Ardlethan’s links to ANZACs and Easter
The dates don’t always line up this way, but in the space of just a few days, Australians will have celebrated and commemorated Easter and Anzac Day.
The two events are quite distinct, but both have special significance to the Parish of Ardlethan, both linked to former parish priest Fr Thomas Mullins.
Inside Our Lady Help of Christians Church at Ardlethan sit several mortar shells from the fields of World War One, repurposed as vases that decorate the altar. And barely the proverbial stone’s throw away, next door in the grounds of the former parish presbytery, stands an olive tree grown from seeds brought back to Australia from Gethsemane.
The mortar shells and the olive tree seeds were both brought to Australia by Fr Mullins upon his repatriation following the war according to parishioner John Mills.
“Fr Mullins was the parish priest here from 1910 until his death in 1939. He came here from Barmedman,” Mr Mills said.
“Fr Mullins enlisted in the First World War, and during his military service he was awarded the Military Cross and other medals for gallantry and bravery. From all accounts he wasn’t the type of person to be down in the back of the lines… he was right up in the action tending to the wounded.
“He was a very sick man for a lot of his time at war. He suffered from Malaria and spent a lot of time in the infirmary, but he was always back in the thick of the action as soon as he could be.”
After enlisting at Barmedman in March of 1915, Fr Mullins initially served at Gallipoli for nine months. After evacuation from Gallipoli, he spent much of his time in Egypt and what’s now Jordan and Israel with the 4th and 2nd light horse brigades and the 5th Light Horse Regiment.
Fr Mullins service, dedication and valour was recognised repeatedly ( see link below). He received the Military Cross, the 1914-1915 star, the British War Medal and the Victory Medal (with Oakleaf – awarded to servicemen mentioned in despatches). In addition to the military medals and awards, he was also awarded the Jerusalem Pilgrim’s Cross of Honour, issued by Pope Leo XIII.
But along with the medals, Fr Mullins also brought home indelible memories of the horrors of war tempered forever, in his mind, by God’s love and mercy. To remember and represent those thoughts in a tangible way, he retrieved the olive seeds from Gethsemane from his time in the middle East, and later, in Paris, obtained the mortar shells that he would later repurpose as vases in the Ardlethan Church.
The link between the two… renewal, rebirth and hope from darkness.
Fr Mullins was discharged in 1920 with the rank of Lt Col and returned to Ardlethan with the seeds and the shells.
Those weren’t the only seeds he propagated upon his return. After establishing the Catholic Church, Presbytery, Convent and School in Ardlethan, Fr Mullins also helped set up churches in Ariah Park and Barellan.
He served as Parish Priest of Ardlethan until his death in 1939 and is buried at the Ardlethan cemetery.
Fr Mullin’s story is one that could easily have been lost and remained untold but for the discovery of his medals in the Presbytery when it was cleaned out to be sold. Mr Mills’ daughter, Tracey Cheney, took on the task of chasing up his military records and following discussions with Chris Goddard at the Australian War Memorial in Canberra, discovered they also had his war diary in the military archives.
The medals and Fr Mullins’ story are now displayed prominently in the Church.
“Father Mullins was an exceptional man, and it’s an exceptional story although it’s not very well known,” Mr Mills suggested.
Mr Mills himself is local to his bootstraps. Born and bred at a little place “just down the road” called Kamarah, his grandfather took up a property in 1910, the same year Fr Mullins became Parish Priest, and the farm stayed in the family until 1976.
A small farm, they needed to make the most of every square inch, cropping wheat, barley and oats, and running sheep and cattle.
Mr Mills’ family has a long association with the Ardlethan Church, evidenced by the plaque on the gate, which had previously hung at the entrance to the presbytery before it was sold. The plaque was donated by John’s parents in memory of his grandparents.
These days, according to the town signs at least, the population of Ardlethan is around 500 people although John believes that figure may be a little generous.
In its heyday, a nearby tin mine swelled the population to probably double that and the little church was packed from front to back each Sunday. When the mine closed down in the early 70s, much of that population drifted away.
John says it’s something like ten years since Ardlethan had a Parish priest of its own. The parish now falls under the Temora Mission. Mass is celebrated at Ardlethan on the first and third Sunday of every Month with Liturgy of the Word with Holy Communion on the other Sundays.
But, though fewer in number, the faithful keep returning to Our Lady Help of Christians Church. And as they do, they have constant reminders of the man who made the church a reality, and brought his experiences of war and memento of Christ’s journey back home.