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NOTICE OF PUBLIC MEETING

Concerning The Restoration of St. Joseph’s Church, Be­nalla. This Sunday, June 25 – 8.00p.m. 1989 at Benalla Bowling Club

  • The Convenors believe that the St. Joseph’s Church build­ing is an important part of Benalla’s history. It belongs to the people of Benalla and district to be held and preserved for posterity.

The building is an outstanding example of ecclesiastical ar­chitecture in both its interior and exterior.

  • Concern is felt that no opportunity has been offered to parishioners and other citizens to participate in decisions regarding the restoration.

The time has come for some answers to be given to questions raised by many people, whether Catholic or not.

  • To this end, representatives of the following groups have been personally invited to attend the meeting: The Clergy of St. Joseph’s, Benalla; The Interim Committee of Parish­ioners; The National Trust; The Benalla Historical Soci­ety; The Historic Buildings Council; Catholic Church In­surances; The Benalla City Ensign and other media

WHATEVER YOUR VIEWS YOU ARE URGED TO AT­TEND AND TO HELP CLEAR THE AIR BY ADDRESS­ING THE MATTER IN AN ORDERED AND LOGI­CAL WAY. WE OWE IT TO FUTURE GENERATIONS TO RETAIN ONE OF BENALLA’S FEW REMAINING BUILDINGS OF NOTE WHICH WILL STAND LONG AFTER WE ARE GONE

Apparently, the prospect of having to explain their future plans to parishioners and concerned non-Catholics was too much for the Team. In an effort to undermine the meeting, they promptly issued this counter-notice of 24 June:

TO THE PARISHIONERS OF ST. JOSEPH’S

With regard to the “PUBLIC MEETING” on Sunday evening at the Bowling Club –‑

The people who have called the meeting, have, in the main both publicly and privately disassociated themselves from the Parish.

Despite the assertion of the Ensign advertisement, we, the Parish Team have not been ‘personally’ invited. We will respect the organizers decision to distance themselves from the Parish by our absence from the meeting.

This is not a Parish meeting. The Interim Committee of the Parish will not be represented at the meeting.

This timeworn strategy, ferociously popular in Australia among lobby-groups of the political left, aims to discredit the “messen­ger” and thereby destroy the credibility of his “message”. A proven method of avoiding open and meaningful debate, it was employed with disturbing regularity by the Team and its sup­porters. Marj Ride was one of those who bore the brunt:

They slandered me and they slandered others. They couldn’t fight the petition so they fought the peo­ple who put the petition out. Every Sunday at Mass they rubbished the people who were supposedly “dividing” and “confusing” the parishioners. They never addressed the is­sue.

As part of their ploy, the Team also developed a habit of denial in respect of meetings to which they were invited. In this case, for example, they claimed that they had “not been ‘personally’ invited” to the meeting despite the fact that they were sent an official written invitation!

Just as the Colorbond issue had provided a means of at­tracting media attention to the exploits of the Team, the public meeting provided a flesh and blood measure of the enormous groundswell of discontent within the parish. No doubt the Team were successful in discouraging many pliant Catholics from at­tending, but they could not prevent nearly 200 people from pack­ing in to the Benalla Bowling Club to voice their opinions.

Over a period of two hours, very orderly discussion ebbed and flowed between the roofing issue; the failure of the Interim Committee and the Team to communicate with parishioners; the $33,000 donated by Catholics and non-Catholics with a view to restoration rather than remodelling; the Bishop’s negative reac­tion the petition and other pleas; the possibil­ity of injunctions to prevent further tampering with the interior or exterior of the church and the desirability of once more ap­proaching the priests about a parish meeting. Various motions were passed in relation to such matters.

Marj Ride, the only member of the Interim Committee present, did her best to answer the questions of perplexed parish­ioners including one from a gentleman who stated that a member of the Interim Committee had told him that bulletins produced by the Committee were specifically designed to tell the people as little as possible. “Now that stinks,” he concluded. Marj con­firmed the point, explaining to the incredulous crowd that the bulletins “were designed more or less to … tell parishioners as little as possible about what was going on.”

Another woman summed up the frustration of the greater majority of those in attendance:

I would just like to make the comment that I have been disappointed by the fact that it has caused such disunity amongst a town our size. We always stuck together … when the Bishop came and spoke to us he said no decisions had been made or would be made regarding the inside of the church until they had been put to the parishioners, which to me sounded like the obvious thing. And then the next week we hear about the pews being cut in half and that’s the thing that’s dividing the people. We are not being informed and we are not being treated as all part of the parish who are entitled to know what’s going on.

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