Tuesday, 29 May 2018

Ardill and Warrimoo 1936-1945



Ardill and Warrimoo (1936-1945)

George Ardill may have had some earlier association with Warrimoo, but his influence only becomes clear in the nine years between 1936 and 1945. He was due to turn 80 in 1937, and it would seem logical that he may have been planning some form of ‘retirement’ from his frenetic charitable activities in Sydney by moving to the quieter environs of Warrimoo.

Ardill in mid-life--he moved to Warrimoo as he approached 80 years of age. His wife Kelsie was frail and needing attention. Possibly Ardill was seeking some rest from the constant demands of his charitable work in Sydney when he arrived in the mid 1930's.
Around this time, Lawrence Way speaks of a new neighbour building a home next door to his poultry farm and making his acquaintance…

…our neighbour …asked me if I would like to do some work weeding the gardens and other jobs. I readily agreed as I was growing some vegetables to get some money and there was not much in that. I was surprised when I received six shillings for the day…[1]

Lawrence gives some picture of Ardill’s activities at the time…

Our neighbour Mr. Ardill had a hall built in Rickard Road. He worked in Sydney at the Jewish rescue organisation and was showing slides as to what was happening in Israel. I was always interested in pictures and had sometimes gone to the Springwood picture show which only cost nine pence if under sixteen years old. I attended this and found it was broadening my outlook on the wider world. Mr. Ardill’s aims were not so much that type of motivation but rather moral and spiritual incentives. Because of this, he tried to get me to go to the Sunday evening service…It was not long before I was yielding to his persuasion and my wild life was mellowing. [2]

This further testament to George Ardill’s arrival, in the construction of the Gospel Hall on Rickard Road (now the Baptist Church), was widely reported in the local media. After personally supplying the cost of land and building materials via one of his institutes, and with construction and painting carried out by willing volunteers, Ardill oversaw the opening ceremony taking place under much religious fanfare on February 8th, 1936.[3]

The Gospel Hall as it appears today. A brick facade has been added to bring modernity to a structure built by voluntary labour in 1936. Several upgrades have occurred over the years so that the overall size is considerably larger than the original building.

The Progress Association

The Gospel Hall became a hub of activity over the following decade, with church services, ‘invitation teas’, hymn singing evenings, Sunday Schools, fund-raising events and yes, even Warrimoo Progress Association meetings happening there. Indeed, the latter organisation appears to have been resuscitated within its hallowed walls…

A meeting of property owners and permanent residents was held in the Gospel Hall, Rickard Road, Warrimoo, on Saturday, 27th March, to form a local progress association. Mr. W. T. Ely was voted to the chair, and Mr. G. E. Ardill, convenor of the meeting, acted as secretary.

After preliminary discussion, it was resolved to form an association of property owners and residents of the district, to be called “The Warrimoo Progress Association.” The following were elected office-bearers for the ensuing year:--Chairman, Mr. W.T. Ely; Vice Chairmen, Messrs G. W. Duckles and T. Pritchard; hon. Secretary and Treasurer, Mr. G. E. Ardill. It was arranged that meetings be held on the fourth Saturday in each month.[4]

The Gospel Hall became a hub of community activity during the 'Ardill Years'. Apart from Sunday Services, there were film nights, invitation teas and of course, meetings of the revived 'Warrimoo Progress Association'.

A ‘Warrimoo Progress Association’ had already existed to serve the community in the 1920’s, and must have lasted (at least, according to Nepean Times reports) till 1933. This was the Progress Association of Mudie/Neall/Watts which must have somehow faded from view. Either Ardill was unaware of this or he chose to recreate the organisation under new auspices with the inspiration of ‘A New Movement’.[5] The signed up membership was eighteen in number with the optimistic proviso that those who were ‘unavoidably absent’ were nevertheless keen to join at some later date.

