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Rediscovering Ginninderra:
Weetengera Church and Cemetery

The Weetangerra church and cemetery served the largely methodist community of the Weetangerra district for more than eighty years. Methodism had been brought to the district initially by Thomas Southwell in 1846, and Bible readings and sermons were conducted at his home of Parkwood, Ginninderra where a chapel and Sunday school were built in 1863.

The church

In 1869 a small wooden slab Methodist church building was erected in 'Upper Canberra' (now known as Lyneham). The new church, built of slab boards with a bark roof was officially opened on 7th February, 1869. One rood excised from his 100 acres in 1868 was given by Peter Shumack (Senior), and the church located alongside the main Yass - Queanbeyan road within sight of both the Episcopal and Presbyterian Churches (St Ninian's).

Numbers fell off with the building of a new stone Presbyterian church beginning in 1872, and at the same time, helped by passage of the Robertson Land Acts, the number of small farmers settling in Weetangerra was growing. Under the ministry of Rev. Charles Jones, stationed at Queanbeyan, a religious revival took place in Weetangerra. Worshippers gathered in the Shepherd's Hut where sheep were shorn by hand and the shepherds lived. But this building was proving inadequate for the growing numbers of those who desired to join in public worship. The nearest church was five miles away. Steps were therefore taken to move the Upper Canberra Methodist Church to Weetangerra, beginning with a request to government for the grant of a site for a church and cemetery. A grant of two acres was approved, and subsequently dedicated.

Before the demolition of the Upper Canberra building

"....all the slabs were marked in roman numerals with hammer and chisel so that each could be put back in a corresponding position when the building was re-erected. It was then pulled down and carted to Weetangerra in one day. The work was entrusted to local resident [and Weetangerra school teacher] Ewan Cameron, who was assisted by another settler, and neighbour, Mr Levi Plummer. Soon, a neat building almost ready for occupation stood on the site where a few weeks before had been thick scrub and heavy timber".[Cameron, p.6]

The church was completed, furnished, and formally dedicated in 1873 by Rev Charles Jones, then in charge of the Queanbeyan Methodist Circuit. The building was a simple rectangle of 20' x 12', built of local timber, the rafters and floor joists being stringy bark. According tho the Camerons "..the roof was covered with stringy bark stripped from trees by aborigines and sold to the builders for one shilling a sheet". It made a good roof, and if well put on, with a steep pitch, it could last twenty years or more. Some twenty years after construction the roof was indeed in need of repair, as were the base plates. For some years services were held at the home of Mrs Ewan Cameron [formerly Annie Smith, daughter of Edward and Mary Smith. Ewan died in 1896]. Later a subscription was opened to raise funds for repair, and when material had been purchased Sydney Kilby and Evan Cameron took charge of the rebuilding, greatly helped by James Kilby of Parkwood. The rebuilt church, now with a galvanised iron roof, was opened by the Rev Alex Stephens on 15 May 1900.

Regular services were then conducted in the church until May 1952. Jubilee celebrations were held during Easter 1924, attended by Rev Charles Jones who had opened the church fifty years previously. By that time the land had long been resumed by the Government and plans were well advanced to use it for the houses and shops of Canberra's new Belconnen suburbs. In March 1955 it was decided to dismantle the historic old church. The memorial cemetery remains, and a stone cairn marks the spot where the church was located. The outside door handle of the church has been set into this cairn.

Memorial cairn to mark site of old slab church

A memorial cairn to mark the site of the old Methodist Church at Weetangera is to be dedicated at a public service at 2.30 p.m. on April 25. The old slab church, which had served at Weetangerra for 83 years, was demolished in 1955, and some of the timbers are to be used in a youth building by the Methodist Church at Queanbeyan.
A history of the church, written by Mr. W. J. M. Campbell, will be published next week and copies will be available at the ceremony.
Originally, the church stood in what was known as Upper Canberra, to the north of the present city limits, but was removed to Weetangerra in 1872 and was erected on the selection of Edward Smith. A nearby area was dedicated as a cemetery. Both the site of the church and the cemetery are now within the Land's End property close to the homestead.

Some 20 years after services began to be held at Weetangerra, the church had fallen into disrepair, and two young men, Sidney Kilby and Evan Cameron undertook the task of restoration. From then on, services were held regularly each month in the church until 1952. The memorial service to Sidney Kilby was the last service held in the church prior to its demolition. Mr. Evan Cameron, now 88, is still a trustee of the cemetery.

