Youthworks history a splendid vision

A new book chronicles the last 70 years of history of Diocesan youth initiatives, particularly camp based ministries, in Sydney.

The Vision Splendid: Anglican Diocese of Sydney Children’s and Youth Ministry 1943-2003 was written by Rex Harris, a former camp director with the Anglican Department (now Youthworks). The book contains a number of source photos and firsthand stories from over many years, including the history of the various camps and properties of the Department.

“The thing that impressed me in all that time was seeing the hand of God moving in what we did,” says Mr Harris. “And not just in one incident, but as you can see in the book, there are many. I felt it important, given a lot of this hadn’t been written anywhere, for people to read what God has done. And the impact was huge. With Camp Howard, you had something like two or three thousand young people in that period involved as counsellors all going back to their churches and being involved also in what was going on in their own parishes. There was a huge amount going on.”

The book, which was formally launched at Youthwork’s Port Hacking Conference Centre, documents another era in the Diocese, a time in the immediate postwar period of the mid to late 40s on, when society in general was transitioning back to a period of relative peace, before Australia’s own independent national identity was firmly established, and when even a family car was almost unheard of, let alone the internet.

“Well, if you think back to Howard Mowll, who was the Archbishop at the beginning of all this, you just have to admire the foresight that he in particular had,” says Mr Harris.” Overseeing things like the purchase of the property at Port Hacking, for instance, in what is now national parkland, that has huge ramifications today. That property is worth millions by now, and is still in the hands of the Diocese for the purposes of youth ministry, in the middle of what is otherwise National Park. Chaldercot, Deer Park, all these places that we still have and are just part of the regular fabric of Youthworks ministry. In the beginning, the educational staff for the early camps didn’t even have places to stay onsite, but now staff have facilities available on site for them to live and work in.”

Many of the properties and programs taken for granted today are seen in their infancies through images and stories. The original facilities at Rathane are shown mid construction, along the historical nugget of the involvement of Sir Vincent and Lady Fairfax, who donated the princely 1980s sum of $580,000 to to refurbish the site. Mr Harris says it is gracious gifts such as these, and the many thousands of smaller gifts over many years in both time and money, that have generated the legacy available to the youth of today

“Many of the cooks we had at Camp Howard, for instance, were working voluntarily,” says Mr Harris. “Many of these were women, and were grandmas who just dropped in to cook, and were very much part of the program. And the activities, from sailing to archery to canoeing and even at one stage riflery, were done mostly at that time by volunteers. There were so many people who were just giving up their time in all sorts of ways, it was the most amazing thing, and I think you get that sense of investment and collaboration in the book.”

The Vision Splendid is available through CEP. Proceeds from book sales will go to the Titus Foundation, a ministry to help support children’s and youth ministry in Sydney and beyond.

Feature photo: Say cheese: kids at an early junior camp at Chaldercot. 

Nick is a journalist for Anglican Media Sydney, writing across Southern Cross and Anglican Media. He has written extensively on technology and science issues for various online and print publications. He enjoys gaming, playing music, and neglecting to tie his shoe laces.

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