Old Church has Watched Our Rise to Nationhood

3 September 1942 Catholic Weekly (Sydney) 

Little-known history of the Murrumbidgee district, and of St. Augustine's Church, Yass, were told by the Very Rev. Father P. J. Hartigan, P.P., V.F., in the occasional sermon delivered in Yass at a recent golden jubilee celebration of two Sisters of Mercy.

The jubilarians were Rev. Mother M. de Sales (Yass) and Sister Mary Brigid (Tumut).

St. Augustine's is the oldest church in Australia still used as a church outside the Archdiocese of Sydney, said Father Hartigan, 'To-day, splendidly kept and well equipped, it stands upon its little hill, watching the world go by, as it has watched it for one hundred years,' he said.

'It has seen every step of our development from a crude penal settlement to nationhood.

It was here when the chain-gangs cut the stone for the massive culverts still standing; when ticket-of-leave men were shepherds on Douro.

It saw adventurers go by furtively seeking land outback when the Government in England had forbidden settlement to spread two hundred miles beyond Sydney, and the boundary was a furrow across the track at Bowning Hill.

When a shrewd Governor turned a blind eye to that regulation, it saw the bullock drays go lumbering down the old Port Phillip track; and Conroy's Gap and Cooney's Creek have raked the camp-fires which later lit the overlanders across Australia.

St. Augustine's, the Mother "This church has seen wool teams making back from shearing sheds 500 miles from Sydney wharves.

It saw her Majesty's mails come in on horseback - a fortnight out from Melbourne - when a letter cost one shilling to deliver, ten years before Rowland Hill Introduced the adhesive postage stamp in England.

It saw the first Bishop of Melbourne go by with four-in-hand - the first time the overland trip was made by buggy.

It saw the venerable Archbishop Polding go down the old Port Phillip track with Father Bermingham, curate at Yass, to lay the foundation stones of churches at Jugiong, Gundagai, Tumut and Albury.

When what was known as 'The Level Track' was opened in 1850 through Binalong, Murrumburrah, and Cootamundra, it saw the drovers pass with cattle to feed the miners on the copper fields in South Australia.

It saw the selectors go out west round Bowning Hill, when John Robertson's Land Act "Free selection before survey" - in 1861 put an end to the skyline boundaries of the squatters.

It saw the coaches come and go - Roberts and Crane, the Sheahans, the Barrys, Cobb and Co. - to be put off the road by the railway, itself to be challenged by the motor car and the aero-plane. 

"The parish of Yass, which was given to Father Michael McAlroy, and Father Patrick Bermingham in 1857, consisted of the greater part of the present Diocese of Goulburn, part of the Diocese of Wilcannia-Forbes, and the whole of what is now tho Diocese of Wagga, except a strip along the Murray, which was the parish of Albury, which was originally attended from here; and of which Dr. McAlroy was subsequently the priest in charge.

In less than four years churches were built in what were "outlying parts" - Gunning, Binalong, Jugiong, Gundagai, Tumut and Wagga, which was a village of less than 600 inhabitants.

These districts were attended from Yass.

"From those out-stations of the parish of Yass have sprung 41 parishes, with 132 churches and old St, Augustine's is the mother."