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Delving into history

Friday, 14th December, 2018

Bob Johnson with his new book at the front of the the city’s first Catholic Church, in Mica Street, which was opened in 1887 by Father Black. PICTURE: Myles Burt Bob Johnson with his new book at the front of the the city’s first Catholic Church, in Mica Street, which was opened in 1887 by Father Black. PICTURE: Myles Burt

By Myles Burt

Robert Johnson, after 20 years of research, has released a book on the history of the Catholic Church in Broken Hill. 

Titled “The History of the Catholic Church in the Barrier Ranges of New South Wales” it is the first book of four that Mr Johnson plans to write and it gives a detailed account of the Church’s involvement in the district between 1883 and 1917.

The book contains various articles from the early newspapers such as the Silver Age and even includes diary accounts from an early priest. 

Mr Johnson first began collecting the information for an array of historical projects on Broken Hill when he was a Mines Inspector for the Department of Mineral Resources.

“I spent a lot of time in Sydney and the head office was in Sydney near the Mitchell Library,” Mr Johnson said. “So at night I would go to the Mitchell Library.

“I was mainly interested in mining history at the time, but I was finding a lot of other history about the town of Broken Hill and so forth.

“People are always asking questions of what happened here and what happened there so I’ve put together a lot of information on various things. But I’ve never published anything.

“With this one, the Catholic Church was something I wanted to finish and I decided I would do one of them and at least get it printed.

“I decided that I’d finish this, but this is one of four that I hope to finish.”

Mr Johnson searched extensively for photos to accompany his book and collected a fair few to illustrate the church’s influence in the Far West.

“When they talk about something built I try and find a photo of that particular item,” he said.

“Very difficult in those days trying to locate them. A lot of the early photos have been destroyed but I had quite a lot that I looked up and was able to get.”

The book follows the life of Bishop Dunn, a socialist and union advocate who was very involved in mine strikes. 

It also highlights the heavy Irish Catholic presence in the city, as an abundance of Irish workers emigrated to work on the mines and the priests followed.

“You could imagine in those days ministering to the people here in Broken Hill because it was a very big population of Catholics,” Mr Johnson said.

“It wasn’t uncommon to have 1,500 people at the church.”

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