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