Urnes Stave Church in Norway

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Urnes Stave Church in Norway is probably the most remarkable medieval structure I have ever visited. It is aided in this status by the truly incredible surroundings.

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IMG_2139It is, however, its completeness as a 12th century wooden structure inside and out, and especially the carvings, which make it truly remarkable.

This is the first of what will be a series of posts on the history of Iceland, Denmark and Norway. I’m beginning with Urnes because of its uniqueness and because it is UNESCO World Heritage listed.

Urnes sits on eastern edge of the Luster Fjord. It was built around 1150. There had been churches on the site before, parts of which have been reused in the church you can see today. It is the oldest stave church in Norway and is so distinctive and so influential that its style has come to be known as Urnes Style when it is used in other buildings.

The name stave church comes from the large vertical load bearing posts which form the basis of the structure of the church. Essentially it is composed of a vertical rectangular frame. You can see a cross-section of Borgund stave church below, which gives you the idea of the interior structure necessary for a stave church (Borgund is a lot bigger than Urnes though)

IMG_2089There were once over 1000 stave churches in Norway, but now only 28 remain. Most were built between 1130 and 1350 though a few are later. The black death affected the construction of new buildings after the mid 14th century. The reason they survived, even though they are wooden, is because the wood is coated regularly in pitch to protect it from the weather (this is still done at Urnes). In the case of Urnes it has a stone foundation, which stops it rotting from the ground up. The previous church on the site was a post hole church, the holes have been found in archaeological investigations.

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Stave churches are not all the same, they are built along different lines and with different styles. For example you can see Ringebu Stave Church below

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Urnes is one of the smallest, but it is also the most lavishly decorated.

The carvings are truly incredible. They are an amalgam of Celtic, Viking and early Christian design. Some are extremely reminiscent visually of early illuminated manuscripts like the Lindisfarne Gospels and the Book of Kells.

IMG_2105IMG_2106The carving above is the side door which is no longer used, but would most likely have originally been the main entrance. You can see a stylised lion in the carvings on the left. These carvings most likely come from the exterior of the earlier church and were reused in the current church. You can see the interior of the door below.

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Other exterior carvings from the earlier church include the post you can see below.

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The main entrance to the church is on the west end and you can see more medieval carving on the capitals and it is thought that the ironwork on the door might be original as well.

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When you look at the photos of the church from the front you will noticed that there is an odd flap open.

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This flap, along with some other panels, are usually closed to protect the delicate carvings beneath. I was lucky enough that when I visited it was open for a conference group and, while it is very weathered, it is still beautiful and thought to be medieval. IMG_2101

The timber the church is constructed of is largely pine with elements of hardwood. The turret on the church is not original, in 1702 it replaced an earlier one from 1680. The roof was also tiled at one point. The current shingles date to the 20th century when the church underwent careful restoration, when much of the protective cladding was also added.

IMG_2141IMG_2143Leaving aside the exterior of the church for the moment, the interior is just as if not more impressive.

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You can see that the floor in the nave is lower than the rest of the church, this was because there was an open space under the floor which was used for burials. It was discontinued in favour of the external cemetery in the 19th century at least partly because of the smell.

The ceiling is 17th century, originally it would have been open like the underside of a boat. The original windows would have been small and porthole like. As you can probably tell the interior has been changed quite a bit over the centuries, but there are still a lot of medieval elements. My favourites are the carved capitals on the columns which then rise up into romanesque wooden arches. These were quite possibly based on contemporary stone churches of the time and are certainly similar to stone churches I have seen in England and Ireland.

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Remarkably some of the medieval fittings have also survived: including the figure of Christ on the Cross with Mary and John which dates to the end of the 12th century

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A medieval candelabra

IMG_2126and the chandelier which hangs from the ceiling

IMG_2136The gallery you can see part of above the chandelier, and above the chancel in the earlier photo, was added later and sadly involved cutting some of the original columns and capitals.

The highly decorated altar and pulpit dates to the 1690s, the chancel was extended out in the early 1600s.

IMG_2127IMG_2131The paintings and figures you can see on the walls are also 17th century.

Originally there wouldn’t have been fixed pews, they were introduced after the reformation and the ones in Urnes are 17th century. The boxed pew you can see in the photo below was for women being brought into the church to be cleansed after childbirth.

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Urnes was probably built for the wealthy local Ornes family, but it was also a church used by the locals. It is an amalgam of styles as the needs of the church’s community changed. It is a testimony to the quality of construction that it is still standing today.

