soul." Unfortunately, whatever memory of God existed in folklore has been corrupted and the culture resorted to a degree of animism. Any movement of people groups in a dynamic world is naturally going to incur change. Adding a new generation at the bottom end causes change! It has been said that the coming of Europeans has been detrimental to Aboriginal culture and religion. The purpose of this section is not to debate whether change has been detrimental or not.

What is inexcusable is the mistreatment (stemming from the evolutionary, racist concept that darker skinned people are not fully human) and inequality (it was not until 1967 that Aboriginals were counted as full Australians; being counted as such on censuses and included in compulsory voting—Aboriginals had been granted freedom to vote voluntarily since Federation, providing their respective State authorised such) that has been proffered fellow descendants of Adam and Noah by ungodly European settlers. Mistreatment of indigenous Australians was not the intent of those in command of the first settlement. Phillip commanded, as early as Sunday 27th January 1788 that [indigenous peoples] were not to be offended or molested in any way, and that they were to be treated respectfully upon all contact. On no account were they to be fired upon. (Cobley, Sydney Cove 1788 Volume 1, p38)

Believers in the Lord Jesus Christ (this, unfortunately, does not equate with some who have gone in the name of the Church) have been at the forefront of treating indigenous Australians compassionately and fairly, and granting equal opportunity to participate responsibly in the 'global village'—wherein no culture is 'free' to abstain or withdraw.

Penal settlements & refugee havens

British settlement of the continent now known as Australia from 1788 (it could have been any of several European colonising nations) naturally brought those who would establish communities of British Christians, i.e., British-style churches. It was an era in which almost all the population associated with one particular denomination as the official church in Britain—the Church of England or, as it is today known, the Anglican Church—whether or not they believed in Jesus Christ and whether or not they desired to live god-honouring lives. It was the church, not the government, who registered couples marrying, for parents to have their new-born children christened, and for people to be buried. Indeed, Richard Johnson officiated at the first Christian christening on Australian soil on 3rd February, and the first wedding on 10th February (the first burial, at least in New South Wales, that of Forby Sutherland, was officiated at by Lieutenant James Cook RN on 2nd May 1770 at Botany Bay). Others, from other denominations and faiths, would soon come to the colonies—many as a result of persecution, such as the Irish Catholics, English Dissenters (Methodists), Non-conformists (Congregationalists), and Lutherans (as the Prussian government increasingly controlled the church). By the early 1820s the vast colony of New South Wales comprised many far-flung settlements, from the Hunter (Newcastle) and Moreton Bay (Brisbane) in the north to Van Diemen’s Land (Tasmania) in the south, Norfolk Island in the east and Bathurst in the west. That was the time that the era of land exploration and settling really commenced. With this agricultural expansion came rapid commercial and religious growth. And the arrival of convicts continued unabated. So too did the separation from New South Wales into colonies directly answerable to England of Van Dieman's Land / Tasmania (settled from 1803, independent from 1824 and self-governing from 1851), New Zealand (a separate British colony from 1841), Victoria (permanently settled from 1834 after several short-lived attempts and self-governing from 1851), and Queensland (settled from 1824 and self-governing from 1859). NSW itself received responsible government in 1855. South Australia was founded separately to any of the earlier colonies in 1836 and granted self-government in 1851. The Swan River Colony / Western Australia, was settled from 1829 (but did not become self-governing from Britain until 1890).

