Sunday, June 16, 2013

In the shadow of Grafton's cathedral

In the middle of the 1950s, the Anglican cathedral of Grafton (my birthplace in Australia) was a focal point in my young existence.

A charming legend evoked a link between one of my maternal ancestors and Christ Church Cathedral. Here's a studio photo of my great-great-grandmother Eliza Dancey [1821-1904] and her daughter, my great-grandmother, Mary Eliza Cranston [1858-1926]:

[Click to enlarge]

They had left their native Bailieborough in Ireland (County Cavan) in the 1870s. In Australia, Mary Cranston married Isaac Kennedy [1844-1934] in 1881, at a Protestant church in South Grafton. Meanwhile, Mary's young brother William Cranston [1862-1934] had become a bricklayer in Grafton and, in 1883, he was working on the construction of the front wall of the new Anglican cathedral. The bricklaying was watched with interest by two little girls, Bella Greenaway (14) and her sister May (6), who were waiting to meet their father, George Greenaway [1843-1915], captain of the coastal ship First Favourite, about to tie up at the wharf at the end of Oliver Street, after a voyage up from Sydney. The smaller child had with her a tiny porcelain doll. In the course of their conversation with 21-year-old William Cranston, the bricklayer was invited to place the china doll in a recess, high up in the wall... as a kind of offering to the emerging cathedral.

Over half-a-century later, in 1937, Cranston's brickwork was demolished, and replaced by a new western wall in which the tiny porcelain doll was given a central setting, where it can still be seen today. [Some of my data concerning this story comes from an article by Don Peck in the newsletter #116 of the Clarence River Historical Society, dated 27 July 2010. I have taken the liberty of slightly modifying certain dates, to render the account plausible.]

When I was out in Australia in 2006, I took a photo of a plaque containing the list of the cathedral's bishops:

One of these men, Kenneth Clements, had become my friend for a short while in 1956, just before I left Grafton to become a science student at the University of Sydney. As for the bishops who followed Clements, I had lost contact with the Grafton scene, and I knew nothing about these men... until reading about some of them in the national press. So, the stuff I'm about to relate comes purely from web pages that you can easily find by means of Google.

In particular, there was the case of Donald Shearman, the bishop of Christ Church Cathedral for a dozen years, from 1973 until 1985. As far as I know, Shearman's bishopric raised no problems (no pun intended) in Grafton. It was only later that facts were published [article] concerning the churchman's alleged misconduct involving a 14-year-old girl in a church hostel in Forbes, back in the 1950s. In 2004, Shearman was actually defrocked by the Anglican church, which was an event of a kind that had never occurred previously in the ecclesiastic history of Australia.

On the fringe of this affair, the Anglican archbishop of Brisbane, Peter Hollingworth, apparently went out of his way to protect Shearman, advising him "to keep a low profile" [article]. By the time Hollingworth's cover-up role had been revealed, he had been appointed by prime minister John Howard to be the Governor-General of Australia and, for his old school in Melbourne (Scotch College), Hollingworth was hailed as a hero [article].

In 2001, moreover, he had been named a Companion of the Order of Australia. But, no sooner had Hollingworth started his job as the queen's representative in Australia than criticisms were aired publicly about his alleged protection of pedophiles during the 1990s, when he was Archbishop of Brisbane. Finally, in May 2003, Hollingworth resigned as Governor-General. In 2005, the woman at the heart of the Shearman affair, Beth Heinrich, spoke publicly for the first time about her relationship with the bishop [article].

Grafton's Anglican cathedral was in the news once again, a month ago, because of sad tales of sexual abuse of children. Having neglected to follow up allegations concerning the North Coast Childrens Home in Lismore, the bishop Keith Slater was obliged to resign [article].

In spite of these nasty associations, Christ Church Cathedral evokes several positive personal memories. Back in the mid 1950s, when I still imagined myself naively as some kind of a Christian (a situation that came to an abrupt end a year or so later, when I settled down in Sydney), I used to don regularly the red and white outfit of a so-called server officiating within the church.

Above all, the cathedral contains a lovely stained-glass window in memory of my paternal grandmother Kathleen Pickering [1889-1964].

[Click to enlarge]

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