The picturesque red brick church in the Ferguson Valley was built in 1954 after the original Church burnt down in the early hours of the morning on Friday 14th April in the fires of 1950, which swept through from the Collie River to Donnybrook. John Gardiner, who was 12 at the time, remembers it’s vividly. “The large blackberry bush on the south side of the church caught alight and sent sparks up into the roof and gutter. The shingles underneath the tin roof caught alight and the little church took ½hour to burn down. The church was then eighty years old. The community held services in the Ferguson Hall which had survived the fire, until the new Church was built in 1954”.
John in one of the many direct descendants, still in the Ferguson Valley today, of Jesse and Jane Gardiner who arrived at Australind from England on the ship “Trusty “on 6th December 1842 and took up three of the first homestead blocks to be allocated in the Ferguson in the early 1850’s.
Jesse donated a small parcel of land for the use of a cemetery for local Ferguson residents in the early 1850’s next to where the current Church stands today. The local community banded together after a meeting on 23rd September 1953 to build the new Church with much of the rebuilding done voluntarily by local residents and the Congregational Presbyterian Church of Ferguson Building Committee under the Chairmanship of Mr Fisher Muller and Mr H.S. (Bert) Kerr as Secretary/Treasurer. Most of the fittings and furniture were donated by different families in the Community in Memorial. Plaques on the sheoak pews and other furniture commemorating these memorials can be seen today and are documented in the Rectors letter of 1954 copied on the back of the church door. The Dedication Service of the new Church was held on March 21st 1954 and jointly run by Canon Fred. J. Boxall (Church of England Rector of Boyanup) and the Rev. J. Edwin Davies, M.A. (Minister, St Augustine Congregational-Presbyterian Church, Bunbury). There was an attendance of about 400 with afternoon tea in the Ferguson Hall. The Service Collection of £73-5-2 was put towards the building fund and banked with a donation of a further £88 so the building was opened 6 months later with a sum of £100 owing which was paid off in the following months – a credit to them all. The first Congregational-Presbyterian Church Service was held the following Sunday on March 28th 1954 by Rev. Edwin Davies with the alternate services by the Anglicans each Sunday as was in the Original Church. The first Christening was recorded on April 4th1954 of Graeme Charleton Fowler. The Seven Day Adventists held the first marriage between Jeanette Weetman to Colin Lockyer on 5th September 1955. The Congregational Service is recorded on February 23rd1969 taken by Mr S. Sybranda. The Church is still in use today by all denominations with an Anglican Church Service held every third Sunday of the month officiated by Rev. Cassandra Nixon or Deacon Mavis Tyler and packed full by the Ferguson Community at the Christmas Carol Service each December. A plaque on the altar chair commemorates the Rev. Andrew Buchanan who established Congregational Worship in the Ferguson on the 7th August 1866 at ‘Rosehill’, the home of Mr James Higgins.
During the next few years, attendance grew too large for a private home so Ephraim Gardiner, youngest son of Jesse and Jane Gardiner, generously gave an area of land for the original Church adjacent to the cemetery on condition that “a Peoples’ Church be created thereon”. This land was held in trust by the Anglican Diocese until 1934 when it was transferred by deed by Guy Gardiner, son of Ephraim. About 8 years ago, John Gardiner, son of Guy, who still resides on his ancestors property opposite the Church discovered the original cemetery title had never been legally transferred and was still owned by the Gardiner family to date. This should be rectified in the near future. The current Church and site is vested in the Anglican and Congregational Dioceses and owned by the People. The adjoining Ferguson Cemetery has a board of trustees with the current three listed as John Gardiner, Max Kerr (Snr) and Ray Gardiner.
The original Church built by local Settlers and Builder Mat Wallis was always a Community Church. It was made with local bricks made by Mr Valentine from property opposite Pioneer Agnes Gardiner’s property and can be seen rendered white in early photos. The timber was carted by settlers from the old Bendigo Mill. The opening Service in 1879 was attended by a large congregation of about 300 with one hundred inside the church and the rest outside hearing the service relayed through loudspeakers. It was jointly conducted by Rev. Purnell (Church of England) and Mr James Hough (Congregational). The Church was used by all denominations with the first wedding recorded on April 15th 1885 between Jane Waddingham and Matthew Wallace conducted by Methodist Rev. Morland. Renovations in the 1920’s were carried out by Mr Russell Fowler (Honorary Minister of Bunbury Congregational Church) and his community helpers.The plaque on the front of the Church names the Church as St Aidan’s, Church of England –Congregational – Presbyterian Church, 1953. Aidan was an Irish monk of Lindisfarne who became abishop in northern England and died in 651 A.D. He was known for his gentleness, asceticism andkindness to the poor. Legend has it that he prayed successfully for the wind to change and thus saved the town of Bamburgh from fire. St Aidan’s, the Ferguson Peoples’ Church, celebrated its 50th Anniversary with a Service held in the Church at 10.00 am on Sunday March 21st 2004 officiated by Rev. Cassandra Nixon (Anglican) and Rev. Larkin (Uniting Church). This was followed by a BYO lunch at the Ferguson Community Hall with tea and coffee provided. Donations to the Church restoration Fund are gratefully accepted. They can be sent to Irene Bell, Secretary/Treasurer of the Ferguson Peoples’ Church Committee, c/o Dardanup.
Written by Robyn Jones from Collected Data from Ferguson Church Guild and John Gardiner.