The dedication of the memorial cairn will be performed by the Rev. R. Howe and the occasional address will be given by the Rev. Merrick R. Webb. Many members of old Weetangerra families are coming from other districts and arrangements have been made to cater for the public by providing hot water for picnickers. The entrance to Land's End is by a short lane from the Weetangerra Road.
[Canberra Times, Saturday 21 April 1956, p 2]

Dedication of the memorial cairn in 1956 was reported in some detail by the Canberra Times:

A memorial cairn on the site of the old Weetangerra Methodist Church was dedicated before a large crowd on Saturday. The ceremony had been postponed from Wednesday because of rain. The cairn was dedicated by Rev. Dr. George Wheen. It was built of water-washed stone from the nearby Weetangerra Creek and the original Land's End homestead, by Mr. Arthur Beazley, whose family had a long association with the old church.

The cairn is in the form of an outdoor pulpit. The stone was carted to the site by Rev. Merrick Webb, of Queanbeyan, the last minister to have had charge of the church, and Mr. Clyde Kilby, who has had a lifelong association with the old building. Seated with the official party were Dr. Wheen, Rev. Hector Harrison, Mr. Webb, Mr. Evan Cameron, the oldest surviving member of the church, and Mr. Kilby. The three last-named were trustees of the church and the adjacent cemetery.

Dr. Wheen referred to the notable part taken in the development of the district by the pioneers of Weetangerra Church, among whom he named Mr. Thomas Southwell, of Parkwood, Mr. and Mrs. Edward Smith of Land's End, Captain Samson Southwell, and Mr. Sidney Kilby, all of whom are buried in the nearby cemetery. Mr. Southwell and Mr. and Mrs. Smith settled in the district more than a century ago. Mr. Webb also mentioned the large part taken in the life of the Weetangerra community by Mr. Kilby and Mr. Evan Cameron, whose association with it extended for more than half a century.

The occasional address was delivered by Mr. Webb, who emphasised the significance of the 83 years of Christian witness for which the church had stood, and paid tribute to the pioneers who were members of it. He said it was appropriate that some of the timber of the old building would be used in the erection of a new adjunct to the Queanbeyan Methodist Youth Centre, as the Weetangerra Church was a part of the Queanbeyan Methodist Circuit for the whole of its period of usefulness. Greetings were also given by Rev. Hector Harrison, and words of appreciation were spoken by Mr. Kilby and Mr. Ed. Southwell, of Junee.

After the ceremony those present participated in a picnic tea, during which many historical photographs, documents and old newspapers were inspected. The Canberra and District Historical Society was represented at the ceremony by its secretary, Mr. J. A. Whelan. Copies of two newly published historical booklets, The Story of Weetangerra Methodist Church and Four Pioneers of the Limestone Plains were made available to the public at the ceremony for the first time.

[Canberra Times, Monday 30 April 1956, page 2]

The cemetery

A cemetery was also established at the time the church was opened in 1873, with the appointment of Trustees notified in the NSW Government Gazette. The first burial at the new Methodist cemetery was of Ernest Southwell (1875). Forty­-four burials are recorded at Weetangerra. Southwell family members make up twenty­-one of them. When Thomas Southwell died in 1881 he was buried in the centre of the cemetery, and his (second) wife Mary was laid to rest besides him a few years later (1885). Most of the internments are of the family of Thomas Southwell and subsequent generations of his family.

The Weetangerra Cemetery and former Methodist church site were placed the ACT Heritage Register in December 2004. The 'Statement of significance in the entry reads as follows:

The Weetangerra Cemetery is significant for its age, location, composition of its burials, and intact nature. The cemetery is one of the oldest in the ACT and its burials include early pioneers of the Canberra district.

The cemetery is demonstrative of the strong Methodist movement in Ginninderra in the late nineteenth century, and of the close knit pioneer community that was active before the city of Canberra was built. The cemetery, the churchyard and the stone cairn mark the place of one of the first Methodist churches in the ACT, which served the spiritual, social and recreational needs of the rural community for eighty years.

With little change to the graves' architecture and headstones since construction, they represent unaltered physical specimens of the prevailing cultural preferences of the period. The graves provide valuable genealogical information on individuals and families.

Location of all the graves and the names of all buried there are included in this document.

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