 Issues most concerning the new Association were to be addressed immediately…

…officers were empowered to continue the agitation for the improvement of the turn-off from the Great Western Road into Railway Parade, which is considered at present to be very dangerous to motorists. The necessity for extra street lights at this point and also in Florabella Street was also referred to and it was decided to support the request to the Blue Mountains Shire for these facilities. The urgent need for a permanent water supply for the district was brought under notice, and it was decided that the secretary make enquiry as to the probability of an extension from Springwood.

Reference was made to the inconvenience to voters who had to travel to other districts to record their votes, and it was resolved to urge the provision of a local polling booth.[6]

Clearly Warrimoo residents still required their own water tanks and wells, used pan toilets in backyard sheds, and town lighting was poor at night, but the Highway overbridge crossing of the railway turned too sharply at this time and as a matter of road safety (several serious accidents had already occurred) George Ardill became obsessed with its rectification. He kept count of the number of accidents and then pursued a letter-writing campaign to all levels of government calling for action. This agitation continued for years.

Finally, in 1944, a new bridge was constructed…

Mr. J. B. Chifley (officiating at the opening—WH), Federal Treasurer, spoke in commendation of the work that had been carried out in the area. The old bridge had been a death trap, and he viewed with pleasure the completion of this new one.

Mr. O’Sullivan, Minister, said that the old bridge had caused quite a number of accidents. There had been nine recorded accidents during the few years since February, 1937, four of which were serious, on one occasion a life being lost. On three occasions the bridge parapet had been demolished, the debris falling on the railway line. This new bridge had been so designed and constructed that there was no interruption of road traffic…and was able to carry the heaviest military loads…[7]

In speeches at the opening, reference was made to the commendable part played, over a number of years, in the agitation for this bridge by Mr. G. E. Ardill, President of the Warrimoo Progress Association.

Activism in Warrimoo

It is some indication of George Ardill’s character and religious fortitude that he had thrown himself into the work surrounding formation of the Progress Association a mere two months after the death of his second wife, Kelsie, on the 7th January, 1937. Here was a woman who had been his Christian partner since 1921, one who had preached with him, worked tirelessly in all his projects and provided secretarial and moral support throughout, now moved to Warrimoo to retire with him—possibly frail and terminally ill, and now dead, with all her funerary considerations fulfilled by him, yet her husband still possessed the 80 year old wherewithal to carry on further community activism. And, so he did.

If Ardill had come to Warrimoo to retire he clearly found it difficult to do so. The first couple of years saw the construction of the Gospel Hall and his own unique but modest home at 13 Florabella Street, as well as the formation of the new Progress Association. Meanwhile, he still commuted to Sydney to continue his supervision of the many institutions that were his prime responsibility—history was to show that after his death most of them faded into obscurity—he was indispensable, even addicted to them.

Arguably the first Women's Refuge in Australia, the 'House of Hope' received homeless and 'fallen' women in secure accommodation in Newtown, Sydney. The women were put to work cleaning laundry. You can see other women at the windows. Here was yet another charitable institution managed by George Ardill.
After Kelsie’s passing he contracted his sister in law(?) to be his live-in housekeeper. He purchased several blocks of land around Warrimoo in The Avenue and Florabella Street and built cottages on them. Being a staunch believer in ‘cottage–led redemption’ these dwellings were primarily reserved for society’s victims: ‘fallen women’, broken families, the poor and destitute, so that they might rebuild their lives through domestic self discipline and home-building. One cottage, however, ‘Rest-A-While’, at 29 The Avenue, was apparently reserved for rental on a more commercial basis.

