A Sydney-based auctioneer who purchased an unused century-old rural church made to honour a Temora Anzac hero says the building could host weddings and functions again by mid-2024.
In April 2023, Jason Keen and his wife Brooke Date noticed the old St Stephen’s Anglican Church edifice in Sebastopol, near Temora, for sale online.
“We were sitting in a cafe in Mudgee, and saw it on my phone,” Jason said. “My wife instantly fell in love with it, we wanted to buy it … We were captivated by the idea of bringing a 102-year-old church back to life.”
The auction was scheduled for the following day, so Jason had to organise to make bids remotely.
“I was in my car during the auction, I was bidding while I was driving,” he said.
Better known by locals as ‘Bagdad Church’, the heritage-listed building was no longer being used for religious services when it was purchased in 2016 by a local man who intended to restore it and use it as his own residence.
He sadly passed before he was able to get all the approvals sorted, meaning the 2542 sq metre block went back on the market in 2023.
The Keen family secured the double brick and tile roof property for $220,000 without ever physically seeing it.
The building has timber flooring throughout, a raised altar, a cathedral ceiling and leadlight windows.
“There is an amazing story behind this church and we want to honour its history,” Jason said.
Temora farmers William and Louisa Cartwright built the church in memory of their only son, Bernard Ray Cartwright, who drowned on his way to Gallipoli when his ship was torpedoed in 1915 during World War II.
“It was tragic … He went to fight in Gallipoli, but didn’t even make it to the beach,” Jason said.
“What’s incredible is that we’ve recently come into contact with a relative of the family, Rodney Cartwright, who lives just seven kilometres from the church.”
Mr Keen is currently working hard to refurbish the rundown building that held its first mass in 1921. He plans to repurpose it into a community asset that can once again host weddings and functions.
“The building has been deconsecrated [removed] from the Anglican church, so it would be a civil place rather than a religious one.
“It’s just under an acre, so it will be restricted in terms of the type of function we could run… but I like the idea of having live music there.
“There has been a lot of interest locally, most of them have to travel a reasonable distance to get to an upmarket venue.
“The council have been incredibly helpful. They are excited that it will be restored … in rural areas these buildings often are left to rot and fall away to nothing.”
The 52-year-old, who has worked in the property industry in Sydney for the past 30 years, regularly travels to Temora to oversee the renovations.
“We are only using local tradies,” he said.
“Everyone around here is excited about this. We’ve had people come up to us and say ‘We were christened there’. It’s really struck a chord with the community.”
Updates on the church restoration are being posted on the Temora Community Announcements Facebook page.
Original Article published by Oliver Jacques on Region Riverina.