Central Queensland grazing trucks from Duaringa United Church building to cattle property for restoration

Grazier Claire Mactaggart has always admired the architecture of historic bush buildings.

So, after a violent storm tore a 110-year-old church from its stumps in the small town of Duaringa in central Queensland, she was determined to save another historic church from a similar fate.

“It was getting a bit deteriorating, so I approached the church…and asked them what their plans were,” Ms Mactaggart said.

The United Church agreed to sell the historic structure, which was built in 1907 and hadn’t had a church service in years.

The repurposing of old churches into smaller communities is a growing trend, according to the United Church of the Synod of Queensland in Australia.

Claire Mactaggart hopes the people of Duaringa will visit the church once renovated.(ABC Capricorn: Katrina Beavan)

For Ms. Mactaggart, it’s about preserving the special memories that have been created in the building.

“I’ve had a few people say to me before, ‘I’ve been to three weddings and funerals there’…I love the stories,” she said.

“I’m really aware that there is a long history with this place. We have to take care of it, respect it and allow people to see it.”

After buying the structure, she then trucked it to her farm in Duaringa, 45 kilometers away on a narrow stretch of dirt road.

She spent months working to carefully restore it, retaining as much of the original period features as possible.

“I love that it’s a really honest and fairly simple little building, but it’s got a nice shape and proportions,” Ms Mactaggart said.

“From what we understand, it was largely bush carpenters who worked there.

“It’s an honor for the people who came before us.”

Side view of a church on the back of a truck crossing a narrow bridge.
The relocation of the church included a narrow and steep passage over the Mackenzie River.(Provided: Claire Mactaggart)

A breathtaking journey

The church, which is held upright by internal metal rods, was transported on a truck through a steep, narrow passage over the Mackenzie River.

A man in a blue uniform and cap sitting on the steps in front of an old little church.
Builder Cameron McDouall says the building is in relatively good condition considering its age.(ABC Capricorn: Katrina Beavan)

“I liken it to a mother-to-be, and it’s due day,” Ms Mactaggart said.

“I really felt a little emotional about it, hoping it would get here in one piece.”

Its builder, Cameron McDouall, said the condition of the structure was “as good as possible” for its age, despite some termite damage.

“It’s all wood, whereas new construction will either have light fibro siding…or brick, when it’s just original wood carpentry work,” McDouall said.

Ms Mactaggart says she bought the building to set up as a stand-alone home on her property so visitors or her children, when they grow up, can stay in a separate house.

She also planned to organize community workshops in the future.

An old weathered wooden building with a sloping roof, situated on a raised platform with steps leading up to it, under a blue sky.
Claire Mactaggart says the 115-year-old building began life as a Methodist Church, and later became Uniting Church.(ABC Capricorn: Katrina Beavan)

“This building means so much to so many people in Duaringa,” Ms Mactaggart said.

“I just hope they will feel comfortable coming and visiting it and seeing what we’ve done there,”

Find a new purpose

The Reverend Andrew Gunton, Moderator of the United Church of Queensland Synod in Australia, said many of their old buildings in small towns were staying in the church and finding new purposes.

“United Church buildings across Queensland are part of regional history – places of family and community that go back generations,” he said.

Mr Gunton said they were trying innovative ways to serve the community and keep the church buildings widely used.

He gave the example of Childers Uniting Church in the Bundaberg area, whose congregation is dwindling.

Mr. Gunton said he realized that one of the biggest challenges in this community was meeting the needs of young people.

“They called Youth With A Mission [YWAM]), which is a global movement that focuses its efforts on young people,” he said.

“Months later, YWAM’s work is helping the community and bringing new life to Childers Uniting Church.”

A composite of two photos, the left one showing a red roof, peeling cream paint, the right one a gray roof, white paint, a ladder beside it.
The church has been carefully restored, with many original features retained.(Provided: Claire Mactaggart)

Preserving country churches

According to census data from the Australian Bureau of Statistics, a growing number of Australians identify as having “no religion”.

In 2021, 39.9% of Australians identified as having no religious affiliation, but more than 50 years ago, in 1971, only 6.7% ticked ‘no religion’.

Horses frolicking past an old church in a grassy field.
Claire Mactaggart says she wanted the church to “have its own presence” on the property, and not be “hidden”. (Provided: Claire Mactaggart)

Ms Mactaggart said she was interested in the renovation project to preserve a piece of Australia’s history.

“It’s such a shame to lose these old buildings in town. There’s a little church like this in most regional towns that is used or not,” she said.

“I like to see preserved things and to be able to see what the character is, what the history of a town is.”

Jerry B. Hatch