How the meeting of an Anglican minister and a German backpacker saved the oldest church in the north-west.

 Story John Dunn  Photo Dave Baessler

Fate, or perhaps divine providence, brought Anglican minister Richard Goscombe and Bavarian backpacker Dave Baessler together in a most unlikely setting – the old goldmining centre of remote Roebourne, halfway up the WA coast, 1563km north of Perth.

The meeting of these two unlikely colleagues – the clergyman and the carpenter – over a beer at a barbecue, has resulted in the restoration of one of the nation’s most historic buildings. The Church of the Holy Trinity (completed in 1895) is the oldest church in the north-west. A celebration marking its 125th anniversary and new lease on life is being held in May next year. 

Richard was the successful organiser and fundraiser, and Dave the accomplished builder, both bringing a variety of skills to a difficult task. Richard crossed the continent from the church of St Thomas at Cranebrook in Sydney’s west to run the parish of Wickham, which includes Roebourne. Dave crossed the seas from Amberg in Germany.

While Dave had put down his backpack for the moment and was getting used to life in a new land, Richard was confronting the problem of saving an old aspect of it. The much-loved but ailing Holy Trinity, a place of longstanding worship for both Indigenous and non-Indigenous people of this part of the Pilbara for well over a century, was in danger of dying. The unforgiving climatic extremes of this area, with its unrelenting heat and damaging cyclones, had reduced the building to little more than a wreck.

“Apart from Christmas and Easter, there had been no regular services since the early 1990s and until I arrived in 2009 there had been no minister in the parish for 10 years,” Richard says. “No maintenance had been done. The constant leaching of salt out of the stonework and mortar had rusted and compressed the windows, and most of them were jammed open, allowing water and increasing the damage inside. The corners had cracks from top to bottom and were marching away from the rest of the building. In 2013, Cyclone Christine destroyed the porch and blew away some of the roof. The building was close to collapsing.”

At their chance barbecue meeting, Richard and Dave realised that with the church they had a common goal – Richard’s to rebuild it and Dave’s to further his personal interest in ancient structures.

This story excerpt is from Issue #133

Outback Magazine: Oct/Nov 2020