Photo name post-nominals birth-death vocation contributed through other notable facts tree
Rev'd Richard Johnson-1753 England-1827 EnglandAnglican priest; Military chaplainThe First Fleet; Port Jackson Penal Colonywas the first Christian clergyman in Australia, arriving on the First Fleet; guided the spiritual life of all in the new colony and provided education to convicts and children; faithful to the word of God-
Mary Johnson nee Burgess-1765 England-1831 Englandwife of a Christian clergyman, Richard; pioneerThe First Fleet; Port Jackson Penal Colonymarried the appointed chaplain to a penal colony to be established on the other side of the world; supported him; worked with Caucasian and Aboriginal women, and children, in the colony-
George Fife Angas-1789 England-1879 SAbusinessman and bankerSouth Australia Corporationplayed a significant part in the establishment of South Australia as a place "… of refuge for pious Dissenters of Great Britain, who could in their new home discharge their consciences before God in civil and religious duties"connected
LT GEN Sir Richard BourkeKCB1789 England-1879 SABritish Army officer; 8th Governor of NSWNSW Governmentencouraged the establishment of churches of all denominations; viewed basic education as paramount for all children, proposed public education with Christian education integral to the curriculaconnected
Robert Campbell-1769 Scotland-1846 NSWmerchant; landownerCampbell & Co.; Duntroon; NSW Legislative Councilwas treasurer to the public funds, naval officer, magistrate, and collector of taxes; noted for his integrity and practical faith; promoted education and the construction of churches; Duntroon homestead is today the Officers' Mess of the Royal Military Collegeconnected
John Fairfax-1804 England-1877 NSWbusinessmanSydney (Morning) Herald; Australian Librarytook a leading part in the establishment and management of leading enterprises, such as the Australian Mutual Provident Society; active in the Congregational Church; and ensured the press remained conservative whilst faithful to Biblical values, music, the theatre, literature and artconnected
Captain John HunterRN1737 Scotland-1821 EnglandRoyal Naval officer; 2nd Governor of NSWThe First Fleet; Port Jackson Penal Colonysurveyed rivers and harbours about Port Jackson; devout Presbyterian with evangelical principles; opened a further seven schools (on top of Johnson's) under the Society for the Propagation of the Gospel and the London Missionary Society-
Rev'd August Ludwig Christian Kavel-1798 Prussia-1860 SALutheran pastorEvangelical Lutheran ChurchAustralia’s equivalent to America’s Pilgrims was the arrival of 500 Lutherans under Kavel fleeing persecution in Prussia in 1838; English settlers, initially suspicious of the Lutherans soon admired their harmonious relationships, perseverance, and industryconnected
Rev'd John Dunmore LangMA DD1799 Scotland-1878 NSWPresbyterian minister; politician; educationist; immigration organiser; anthropologist; journalistPresbyterian Church; NSW Legislative Assemblyto grow beyond mere penal settlements, Lang sought the emigration of skilled Christian workers to the colonies to 'raise the moral tone of society'; resolute in petitioning for an end to penal transportation; Australia's first statesman-
William Lawson-1774 England-1850 NSWsurveyor; soldier; land owner; (Australia's first) squatter; politician; and church leaderPresbyterian Church; NSW Legislative Councilco-founded The Bible Society); helped establish churches; supported trial by jury; one of the explorers who found a route across the Blue Mountainsconnected
Ludwig Leichhardt-1813 Prussia-1848 AustraliaexplorerNSW Government; Royal Geographical Societylacking in bushcraft, sense of direction and use of firearms, his simple faith was apparent when he set off on his exploratory ventures across the north and centre of Australia; exemplary recognition of his scientific discoveries-
Elizabeth Macarthur nee Veale-1766 England-1850 NSWdevoted wife, mother and home-maker; pastoralist and sheep breederSt John's Church, Parramatta; Elizabeth Farmwas a role model of Christian character; known for treating convicts fairly and acknowledging their emancipation; looking to the welfare and health of Aboriginal people; and conducting business with integrityconnected
Major General Lachlan Macquarie-1762 Scotland-1824 Englandsenior British Army officer; 5th Governor of NSWNSW Government; British & Foreign Bible Society (Bible Society)noted for his humanitarian treatment of ex-convicts, and major social, economic, and architectural development in the colony; encouraged exports; his faith and vision for a strong and free Australia were inseparably intertwinedconnected
Rev'd Samuel Marsden-1765 England-1838 NSWAnglican priest; Military chaplainPort Jackson Penal Colony; Church Missionary Societywas a prominent figure in early New South Wales history, not only for his ecclesiastical offices, but also for his farming enterprises and his role as a magistrate; introduced Christianity to New Zealandconnected
Charles Napier Sturt-1795 Bengal-1869 Englandsoldier; explorerBritish Army; Royal Geographical Societyhis explorations of the Murray, Darling, and Murrumbidgee Rivers opened up western NSW and South Australia; "… he was a gentleman, always kind ... inspired ... an unshakable faith in God."connected

