One day 350 family letters landed in my lap. This exciting hoard, written in the 1930s and 40s, came in bundles of about twenty or thirty, in their envelopes, tied with string.
Minnie Brown nee Batten, born 1887, my paternal grandmother, wrote most of the letters. At the time she ran the Post Office and General Store at Lue. I remember her as quiet and steady, with not much to say – there were too many garrulous voices around her. I discovered in her letters she was much more acerbic than I knew.
She wrote most of her letters, usually once a week, to her eldest son Harry, who was studying to be a priest. Their other children Arthur, Meg, Bruce and Bessie, at that time teenagers and young adults, are also in the letters. As is her brother, John James Batten, sometimes called “Uncle Johnny” or JJ or Jack. He was twenty years older than Minnie and it seems she resented him mildly, mainly I think because he was rich and frugal.
In 1934 Lue had a pub, school, railway station, baker, butcher, one church, another store and fewer than twenty scattered houses. Lue began in 1884 when the hamlet of Dungaree moved about two miles to where the terrain was better, to accommodate the new railway line and station. The Catholic Church was still at Dungaree in 1934, being eaten by white ants.
Minnie wrote in March
My Dear Harry
We had our first meeting about the new church to be built at Lue. Father O’Byrne’s eyes sparkled when John J seconded the motion that it be a new church, not move the old one. I think it will be brick. It is to be as long as the old one plus a sanctuary so next time you come home it should be completed and shouldn’t it make the town look nice.
Well we had Mass last Saturday and decided to build a new church of brick to cost about £1000 and we collected about half in the church. That wretched JJ gave £250,Mr Kearins £100 and all the rest gave fivers, me included.
Meg and Tilly are running a dance for it on 10thMay and there is great work generally.
There is to be a garden party at Kearins [at Monivae] next Saturday in aid of the church. There is to be tennis, afternoon tea, driving a nail etc, all to be charged for. They also want Arthur to have a tent and tell fortunes. He might too! You ought to hear the fortunes he has made up for them.
The garden party eventuated and there were a good many there and they made £18 which was very good. Dad won the treasure hunt for 10/- and we each won a housey housey 3/- each and then we came home in debt. It was a case of spend heavily. Bessie came out for the week end [from Mudgee convent school] to go to the fun too, making a little more expense.
There is to be a popular man competition to last until the church is opened. Roy Donnelly and Cecil Maloney are the popular men. Father O’Byrne said Prince George might even come up and crown the winner!
Aunt Maria gave £25 to the church making a total of £450 not including the price we get for the old church. Father O’Byrne thinks we might open it free of debt but I think we have all done our dash. He says Uncle John’s donation was the biggest in the Bathurst diocese for many many years.
Well the dance was a gorgeous success. We made £36 and expenses were just £10. The wretched insurance was two pounds and a beautiful fine day. Not a cloud. But Father O’Byrne would have it insured. A lot of the boys wore evening dress and most of the girls also. And the hall looked very nice. Even the police congratulated Meg and Tilly on the orderly crowd and the way it was run. Every one was praising it but there was a dashed lot of work attached to it and balancing up was a bit of a bother, but everything was fixed up satisfactorily. I suppose next thing will be for the popular man competition between C Maloney and R Donnelly. I believe Gladys [Maloney] is giving a peacock to be raffled. I bet whoever wins it will donate it back again. Talk about useless.
They are making the church expensiver and expensiver. They now want a tiled roof and the Bishop offered to make up the difference on it. They also want red bricks for the outside wall. They are twice as dear as the others. The Bishop is in Mudgee and Father O’Byrne took Johnnie in to meet him. I suppose Johnnie coughed and drew his nose through his fingers.
The Bishop is trying to buy Mrs Donnelly’s two blocks of ground next to the church of England to build the new church but I don’t think she will sell. They are only trying to show off. Jamming it right up against the other one.
Gladys Maloney is having a party out at her place next Saturday in aid of it. There has been a good many rows already over the popular man competition in fact I don’t know if Roy Donnelly is in it or not now. There might be only one popular man. He ought to about win it.
