Posted by: jkirkby8712 | September 10, 2011

31st August 2011 – that ‘address’

Address to Neil Street Church on the 28th August 2011.

Testimony on Neil Street and how you were involved in the life of the church and what it means/meant to you

Firstly, I like to thank your Minister, and the organisers of this day’s activities, for giving me the opportunity to speak to you all this morning, with the intention I guess,  of giving ‘my’ brief testimony of the years my family spent at Neil Street. I wish my memory was better than it is, but I have tried to put down a few thoughts which I trust are relevant to the purpose of my being here.

 My name is Bill Kirk, and my parents were Keith and Betty Kirk. Not sure of the exact years – roughly from around 1952 to early 1960s –  we were here,  and  lived in the small cottage out the back between the church and the hall – 503 Neil Street was our address, and as I looked at the house this morning,  I had to wonder how six children and two adults managed to live in that cottage in any degree of comfort. We came to Neil Street as four children and two adults, with two more siblings born whilst we were here – the youngest of whom,  Jean, is sitting down the front here with her daughter Rosemary.  For anyone who remembers the rest of us – well, going down the list from myself as the eldest –  Robert is up in Sydney,  Jill and Ian, in  Brisbane, at opposite sides of the city, while Colin, also born while we were here, is up further north, in Rockhampton. I have two sons and two daughters, their ages range from 22 to 30, and all live in Sunbury – my eldest daughter is living with me at the present time.  As for our parents,  Keith died in 1969 at the RMH, after a car  accident, while Betty passed away in the same hospital, 21 years later, in 1990, following a heart attack and stroke.

It was suggested to me that we came here as the caretakers of the church grounds, etc, but that wasn’t the case – I guess we were simply renting – to be honest I have no recollection of what the arrangement was, and I guess in some ways, we were probably looked down on, as those ‘poor’ Kirks struggling in the little cottage.  I seem to recall that there was a caretaker around [though not sure to what extent that role was undertaken by the time we got there] he was an tall older chap named Mr Jones, maybe someone here remembers him – I don’t know whether he was any connection with Charlie Jones and his family, and I don’t recall him being around that much, but I can still picture him in my mind’s eye.  For much of our time here at Neil Street, I actually did a lot of work in the gardens around the front of the house, and in the back yard  purely as a hobby, I guess, I enjoyed keeping things neat and tidy, and there are a few bushes, such as hydrangeas, that whenever I come across them, they immediately remind of the gardens out front of 503 Neil Street, as that was one of the prominent shrubs around the church grounds, and adjacent to the house.

Obviously, being next door to the church, there was no question that we wouldn’t be part of the life of Neil Street – Mum & Dad’s upbringing would have ensured that in any case, so I was, like most of the others I would imagine, regular attendees of Sunday School, and also the Christian Endeavour Group – together with the church service, all those things happened on Sunday morning. There was of course an evening service  – not sure if I went to many of those at the age I would have been [primary school, and first year at least of secondary school]. I was asking amongst the older siblings the other day what they could remember about Neil Street  – both Rob & Jill made reference to the Square Dancing that used to happen in the hall – Rob’s recollection of that was that  the noise of the dancing, and the reflections from the windows on the Church hall kept him awake, but he was never allowed to go to the dances – ironic he feels now, because 50 years later, he and his wife occasionally win  ballroom dancing competitions up in Sydney where they compete regularly/

One thing I remember in particular were the annual Sunday School anniversaries, I think that’s they were called – often these happened near Easter, so the celebrations were combined with Easter activities. I think they lasted over a couple of weekends –  3 services a day for two Sundays –  I was always so impressed by the huge stage that was manually constructed in the big hall, and that’s where all the kids would be seated, with the adults seated down in the body of the hall. That was always quite an exciting time, with the mass singing, various little plays put on by the Sunday school, and others. I seem to recall that in at least one year, maybe more,  that platform construction was set up here in the church, over to my left here I think, Can’t remember why it was in the church on those occasions, but I  do  recall another occasion when those of my age were confirmed here in the church, which was quite a special event for each of  us involved at that stage of our Christian upbringing.