Coming of Age

The second half of the nineteenth century – marked from the time of the first gold discoveries, huge immigration, colonial expansion, and wealth-production beyond wool – was a period of vastly increased growth for the church and her contribution to making Australia the country it is today. The church continued to influence the moral fabric of society, philanthropy, and education; with many of Australia’s major schools and colleges (now classified as private) established during this time, including the Scotch / Scots colleges, Grammar schools, and Presbyterian and Methodist Ladies’ Colleges. By the 1880s, social conscience resulted in the formation of inner-city ministries such as the Central Methodist Missions with their two-pronged emphases on both evangelism and social welfare. It was into this setting that the Salvation Army appeared in 1880; firstly in Adelaide and thence to every colony within eleven years. The establishment of branches of the Young Men’s Christian Association (YMCA) in the 1850’s provided physical, social, cultural and Biblical programmes for youth. The first Young Women’s Christian Association (YWCA) branch was formed in Sydney in 1880. Towards the end of the nineteenth century and early in the twentieth century, other non-denominational Christian movements aimed at evangelism amongst youth followed promptly upon their foundation in the United Kingdom, e.g., The Boys’ & Girls’ Brigades. In the new century, came the Church of England Boys’ Society and & Girls’ Friendly Society organisations, exclusive to the Anglican Church; and, although not founded as Christian organisations but often led by evangelical believers, came the Boy Scouts & Girl Guides. Missionary zeal, both internationally and amongst the Aboriginal people, grew during this time with most denominations forming official societies to organise the training and sending of missionaries, for instance, the first Baptist missionaries were sent out in 1882. The United Aboriginals Mission was formed out of the Christian Endeavour movement in 1894, initially to minister to the Aboriginal people of La Perouse, Sydney.

Photo name post-nominals birth-death vocation contributed through other notable facts tree
William Arnott-1827 Scotland-1901 NSWbaker and business ownerArnott's Biscuitswas the founder of Arnott's biscuits, as well as a philanthropist and active member of the Wesleyan church; noted for his kindness, compassion and integrityconnected
Caroline Chisholm nee Jones-1808 England-1877 Englandphilanthropist and humanitarianRoman Catholic Church; Family Colonization Loan Societyknown for her involvement with female immigrant welfare in Australia, she helped new migrants in New South Wales during the 1840s and 50s, and later in the goldfields region of Victoriaconnected
Rev'd Alexander Robert Edgar-1850 Ireland-1914 VICMethodist ministerMethodist Church of Australia; Christian Endeavourwas an early Methodist missionary in Australia; instrumental in bringing Christian Endeavour to Australia; social reformer; temperance advocate; foundational superintendent of Wesley Mission, Melbourne-
Sir John Forrest, Baron Forrest of BunburyKCMG1847 WA-1918 Sierra LeoneSurveyor; Commissioner of Lands WAWA Parliamentwas Western Australia's first Premier, first Federal Treasurer and first Australian to be granted a peerageconnected
Sir Samuel Walker GriffithGCMG KC1845 Wales-1920 QLDjudge; parliamentarianQLD Parliament; Supreme Court of QLD; chief justice of Australiaa prominent Christian, is credited with drafting the QLD Criminal Code and the federal Judiciary Act, and played a key role in the drafting of the Australian Constitutionconnected
Maria Helen 'Mary' MacKillop, St Mary of the Cross-1842 NSW-1909 NSWteacher; NunRoman Catholic Church; Sisters of St Joseph of the Sacred Heartsought to provide education and protection to all the poor and incurably ill; the only Australian to be recognised by the Roman Catholic Church as a saintconnected
Pastor Thomas Playford-1795 England-1873 SAsoldier; Christian pastorThe Christian Church, Adelaidesceptical of growing religiosity of the church, and the high-sounding emptiness of much of the preaching, he set about establishing an evangelical work; the Playford dynasty are still making their mark in Australiaconnected
Rev'd William George Taylor-1845 England-1934 NSWMethodist minister; Military chaplainCentral Methodist Mission, Sydney; Australian military and naval forcescombined the traditional spiritual life of the Church with Christian humanitarianism, founding a mission to seamen, Dalmar Homes, and a shelter for women-
Rev'd John Watsford-1820 NSW-unknownMethodist minister; missionaryMethodist Church of AustralasiaAustralia’s first native-born preacher, is best remembered as a missionary to Fiji; established outreach missions and churches throughout Australia and Pacific Islands, seeing whole communities raise their moral standardconnected