Roy Donnelly has drawn out of the popular man competition and in spite of everything they put Arthur in instead. Father O’Byrne just laughed at all excuses. There is to be a day’s voluntary labour tomorrow clearing the ground and grubbing it. Every root has to come out. Monsignor bought the block next the Church of England from Roy Donnelly for £23 and Roy gave five pounds back as a donation so now they are satisfied.
All the bricks and material is to be carted voluntarily. Bruce is lending the Vulcan and the church is supplying the petrol. Uncle Johnny is overseer and I think Father O’Byrne is coming out. Arthur asked him how he would go on a cross-cut saw.
There is another working bee at the church ground today. The men (fifteen of them) were all day last Tuesday grubbing one tree out and it fell just at dark and they thought they would have to leave it. it was a snifter. I think they have good fun up there, lassooing Jimmy Milton and things. I believe Jimmy was the first in the hole and the last out, working steadily all the time.
The voluntary labour for the church was on again yesterday. They are drawing sand. Johnny came with his lorry and Bruce trundled the Vulcan up and down a few times. Bruce says he won’t draw the lot. He is willing to cart bricks but not gravel he told Father Byrne, so I don’t know what they will do. It is a bit too hard on the few that turn up. Johnny was against voluntary labour from the start.
Well our house party at Oakleigh is over and it was a great success. There was a great crowd there including Havilah people and the Dan Costigans. Meg sent down to Connie and got her to get those little hats and blow outs and whistles and we sold them like hot cakes at 3d each, cost 1d. We also borrowed a chocolate wheel from Mudgee and had housey and raffles and euchre. We cleared just eight pounds.
Mr Carmichael and his men arrived this morning but I think it will be too wet for them to do much. They are living in the Blacksmith shop 5/- per week rent. Bruce is drawing the gravel when it clears up. He is getting £5 for about twenty loads. There is also about twenty loads of sand. I don’t know how they will manage about that. It is voluntary labour and Bruce has to be careful or it will be pushed on to him. He has promised to cart the bricks about 200 tons so that is his share. Of course others will load and unload them. Cecil Maloney is having a house party at Andrews next Saturday. The rivalry is getting very keen.
The local church people are all gathering here this morning for sand carting and the first load of bricks will be here on Wednesday. The church is well on the way, now the foundation is in. The house party at Andrews on Saturday night was a success. There were a lot of people there mostly Church of Englands. Even Underwoods came from Rylstone. I don’t know what they made but they are giving Arthur a go for it. I suppose it don’t matter much as long as they get the money.
The foundation of the church is in. The first assignment of bricks came last Wednesday and there were a good rollup of workers. The next two trucks come next Wednesday. Father O’Byrne had dinner and afternoon tea here on Monday and Wednesday and ate huge feeds. He has a great appetite and had second helpings. He is coming here again on Wednesday. Clare Sheridan and Brian Rafferty also had dinner here on Wednesday and I believe Wisby is coming in on Wednesday brick carting so I will have a mob again. I am getting a bit sick of these star boarders. Mrs Donnelly is taking on Cecil’s big raffle, supposed to be a four guinea rug. I expect they will lick us.
I am just about sick of church and church building. We had a pouring wet day last brick carting day and they had to wait until the following day. Our big dance on 13th is progressing favourably. We are raffling heavily to make expenses, a bridle and a bed jacket.
The foundation stone of the church is to be laid on Sunday at 3 o’clock so you can be picturing it. I think there will be a lot there if it is fine. There are big advertisements about it in the Guardian and the Mail. John Donoghue of Pomany died in Mudgee last week. He intended coming out next Sunday so I suppose we have missed a good big donation there. Father O’Byrne was terrible fond of him. Meg is very busy getting things in order for our big dance on 13th.
Our dance came off last Thursday and was a hum dinger. We raffled a bridle. Dad gave it or we bought it off him, and blessed if he didn’t win it. Winnie Russell drew his name out of the hat or I suppose they would have said there was some shady works, I suppose they will in any case. There were a great lot of people there and we cleared over fourteen pounds.
