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HomeVolume 27St Mary's sale: Anglican Church asked to give guarantees

St Mary’s sale: Anglican Church asked to give guarantees


Former residents of St Mary’s home in Alice Springs are making a last-ditch attempt to save the block of land owned by the Anglican Church, with offers to buy the land closing tomorrow.

Bishop Greg Anderson disclosed on September 22: “We are financially vulnerable in the medium term, and really need to find ways of increasing the diocesan income.”

Mark Smith, who says he was asked to help Stolen Generation children who were staying at the home, says Bishop Anderson has pledged to seek “a buyer who will honour the legacy and heritage of the former residents, including access to the chapel with its historic and heritage listed mural”.

But Mr Smith, the grandson of Father Percy McD Smith, founding rector of the Anglican Church in Alice Springs, says the church needs to go further to ensure preservation of the site and guarantee continued access for its former residents.

Mr Smith says his recently deceased father, John P McD Smith, had spoken to Bishop Anderson expressing concern about the sale.

“From my point of view it goes without saying that the chapel at St Mary’s needs to be preserved and maintained as a heritage site,” says Mark Smith. 

“The magnificent mural in the chapel is part of the tradition of the Anglican Church in Alice Springs.  

“Services should still be held there and the chapel should be open to the public.

“The Anglican Church in Alice Springs has a powerful history and the St Mary’s Chapel is very much part of that.”

Mr Smith says the church needs to go further to ensure preservation of the site and guarantee continued access for former residents.

“The definition of ‘access’ in this context needs to be defined,” he says.

“For it to be truly meaningful it will be more than just having a key to a community hall. It will need to be permanent access and the ability to meet and reflect, leave and safely display images and personal items as anyone would in a private home.”

Mr Smith says a diocese press release had committed to contributing “up to” 10% of the sale proceeds to recognise the ongoing association former residents have with the site and that “the diocese will continue to talk with former residents about this”.

In a letter to Bishop Anderson Mr Smith asked for 10% of the sale proceeds to be a minimum and asked what is meant by a “practical initiative”?

Members of the St Mary’s Stolen Generation Group on November 28 asked for a commitment for the chapel, the yellow house immediately north of it (the closest building to it), and an area around them both to keep their character as sacred, and also an access road.

“That’s our softball team, me in the middle, Anne to my right, Mary to her right, Little Nora at the other end, Audrey behind her,” says Eileen Moseley. All of these current members:  Ms Moseley, Anne Ronberg, Mary Shadforth, Nora Kempster and Audrey Melaney.

The group wants any part of the sale proceeds invested and the bank interest used by the group for “spending time on the land, a meeting place, teaching our children and our children’s children about the history, teaching others about the history, telling stories, displaying photos, as an office space, for archives” as well as a memorial monument in front of the chapel”.

“The wishes of the former St Mary residents have not been guaranteed at this time,” says Mr Smith. 

“Best intentions, while honourable, are not enough to address the concerns of the St Mary’s Stolen Generation Group.

“We need a white knight, a buyer, who is willing to respectfully develop the land, and also relieve the financial pressure on the Anglican Diocese.”

FOOTNOTE: Mark J Smith is the son of the recently deceased John P McD Smith, a former regular correspondent for the Alice Springs News, and chair of the St Francis House Project, a position now filled by Mark Smith.

UPDATE 4.20pm. Bishop Anderson provided the following statement after asked we asked him to comment at 3pm:

Thanks for the chance to comment, Erwin. My only request would be that you substitute for the word “find” the word “seek” in paragraph three. It is beyond my power to find a buyer, and I didn’t pledge this. I said that we would seek to find a buyer who would commit to preserving the St Mary’s legacy. We have asked potential buyers to comment on the chapel site in their expressions of interest. Kind regards, Greg Anderson.
[ED – We complied with the Bishop’s request.]


UPDATE Dec 19, 7.15am: Historian Alex Nelson provided the following information about the photo at top:

The photo depicts one of the St Mary’s floats in the Jubilee Parade of May 9, 1951 (50th anniversary of Australia’s Federation). The Jubilee Parade was the first civic parade in Alice Springs, eight years before the first Bangtail Muster.
There were two floats from St Mary’s, one each for the boys and girls. This photo depicts the girls’ float called “The Belles of St Mary’s” (no doubt a play on the title of the popular “Bells of St Mary’s” film of 1945 starring Bing Crosby and Ingrid Bergman). The woman holding the card with the numeral ‘3’ is Mrs Lilian Schroder and Sister Eileen Heath is standing at the rear of the vehicle.
PICTURE BELOW: The mural with historian Jose Petrick. Other photos provided by the St Mary’s Stolen Generation Group.


  1. The Anglican Church does remarkable work with Anglicare NT, a significant provider of welfare, social justice and community development programs in the Northern Territory.
    The church has now found that demands on its services far exceeds its funding so reluctantly it must sell this asset.
    Amongst other things, the St Mary’s Stolen Generation Group want to be funded for spending time on the land, teaching children, telling stories etc. But these do not resonate with the children of the Stolen Generation that I know.
    A memorial monument and honouring the legacy of the building and in particular the wonderful mural are essential as recognised by the church.
    I would hope that those who seek far ranging benefits from the sale recognise that much of the proceeds will flow to benefiting the most vulnerable members of our community.

  2. Here is a chance for someone to step up and make sure the right thing is done by people who lived at St Mary’s and also bail out the church.

  3. The St Mary’s Stolen Generation Group are the children of the church, they were raised by the church, and what they have quietly and persistently been seeking to do is the reconciliation work of the church.
    Surely the church can forego a small part of the profit they would otherwise make to work with them on this?
    I am currently supporting the St Mary’s Stolen Generation Group and am putting together the content for their website.

  4. @ Celia: The Church will forgo a small sum (there is no profit) to continue their reconciliation work and erect a memorial and they will forgo some value by preserving the building.
    But Stolen Generation compensation claims should be directed at governments that enacted the assimilation policy rather than churches.
    Should the Lutherans compensate Aboriginal people? They assimilated but also protected.
    The church desperately needs the money from this sale to assist the broader community in need and it should not be hamstrung by the demands of a small minority.

  5. In the early 80s when Milton Blanch was the manager, I was the chair of the board at St Mary’s.
    We had a visit from then CM Paul Everingham because there was government money involved.
    I had this concept of St Mary’s being turned into a school camp for senior students from Southern schools to come here to satisfy ecological and cultural components of their curriculum requirements, along the lines of what Timbertop does at Geelong Grammar, but inclusive of all denominations.
    The history of the stolen generations would be one attraction to give a bit more perspective to that argument.
    I did a rough survey of Anglican schools in three southern states and came up with a very rough figure of 10,000 to 12,000 accomodation nights annually.
    The logistics were then sent to Brian Vaughn as ACER Vaughn, consulting engineers, at the time and a report was sent out to the Diocese in Darwin.
    There was no response and I think there were interests in Darwin who only thought about real estate interests and subdividing for short term profit.
    My rationale was that the property would provide an ongoing cash flow to finance the activities of the Diocese in the long term, and serve a very useful social need.
    The concept was passed on to the a local Member, Robyn Lambley, who was also supportive of the concept.
    It is sad and disappointing to see the property for sale and simply illustrates the lack of long term vision – an approach which has developed here over recent years, particularly in the tourism industry, and the lack of credibility on anything south of Katherine from government.
    I still see bus loads of school students who come here for ecological and cultural experiences each year.
    Parks that usually accomodate them are no longer active in that area. One only has go to visit Mclaren Vale, Winton and other tourism centres to see just how far behind our thinking has been. There is also a glaring need for a retirement village for seniors along the lines of the Masonic Lodge scheme in South Australia, where my late mother lived very happily for many years.
    My worst fears are that the Church lost a golden opportunity to be more self funding and that we will end up with the 180 houses promised by government and another Kilgariff disaster based on real estate interests and not community social needs, in direct contrast to the social ideals of the Anglican community but dictated to by the real estate industry.

