The Only Church In The Royal National Park

The Waterfall Anglican Church was the only church in the Royal National Park, and it was this quirk of history that assured its demise. Instead of encouraging the preservation of historical buildings in the Park, National Park and Wildlife has tended to eradicate anything that isn’t part of the natural environment. A sad philosophy really.

The end of this quaint church came in 1957. The building was situated next to the Waterfall Public School. It had long suffered from termites. Rather than pulling down the walls and replacing them, it was decided that the quickest and easiest way forward was to demolish the whole church and rebuild. In this way new antcaps could be installed and the termite problem eliminated. Once demolished the Waterfall community gathered for a barbecue and bonfire of the waste materials. The problem came when, on the following weekend, the men began rebuilding. Authorities from the Park arrived and informed them that the church was in the Royal and could not be rebuilt. So ended the life of the only church in the Park, and the only Church at Waterfall.

The second Anglican minister of the Helensburgh Provisional district, Rev. John Wilson, 1896-1907, previously Rector of Newtown, started taking services in Waterfall during his term. When the Sutherland Provisional District was cut out of the Helensburgh District in 1901, Heathcote became the Northern boundary of the Helensbrugh parish until 1923 when it was joined to Sutherland. Waterfall then became the Northern boundary of the parish. Under Rev. Harry Gowing, 1907-1909, the Waterfall church was constructed. The church was finished in 1909 and consecrated as St. Paul’s Waterfall. It was a small weatherboard building situated in McKell Ave, up from the school. It contained hand-hewn furniture and was lit by kerosene lamps. Because the village of Waterfall never had a large population, the church struggled to survive. It was not till 1948 that the church finally got electric light. Services tended to be held on Sunday afternoons, usually at 3 pm. In 1927 the services were advertised as 2nd Sunday 7 pm, 4th Sunday 3 pm, Holy Communion. Some of the staff of the Waterfall Consumptive Hospital or Sanatorium, attended and helped maintain numbers.

In 1935 one of the founding members and leading lights in the church, Mr. Childs, was to die. It was a great loss to the congregation. By the early 1940s services were down to once a month at 3 pm on a Sunday afternoon. They were usually taken by a lay reader from Sydney. Leading lights in the congregation at this time were Mrs Mason, Wilson and Murray. Mrs Murray ran a small Women’s Guild. The congregation rarely exceeded 10, but the Sunday School was well attended. The Christmas party was always a village affair with Mr Le Clar performing as Santa Clause.

In 1945 the congregation received quite a shock when they discovered that some enterprising fellow had removed the doors, windows and front gate from the church. He was caught by the Sutherland police attempting to sell his ill-gotten gains to a local merchant. Neal Murray kindly put the church together again.

In 1947 termites made their first appearance in the church. The exterminators Powell & Co were called in, but nothing seemed to stop them. None-the-less, Neal Murray set to work restoring and painting the building ready for the 40th anniversary service on January 30, 1949. Sadly, by 1957 the building was quite unsafe and so it was decided to demolish it and start again. As already noted, this was a very unwise plan.

All that remained of the church for many years were the old pews stored under the Bushfire Brigade station. The bell was also cared for by the brigade in the hope that a new church could be built in the town. Land was purchased for this purpose, but later sold by the Engadine Parish.