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In 1720 it was sold to local priest Christopher Munthe and it remained privately owned until the parish bought it in 1850. By 1881 it wasn’t needed any longer because the parish was reorganised and it was to given to the Society for the Preservation of Ancient Monuments. The parish retained the burial rights in the churchyard and the right to hold services twice a year. This practice continues and Urnes is used by the local community for special occasions. In 1979 UNESCO included Urnes on its World Heritage Register

It met the three main criteria easily with UNESCO saying

Criterion (i): The Urnes Stave Church is an outstanding example of traditional Scandinavian wooden architecture. It brings together traces of Celtic art, Viking traditions and Romanesque spatial structures. The outstanding quality of the carved décor of Urnes is a unique artistic achievement.

Criterion (ii): The stave churches are representative of the highly developed tradition of wooden buildings that extended through the Western European cultural sphere during the Middle Ages. Urnes is one of the oldest of the Norwegian stave churches and an exceptional example of craftsmanship. It also reveals the development from earlier techniques and therefore contributes to the understanding of the development of this specific tradition.

Criterion (iii) : Urnes Stave Church is an ancient  wooden building and is outstanding due to the large-scale reuse of both decorative and constructive elements originating from a stave church built about one century earlier. It is an outstanding example of the use of wood to express the language of Romanesque stone architecture.

Urnes is truly astounding and for such a little church it certainly holds a lot of history.

 

References

Site visit 2018

Urnes Stave Church brochures

Urnes Stave Church Booklet

UNESCO Listing: https://whc.unesco.org/en/list/58/

The photos are all mine.

Rural Buildings: St Thomas’, Bunyip Victoria

Bunyip is a small town in Victoria about 84km from Melbourne. The name comes from a creature of aboriginal myth. A bunyip like creature was said to live beneath the waters of the swampland below Bunyip and prey on humans who ventured into the water after nightfall.  The area that Bunyip now stands on is the land of the Bunurong people of the Kulin nation and it was very much inhabited when Europeans settled there and claimed it.

When the Europeans arrived they changed the surrounding land, including draining the swamp. While the area was surveyed and the name first used in the 1850s it wasn’t until the 1860s that the present iteration of the town was surveyed and established. The railway arrived in 1877, it remains today.

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View down the hill at Bunyip.

This is the first of an ongoing series of posts I’m going to do on rural buildings, churches, halls etc in Australia.

The foundation of St Thomas’ Church was laid in 1902

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St Thomas’ is a Church of England church and an excellent example of a turn of the century Arts and Crafts church. It’s built of weatherboard and was designed by Frederick Klingender and has remained in near original condition.

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The total cost of the building was over 377 pounds and when it was opened by Rev Bishop Pain on the 29th of December 1902 approximately 400 people attended the service and 14 baptisms were registered.

Alterations to the church were needed in 1919 because of white ant damage and an entrance gate to the church ground was erected in 1943. The lych gate you can see in the photos below was erected much more recently and is modelled on the original church porch. IMG_9078IMG_9077

The Sunday School building was erected in 1906 to meet the increasing demand of pupils attending. IMG_9099

The interior of the church continues the Arts and Crafts style, and is augmented by a number of lovely stain glass windows.

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IMG_9089The stain glass window dedicated to St Thomas also carried a dedication for the A’Beckett family on its base

IMG_9087The A’Becketts were a prominent district family and the font is also dedicated to one of their number.

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St Thomas’ is a beautifully preserved example of a rural Victorian church and is still an important part of life in Bunyip.

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References:

Site visit 2016

http://vhd.heritagecouncil.vic.gov.au/places/30126/download-report

http://pandora.nla.gov.au/pan/78302/20081023-0000/www.cardinia.vic.gov.au/Files/Cardiniaaboriginalstudy.pdf

http://www.victorianplaces.com.au/bunyip

St Thomas’ Church information brochure.

St Mary of the Angels Basilica Geelong

I found this church by accident on a recent trip to Geelong and it’s a really lovely example of Victorian Gothic.

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Geelong is in Victoria Australia about an hour out of Melbourne. It was founded in 1838 when it was laid out and officially proclaimed. Its existence is due to the need for a depot for all the squatters who were pouring into Victoria. The first land sales were held in 1839 with the Wollpack Inn opened in the same year.

The current Basilica stands on what was known as Church Hill and commands the highpoint of Geelong.