  6. @Josh: Two months before the sale was announced the gathered Australian bishops, including the Bishop of the Northern Territory, issued a public statement which included:
    “With deep repentance the Australian bishops present at Lambeth 2022 recognise that the Anglican Church of Australia … within our own history aided the forced removal of First Nations children from their parents (the Stolen Generations) which has resulted in inter-generational trauma for many First Nations peoples.
    The Anglican Church of Australia acknowledges its own sinfulness in this regard, has sought forgiveness, but continues to walk with First Nations peoples on the long journey of reconciliation.
    And are you saying the Diocese has committed to handing the proceeds of the sale to Anglicare NT which is a different legal entity and mostly funded by Government?
    And what building is guaranteed?
    The Diocese could have chosen to protect any part of the property but instead has gone to sale with no covenant or any other sort of legal protection over the land.
    The heritage-listed mural can be moved off site under the terms of its listing.

  7. My name is David Bennier, son of Harold and Lola who worked at St Mary’s Hostel around 1959 to 1961. The house in question was the family home for the entire period. I lived there with my brother and sister.
    I would like to support the St Mary’s Stolen Generation Group and hope a resolution can be achieved to acquire the Chapel as their meeting place.
    The 18 months we [spent there] they became our friends and playmates. Due to them being forcibly taken from their families I feel they should be looked after. A way of giving back.

  8. @Celia: While the Anglican Church recognizes the sinfulness of the Assimilation Policy it overwhelmingly carried out its role with compassion and kindness.
    Had it not stepped in to care for stolen children their fate would have been much worse.
    Isn’t that why they are the children of the Church?
    Does their care by the Church give them an entitlement to benefit from this sale?
    In my view it doesn’t.
    But it is very understandable that the Stolen Generation feel a deep sense of attachment to this building.
    More discussion is needed and it would be useful for a public comment on the issues you raise from the Church.

  9. In a parallel universe CentreCorp, one of the wealthiest property owners in our town whose stated purpose is to improve Aboriginal lives, would step in here.

  10. Haven’t these people already suffered enough! Why drag out the anxiety and uncertainty when it is in your power to do something about this. No wonder people are losing faith with organised religion.

  11. I think for the Anglican church to sell St Mary’s without granting this group their wish is a massive lost opportunity for the church to both begin to right some wrongs of the past and promote an ongoing relationship of a group of Aboriginal people with the church.
    In regards to Josh’s comments about the Anglican church carrying out its role with care and compassion: this may be true, however the fact remains that much harm was done in taking children away from their family, home, country, culture. It seems this site became a new family and home for them with important memories.
    I think granting them ongoing ownership and access is an amazing opportunity to bring some justice for harm done by stolen generation policies: giving a group of stolen, displaced people connection to the land that they built new connections with, rather than displacing them more, or as Eileen Moseley says “wiping out the history of our childhood”.
    Josh seems to think that Centrecorp should be part of bringing this justice but I think the church should lead the way by ensuring it happens.
    I don’t know a lot about Centrecorp but my sense is that it would be highly unlikely that they preserve the chapel and a building for that group.

  12. Memorial to the Stolen Generation of Alice Springs
    If the Queensland Police Union can consider plans to buy the block of land in Wieambilla to honour lives lost at last week’s shooting, why can the Anglican Church not do the same for the Stolen Generation lives permanently affected by the acts of goodwill of the church?
    We took these children on the goodwill of the church to provide a better life for them. We traumatised their mothers and now we are going to traumatise the families again by taking away the place they were forced to call home.
    We do things because we feel it is the right thing, does the church believe selling these memories is the right thing?