Now my Dad, Keith Kirk from memory, had quite a bit of involvement with the young people here at Neil Street – think it was the older kids at secondary level, and he was involved in various ways with the youth group, and also the basketball teams that arose from that – not clear on that part of it.  Somewhere at home, I still have copies of some of the newsletters that he and Mum had a fair bit to do with putting together – he called himself Jonathan K Church, I think, with respect to any articles he wrote in that newsletter, they both contributed in that way, over the years [something I’ve inherited].. Dad was also a Methodist lay preacher – I doubt he ever did a service here, but certainly preached in the little country churches on the outskirts of Ballarat [most of which I imagine don’t exist now]. They were usually Sunday afternoon services, and I do recall going with him on a few occasions. I still have the copies of all of the sermons he wrote. Unfortunately, I couldn‘t find any of these documents in time for this morning. My brother Robert was amused by the fact that despite being a lay preacher himself, when he got here into church as a member of the congregation, he would often go off to sleep, and start snoring!! Not because he was bored with the sermon, but simply so tired because he seldom had a day off from work.. In fact, for that reason, I don’t actually recall him coming to church that often, he was either on the taxis, or later, doing a shift as a Psychiatric Nurse up at the then Ballarat Mental Hospital.

The family had a prior connection with Neil Street, through Dad’s mother, Doris Kirk [nee Jenkin] who I believe was a member of the congregation, at least up until the death of her  husband, who was the headmaster at the Macarthur Street school in the early part of the war years. In addition, I understood that my  mother’s uncle, the Rev Mervyn Knuckey,  was the Minister here for a period, a few years before we came here. As for the Ministers who were here in my time, I can’t recall who was here when we arrived, but I remember the Rev Norman Lee – he had two sons, Kenny & Norman I think – , and after he left, I think the Rev Longthorne arrived, but I’m happy to be corrected on any of those points.

Kenny Lee was about my age, and thinking of him does remind me of another incident that often comes to mind when I think of Neil Street –  I don’t think you can regard this as a ‘testimony’ of my time here, but it was certainly part of my life as a young boy at the time  –  occasionally,  Kenny and I  would have a game of ‘Cowboys and Indians’ around the church grounds and the front of the cottage – there was sometimes a third person, a maiden in distress who had been captured by the Indian, and needed to be rescued by the cowboy. Somehow, Kenny always managed to end up as the cowboy, who won the girl from that wicked Indian [me]  –  and my memory tells me that on the few occasions that bit of play acting  took place, that  girl was a young Heather Jones, who was also in the same grade as myself at the Macarthur Street Primary School..  Now if Heather is here today, she might deny all that very strongly, as I always was a bit of a dreamer, but for some reason, that ‘story’ if you like, has always stayed with me. I also recall spending many hours, over many years, out the back of the church behind me, with a tennis racquet and ball, hitting that ball, hour after hour up against the church wall, and imagining that I was Rod Laver or Kenny Rosewall, which I guess was the origin of my lifelong love for most sports, even though I didn’t compete in much myself other than athletics or badminton..

Now apart from Heather. I have to admit that I don’t recall many of the names of the others of my age who I attended Sunday school with, etc  –  I do remember the McDonalds,  and of course the Lovelands, as I think I was after all, a groomsman at Beth & Billy’s wedding [hope I got that right Beth?], and they are Godparents of my second son, so I have certainly kept in touch with that link of my past life here.  A mate at Sunday school named Darryl Murnane has always stayed in my mind, and if anyone knows anything about Darryl, I be keen to talk to you. And of course, I remember Mr Embling, up here in the organ chamber!  I’m sure as the day goes on, other names and faces will ring a bell, but please don’t be offended if I don’t remember you –  I’m not good with names.

Finally, in my search for aspects of life here at Neil Street  – I remember the Church concerts in the Big Hall – last one I came to was 25 years ago, with Mum, only a few years before she died. Mum relished every opportunity to return here.  In those concerts, I’m sure the same duo sang the same song that they sang every concert I can recall – from the ‘Easter Parade’  ‘Oh we’re a couple of swells; we stop at the best hotels’   or ‘we would ride up the avenue but we haven’t got a bike; so we’ll walk up the avenue ‘til we’re there’  –  surely was that the Bolithos????.

I’ll finish with something that Jean down here doesn’t remember  – she had a starring role in a Sunday School Christmas Pageant one year  –  she was 4 months old, a perfect selection for the ‘Baby Jesus’, and I’m told she slept through it all!!

THANKYOU!                                                                            Bill Kirk 28/08/2011

[Note: because of time restrictions, the above had to be abbreviated in places, and a couple of sections omitted, eg the ‘Cowboys & Indians’ story!!]

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