The Federation of the six British colonies into the Commonwealth of Australia on 1st January 1901 certainly brought change, but did not necessarily immediately affect every-day life. The new Commonwealth would govern foreign issues (such as trade, immigration, customs, and defence) and inter-State matters (such as rivers and highways crossing from one State to another), whilst the States retained responsibility for their respective internal issues (such as education, health, agriculture, roads, justice, etc). The States also retained their monarchy-appointed Governors, and Parliaments. Our cities were, for the most part, yet big country towns; and to travel from Victoria to Queensland by rail required change of trains at both NSW borders as the rail gauges all differed. The States operated ‘border gates’. Even though Australia had become a new nation, most of her 3.7 million citizens still looked to the Mother Country for nurture and protection. The turn of the century, however, provided opportunity for enterprising men and women to influence a new era for Christ, and continue developing an extensive Australian Christian heritage.

Photo name post-nominals birth-death vocation contributed through other notable facts tree
General Sir Henry George 'Harry' ChauvelGCMG KCB1865 NSW-1945 VICsenior Australian soldierQueensland and Australian Military Forces; Australian and Victorian War Memorials; Melbourne Legacy; Australian Red Cross; Young Men's Christian Associationthrough the Boer and both World Wars, he was a commander who put his men's safety and well-being first; his name is synonymous with the Australian Light Horse; a lay canon of St Paul's Cathedral, Melbourneconnected
Rev'd Dr John FlynnOBE DD1880 VIC-1951 NSWPresbyterian ministerAustralian Inland Mission (Frontier Services); Royal Flying Doctor Service; School of the Airahead of his time, for the service he envisaged was to be a framework within which outback communities might 'structure and co-ordinate' their own 'canopy' of safetyconnected
Rev'd David John Garland-1864 Ireland-1939 QLDAnglo-Catholic rector; Army ChaplainAnglican Church; State Schools League; Soldiers Help Societywas a crusader for Christian education in schools and devoted to a non-denominational commemoration of ANZAC that could be attended by the whole of Australian societyconnected
LT GEN Sir Joseph John Talbot HobbsKCB KCMG VD1864 England-1938 at seaArchitect; senior Army officerAustralian Imperial Force; Hobbs, Smith & Forbescommanded the 1st Australian Divisional Artillery, the the 5th Australian Division; he was 'a great citizen, and a great Christian gentleman'connected
Commissioner William 'Fighting Mac' McKenzieOBE MC OF1869 Scotland-1947 NSWSalvation Army Officer; Army ChaplainSalvation Army; Australian Imperial ForceMcKenzie saw the war as one in which Allies were fighting '... for those principles of righteousness on which the whole foundation and superstructure of our civilisation is built ...'connected
Edward Arthur MooreCMG1876 New Zealand-1963 QLDfarmer; businessman; benefactor; politicianQueensland Parliamentwas the only conservative QLD premier between 1915 and 1957; led a quiet, unpretentious life maintaining long associations with key community organisations and the churchconnected
David Unaipon-1872 SA-1967 SApreacher, author and inventorCongregational and Anglican Churches; Aborigines' Friends' Associationhe influenced government Aboriginal policy and stressed improvement: 'Look at me and you will see what the Bible can do'connected
David Webster-1864 QLD-1937 QLDbusinessman and church leaderWebster's Biscuits; Queensland Baptistsdiversified baking business into tearooms and cafés, ice works and manufacturing; was well known in business and church circles for his integrity and faithconnected