  13. I agree with Celia’s and Mikaila’s comments about the St Mary’s Stolen Generation Group’s request being the ongoing work of reconciliation of the church. It is an amazing opportunity to engage in ongoing relationship in a real and tangible way towards healing.
    The St Mary’s Stolen Generation group have reached out to the Diocese multiple times over many years with admirable persistence and patience. I think it is a matter of justice for the church to reach out by granting the group’s request.
    Involving a secular group like CentreCorp, as Josh suggests, to me seems to bypass the significant relationship the St Mary’s Stolen Generation group have with The Anglican Church of Australia (not to mention bypassing the church’s responsibility to grapple with its past).
    There are stronger ties between the two entities apart from the obvious discussions about money or buildings. It is, if I read Daniel Forrester’s words right, a deep spiritual connection seeking to be mended.
    “It is a sacred site to us. It is unfinished business. It has been in the too-hard basket for too long.” (Daniel Forrester)

  14. We are in the season of goodwiil. But there seems to be little goodwill on offer from the Church. Anglican Church MIA.

  15. Seriously how long are these people meant to wait! This is insulting behaviour. Get your act together.

  16. Being ignored is just terrible – you feel like you are nothing. Not important. Big faceless organisations are masters of this behaviour.

  17. @ Edward Roberts: It is precisely because of the goodwill of the Anglican Church that they are selling their building.
    Goodwill does not pay the bills and the Church does not want to cut back programs that are of importance to the wider community.
    Worth remembering that at the time of the Assimilation Policy attitudes towards Aboriginal people were very harsh, there was no kindness.
    The Church didn’t create or even condone the policy when almost everyone else did.
    It took a compassionate role that no-one else wanted.
    The Anglican Church gave these kids a home, they are indeed its children.
    Any association at all with the removal of children now appears to be heinous and it’s easy to be politically correct and demand compensation.
    But the righteous indignation here is not justified and the Aboriginal community should support the Stolen Generation with a lot more than demand making and vilification.

  18. @Josh: As you seem to know so much perhaps you could be decent enough to put your surname up!
    @Sarah Clark: Sugar coating this achieves nothing.
    If the Anglican Church need money why don’t they sell off properties in the metropolitan areas of Brisbane / Sydney / Melbourne etc.?
    It’s considered a sacred site, show some compassion please.

  19. So … any update? Any offers? Any good corporate citizens emerge with their cheque book? – Twiggy, Gina, James Packer?

  20. Beware a sneaky move … without consultation while we are focussed on Christmas and the New Year. Fingers crossed that the right thing is done.

  21. On page 72 of Father Percy Smith’s biography – The Flower in the Desert, Chapter 5 – Father Speaks Out: “I took some boys to Adelaide in 1945 and then sent them to school in normal competition with ordinary, average Australian children … It was seen by teachers, Department officials and Church authorities, at length, that this could work.
    “My article in the Review, in which I criticised the Government’s Island Scheme was noticed by the native affairs branch and helped together with what was done in Adelaide, to alter Government policy.
    “Today the Commonwealth Government has completely altered its policy for the Mixed Bloods with assimilation being fostered.
    “Since St Francis House started the Church procured a property in Alice Springs, which is now known as St Mary’s, and this is for children of indigenous parents from outlying places and is considerably supported now by government grants.”
    This shows the context of the establishment of St Mary’s.

  22. What would be the best use of this site for the local community and Alice Springs? Seniors’ living? Community housing? History and tourism?
    Perhaps a little of all of these. How about a local poll?

  23. Sitting on your hands forever without making a decision is just wasted opportunity. Let’s move into this century, please.

  24. Sometime ago there was a proposal I think to make this a more prominent site for reflection on the impact of forced removal of children policies of governments of yesteryear.
    I say removal rather than more emotive use of language of stolen.
    That chapel area and surrounds could be developed as a way to educate more people about this era and the ongoing emotional trauma it generates.
    This is not just a sale of a piece of real estate.

  25. The simple ask here is for people to be listened to and their culture accommodated and understood. Is that too much to ask in Australia in 2022 going on 2023?

  26. Does the sale of properties subsidise expenses in other Dioceses or does the sale of an NT property only go the NT Diocese?


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