The memory of one of the greatest discoveries in world history and Australia’s foremost pioneers were resurrected by an open-air service at a little wooden country church marking its 150th anniversary in the west of Brisbane last weekend. I had earlier searched the grounds for lost history and the stunning discoveries made the occasion even more remarkable.
The Methodist congregation at Brookfield was founded in 1869, and like all key anniversaries since, the church was full to overflowing so the events were held outside amid superb spring sunshine. Politicians of all levels attended the now Uniting Church, however the most notable names there were from times past.
It was appropriate that Dr John Roulston AM delivered the Christian message. He’s a parishioner and past minister there, and the first and only lay-preacher to be moderator of the Uniting Church in Queensland. Over a decade ago, Dr Roulston was awarded a Member of the Order of Australia for service to education, including the development of schools-based drug prevention programs.
God was probably nodding in approval at Dr Roulston delivering the message because the person who gave the first service for the Brookfield congregation 150 years ago was another lay preacher, Mr Thomas Makepeace (pictured).
Mr Makepeace was a pioneer at the very founding of the colony of Queensland itself. He was working at the Redbank Coalmines in 1860 when he lost his leg in an accident. He was the principal founder of the Moggill Methodist Church in 1868, the year before he gave the inaugural sermon at Brookfield. Makepeace Place at nearby Bellbowrie bears his name today.
The first ordained minister at Brookfield was The Reverend William Woolcock whose son was private secretary to the Queensland premier and was later a Supreme Court judge. Twenty years later, Rev. Woolcock opened another Methodist church at nearby Seventeen Mile Rocks. Woolcock Street at the Brisbane suburb of Red Hill is named after him.
While Mrs Elizabeth Slatter is the church organist today, it was teenager Miss Eliza Ann Brimblecombe who was the church’s first organist. Eliza was introduced to her future husband Samuel Dart by Brookfield’s second minister. She was just seventeen-years-old when she and Samuel married a year later in 1880 (pictured) at her parent’s home “Fair View” on Moggill Creek which is walking distance from the church.
Three of Eliza’s children served as church ministers. One, The Reverend Dr Harold Dart OBE, was awarded an Order of the British Empire for his service to the community. Another was Professor Raymond Dart the anthropologist and palaeontologist who discovered the “Missing Link” in 1924. This remains one of the most important discoveries in world history. The fossilized skull that Professor Dart was examining in South Africa proved to be the earliest example of primordial bipedal man ever found to date, thus proving that human ancestors evolved out of Africa. Not bad for the son of Brookfield’s first organist.
The Darts came from Devon, the area of England in which is found the Dart River, Dartmouth, Dartmoor and Dartington. Today, again within walking distance of Eliza’s church, is a Baptist retirement residence that sits on land once owned by Samuel and Eliza Dart, the wings of which bear their family names. Dart Street in the Brisbane suburb of Auchenflower is named after them.
I had previously metal detected the church grounds but I wanted to find something that I could place actually in the hands of the church founders. So, prior to the anniversary service, I went back one more time. What I found (pictured) was absolutely stunning because it pre-dated the 1869 church itself. That means that the items must have fallen from the hands of Thomas Makepeace, Rev. Woolcock, Eliza Ann Brimblecombe, or one the other founding parishioners themselves.
I discovered a handmade glass bottle stopper perhaps from a container used for Communion. The Queen Victoria halfpenny and penny from 1865 and 1866 could easily have been dropped by the children as they listened to their Sunday School lesson under the shady trees.
But it’s the 1860s gold and enamel brooch that’s most remarkable of all. It appears to bear a Christian insignia. Not touched for perhaps 150 years, I felt like like Howard Carter seeing “wonderful things”, this time a piece of God’s own jewellery. As I assessed the weight of the brooch for the first time, I was fully aware of being the first person to hold the beautiful object in such a long time. The moment appears in this short film.
Maybe the brooch was a wedding gift from Samuel Dart to his young bride Eliza Ann Brimblecombe all those years ago.
The setting beside the church was perfect for the anniversary service, as was the message delivered by Dr Roulston. So too are the memories of the founding families and the objects that they lost and I found.
Professor Dart’s ‘Taung Child’ has been proclaimed as one of the greatest discoveries in history, but finding what was left by the people at this little old country church are at least equally as special.
Now watch the two 150th Anniversary videos:
Click on this video link for Treasure found in a little old Australian country church
Click on this video link for Brookfield Uniting Church (1869) 150th anniversary message
150th anniversary service (2019) – my own
Thomas Tindale Makepeace – Friends of Ipswich Hospital Museum
Eliza and Samuel Dart wedding (1880) – Raymond Arthur Dart: His Life and Work, page 1, Frances Wheelright, Department of History, University of Sydney, March 1998 (from John and Betty Dart)
Discoveries pre-date the 1869 church – my own (background photo Raymond Dart’s Australopithecus Africanus , cast of Taung Child – Didier Descouens)