Port Pirie Mission to Seafarers to mark 95 years

Tuesday, June 26, this year marks to the day the opening of the Mission to Seafarers in Port Pirie in 1923.

As an arm of the Anglican church, the Mission began as an initiative of Reverend John Ashley in England in 1835, to give services aboard ships docked in Bristol.

He would row to the ships and was soon receiving requests from many ships captains to conduct services.

Other Ministers soon carried out the work along the English coast at other ports.

Eventually the Missions became land based and were formed in 1856 as The Mission to Seamen (now known as the Mission to Seafarers).

The first mission in Australia was operating out of a hulk in Hobsons Bay in Melbourne in 1856 under the guidance of Anglican priest Kerr Johnson.

Anglican priest Reverend Frederick Elmore Watts, from Melbourne, arrived in Port Pirie early in 1922 to take up duties at the cathedral.

Upon arriving, he established the “Brotherhood of Saint Paul’s”, the object of which was to extend religious knowledge to the populace of the more sparsely populated areas around Port Pirie and to enable lay members of the Brotherhood to study for holy orders.

The brotherhood was short lived, but it was responsible, under the drive and leadership of Reverend Watts and the fundraising efforts of the community led by town stalwart Mr. George Dey, the former old shop and residence at 40 Florence Street (now the site of the car wash) which was earlier purchased by the church, was converted into a hall for use as a mission building.

Nearly all the work was done voluntarily by the Christian Men’s Society.

Due to loading and unloading facilities not being as sophisticated as today, sailors had little to do in those early days in a place like Port Pirie.

Now they had a place to go, where they could write and send letters, have mail addressed to them there, play cards, billiards and read magazines.

Suppers were supplied, and dances were arranged on occasion under the organisation of the “Ladies Harbour Lights Guild”, a committee comprising wives of committee members and other ladies from the town.

The official opening was held on Tuesday afternoon, June 26, 1923.

Among those in attendance were the first Bishop of Willochcra Dr. G. White, Mayor Mr. C. Fitzgerald, Reverend Watts, and Mr. W. W. Fiddaman.

Sea crew and locals made up the 200 strong crowd, to witness the Bishop declare the mission open.

A supper was held at the institute hall that evening.

The building was expanded in 1938, due to the large number of sailors visiting the centre.

It was decided shortly after that to build a new larger centre and funding began to construct a new building on the block across the road at 37 Florence Street.

This land was gifted by the mission at Port Adelaide.

The foundation stone was laid on December 9, 1944, by Miss Adelaide Miethke, who was director of the Schools Patriotic fund, an organisation that encouraged school children to gather useable scrap material for recycling during World War II.

The organisation contributed most of the 5,000 pounds needed for the construction. Ernest Thompson was the builder.

The new building was officially opened on June 8, 1945, by the Governor of South Australia, Sir Willoughby Norrie.

The Mission to Seafarers continues to provide spiritual and social assistance along with recreational facilities to the seafarers in port.

The centre is run by volunteers, under the leadership of Lay Chaplain Ian Pole.