All the while George Ardill pursued his life-long mission to save souls. His influence upon people like Lawrence Way was indelible…

Mr Ardill was feeling his age and had retired from his work. His wife had died and he was being cared for by a sister-in-law who had moved from Leura to live with him…I was working there one day and I heard her say to Mr. Ardill, “Laurie Way has changed.” I knew myself that my actions and attitudes were becoming different but I seemed to find that, although that was a good thing, more important was the change of the inner life…

…Shortly after, I was riding to Katoomba with a Christian who introduced me to an elderly retired missionary who said she read the Bible through yearly. My reaction was if she could do that, so could I and I have been very thankful for her example. I remember Mr. Ardill being delighted by my new stand…

…My conversion at the age of seventeen was so real to me and despite the evolutionary teaching of my father in my teens (Laurie’s father was an atheist—WH) there has never been any doubt of God’s existence.[8]

Occasions such as Easter and Christmas saw Ardill’s elaborate engagement with the Warrimoo community…

On Sunday, Dec. 24, at the Gospel Hall, Warrimoo, special services were held in connection with the Christmas season. The preacher was Mr. G. E. Ardill, who had the Hall built nearly 10 years ago. Mr. Ardill attained the ripe age of 87 years on the 17th ult. and was preacher twice that day.

At the evening service, in place of the usual sermon, a series of Christmas carols was rendered, and the speaker made comments on the Scripture teaching of each carol when it had been sung.

At the conclusion of this service the congregation adjourned to the Main Western Highway, and under the electric lamp, near the store, rendered another series of carols. Seats from the Hall provided for the comfort of the listeners, many other persons adding to those from the hall.

The speaker, in like manner in the hall, made comments after each carol had been sung…[9]

George Ardill's modest weatherboard home at 13 Florabella Street. He lived  there with a housekeeper, reputedly his sister-in-law, after his wife Kelsie died in 1937. Ardill was neighbour to the youth, Lawrence Way, who admits to the huge influence Ardill had on his life at this time. (Drawing done by local Warrimoo resident, Terry Dernee*)

Death and Legacy

A few months after his Christmas dedications, on 11th May 1945, George Ardill passed away. There is no doubt he left a distinct impression on the people of Warrimoo and upon the township’s character.

For a start, the activities of Progress Association became more focussed and successful. It met regularly, once a month, in the Gospel Hall, had good attendances (ranging between 10 and 30 members), and its Minutes were faithfully published in the Nepean Times and the Katoomba Daily. Continuous pressure was directed to local, State and Federal government representatives to take note of the needs of Warrimoo residents and to act upon them.

Whether it was singularly due to the efforts of Ardill and ‘the Progress’, or as well a convergence of other factors: a growing population, the end of the Depression, infrastructure needs of the War effort, technological advances or pure good fortune, Warrimoo was a better place in terms of amenity than before Ardill’s arrival.

Roads were better, a new Highway Bridge crossed the railway, street lighting was improved and Warrimoo now possessed a concrete water tank on the highest point of the township on Victoria Street to deliver ‘town water’. Things were looking up. More shops were appearing. A fresh crop of war veterans were about to arrive in this welcoming neighbourhood, and Warrimoo was to become something of a religious ‘hub’ for smaller religious groups: apart from the little Anglican church on Arthur Street which has already been built in the 1920’s, he had established an ecumenical (later ‘Baptist’) Gospel Hall on Rickard Road, followed by Methodists (GWH), Seventh Day Adventists (Terrymont Road) and Jehovahs Witnesses (cnr The Avenue and Waratah Road—later Greens Parade).

Ardill was born a Baptist, but his evangelical work involved engagement with Bible Societies and the distribution of the Word of God as broadly as possible. He grew decidedly ecumenical in his days at Warrimoo, yet was buried with Anglican rites at his funeral in Stanmore.
Recognition for Ardill’s evangelist and charitable work arrived in 1934 when he was awarded the MBE (‘Member of the British Empire’) “for services to the community”, indeed, he was probably the most renowned philanthropic missionary in Sydney at this time. Yet, in keeping with his era, his approach to all ‘the fallen’ was paternalistic—he was the good-willed father ordained by God’s wisdom to save the wayward victims of society’s indifference. Whether it was in rescuing broken women, housing deserted orphans, or segregating Aborigines, he knew best.