The walls of the church are about a third of the way up. They are talking about opening it in November. I will try and get Father O’Byrne to delay it until you come home.
Cecil Maloney is having a fancy dress ball here next Friday night. I think it will be a great success too. It would be just as well if it rained.
We are having a little one the following Saturday to try and rope in a few of the shearers and we are having the convent concert out here on the 12th next month and it should take well. I believe you will be home now in time for the opening of the church. There seems to be a lot to do yet. The walls are not finished yet and the tiles are not here.
I think the bricklayers are about finished their job on the church. The plasterers are here today. Cecil Maloney’s dance was a success about £16 on the door. We are having one on Saturday night, provided it doesn’t rain and the creeks are crossable.
Our dance came off on Saturday and was a great success. There were shearers and roustabouts in hundreds, but very few local people. Mahon, the shearers cook, is getting up one for tonight for both popular men. The church is not near finished. They think it won’t be opened till Christmas now. The tiles are not here yet.
Tennis Maloney is having a tennis evening and a house party at their place on the 10ththree days before our concert. There is beginning to be a bit of venom in the fight. Father O’Byrne said it wouldn’t be a competition until there were rows.
They are bringing the various artists for our popular man concert from Mudgee on the 14th. I don’t suppose it will be much good but as long as it is a financial success what odds.
Well our concert came off last night and it was very good. We took nearly eight pounds on the door. I had Father O’Byrne and five girls for tea. Also the two Jacks and all the Pat Costigans. They just happened to come, and I had nineteen here after the concert for supper.
I remain your loving
So that’s Minnie’s account of the building of the church at Lue. Newspapers of the time give us a more dignified and solemn account of the laying of the foundation stone on 9thSeptember and the opening of Our lady of Lourdes Catholic Church on 28 January 1935. Yes, Harry was there, together with two of his seminarian mates, in their regalia. Bishop Norton was there with fifteen priests and the St Mary’s choir. He sang the Pontifical High Mass and preached against the sins of the world. Monsignor Flanagan gave the sermon and reminded visitors and parishioners of the importance of their religion. Father O’Byrne gave a history of the church at Lue and the fund-raising. Arthur won the popular man competition and was crowned with a new hat by the Bishop at the ball that evening, Arthur having raised £119 to Cecil’s £70. Three hundred people had a fine time at the ball, many of them having come by special train from Mudgee and Rylstone. I have no doubt all the Browns were there. And perhaps Minnie entertained the Bishop.
For those of you interested in the architectural features of the church I include this description from “Lue’s New R C Church”, Mudgee Guardian, 31 January 1935:
The building stands on a well-drained and elevated site facing the main road from Mudgee to Rylstone. The design is Gothic and the building is constructed of Lithgow glazed bricks, supported by concrete foundations. The roof covering is of Wunderlich brown terra-cotta glazed roofing tiles. The walls are plastered internally hard white and the Gothic shaped windows are framed with metalite and glazed with lead lights in cathedral glass and with a ruby red cross in the centre of each. The dimensions of the building are: Entrance porch 8ft by 8ft, nave 46ft 6in by 20ft, sanctuary 16ft 6ins by 12ft, sacristy and priest’s room 10ft by 8ft and two confessionals 6ft by 3ft. The walls are 12ft in height from the floor line to the wall plate. The sanctuary rail extends the full width of the nave and is fixed outside the sanctuary arch. There is comfortable seating accommodation for 160.
Mr W Carmichael and sons of Mudgee were the contractors, and the work was carried out under the supervision of Mr Harold Hardwick.
You will find more information about the Dungaree church on the Mudgee Museum website: https://www.mudgeemuseum.com/?i=328/dungeree-church
Featured image permission of Cudgegong Valley History Wiki a local and family history website http://www.rdhswiki.com/page/Our+Lady+of+Lourdes+Lue+Church
Here is a link to a poem “Old Lue Railway”, written by Michael Stanley, who was born at Lue, and returned to explore his heritage: