Mandarana Church and Cemetery

Mackay Genie Gossip No 83

St Peter's Church, Mandarana

Sydney Morning Herald Sat 6 Sept 1947

Note: The name on the sign near the cemetery just off the Bruce Highway, before reaching The Leap, is spelt as Mandurana, however, the correct spelling, from its earliest days, is Mandarana.

On 01 January 1876, Robert Martin married Elizabeth Watt Pringle at the home of her brother at Wood Green near London. Robert was 35 and Elizabeth was aged 29. Robert brought his new bride home to his property at Mandarana near Mackay where their first child, Robert, was born on the 01 October 1876. In the early 1880s, Mrs Elizabeth Martin, opened a South Sea Islander mission on the Martin property at Mandarana, and the mission continued to operate for quite some tine. She also commenced fundraising to build a church, and was assisted with her fundraising by her friend Helen (Nellie) Porter Mitchell who sang at a successful concert held in the old School of Arts in Wood Street, Mackay. Helen Mitchell became Mrs Nellie Armstrong in December 1882 and, 12 months later, in December 1883 she was confirmed at Holy Trinity Church before leaving Mackay the following month to embark upon her world renowned career as Madame Melba.

In 1882 Mrs Martin donated land for the construction of a church and the blocks for the building and construction commenced on the well-designed St Peter’s Church. It was a wooden building contained a sanctuary and vestry. St Peter’s Church was opened on Easter Day, 13 April 1884, by the Reverend T Worthington.

The Northern Miner Sat 4 July 1885
On their estate at Mandarana, Mackay, Mr and Mrs Martin and their friends have built an elegant little church for their locality and have presented the church, together with a considerable area of land as a free gift to the diocese. This act is both generous and graceful.

The chalice and paten were a gift from the former Rector, the Reverend A Maclaren. The first children baptised in the church were Ronald Riseham and Mildred Ann Paterson. Times were hard and finance scarce during the church’s first decade. Reverend Worthington, who also served at Walkerston, left the district in 1888. St Peter’s was demolished by cyclone “Eline” on 18 February 1898. When Helen Armstrong (now Madame Melba) was told of the church’s fate, she donated 20 guineas towards its restoration.

Robert Martin contracted pneumonia and died on 25 March 1898. He was buried under a gum tree on part of the land which had been given to the church and which was to become the Mackay District’s only church graveyard.

Mackay Jubilee publication, 1912

Mackay Jubilee publication, 1912

In the 1890s, the new Rector, Reverend W Abel Turner, worked the parish unaided and fewer services were offered at St Peter’s until the Reverend G Dainty returned to the parish to help with country services. In 1910, the Rector of Pioneer Parish, Reverend C L Bradley, was available to take church services at Mandarana.

The well-documented cyclone in January 1918, the worst then known in Australia, saw St Peter’s once again damaged, but not as badly as it had been by cyclone “Eline”. Again Madame Melba was advised of its fate, and again she donated 20 guineas towards restoration funds.

Mr Frank Martin, the son of Mr and Mrs Robert Martin, stored the windows from the church in a long pine box on a sheltered upstairs verandah of the family home until rebuilding of the church began. This second generation Martin to be associated with St Peter’s would faithfully carry the original chalice and paten (donated in 1884) safely packed in their special wooden box, to church with him as he rode there on horseback, and he continued to do so until the church was closed.

After 1918 the church services were mostly in the hands of the curates who rode out from Mackay on push bikes.  However, in the 1920s, Reverends Campbell and Thorpe were occasionally able to borrow the newly acquired Holy Trinity Parish car to work the country churches such as St Peter’s. Curates for the 1930s included Reverend G J C Hepworth who rode a push bike to Mandarana but took an evening job as an announcer with Radio 4MK until he was able to afford to buy a motor bike – which he named Rachael because he had waited so long for it.

In 1938 St Peter’s Committee joined the North Coast Church Council and its delegates who attended meetings regularly were Messrs Robinson and Frank Martin. When funds were needed, dances were held at the Coningsby School and The Leap HaIl. The North Coast Council’s report of March 1948 states: “Mandarana mostly has small congregations, but she has the best collections in the North Coast”.

Attendances at St Peter’s had fallen until, in the words of the Rector, Archdeacon Innes, “only Frank Martin and his horse came to church”. St Peter’s closed in 1962, and was accidentally burned down on 05 August 1968.

Frank Martin never married. The property was bought by Mr K Martin, a third generation member of the Martin family, who declared the burial ground sacrosanct. It is said that 49 people are buried there in the 34 graves. When road works were being carried out, the graves of two South Sea Islanders were pointed out, and the Main Roads officials made appropriate adjustments to respect the sites.

Some of the families who worshipped at St Peter’s included Barry, Boyd, Blake, Dimond, Jane, Kippen, Knobel, Noble, Carswell, Raymond, Symons, Skeels and Turner.

See this link for list of burials at the cemetery:

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