Paternal righteousness brought a political reaction during his work on the Aborigines  Protection Board. It can be safely said that George Ardill was the principle architect of the ‘Stolen Generations’ policy that developed in the first three decades of the 20th century. Innumerable children were forcibly taken from their Indigenous parents, placed in orphanage-style institutions, then apprenticed to farms or factories if they were males, or allocated as domestic servants if female. All the while he urged legislators to supply more power to the Protection Board to direct the lives of Aboriginal people throughout NSW. Ultimately the policy was accused of creating a slave labour force so that Aboriginal communities and their sympathisers in unions and other churches pushed back. Public opinion began to turn on the Board.

Cootamundra Girls Home was set up primarily under the Aborigines Protection Act and operated under Ardill's studious direction. Taken from their Aboriginal families under the guise of receiving 'useful education' the girls were trained to become domestic servants for well-off and 'appropriate' white families. It did not close till 1968.
Ardill resigned his position on the Protection Board in 1916, but continued to agitate for his views from the outside. His son, another ‘George Edward Ardill’, became a conservative (‘Nationalist’) politician in the NSW parliament and later joined the Board to reflect similar views to those of his father—it was not till after WWII that attitudes and policies towards Aboriginal people began to take a different course.

Whatever his profile in Sydney, Ardill’s standing in Warrimoo remained staunch and respected. As his age reached 86 he may have been showing signs of infirmity, for now the Warrimoo Progress Association urged the naming of a park in his honour…

TRIBUTE TO MR. ARDILL
The members of the Warrimoo Progress Association, in view of the deep interest in the progress of the district shown by the President, Mr.G. E. Ardill, unanimously resolved to urge that the reserve which was granted for recreation purposes, fronting the main Western Road and in the vicinity of the local railway station, be named Ardill Park.

The Blue Mountains Shire approved the proposal, which was then placed before Mr J. M. Tully, Minister for Lands, who has approved of the reserve being so named, and has written stating that the maps of the' Lands Department have been noted accordingly.[10]

And so the most central public park in the township, the one leading pedestrians from the railway station to the Citizens Hall, the one giving pergola solace and picnic space for weary car travellers passing through the Lower Mountains, this park was designated ‘Ardill Park’ by the Minister of Lands Mr. J.M. Tully in October 1944.[11] So it remains to this day.

George Edward Ardill lived long enough to see a Warrimoo Park named in his honour. He had already received an MBE in 1934 for his 'service to the community' generally, but now the citizens of Warrimoo had successfully agitated for public recognition of one of their own...
George Edward Ardill was no doubt utterly convinced of his own good intentions. The Anglican Archbishop Mowll eulogised at his funeral…

G.E. Ardill possessed outstanding qualities. He was never negative, but ever positive. He wrought manfully, fought valiantly, served devotedly, and was ever to be found where the battle was the thickest. He was a born leader, and loved to plan and scheme and contrive in the interests of causes dearer to his heart. Even those who opposed him had to concede that he possessed uncommon qualities and front rank abilities. He breathed the spirit of God, he was a man of unswerving devotion to Christ. His loyalty was absolute. He was a man of heroic unselfishness.[12]

Despite his funeral service being held in Stanmore and his burial in Waverley there were many mourners from Warrimoo attending…his legacy was to live on through the coming decades.



[1] Way, Lawrence, My Story, op.cit, p.43
[2] Ibid., p. 44
[3] TROVE, Nepean Times, Thursday 26th March 1942, p 4.
[4] Ibid. Thursday 1st April, 1937
[5] TROVE, Katoomba Daily, Thursday 1st April, 1937
[6] Ibid
[7] TROVE, Nepean Times, Thursday February 3rd 1944
[8] Way, Lawence, op. cit., pp 45-47
[9] TROVE, Nepean Times, Thursday 4th January 1945
[10] TROVE, Ibid, Thursday 28th September, 1944
[11] TROVE, Ibid., Thursday 6th October, 1944
[12] TROVE, SMH
* Terry Dernee acted as a great source of information and inspiration for this post

No comments:

Post a comment