Church in bid for land rights

In a bid to simplify redevelopment of parish properties, Catholics in Wodonga, Victoria, are seeking freehold title over crown land reserved 150 years ago for St Augustine's Church but which has never been formally transferred to the Church.

The Border Mail reports that Wodonga parish priest, Msgr Frank Marriott and Sandhurst Bishop Joseph Grech have taken steps to secure ownership through a legal process.

This is being done under provisions of the State Aid to Religion Abolition Act 1871 and through the Sandhurst diocesan trust that holds church lands.

Apart from legal costs, the church does not expect to have to pay for the site, the Mail believes.

Colonial administrators in Australia generally reserved land in new townships for the Catholic, Anglican, Presbyterian and some other churches.

"The Crown was very generous to all churches and public institutions," Msgr Marriott said yesterday.

In contrast, the church has had to pay for land it bought from the Albury-Wodonga Corporation at Baranduda.

A small Catholic church was built in 1860 and the colonial government went on to reserve the 8100sqm site permanently in 1869.

The present St Augustine's is believed to have been built about 1876 and enlarged in 1902 and was joined by a Sisters of Mercy convent and a school.

Msgr Marriott said although the church owned the freehold of the former presbytery site in Church St, the Crown still owned the balance.

"The church block and school, including the former convent, are all on Crown land and we feel it would better to be held in church ownership," he said.

St Augustine's Church is used for weddings, funerals and the weekly school mass although it no longer has Sunday Mass.

It is part of a group of churches under Msgr Marriott that include Sacred Heart church and others at Bethanga, Tangambalanga, Dederang and Mt Beauty.

The school is one of eight in the Upper Murray cluster of Catholic schools and has been revamped and extended several times in recent years.

Msgr Marriott said the school would continue on the site and any further redevelopment would be easier if the site was owned by the church.

He said the school's future depended on how Wodonga council redeveloped railway land when the line was removed from the city.

Church's bid for own land (Border Mail, 23/9/06)

LINKS (not necessarily endorsed by Church Resources)
State Aid to Religion Abolition Act 1871 (Victorian Consolidated Legislation, Australasian Legal Information Institute (AUSTLII)
Sandhurst diocese

26 Sep 2006