The church that can be seen today has humble origins. To begin with Catholics in Geelong, or Corio as it was often known, did not even have a priest. Father Bonaventure Geoghegan became the first priest for the St Benedict’s District, of which Geelong was part, in 1839.

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Father Bonaventure Geoghegan

http://goo.gl/XbtQJJ

Geoghegan was born in Dublin and celebrated his first Mass in an open roofed building in Melbourne on May 19 1839. He baptised the children who had been born in the four years of Melbourne’s existence. He was the only priest to care for Catholics in the whole of the existing area of Victoria. As this was such a significant task Geoghegan was given an assistant, curate Richard Walsh. Then after 12 months, when Walsh was moved to Norfolk Island, Michael Ryan was assigned. He was described by Vicar General Murphy from Sydney as “a very well disposed young man although at times a little hasty & inclined to have too much of his own way.”

It was Ryan who was assigned officially to Geelong in September 1841. Two days after his arrival, on the 8th of September 1841, Ryan celebrated what would have been the first Mass in Geelong. Under Ryan’s watch a foundation stone was laid for the beginnings of a church for the Catholics, but it wasn’t to be for Ryan and Geelong as Ryan was recalled to Sydney in October. Even without Ryan there Geoghegan continued with the plans for a church for Geelong. However progress was slow especially because it wasn’t until 1842 that Geelong again had the benefit of the resident priest. On April 13 Father Michael Stephens celebrated the first catholic marriage in Geelong. Later in 1842 the first catholic chapel was finally completed. It was a modest building made of paling about 30 feet by 20 feet and covered by a shingle roof. A far cry from the current church.

By 1846 the need for a new church had become very apparent. The census of that year showed 1003 catholics in the County of Grant which the small church serviced. The priest at the time, Richard Walsh again, set out on a campaign for the building of a permanent church. After fundraising and other efforts the foundation stone was laid on the 19th of August 1856 by Father Geoghegan.This church was opened on October 6th 1847  it was called St Mary’s and was later described…

“It was a  pretty little church built of very bad Barrabool stone. It soon began to show signs of decay, and the weather side had to get three coats of thick paint in ’53 to preserve it from the effects of frost and rain”

By 1854 the capacity of St Mary’s was very strained,the census of that year showed 3797 catholics in Geelong, and it was resolved that a new church was needed.

The first stone of the present church was laid by the Most Reverend James Alipius Goold 1st Bishop of Melbourne on the 15th of June 1854.

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Most Reverend James Alipius Goold

http://adb.anu.edu.au/biography/goold-james-alipius-3633

The nave was completed and  opened for worship, again by Bishop Goold,  on the 4th of February 1872. IMG_1299

The Nave

Daniel Mannix, Archbishop of Melbourne,  consecrated the completed church including spire, on the 16th of June 1937.

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Statue of Daniel Mannix outside St Patrick’s Cathedral in Melbourne.

Even before the spire was completed the church was eliciting extravagant praise.

“It exhibits an edifice of colossal cathedral proportions, such as one might expect to find in the episcopal city of some ancient Catholic continental nation, but which excites astonishment when associated with an antipodean town of yesterday… Even in this incomplete condition, the building is the most conspicuous, commodious and elegant ecclesiastical edifice in the town.”

The church was based on the 13th century gothic style. The central tower rose to a height of 100 feet above the ground and was capped with 8 crocketed pinnacles. These formed the base of the spire which rose another 98 feet into the air before terminating with a 12 foot high cross. The top of the cross was 210 feet above ground. The spire was built from inside without the use of external scaffolding.

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Ceiling below the spire.

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The Spire, you can see the cross up the top.

The total length of the church was 220 feet, the distance between the transepts was 126 feet and the nave with side aisles was 14 feet 6 inches wide. The high altar was made of Verona marble. IMG_1298

The high altar, although this is modified from the original version.

Although it was without doubt a magnificent building the church ran into problems in the 1960s as it was already beginning to age. The foundations on the western end had to be underpinned to stop subsidence and 560 stone crockets had to be removed from the spire because they kept breaking off, damaging the slate roof, causing leaks and threatening anyone walking too close to the church. Major restoration work was also undertaken in the 1980s.

In 2004 the 150th anniversary of the church was celebrated and at the anniversary Mass Archbishop Dennis Hart of Melbourne announced that the Vatican had designated St Mary’s as a Minor Basilica. One of only five in Australia.

These are the conditions for the granting of Minor Basilica status according to The United States Conference of Catholic Bishops.

“1. A church for which the title of basilica is proposed must have been dedicated to God by a liturgical rite and must stand out as a center of active and pastoral liturgy, especially through celebrations of the Most Holy Eucharist, of penance, and of the other sacraments, which celebrations set an example for others on account of their preparation and realization according to liturgical norms and with the active participation of the people of God.

2. To further the possibility of truly carrying out worthy and exemplary celebrations, the aforesaid church should be of an appropriate size and with a sufficiently large sanctuary. The various elements required for the liturgical celebration (altar, ambo [lectern], celebrant’s chair) must be placed according to the requirements of the restored liturgy (cf. General Instruction of the Roman Missal, nos. 288-318).

3. The church may enjoy a certain renown throughout the diocese, for example, because it has been constructed and dedicated to God on the occasion of some particular historical and religious event, or because the body or significant relics of a saint are reserved in it, or because some sacred image is there venerated in a special way.

The historical value or importance of the church and the worthiness of its art are also be considered.

4. So that, as the liturgical year progresses, the celebrations of the various seasons may be carried out in a praiseworthy manner, a fitting number of priests is necessary; they are to be assigned to the liturgical and pastoral care of the church, especially for the celebration of the Eucharist and penance (there should also be an appropriate number of confessors who at stated hours are available to the faithful).

In addition, a sufficient number of ministers is required as well as an adequate schola cantorum, which is to encourage the participation of the faithful with sacred music and singing.”

So the awarding of this title to St Mary’s is very much an acknowledgement of its importance both to the history of Victoria and to the people of Geelong.

It is a really beautiful church. Even if you are completely non religious as I am, the majesty of St Mary’s must be appreciated.

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St Mary’s from the front.

References

Ian Wynd. St Mary of the Angels Basilica. ISBN: 9780975840702

Unless otherwise stated by links the photos are mine.

Clonmines Medieval Town

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One of the more interesting medieval sites that not that much is known about. Clonmines is the remains of an abandoned town with the ruins of two churches, three tower houses and an Augustinian Priory. The town was a port that may have been connected with New Ross in the early 1200s. It was an important town. In the 1300s justice was dispensed from there and the road between Wexford and Clonmines was considered a main road. Unfortunately the town was abandoned in the 1600s when its harbour silted up, but there were Augustinians there still into the 1700s. Clonmines also maintained a political presence into the 1800s with the final MPs leaving in 1801.   
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Clonmines today is on private land so access isn’t possible, but the view across the river is staggering.

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For more information

http://www.bannowhistory.ie/journal-2-bannow-historical-society/

Churches of Melbourne: St Joseph’s

Having lived in and around Melbourne for many years I’ve noticed that Melbourne has some truly beautiful churches and that individual areas seem to have common qualities when it comes to their churches. So I thought it might be interesting to have a look at a few. I wanted to begin with St Joseph’s Catholic Church on Orrong Road in Elsternwick because this was where my grandparents were married in 1944.

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My grandparents are, obviously, in the middle of the photo and my great grandmother is on the left.

St Joseph’s was founded in November 1897.

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The first priest of St Joseph’s was Rev. Fr Carey, but he was Dean of St Mary’s Church in West Melbourne rather than a priest for St Joseph’s alone.The second priest was Rev Fr. Gough, he was the parish priest for St James’ Church in North road to which St Joseph’s was attached to at the time.

The first priest of the combined parishes of St Joseph’s and Holy Angels was Rev. Fr.  John Barry.[2]Barry was born in Cork in 1875 the eldest of ten children. He arrived in Australia shortly after his ordination in 1899. He was a parish priest in Mansfield before St Joseph’s and after his time at St Joseph’s he went on to be an administrator of St Patrick’s Cathedral and was appointed Chancellor of the Archdiocese of Melbourne by Archbishop Carr of Melbourne. Archbishop Carr died shortly after this appointment, but it was confirmed by Archbishop Mannix and Barry was in charge of the Archdiocese of Melbourne during Mannix’s absence overseas in 1920. In 1924 Barry was appointed Archbishop of Goulburn and was immensely influential in establishing catholic institutions in Canberra. He died in 1938 and his obituary described him as “Always practical and with his skilled fingers forever on the spiritual pulse of his Diocese”. [3]

He can be seen in the photo below second from the left.

