The newly formed Broken Head Society Inc has put an Expression of Interest (EOI) to buy St Oswald’s memorial church from the Grafton Diocese for $1m, so it can ‘be held in trust, in perpetuity’.
The decision by the Anglican Church to sell St Oswald’s Memorial Church in Broken Head sparked widespread community concern back in November, given that the 99-year-old church was gifted by residents as a dedicated memorial to three local men killed in WWI.
The Byron Bay RSL Sub-Branch, Byron Shire Council, and the descendants of the deceased soldiers all strongly oppose the sale.
St Oswald’s was built as a memorial to Arthur Beaumont Goard, who was killed in World War I on October 4, 1917, at Ypres, Belgium. St Oswalds also commemorates two other young men from Broken Head who were killed in that war – Frederick Flick and Frank Kimpton. This was a tremendous loss to the Broken Head community which, at the time, consisted of just twelve families.
Simeon Michaels told The Echo residents formed the Society ‘to build community in the Broken Head area in general, and specifically, to save the church’.
An Anglican Diocese spokesperson told The Echo in late November that the sale was part of a ‘major restructuring program’, which included meeting ‘the costs arising from historical claims of abuse’.
Sacrifice made by three men
At the time, the Diocese acknowledged the memorial and the sacrifice made by the three men, however said, ‘In recent decades however, support for St Oswald’s has dwindled to the extent that only three Broken Head residents were attending on a regular Sunday’.
The Echo put questions to the Anglican Diocesan Registry as to whether they would accept the offer, but was told they had closed for Christmas.
According to the Society’s EOI, which has been sent to the Anglican Diocese, the group has ‘received legal advice and raised funds to mount a legal challenge on equitable and administrative grounds’.
‘Julian Burnside QC has expressed interest in acting for us on this matter. We acknowledge the undesirability of a legal battle’.
The residents write, ‘We also acknowledge that you are undertaking the sale of properties to meet the compensation for the historical child sexual abuse. We support you taking action to address the wrongdoings.
‘We are therefore offering to purchase the site for $1 million and enter into negotiations with the Church’s Corporate Trustees to transfer St Oswald’s to the Community for its ongoing use. This can include, should the parishioners and the Diocese so wish, weddings and other religious ceremonies’.
Great niece of Arthur Beaumont Goard, Kathryn Peart, told The Echo that the church was built on land given by her great grandparents, William and Selina Goard, in honour of their son.
Ms Peart added she was ‘dismayed by the decision of the Anglican Diocese in Grafton to sell off St Oswalds’ and says the church is listed as a heritage building in Council’s Local Environmental Plan (LEP).
The Society says its Constitution ‘has been carefully drafted to ensure that St Oswald’s will remain in the hands of the Community in perpetuity’.
It states, ‘We acknowledge that the offer is less than the market value, but believe there are strong moral grounds to accept it.
‘The acceptance of the offer would recognise the contribution made by the local community; It would honour fallen soldiers and respect the status of St Oswald as a Memorial Church; media recently reported the sale of the Jonson Street property, owned by the church, at over $10 million.
‘Byron Shire represents one of the most lucrative real estate markets in the country. It has been the community fervour and commitment to protecting our Shire that has translated into such high property values, and the Diocese has reaped substantial benefit. For this reason, we ask you to look at our proposal favourably in recognition that our commitment to this region has already served you well financially.
‘We ask you to work with us to reach a noble, morally upright outcome which honours the past and future of our community’.
Over 9,600 people have signed a Change.org petition, which asks for the withdrawal of the sale, so it can remain ‘available for ongoing religious and memorial services, and could be made available as a venue for affordable weddings and other events that contribute to the social fabric of our community’.
Kathryn Peart’s contact is [email protected].