Australia in the modern era

The Second World War from 1939 to 1945, arguably more so than any other event, irretrievably changed society and its values. There is not a country in the world that has been left unaffected. The colonial era, and control by European nations was over. What the world has witnessed since that war is the ‘power shuffling’ designed to turn back the clock, alter allegiances, or in some way establish independence. The same spirit of independence is even evident within the family unit with, firstly, teenage children and more recently single-digit offspring bucking the authority of their parents. Until entrenched in our culture we failed to see that we too had become a crass commercialised, drug-fed, leisure seeking, television-watching, anti-social, irresponsible society. This belligerent attitude can be identified as the background to the generation gap, and has fed the prolific increase in adultery, de-facto relationships, divorce, abortion, homosexuality, disrespect for authority, and even child abuse. The Christian Church fought this downward direction during the immediate post-war years. Below are but a few of His disciples whose lives have influenced the nation for Him in this modern era and have contributed to the advancement of our great Christian heritage. Neither inclusion nor exclusion indicates these people have been the only ones to promote that heritage. There are many disciples of Christ alive at the time of writing this article who are adding to Australia’s Christian heritage, however, they have deliberately been omitted from the following lists. They are still creating their pilgrimage and do not need the pressure such promotion would apply to their lives ...

Photo name post-nominals birth-death vocation contributed through other notable facts tree
Douglas James AdamMBE1916 QLD-2010 QLDNaval officer; senior public servantThe Boys' Brigade; Queensland BaptistsQLD Father of the Year; church elder; Bible distributorconnected
Sir Johannes 'Joh' Bjelke-PetersenKCMG1911 New Zealand-2005 QLDQLD Parliament; farmerlongest-serving QLD Premier; Queensland Lutheransnoted for his uncompromising conservatism, his Biblical and moral stance-
Senator Neville Thomas BonnerAO1922 NSW-1999 QLDSenator; DirectorAustralian Senate; One People of Australia League; Australian Broadcasting Corporationfarmer with minimal formal education; the first Indigenous Australian to be elected to the Australian Parliament by popular voteconnected
Evangeline Evelyn 'Eva' BurrowsAC OF1929 NSW-2015 VICSalvation Army Officer13th General of the Salvation Army; International Bible Societyunusually capable and wise Australian, whose life has made a genuine difference for good in the worldconnected
Rev'd Rolland Arthur 'Rolly' BuschAO OBE1920 QLD-1985 NSWAustralian theologian, and Presbyterian and Uniting Church ministerProfessor of Theological Studies at University of Queensland; Chaplain-General of the Australian Armyactive in pursuing Aboriginal rights; advocated for church's ministry to hospitalsconnected
Dr Ernest Edward 'Weary' DunlopAC CMG OBE1907 VIC-1993 VICMedical Doctor; Military SurgeonPeter MacCallum Cancer Hospital, Royal Victorian Eye and Ear Hospital, and Royal Melbourne Hospitalrenowned for his leadership while a POW during the Second World War and for his interest in the health and welfare of former POWs and their familiesconnected
Sir Douglas Ralph 'Doug' NichollsKCVO OBE1906 NSW-1988 VICChurches of Christ PastorAborigines Advancement League of Victoria; 28th Governor of South Australia; sportwell-respected for his work with Aboriginal youth on Melbourne streets during the Second World War and his service to Aboriginal peopleconnected
Rev'd Theodore Delwin 'Ted' Noffs- 1927 NSW-1995 NSWMethodist Church / Uniting Church MinisterThe Ted Noffs Foundation; Aboriginal Affairs Foundation; Lifeline; Wayside Chapelsought to rehabilitate those who had wrecked their lives, and turn them to God alsoconnected
MAJ GEN Sir Alan Hollick RamsayCB CBE DSO MSM ED BSc 1895 VIC-1973 VICSenior Army Officer; EducatorAustralian Army; Director of Education in Victoriaserved in both world wars; active in the RSL and the Naval and Military Club; church elder-
Arthur Malcolm Stace- 1885 NSW-1967 NSWlabourer; unemployedserved in the AIF in the Second World War; life of life of alcoholism and driftingknown as 'Mr Eternity' after becoming a disciple of Christ, drew people's thoughts towards their 'Eternity' wherever he couldconnected
Dr Clifford Allan WilsonPhD MA MRE BD 1923 NSW-2012 QLDarchaeologist; educator; missionaryserved in the army and navy in the Second World War; also a pastor, psychologist, public speaker, and authorhis commitment to the Bible as the world’s greatest history book is firmly settled-

Further reading

  • Evans, Kenneth. Building a Christian Heritage in Australia. Self-published, Beaudesert QLD, 2009.
  • Murray, Iain H. Australian Christian Life from 1788. Banner of Truth Trust, Edinburgh, 1988.


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