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Barry’s boss while he was administrator of the Melbourne Archdiocese was Archbishop Daniel Mannix, a towering figure in Melbourne history. Another Irishman from Cork, he was born in 1864 and was Archbishop from 1917 until his death in 1963. The magnificent St Patrick’s Cathedral was the heart of the diocese. IMG_9694IMG_9693

Archbishop Mannix’s statue can be seen outside the Cathedral. I will probably write more about Mannix at a later date, but for more information now see http://adb.anu.edu.au/biography/mannix-daniel-7478

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Mannix also solemnly blessed St Joseph’s in 1918 and a stone was laid in the church to commemorate the occasion.

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Rev. Fr. John Collins was priest when St Joseph’s was blessed, but he was still priest of a combined parish. The first priest appointed parish priest of St Joseph’s alone was Rev. Father Michael Dolan who died in 1936 aged 69. He was the first Melbourne priest to be ordained in St Patrick’s College in Manly, the primary Australian Catholic Seminary founded in 1889, in 1895.[4]

The clergyman at St Joseph’s at the time of my grandparent’s marriage was Walter P Walsh. Walsh died in 1951 and is buried in Melbourne General Cemetery[1]

The interior of St Joseph is interesting. IMG_1259
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There are several memorial windows and as far as I have been able to establish most relate to the Cross family. One window is dedicated to Margaret Pape, the wife of Max Pape. Margaret was the daughter of William John Cross, who is commemorated in another window. She died in 1901 at the age of 39 and her husband predeceased her. [5] IMG_1251IMG_1254

William John Cross is commemorated in another window with his wife Catherine Mary. IMG_1253IMG_1252

William John and Catherine probably had a son John who is possibly the John commemorated in another window. Catherine probably died in 1865 at 40 years of age so the window must have been put in some time after her death. [6]  William John probably died in 1889 in his St Kilda Road home called Cintra.[7]  William John and Catherine were probably married in 1854 and were both from Ireland. William John was from Country Kilkenny and Catherine was from Carrick on Suir. [8] IMG_5665

The main bridge in Carrick on Suir.

There is also another William John Cross, called WJ in his window and his profession is listed as gentleman. He too lived in St Kilda road, but he was married to Margaret Cross who died some time before 1883 when William John was appointed an executor of her will. [9]

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Margaret’s Cross’ window is on the right.

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There is also quite a lovely window donated by the group the Children of Mary.

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St Joseph’s is typical of many Melbourne churches in that it reflects the local community and the people involved with the church. It is by no means the most beautiful of the churches but it is still lovely in its own way and is firmly part of the evolution of Melbourne as a city. Also its red brick exterior is typical of churches in the area. You can see the similarities in the Uniting Church just down the road. I am hoping to find out for about this church in the future.

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[1] Obituary of Walter P Walsh. The Argus 1951. http://trove.nla.gov.au/ndp/del/article/23091500

[2] Details of St Joseph’s Church obtained from the manuscript: Historical notes on schools, churches, etc. in Elsternwick and Caulfield. Available from the State Library of Victoria. Accession number: MS 9308

[3] Obituary of John Barry. Canberra Times 1938. http://oa.anu.edu.au/obituary/barry-john-67

[4]  Obituary of Michael Dolan. Trove. http://trove.nla.gov.au/ndp/del/article/11930493

[5] Obituary of Margaret Pape. Trove. http://trove.nla.gov.au/ndp/del/printArticlePdf/9620132/3?print=n.

Deceased details from St Kilda Cemetery. http://stk.smct.org.au/deceasedsearch/result/42604S

[6] Obituary of Catherine Mary Cross. Trove. http://trove.nla.gov.au/ndp/del/printArticlePdf/5771864/4?print=n

Division of estate of Catherine Mary Cross to her son John Cross. Trove http://trove.nla.gov.au/ndp/del/printArticlePdf/8452440/5?print=n

[7] Death notice of William John Cross. Trove. http://trove.nla.gov.au/ndp/del/printArticlePdf/170503498/3?print=n

[8] Marriage notice of William John Cross and Catherine Mary Dynan. Trove. http://trove.nla.gov.au/ndp/del/printArticlePdf/4796762/3?print=n

[9] Division of the estate of Margaret Cross. Trove. http://trove.nla.gov.au/ndp/del/printArticlePdf/8498070/5?print=n

 

 

 

The photos are either mine or my family’s apart from the photo of Barry which can be seen at: http://www.cg.catholic.org.au/news/newsletterarticle_display.cfm?loadref=70&id=582