Black Springs looks back | Avoca Church a monument to faith

SIMPLE: This Johnson and Slade advertisement appeared in the 1960s Black Springs Gymkhana program.

SIMPLE: This Johnson and Slade advertisement appeared in the 1960s Black Springs Gymkhana program.

THE Black Springs Community Association will hold a Black Springs Heritage Festival on Saturday, October 26 from 10am to 4pm. The day will include tours of local churches and cemeteries. There will also be a display of historical photographs. Below is a story which appeared in the Black Springs Gymkhana program of events in 1960.

An outstanding landmark in the village of Black Springs is the beautiful stone Roman Catholic Avoca Church, the church of St Vincent de Paul. It is possibly one of the finest pieces of architecture of its type to be found in any village in Australia. Avoca Church stands as a monument to the courage and faith of the early settlers of the district.


Built some 74 years ago, Avoca Church was erected for a mere 800 pounds; today such a fine work would cost many thousands. Prior to the erection of the church, Holy Mass was celebrated in a small church on a piece of ground known as Kangaroo Flat, where today St Aidan's Church of England stands.

Kangaroo Flat was sold to the Church of England when a staunch parishioner, Mr John Behan, donated a portion of his property to the Roman Catholic Church, on which it was intended to build a parish church.

However, it was later decided to establish the parish church at Oberon.

John Behan also made available his home for the saying of Mass whilst the church, which was to be built by voluntary labour from Black Springs and surrounding villages, was being erected.

In those times the priest travelled from Little Hartley in horse and sulky or on horseback to Black Springs and surrounding villages, Isabella, Arkstone, Porters Retreat and Shooters Hill, some three or four times a year.

Today, few, no doubt, will remember the names of those old pioneer priests - Father Chastagnan, Fr Dunne (later Bishop Dunne), Fr McGrath and Fr Kelly - who undertook the arduous task to enable the sparsely settled parishioners to celebrate Holy Mass.

With the ground available and many willing volunteers, the priest of the time, Fr Matthias Walsh, who was now stationed at Oberon, tackled the gigantic task of preparing to build the church.

Suitable stone was found on the property of Mr Ned Hotham some half a mile from the church site. The humble settlers-cum-miners-cum-engineers soon had the bullock wagons of Pat Cosgrove and Bill Stapleton loaded with stone blocks rolling to the site. In 1885, stonemasons Allan and Vott started erecting the church, to which Fr Walsh gave the name Avoca after the Vales of Avoca in Ireland.

Windows were donated by parishioners in memory of loved ones passed away. Many of the names perpetuated by these beautiful monuments were closely associated with the early history of the district: Maurice Mahoney; Michael Hanrahan established the first post office at Black Springs in 1853; Martin Long was prominent in the settlement of the Long Arm River area; James Grady, Henry Hogan, Lucy Wilds, Margaret Foley and John Foley.

In three short years the task was completed, but it was not until March 2, 1890 that the church was blessed by the then Bishop of Bathurst, Bishop JP Byrne, DD. To the local inhabitants today, many names of the early settlers of the district who played a part in the construction of the church are familiar - the Hothams, Stapletons, Hanrahans, Behans, Foleys, Cosgroves, Gradys and Hogans have many descendants still living here today.

On February 2, 1891, the first marriage ceremony was performed when Michal John Clayton and Jane McIntyre were joined in holy matrimony. The first christening took place when James Edward Foley was baptised on September 18, 1892.

Many of the priests of the Oberon parish who celebrated Mass in Avoca Church will be remembered by those who read this article - Fr John O'Dowd, Fr Davoren, Fr Stanislaus H McGee, Fr Doran, Fr Cooney, Fr Casey, Fr O'Rielly, Rev Gummer, who was responsible for having the interior of the church painted in 1936; Fr Nolan, Fr Masterson, Fr Kenefick in that order.

Avoca Church stands as a tribute to the ole pioneers and a devoted priest, Fr Matthias Walsh, who, with only sufficient funds to pay the stonemasons' fees and buy roofing material, sacrificed three hard years so the followers of the Roman Catholic faith could worship God.

| To be continued