The Hall and School
In 1853, a sandstone building with bluestone foundation was built as a National School in Crossley, later becoming a State School under the Education Act 1872.
In 1878, the Church School was built next to the State School. As a school it figured prominently in the Australian aide controversy, when the State Government decided to withdraw all financial support for private schools, and – for the first time – set up a school system of their own.
Crossley priest Father O’Dowd told the Board of Enquiry the State School had 15 children, all of whom would get Government aid, while the Catholic School over the fence had 220 – none of whom would qualify for state aid. The withdrawal of aid to the children in Catholic schools after the Education Act of 1872 placed a heavy burden on the mission, but there was never any question of the determination of the grand old Irish pioneers of the district to provide a Catholic education for their children.
About 1896, when the Church school was overcrowded and numbers were few in the state school, the Catholics bought the school from the Education Department. The state school closed down soon after and was taken over by Father O’Dowd, and continued as the Crossley Catholic School until 1971, when it closed and the children were transported to St Patrick’s School in Koroit.
In 1986, the old state school building was demolished. The remaining site of the school building is significant in its own right and contributes to an understanding of the history of the Crossley Hall and Church precinct.
The Church School building is still in use and is well known as the Crossley Hall.
The magnificent red brick Romanesque style Church was architecturally designed by A.A. Fritsch and was largely built and paid for by the hard work and determination of the post famine Irish settlers, who made their home in the rich volcanic soil surrounding nearby Tower Hill.
St. Brigid’s Crossley was blessed and opened on 28th June 1914 by Bishop Higgins, assisted by the Most Reverend Archbishop Mannix, the new Coadjutor Archbishop of Melbourne.
About 18 months prior, the people of Crossley had decided to build a Church. One of the committee members was then quoted as saying “We have decided to build a Church. Let us build a good one; one that we can proudly hand down to our children as a legacy”. The total cost of the Church was 6250 pounds. Donations were headed by Bishop Dr Higgins, with 250 pounds and the best part of the remainder donated by those first Irish settlers, which was quoted as “proof of the generosity of the Crossley and district people”.
These Irish settlers largely built and paid for the Church school in 1878 (now the Crossley Hall) and later St. Brigid’s Church in 1914 with their meagre incomes working the land, to provide a place of worship, an education for their children and a community meeting place to gather and socialise.
From its early history, spanning the many decades to the present day, there remains significant Irish cultural association to the buildings of St. Brigid’s Church and the Crossley Hall. Many direct descendants remain in the district, some even farming the same crops as their ancestors up to 150 years later.
These buildings were closed and decommissioned in 2006. The Church and Hall were both active and functional until 2006. The Hall was reopened to the community in mid 2008 and has been utilized for fundraising, social and community purposes since. The Crossley Hall Committee, Tennis Club and Playgroup are still functional.
The members of the Friends of St Brigid’s Association in partnership with the Crossley community successfully completed the purchase of the former St Brigid’s Church and Hall at Crossley in May 2010. The purpose of this significant purchase was twofold; firstly to preserve these unique and culturally significant buildings for the future generations and secondly to develop regional Victoria’s only Irish/Australian Cultural Exchange.
The St Brigid’s precinct overlooks the south-west coastline and surrounding green countryside and has been part of local community life for in excess of 130 years.
The committee of the Friends of St Brigid’s (FOSB) will provide the support needed for a staged development of the St Brigid’s precinct into ‘Tobar na Gael’ – The Well of the Irish’ St Brigid’s Australian Irish Cultural and Community Centre.
Future activities will encourage increased visitation to the St Brigid’s precinct and continually provide visitors with the opportunity to experience the richness of the areas Irish culture that has profoundly influenced the formation of Australian history.