Unearthing Treasures From Our Archives

24 Apr 2024

By Amy Galliford


churches of Christ in NSW & ACT has committed to the work of developing historical archives to unearth the stories of our past. Network Resource Team member Julia Gilchrist is leading the effort, working with the support of churches of Christ NSW’s State Historian, Professor Dennis Nutt.  

Network Health and Engagement Leader, Anne Simpson explained the project’s purpose:

“The goal of Julia’s work is twofold. Firstly, it is to catalogue our archival artefacts and materials to make them accessible to members of our network, both now and into the future. And, secondly, it is to bring to life the people and stories of faithful communities that reveal the story that God has and is unfolding through this network of churches.” 

A room full of historical Bibles, banners, awards, receipts, photographs, meeting minutes and scrapbooks at Pendle Hill echoes countless stories from historically significant churches of Christ moments. Julia has assembled dozens of boxes of such items donated by churches throughout the network and is currently culling and categorising these artefacts.

As she sorts through the treasures, she is guided by the question, “What in this box tells a story, marks a significant change, or is simply so special that it is worth preserving?” 

About Julia 

Julia’s experience working at the National Museum of Australia’s Records Unit and the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Unit, exposed her to the full process of curating artefacts from donation to display. With this knowledge, she is also building an archival records database of what we have, digitising as much as possible, so our network’s historical legacy and individual stories can be more widely available. 

“The idea is that we can appreciate our history and amazing stories for their own sake, but also use them as a springboard for what we are doing now,” she says. 

Julia grew up asking her father to tell her “long-time-ago stories”, a love for history kindling early in her life. While her background equips her entirely with the skills for executing this project, her passion sustains her. In her view, unearthing the stories of our history helps to make sense of a complex, nuanced world. 

“Hearing the story of another human is to learn about them, to learn about ourselves and to learn about God all at the same time.” 

Alongside her archival work, Julia is writing a book, tentatively called ‘Women of Faith: Female Pioneers in the churches of Christ in NSW and ACT,’ exploring the lives of women who have played a key role in the history of churches of Christ in NSW. Their stories span from our beginnings in 1852, when Albert Griffin first set up his corner shop on Pitt Street and began holding Christian gatherings with his wife, Isabella.

Among the women Julia is exploring are early female pioneers, presidents of the NSW Sisters’ Conference and women evangelists. One woman whose story is buried in the archives, Eliza Davies, was inspired to order Bibles from the USA and deliver them to families all over Sydney – by foot. When Eliza discovered families in Sydney’s heavily forested lower north shore lacking basic literacy, she literally hiked through the scrub to reach them. She then gathered the raw materials to build a bush-hut school for adults and children to teach reading and writing before establishing Scripture classes. 

“You uncover these layers of context around the individual and suddenly discover the full reality of what they did. The question in my research then becomes: ‘What can faith in Jesus drive an individual to do?’ Julia says.

“I think this project is vital because knowing our history helps us see how God worked in our network in the past, and as we’re reading, He may say to us in the here and now, ‘You can do something similar.’” 

As part of her efforts to revive such stories, Julia is scanning hundreds of historical photographs and documents to make them digitally available – a task as enormous as it is significant.  

“We do not live outside the larger influence of those who have gone before us. It is important to learn from their stories and experiences and to be faithful to the principles of who we are and what God has called us to do as our part in His wider body, for the sake of His name and kingdom”, adds Anne. 


Contribute to this project

Julia encourages anyone able to help with this ongoing project to join her in collecting and cataloguing the treasures of our past for the benefit of our future. If you are interested in contributing and/or assisting Julia in this project, you can reach her by email at julia.gilchrist@ccnswact.org.au or phone, 0405 152 294 (business hours). 

Read more stories from churches of Christ in NSW & ACT HERE