7 June 2022

Yass Valley community prays for future of Mundoonan church

| Sally Hopman
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Couple in church

John and Margaret Buckmaster inside St Mary’s Church, Mundoonan, which has been connected to their family since 1911. A memorial to John’s war hero great-uncle is mounted on the wall behind them. Photo: Sally Hopman.

There’s always been a Buckmaster connected to the tiny St Mary’s Anglican Church, Mundoonan, in the Parish of Yass.

They were there when it was built in 1911 as regular parishioners and were there just as regularly when the grass surrounding the small brick and iron building needed mowing.

But as descendant John Buckmaster, 82, well knows, times change. Today he and his wife Margaret face the prospect that the church will soon be no more.

Located out on the Yass River Road, near only a few rural properties, the church has not held a service for two years. Back then, it attracted about 15 people to its service on the fifth Sunday of the month, with most coming from Yass or Murrumbateman.

Seating almost 40 at a squeeze, the church wouldn’t win any awards for architecture and is far from fancy.

“It’s pretty basic,” John said, “but that’s the way they built them back then.”

“It’s as cold as all get-out,” Margaret added.

Old church

St Mary’s Church, Mundoonan, faces an uncertain future. Photo: Sally Hopman.

There’s no water, sewerage or power connected. As is the way in the bush, when lights were installed in the church, parishioners asked the owners of the closest house if they could use some of their electricity, so an extension cord was chucked over the adjoining fence and there was light.

There are wooden pews, plain glass windows and little else, except for some memorials on the walls dedicated to local lives lost in the war. One, in marble, is for John’s great-uncle, Allan Lester Buckmaster, killed in action in France on February 1, 1917. It was erected by his brothers and sisters.

There are other wooden panels on the walls which John rescued from a church at Jeir, between Murrumbateman and Hall, when he heard that church closed.

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The Mundoonan site was given to the community for a church by the Davis family, one of the largest landowners at the turn of the century.

“They owned a swathe of land from here [Yass] to Murrumbateman,” John said.

“George Davis got the land as an original settler and he left a swag of it to his four boys … and one of them married a Buckmaster girl so that’s how it came to be.

“He was my great grandfather … and my family’s been coming to this church ever since.”

Margaret, too, said she couldn’t recall a time when her family wasn’t connected to the church. Although, she said, because she and John moved away from the family property across the bridge from the church and into “town” in 1994, they were “no longer locals”.

“But the connection will always be there,” she said.

“John looks after it, sometimes locals or he does the mowing and we maintain it. John took over that role from his father.”

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The Buckmasters are realistic when it comes to the future of St Mary’s. They know it doesn’t draw crowds anymore, that the community around it has changed as have people’s religious beliefs. But they do want to find out how locals see the church’s future and ensure that a decision to simply close it is not made without public consultation.

“Any decision about its future should not be imposed from above,” John said.

“We’re asking locals for their ideas, what form they’d like to see its future take.

“It has to be a grass-roots decision. That’s what built the church in the first place. What we don’t want is for a hornet’s nest to be stirred up by people who wouldn’t normally have a say on something like this.”

Church sign

St Mary’s Church, Mundoonan on the Yass River Road. Photo: Sally Hopman.

The Buckmasters, along with Peter Rose of the Anglican Parish Council of Yass Valley, have done a local letterbox drop asking people how they see the church’s future. They distributed about 80 letters in a 10 km radius of the church but have had little response.

“I know it’s the way that many of these small country churches are going these days, but at the very least, people should have their say about them,” John said.

Margaret said she flagged the question of the church’s future about two years ago – “but a lot of other things happened in the meantime which meant all this had to go on hold,” she said.

“I am 82 now. Once I go, who is going to care for this place?” John asked.

“I’d like to see something done about it, one way or another. I just don’t want to see it abandoned.”

People connected to St Mary’s are encouraged to have their say on its future sooner rather than later. They can call the Buckmasters on 0428 542 808 or email Peter Rose at [email protected] or call him on 0421 073 702.

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