St Barnabas’ Anglican Church on Broadway, affectionately known as Barney’s, has catered to congregations of all sorts since it was established in the mid-nineteenth century.
Positioned between Chippendale and Ultimo, the area was for a long time considered undesirable. It was prone to flooding from Blackwattle Creek and located near slaughterhouses, boiling down works, soap works and breweries.
The first incarnation of St Barnabas’ was not on a hill as a landmark feature of the cityscape, but instead in a rented shack amidst what the Anglican Bishop of Sydney, Frederic Barker described as a ‘neighbourhood of squalor and where offensive sights and sounds continually arrested the senses of passers by…where it would be useful, and where the influences emanating from it were needed, and would be likely to be felt.’
In 1916, Reverend RBS Hammond arrived as the new rector of St Barnabas’ in 1916 with a mission to help alcoholics and the poor. He quickly transformed St Barnabas’ from a struggling local church into one of Sydney’s primary centres of poor relief during the Great Depression replete with an Employment Bureau, and Emergency Depot and a soup kitchen that served thousands of meals a year. The St Barnabas’ Brotherhood of Christian Men exceeded 4000 members and included among its ranks ‘Eternity man’ Arthur Stace.
Hammond also started what became a bit of a tradition of using the St Barnabas’ notice board to get his message to the tens of thousands of people who travelled along Parramatta Road each day. His main crusade was temperance but it was communicated with playful phrases like ‘A few drinks may turn man’s laughter into manslaughter.’
Throughout the second half of the twentieth century, given its proximity to UTS and University of Sydney, St Barnabas became a university church with specific services held in Mandarin and English for overseas Chinese students.
But perhaps Sydneysiders know it best for the noticeboard banter on Broadway during the 1990s between the priest (Robert Forsyth) and the publican (Arthur Elliott) of the Broadway Hotel across the road. Commuters would look to the Church noticeboard first and then across to the pub for the reply:
CHURCH: If God offered you heaven or hell, which would you choose?
PUB: I’d choose a hell of a good time in heaven.
CHURCH: The liquor bar – a bar to heaven, a gateway to hell, whoever named it, named it well!
PUB: A bar in heaven, a long way from hell, with a barman called Jesus who will serve you well.
A friendship blossomed between the two men who bonded over their experience of managing institutions where people sought solace. Arthur also began to reflect on his faith and on the fact that Jesus was a real man who if he had ‘walked down Broadway he’d come into my pub and have a drink and meet the blokes…and Rob agreed with me.’
A fire in 2006 gutted St Barnabas’ Church except for the gates and the noticeboard itself. Reconstruction took six years, but today new generations of worshippers still attend Barney’s.
Minna Muhlen-Schulte is a professional historian and Senior Heritage Consultant at GML Heritage. She was the recipient of the Berry Family Fellowship at the State Library of Victoria and has worked on a range of history projects for community organisations, local and state government including the Third Quarantine Cemetery, Woodford Academy and Middle and Georges Head . In 2014, Minna developed a program on the life and work of Clarice Beckett for ABC Radio National’s Hindsight Program and in 2017 produced Crossing Enemy Lines for ABC Radio National’s Earshot Program. You can hear her most recent production, Carving Up the Country, on ABC Radio National’s The History Listen here. She’s appearing for the Dictionary today in a voluntary capacity. Thanks Minna!
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