At first it was hard to buy and renovate such a public building. The deconsecrated Blue Doors Church belonged to the community: it was used for local music gigs, yoga lessons and school concerts. Everyone offered opinions about what to do with it and told us of their fond memories as children and the good times they’d had in it.
We couldn’t set foot in the front yard without unsolicited advice, curious questions about what we were doing, or running into a National Trust tour group (we’re stop number 19 on the Willunga Slate Trail.) We were scared to paint the walls and change the lighting and make it ours. The community judgment and expectation felt weighty.
But buildings need people who love them. My sister Em, who had lived in the town longer than us, gave me lots of pep talks: ‘You can do what you want. It’s yours!’ Slowly, slowly we started to add ourselves and our lives into this historic space. We started to have fun with it, and we gave ourselves permission to make mistakes.
In 2017 the church, named for the shade of electric blue that the gothic arch doors were painted (the colour was beloved by the town, although I had strong aversion to it), had stood empty for ages; just a building that had held various community events, the ins and outs of a small town’s needs over time. Built in 1870 without religious adornment, it had since served many purposes: prisoner of war control centre, Country Women’s Association rest rooms, Masonic Hall, then a venue for local dances and 21st birthday parties.
My husband Adam and I, my sister Emma and my brother-in-law Matt had seen it for sale. We’d gone to the open inspections—along with half the town—more for a love of history and old buildings than anything else. Adam and I made a ridiculous lowball offer because we had always wanted to live in a romantic old building and this one had the advantage of being near my sister’s house and the school our kids were already attending. Our offer was dismissed by the agent; then the church went through several failed contracts for restaurants, cafés, wedding reception venues. Failed because the enormity of the task at hand became apparent and the sane among us walked away. We went back to life in our rented house. Six months after our mostly forgotten offer, the agent finally
called us back in the middle of the dinner-bath-bed routine. ‘The vendor will accept your original offer. You have until 9 am tomorrow to decide.’ The agent’s
contract with the vendor was about to expire and we were the last ones standing.
We said a hesitant but secretly excited ‘yes’ despite the fact that it had no kitchen, bedrooms, backyard. It had a gaol-cell toilet, State Heritage listing and a protective community of townsfolk who did not want to see it turn into a single family home, especially a new-to-the-town family. But man, those windows.
Feeling sheepish and unsure and not at all confident in our ownership, a period of honouring prebooked events ensued: kids’ parties, Persian classical guitar
gigs and a ‘sound bath’ in which I was blessed as the new custodian of the building. In the general store one day I heard whispers of how sad it was that Blue Doors Church was ‘closing down’; the local yoga teacher stopped her lessons for lack of a venue and everywhere my sister introduced me, I was already known as ‘the one who bought the church’...
This is an extract from Issue 2 of Galah. For the full article, we'd love you to shop Issue 2.
Words by Sally Hall.
Photos by Marnie Hawson.