This Saturday I am taking part in a very special event: the grand opening of the refurbished Anglican Parish Hall on Thursday Island. It has been a long process but one that I am very proud to have had some involvement in.
The Parish Hall, in the historic Quetta Memorial Precinct, has been a local icon on Thursday Island for more than 100 years. It is integral to the social history of Thursday Island and the wider Torres Strait and is recognised by the National Trust.
Built in just three months, the church hall was officially opened on 21 January 1903. Many residents recall playing on the wide verandas as children, attending the church fete with stalls spread throughout the grounds, celebrating a family wedding or meeting to enjoy cultural dance.
Some will remember playing on the basketball court near the old beach almond tree or standing-room only at the Thursday night dances. In recent years however, the church hall succumbed to decay, and a significant amount of work was needed.
During a visit to the Torres Strait in mid-2012 I was approached by Bishop Mabo of the Anglican Church, and he told me of his vision to return the hall to its former glory. I thought it was a fabulous idea and suggested that this was something that should be done by the community. I quickly got in touch with a group of key community contacts. The Parish Hall Restoration Committee was formed, and I am pleased to be the patron.
The key members of the committee are Chris Lemke, who is the co-chair and from the Grand Hotel; Bishop Saibo Mabo, who is co-chair and from the Anglican Diocese of North Queensland; Danica McAllister, who works in my office on Thursday Island as secretary. I am, of course, the patron. Grant Smith is the treasurer and from the Australian Federal Police. Elizah Wasaga is from My Pathway, Steve Heemi is from Queensland Police Service, Lou Tidswell is from the National Australia Bank, Leigh Lemke is from the Grand Hotel, Cath Cefai is from the Queensland Police Service, Bruce Ranga is from Ibis Pauline Ahwang is from DATSIMA, Ron and Robyn Humphreys are from Rotary, Daynee Mareko is from JCU, Cynthia Bunnell is from Customs, Jesse Sagaukaz is from My Pathway, Geoff Ball is from the Torres Shire Council, Leo Akee is from UMI Arts, Sandie Edwards is from Rebel Marine, Vonda Moar-Malone is from the Medicare local, George Martin is from Customs, Darlene Fell is from My Pathway and Regina Turner is from Tagai TAFE. As you can see, it is a whole broad range right across the whole community.
Two years on and we are absolutely amazed at what this committee and the broader community have achieved. Meeting every Thursday morning at the Grand Hotel, the committee has successfully brought together organisations from around the Torres Strait, giving the project true community ownership.
These include the Grand Hotel, Ibis, My Pathway, Queensland Police, Rotary, the Queensland government, National Australia Bank, the AFP, the Anglican Diocese of North Queensland, Medicare local, Torres Shire Council and Torres Strait Tours. They have organised and run numerous sausage sizzles, comedy nights, raffles, chocolate drives, barbecues and other fundraising activities which the community has gladly put their hands in their pockets for. The parishioners of the Anglican Diocese have been consistently generous with their donations.
Other companies such as Sea Swift, CEA Training Opportunities, TAFE and Qantaslink have provided in-kind and financial support. The restoration has also provided a fantastic opportunity whereby local My Pathway RJCP participants have been trained up and worked on the project as long-lasting community use and significant.
After 12 months of intensive fundraising, the Parish Hall Restoration Committee reached its fundraising target for stage 1 works, and construction began. It was a big job involving the removal of the asbestos roof and replacement with Colorbond roofing, installation of new decking and railings on the veranda, new steps, painting throughout, the upgrade of the toilets et cetera. When I called past the parish hall on a visit last month I was amazed at the transformation. The new steps, freshly stained decking et cetera is just amazing.
My strongest congratulations go to everyone who has come together in partnership on this project. Saturday’s grand opening will be a full-day affair. It will include a procession to the Anglican hall, traditional acknowledgements, a blessing of the hall, lunch, entertainment from local musicians and island dancing groups, an evening feast, formal acknowledgements and speeches.
It will be a fantastic celebration. I am very much looking forward to it. My wife, Yolonde, and my daughter, Mackenzie, will be going up. We will be dressed in very colourful traditional island fare. I will have a beautiful, colourful shirt. It certainly makes me very proud to be the member for Leichhardt when I see communities such as this coming together to achieve something that is absolutely outstanding: restoring a very significant piece of Torres Strait history.
To view the official Hansard, click here